Monday, February 29, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Forgotten Recipe, by Amy Clipston

Amy Clipston.  The Forgotten Recipe: An Amish Heirloom Novel.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

I read Amy Clipston's A Simple Prayer in July (see my review here).  I liked it.  Although the story was not particularly deep, the prose was very dignified.

What do I mean by "dignified"?  That's a good question.  Part of what I like is that Amy Clipston spends a lot of time describing and showing what her characters are thinking and feeling.  She drags that out a bit.  She usually does not rush through it.  Some may find that exhausting or repetitive.  It can be repetitive, but I think it works well, overall.  I get to savor the good times, and sympathize and empathize with the characters in the bad times.

Something else that I like is that her prose is not mind-numbingly simple.  People may disagree with me on that.  It's not as if she uses big words, constructs long and elaborate sentences, or presents a complex plot.  Reading her is not like reading Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.  On the other hand, at least for me, reading her is also not the same as reading a beach novel.

Then there is the fact that I can identify with her characters.  Or I can envision myself feeling the same way that her characters feel, were I in the same situation.  In A Simple Prayer, there were characters working through forgiveness issues, a bashful and broken woman who was finding her own strength through a relationship, and a man who was getting tired of being lonely.  In The Forgotten Recipe, there was a guy who was shy around the ladies, and a young lady who was trying to move on after the sudden death of her fiance. Clipston captures people's struggles and vulnerabilities well.

The Forgotten Recipe is the first book of Clipston's Amish Heirloom series.  I started a book yesterday, An Amish Market, in which Clipston contributes one of the novellas.  Her novella in that book intersects with the characters and plot of The Forgotten Recipe.

At its basic level, The Forgotten Recipe is about a woman named Veronica, whose fiance Seth suddenly dies at his work-site.  Seth's friend and fellow worker was Jason.  Jason sees Veronica at Seth's wake and wants to meet her and offer his condolences.  Veronica is later baking pies as a way to try to move on, and Jason goes to her pie stand.  He is a bit tongue-tied, for he is infatuated with Veronica.  Jason gets advice from his more outgoing and socially competent little brother, and he develops a rapport with Veronica over such topics as the weather and skipping stones.  But, as time passes, he does not tell Veronica that he knew Seth and was there at the time of Seth's accident.  Jason does not know how Veronica will respond, and if that will destroy the relationship.

I do not want to give spoilers, except to say that I had some difficulty identifying with Veronica's reaction once Jason did tell her his secret.  Her reaction is plausible, but I was hoping she would be more fair-minded than that.  Overall, the characters in the book get a happy ending, even someone who is spurned, and I like that.  Real life does not necessarily work that way, but it can.

The book ends on a mysterious note.  Veronica's mother has blue baby clothes, even though she only had daughters.  Why?  I guess we'll need to read the next book to find out! 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Never Again; Philo's Ascetic Preference for Bread; Mentoring on Grocery-Shopping

I have three items for my write-up on this morning's church service.  The first items two relate to things I have recently watched and read.

A.  In the children's part of the service, the pastor was continuing his series on the Lord's prayer.  The pastor was talking about the part of the prayer that says "Give us this day our daily bread."  We pray for God's provision each day.

I was thinking about a movie that I watched last week.  I've been watching the Love Comes Softly movies on Trinity Broadcasting Network.  In the movie Love's Abiding Joy, there is a land baron named Samuel Doros, who is taking people's land.  Doros tells the story of when he was a poor child and was continuously hungry.  He could find food in those days, but he could never enjoy it because he would be wondering where his next meal would come from.

You would think that such an experience would make him more compassionate towards those who are struggling, as opposed to trying to take their land.  But the experience did the opposite to him: it made him so bitter about life and insecure that he tried to eek out from people whatever money he could.

B.  The pastor was noting that Jesus told his disciples to ask God for bread, not cake.  I am not sure why the pastor was making that point.  He did say that bread is healthier.  In the sermon, he talked about his own recent struggles with dieting.

I've been reading Philo of Alexandria's Special Laws for my daily quiet time.  Philo of Alexandria was a first century C.E. Jewish thinker in Alexandria, Egypt.  He interpreted the Torah in light of Greek philosophy.  In Special Laws, he tries to explain the laws of the Torah.  Mostly, he seeks practical reasons for the laws being as they are.  There are times, though, when he seeks an allegorical explanation.  Special Laws is different from his esoteric works, in which his primary focus is on allegorizing the Torah.

In Special Laws I, Philo is talking about the sacrifices.  In I: 171-174, he is explaining why there are loaves of bread in the sanctuary.  One of his answers is that bread is simple.  He contrasts bread with "high seasonings, and cheesecakes, and sweetmeats" (C.D. Yonge's tradition).  Philo has a negative attitude towards the latter.

Philo is rather ascetic.  Heaven forbid that people want to gratify their fleshly tastes!  Their mind should be on higher things!  What is ironic, though, is that Philo does talk about God blessing people with abundance when they obey God.  And he talks about abundant celebrations, which occur at Jewish festivals.  Philo is ascetic, but he has to deal with that stress on abundance in the Torah.

C.  Someone from the local food bank spoke to us.  She told us stories about people who lost their jobs and had difficulty finding work.  In some cases, they have children.  There was also an elderly couple that was raising their grandchildren, and that was going into their retirement fund.  The husband was a truck driver, but he could no longer drive as many miles on account of his age.  They are benefiting from the food bank.

The lady was also telling us that the food bank offers lessons on nutrition and how to shop for food economically.  That may initially sound patronizing and condescending, but, believe me, such mentoring is good.  She said that the food bank does this so that people are not intimidated when they go shopping for groceries.  I can understand that being intimidating.  Stores have so many options.  A person may want to know how to get more for his or her money.  There's also the issue of buying food that can make a person full: whole wheat bread may be more expensive, but it will make a person more full after eating it than white bread (that's my insight, not what the speaker said).

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Scattered Ramblings on "Want" and "Ought"

Last week, my church’s Life Group had its last meeting, for the winter, that is.

One of the leaders of the group was sharing why she is so involved in the church.  She said that she is giving back.  There was a time when she was receiving far more from the church than she was giving.  Now, she is giving back.

It helps to have an authentic motivation.  I remember when I was attending Redeemer church in New York City, which is where Tim Keller pastors.  Tim Keller continually presented Christ’s love and sacrifice for us as something that motivates us to change, once it is real to us and we grasp its significance.

But shouldn’t we obey God without a motivation?  Or, more precisely, without a positive motivation?  A person can work at a job without a positive motivation.  She may be doing things that she does not want to do.  She grits her teeth and moves forward.  There is a motivation, of course: she needs money, and, if she does not do what she is supposed to do, she can lose her job.  But that is not a positive motivation, a motivation that makes a person want to do the right thing, a motivation that energizes a person.

I recently read Tim McConnell’s Happy Church.  I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher.  McConnell said in one place that church members who are negative or complaining should be disciplined by the church.  After all, the church is supposed to be a place that sets an example for the outside world.  People in the outside world want to be happy, and, if the church does not show people that one can be happy by coming to Christ, then the church is being a poor witness.

Naturally, there is a part of me that recoils from that kind of spiel.  It sounds to me like “mush, mush, mush, doggies!”  Ignore how you truly feel!  Get back in line!  Pretend to be happy to witness to the outside world!  I got the same impression when reading Thom Rainer’s I Will, which is the book that my church’s Life Group read this winter.  And maybe there is some Scriptural basis for that kind of attitude.  A Scriptural passage that we read was Philippians 2:14: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (NIV).

At the same time, I should remember that McConnell does try to explain why and how Christians should be happy: he does not bark commands but provides a motivation, or a context for Christian happiness.  In addition, maybe there is a place for treating church as a job, on some level.  Instead of focusing on one’s complaints, why not focus on doing good?  Why not act as if the church has a job to do?  That is well and good.  Yet, for some reason, when it comes to religion, I would like to have some positive motivation that energizes me.  Guilt can be effective, but only for so long.

When it comes to religion, I do value my personal choice.  I want to do something because I want to do it, not because I have to do it.  There are plenty of places in life in which we do not have a choice and feel as if we have to conform to other people’s expectations.  Why should I import that into religion, when, technically, I do not have to?

Maybe a good Christian life has a proper balance between “want” and “ought.”

Some of these themes have come up in our Life Group.  People have talked about finding something that they enjoy doing to serve the church.  One of the leaders was talking about finding one’s bliss: in her case, she’s been making a lot of slippers and donating them to charity!

Finding my niche in a church is not exactly easy.  I can rattle off a lot of reasons: my introversion, my preference for activities that I can do in solitude, how I have a lot of academic knowledge about the Bible but struggle somewhat to make that look applicable or relevant to people’s lives.  One of the leaders said I can tell her what the coming book that we will be reading is like.  That could be my niche!  Of course, though, I will only be attending a few, maybe just one, of the coming Life Group meetings, since I will be moving to another location and another church.

Anyway, those are some ramblings for the day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Book Write-Up: Happy Church, by Tim McConnell

Tim McConnell.  Happy Church: Pursuing Radical Joy as the People of God.  Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Happy Church is about how God wants the church and the Christians in it to be happy.  Tim McConnell is a pastor at a Presbyterian church and has a Ph.D. in early Christian theology from the University of Virginia.

Here are some of my thoughts about this book:

A.  I liked how McConnell referred to historic Christian thinkers, such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Karl Barth. That enhanced the book and gave it a little more of a scholarly flavor.

B. McConnell discusses scholar Ellen Charry’s God and the Art of Happiness.  According to McConnell, Charry argues in that book that early Christians were very interested in happiness, but that “Christianity lost this emphasis as Christians got more interested in self-sacrifice and self-denial—-ironically, after the period of persecution was over” (McConnell’s words on page 39).  On another subject, McConnell states on page 33 that “the Westminster Catechism taught that ‘cheerfulness of spirit’ is a duty connected to the sixth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.'”  McConnell’s book did not sweep me off my feet, and I did not find it to be particularly deep.  Still, I did find these two points to be interesting.  At least I learned something new from McConnell’s book!  And I am encouraged to read Charry’s book!

C.  In many cases, my problem with the book was me rather than the book itself.  If you are struggling with Christian doctrines about, say, the afterlife, then you may not identify that much with McConnell’s argument that an eternally blissful afterlife can give people hope and happiness right now.  One does have to assume Christian doctrines to have the sort of happiness that McConnell talks about.  McConnell would undoubtedly agree with that.

D.  Does McConnell give practical tips on how to be happy?  On some level, he does.  He says that having a purpose or mission in life can make one happy.  Feeding on God’s word, singing praise, and prayer within a community also contribute to happiness, according to McConnell.

E.  I wish there was more Good Friday in the book.  The book was a bit too chipper for my taste.  It was like eating too much candy.  McConnell’s talk about happiness should have been balanced out with an acknowledgement of suffering.  Granted, there were times when McConnell did acknowledge suffering or misfortune.  He said that, when he was dating the woman who would become his wife, he was the pessimist and she was the optimist.  Yet, he was the Christian one of the two!  McConnell talks about how Ellen Charry wrote her scholarly work on happiness after losing her husband to cancer.  He mentions a person who was cheerful after losing all of his possessions in a natural disaster.  Overall, though, there was not much in the book on suffering, or on how trying to be happy can be a struggle.  McConnell quoted the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, but McConnell should have at least mentioned that Spurgeon struggled with depression.  One needs Good Friday to appreciate Easter Sunday.  Plus, many wonder how to find Easter Sunday when they are experiencing Good Friday.

F.  I struggle with some points that McConnell makes.  McConnell states that people who believe this life is all there is may leave the moment their spouse disappoints them, since they are trying to be happy in this short life.  I can envision that happening, but that is not necessarily the case.  McConnell talks about churches that died and says that, while they may have prayed, they probably prayed more for the survival of the church than the mission of the church.  Again, that is something to think about, but it is not necessarily the case.  There are mainline Protestant churches that actively served their community, yet they closed due to lack of members and funds.  McConnell says that Christians should at least try to be happy in order to witness to the watching world, and he even goes so far as to suggest (or at least imply) that the church should discipline those church members who are negative and complaining.  Maybe there is something to that; but there is also something to be said for authenticity and trying to minister to those who are discontent.

G.  Related to (F.), I thought that there was one occasion in which McConnell should have been more empathetic.  He was talking to a couple who preferred to listen to sermons at home rather than to attend church.  His response to them was to extol the glories and benefits of the church.  But maybe not everyone has experienced church that way.

H.  I somewhat liked what McConnell said on page 63 about praise: “…we feel joy as we fulfill our purposes as God’s creatures, which is to reflect [God’s] glory in all we do.  [T]he lost in the world hear a song they are missing.  Like a distant bagpipe in the mountain mist, they hear a tune they thought they knew once—-a siren song drawing them toward something they have always longed for.  The lost hear the song of home.”

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

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Book Write-Up: Yes, Dear, There Really Is a Devil

Chris Rader and Johnnie Coley.  Yes, Dear, There Really Is a Devil.  Concept Sketch Design by Erin McKay.  Illustrations by Sonny Heston.  Cleburne, Texas: Hopkins Publishing, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Yes, Dear, There Really Is a Devil is a Christian children’s book.  It is about resisting the devil’s temptations and making good choices.

I am not a child, but I wanted to read this book.  I was curious as to how a book would explain spiritual warfare to children, in a manner that they can understand.  I think of the Denzel Washington character in the 1993 movie Philadelphia.  Denzel Washington played a lawyer, and he asked people to explain things to him as if he were a four-year-old.  I am one who like to intellectualize and nuance and complicate, maybe because that makes a subject more interesting to me.  Sometimes, though, it helps when people can present something to us like we are four years old.  That can eliminate a lot of clutter and give us the gist.

Each two pages of the book is set up like this: The left-hand page has a picture, and the right-hand page has a picture, a rhyme, and a Scripture.  I was a little disappointed that there was not much of a story in the book, especially since many of the pictures seemed to be presenting some sort of story: there are two young people dressed in outback-clothes, and they are being pursued by a man (the devil), his snake, and his lion.  The text did not tell a story, however, but just gave us concepts.  That is not necessarily bad.  The way that the book is set up can be useful in pedagogy: parents can perhaps invent their own story in sharing the book with their children, or they can talk with their children about the pictures, the rhyme, and the Scripture.  The rhyme and the Scripture can also be useful for memorization.  Still, a story would have been nice!

The illustrations are good.  The artist’s presentation of the devil interested me.  The devil in this book is not a red guy with horns, a pitchfork, and a tail.  Rather, he looks like a regular guy.  He wears fishing clothes, or he sits on a throne and looks at his cauldron.  He is well-built and has a chiseled jaw.  Sometimes, his facial expression is angry, and sometimes it is sly and plotting.  On one occasion, his eyes are red.

Some of the illustrations were difficult for me to follow.  Some kids are standing in line, and one looks unsuspecting, one looks sinister, and two look worried.  What is going on there?  When the devil is going fishing, spiritually speaking, he is trying to entrap a person who has hundreds of dollars in his shirt pocket, and a girl who is holding up a doll crying.  Again, what is going on there?  Is the girl being materialistic and nagging her Mom to buy her the doll?  Did the boy steal those hundreds of dollars?  If the picture wanted to show theft, it could have shown the boy actually stealing something by putting it in his pocket.  Most of the pictures, though, were easy to follow: someone pushes someone else, or people are gossiping about someone, or a child defies his mother, or someone gives a gift to someone else.

The rhymes were pretty good.  Overall, the message that they were trying to communicate was that we should make right choices, that God loves us, that the devil wants to disrupt our peace and joy, and that we can overcome the devil’s temptations by depending on God.  These are good lessons.  There were a few rhymes that inspired questions.  One rhyme says: “There’s so much to do, many choices to make.  Better make it good, because your soul is at stake.”  Does that mean that we can damn ourselves to hell by making a bad decision?  That’s not exactly once-saved-always-saved, is it?

Another rhyme went like this: “Now X-Ray your heart and always be real.  We may fool others, but God knows the deal.”  The Scripture that is quoted is Matthew 12:34b-35, which states (in the English Standard Version): “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his treasure brings forth evil.”  The picture on the left-hand page shows people holding up pictures of a heart towards heaven.  A lion does that, too, which is odd, considering that the lion is a villain throughout the book.  I am a little unclear about how all these things fit together, but it certainly is thought-provoking.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Write-Up: Overcoming Abuse God's Way

 Janet Marie Napper and Brenda Branson.  Overcoming Abuse God’s Way: Rags to Riches.  Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2012.  See here to buy the book.

This book is Janet Marie Napper’s testimony and reflections about her experiences with abuse, and how her Christian faith has helped her to move on.  She was sexually abused as a child, and that made her feel worthless.  She became promiscuous because she was desperately looking for love.  She married people who physically and verbally abused her, or who were initially kind but became hateful towards her.  When she became a Christian, she learned about God’s love for her, and she also observed love among Christians.  Faith gave her more of a backbone.  She arrived at a point where she did not need a man to feel fulfilled, so she turned down three marriage proposals.  Eventually, she married a man with whom she could serve God.

I decided to read this book because I was curious about what it means to overcome abuse God’s way.  I personally am not a victim of abuse, but I do know people who have been victims of abuse.  I also struggle with passages in the Bible.  I think that biblical concepts, such as forgiveness, reconciliation, meekness, submitting to one’s husband, turning the other cheek, and loving the unlovable can be misused in such a way as to tolerate or enable abusers.  These themes do exist in Scripture, but there are also themes like justice and protecting people from harm.  I was curious as to how the book would interact with those themes.

But I was also curious about how a person can move on from trauma.  I have enough difficulty moving on from past slights, rejection, and unkindness towards me.  But moving on from abuse?  How could a person do that?  And how could God expect a person to do that?

The book did not directly interact with many of the biblical themes that I mentioned above.  At the same time, Napper did try to understand where abusers or people who failed to love her were coming from: to understand that they themselves were hurt, and to appreciate that even they are loved by God.
The book gives some practical tips on overcoming abuse from a Christian perspective.  A lot of it involves embracing God’s love and no longer feeling worthless.  Listening to the advice of wise Christians is also important, for Napper.  She regrets that she did not do so before marrying a man she met in a bar, a man who knew the Bible yet was backslidden.

One may need to sift through what Napper says to discern the best way to overcome abuse.  Napper says that she does not want to gossip about abusers.  At the same time, she says it is a good idea to tell someone about the abuse.  She talks about the time when she called the cops on her past husband.  Yet, she also tells about a time when she feels God gave her the wisdom to respond to her past husband in a constructive manner.  Perhaps one should not read this book with the attitude of “Go and do likewise” with respect to how Napper responded to abuse.  Sometimes, she did the right thing.  Some of what she did, however, may not have good results for another victim of abuse.

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Book Write-Up: From Topic to Thesis, by Michael Kibbe

 Michael Kibbe.  From Topic to Thesis: A Guide to Theological Research.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

From Topic to Thesis is about how to write a research paper about theology or biblical studies.  What Michael Kibbe says could apply to undergraduates or graduate students.  It could also apply to scholars who want to do research so that they can get published.  Kibbe differentiates between the types of research papers that he is discussing and dissertations.  The latter have to be original, interact with secondary sources in foreign languages (depending on one’s discipline), and keep up with the very cutting-edge of the scholarly discussions; the former, not so much.  Still, Kibbe’s discussion of research and trying to find a topic can apply to people doing dissertation work or writing scholarly papers.

On some level, I have done some of the things that Kibbe suggests, without realizing it.  It is still good for Kibbe’s principle to be in my mind, though, so that I can consciously identify productive ways to do research.  Kibbe talks about starting with tertiary sources, which include theological dictionaries and encyclopedias.  They usually give people a survey of scholarly discussions.  When one continues to read and starts to see the same sources cited over and over again, that could be a sign that one has consulted enough secondary sources.

Kibbe does not necessarily hold students’ hand.  Students who read this book may still feel that they need more guidance.  For example, Kibbe on page 63 talks about the importance of integrating different relevant sub-disciplines (i.e., literary, geographical, theological) rather than just focusing on one.  A student may need more help in going about this.

At the same time, Kibbe does use two papers that he wrote as examples of his process in action—-a process of having a general interest and narrowing down one’s topic until one arrives at a thesis.  One paper was about the tearing of the Temple veil in the Gospel of Mark.  The other concerned John Calvin’s concept of divine accommodation and whether the Sinai theophany in Exodus 19-34 supports it.

Especially helpful are the appendices, in which Kibbe identifies for readers the sources that can help them in their research.  Many were familiar to me.  Some, not so much.  I was somewhat surprised that Kibbe did not mention that one can find parts of the Patrologia Latina and the Patrologia Graeca online.  Still, his lists are invaluable for theological and biblical research.

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Write-Up: An Amish Year, by Beth Wiseman

Beth Wiseman.  An Amish Year: Four Amish Novellas.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

An Amish Year contains four novellas about the Amish.  The stories get better as the book proceeds.
Allow me to comment on each novella.

A.  The first story is “Rooted in Love.”  Saul is an eligible bachelor and has pursued Rosemary for years.  Rosemary is attracted to Saul, but she does not want to marry him because she believes that he is infertile.  This story was all right.  Not great, but all right.  I liked that Saul was carrying a torch for Rosemary.

B.  The second story is “A Love for Irma Rose.”  This was a better story than the previous one.  This story is set in the 1950s.  Jonas has been smitten with Irma Rose ever since he first saw her sitting under an oak tree reading a book.  Jonas comes across as confident in that he keeps telling Irma Rose that they will be married.  Deep down, though, he is not sure if she even likes him.  Irma Rose is uncomfortable with Jonas’ presumption, and she is pursuing a romance with Jake.  Jake is a pillar of the community, but Irma Rose finds him a bit boring.

Jonas ends up in jail after drinking alcohol with the English.  Irma Rose is taking care of Jonas’ mother and brings Jonas pies in jail.  Jonas’ cellmate is a cocky, cynical Englishman (meaning a non-Amish person) named Theodore, whose father is rich.  Theodore may actually know Irma Rose.  If so, how?

The resolution was rather lackluster, in my opinion.  Still, I enjoyed the story.  One reason is that it is sweet.  I found it particularly moving that Beth Wiseman introduced this story by quoting from a scene in one of her books, in which an elderly Jonas visits Irma Rose’s gravesite.  Theodore’s honesty added realism to the story.

Also, a discussion between Theodore and Jonas about whether people are inherently bad made me curious about the Amish belief regarding original sin.  It puzzled me that Theodore was saying that humans are inherently untrustworthy, whereas Jonas, speaking as a Christian, was asserting the contrary.  You would think that a Christian would agree that humans are inherently corrupt!  I read on page 100 of John E. Toew’s The Story of Original Sin (2013), however, that the Anabaptists reject the doctrine of original sin and do not believe that the sin of Adam and Eve made humans naturally corrupt.  The Amish are an Anabaptist sect.

One area of critique: At the end of the book, Wiseman shares recipes of food that was in her stories.  But there was no recipe in that section about shoofly pies, which Irma Rose brought to Jonas in jail, and which the guards liked to eat!

C.  The third story was even better than the previous one.  It is entitled “Patchwork Perfect.”

Eli Byler is a widower.  He has a daughter named Grace and a son named Ben.  Eli is admired by two women: Elizabeth, who is recovering from the death of her husband, and an attractive widow named Ruth, who has had her share of admirers.  Eli is intrigued, however, by Miriam, who turned him down when he asked her to dinner.  Miriam is unusual.  She is in her thirties and has not yet married.  She does not cook or clean.  She plays softball.  Rumor has it that she has a lot of cats.

Miriam is a mentor to the girls in the area, in that she looks out for them.  She is concerned about Eli’s daughter Grace because Grace has been hanging out with Wayne.  Wayne is pressuring Grace to go further in the relationship than Grace would like to go, and Wayne has a reputation as a heartbreaker.

I liked this story because I appreciate romances in which one of the people is an odd duck and this actually enhances the relationship, maybe because I am an odd duck myself.  I also liked that there was good even in Wayne, who comforted Ben about the death of Ben’s mother.

D.  The fourth story was even better than the previous one!  It is entitled “When Christmas Comes Again.”

Katherine is mourning the death of her husband Elias.  A mysterious Englishman (again, that means a non-Amish person) has photos of her late husband.  This Englishman is Elias’ father, who left the family years earlier.  He says that his name is Paul, then he says that it is James, but he goes by James.  James is an eccentric old man.  He does not always seem to be all there.  He talks about being in the witness protection program, being a federal agent, and having connections with the White House.  He says that a red car keeps following him.

James has coffee regularly with Katherine.  And, unbeknownst to Katherine, James also gets to know Katherine’s daughter Mary Carol and her boyfriend Abe.  James gives the family advice that helps them to move on after Elias’ death.

The story is intriguing.  I was anticipating the scene in which Katherine would learn that Mary Carol already knew James.  There is also the question of why James left his family years earlier.  And why does he seem so odd?  How much of his story is true, and is any of it delusional on his part?

This novella should also teach a lesson about good manners, especially to those who love Amish books.  In one scene, a lady who reads Amish books in a bookclub asks Katherine if Amish women shave their legs.  Katherine does not appreciate this inappropriate question!

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Booklook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Jesus Wants to Include People (Maybe Even Herod)

At church this morning, the pastor preached about Luke 13:31-35.  The text states:
31 The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.
32 And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.
33 Nevertheless I must walk to day, and to morrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.
34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
35 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.  (KJV)
The theme of this morning’s sermon was Jesus trying to heal divisions and bring people together.

The pastor opened his sermon by asking us how we would feel if everything tasted like pickles.  The cake in the basement?  It tastes like pickles!  The girl scout cookies that are being sold?  They taste like pickles!  And I assume that the pastor was not talking about Aunt Bee’s horribly-tasting pickles, but just regular pickles, maybe even good pickles.

Many of us wouldn’t want to everything to taste like pickles.  We like variety.  God likes variety, too.  That, according to the pastor, is why God in Genesis 11 scattered the people at the Tower of Babel by giving them different languages: God wanted to see variety.

The pastor talked about his own experiences in diversity when he was growing up in West Virginia.  He expressed concern that his daughter goes to a school where everyone looks like her.  When he was growing up, however, he encountered people of different races at his high school.  That made him aware that his way was not the only way to see things.  He said that he did not learn this lesson at church.  This is actually a pretty poignant point, from him.  Usually, in his sermons, his high school experiences are a foil for his church experiences back when he was growing up.  At high school, he did not fit in.  At church, he was accepted and learned that he could make a difference.

The pastor then proceeded to our text.  In the text, we see divisions.  The pastor said that the Pharisees are pretending to be concerned about Jesus by warning him about Herod.  Usually, Pharisees and Herodians were in cahoots (see Mark 3:6; 12:13).  I do not know whether the Pharisees in Luke 13:31-35 were sincere in their concern about Jesus, for there are both positive (or at least neutral) and negative depictions of the Pharisees in the Gospel of Luke.  Jesus did tell them to send a message to Herod, so perhaps that presumes Pharisees and Herodians were in cahoots.

But there were still divisions.  Herod wants to kill Jesus.  Prophets were killed in Jerusalem.  Jesus, by contrast, wants to gather people together like a hen gathers her chicks underneath her wings.  Jesus wants to communicate that to Herod, so Jesus told the Pharisees to inform Herod about his exorcisms and healings.  The pastor may have been suggesting that Jesus wanted to gather Herod, too, underneath his wings.  Herod was one of the bad guys in the story, but Jesus was reaching out to him.

The pastor talked about how Jesus, through his healings, was often including the excluded.  Having leprosy could exclude one from the Israelite community and Temple worship on account of purity regulations.  The pastor suggested that Jesus was tired of this, and that was why he was healing lepers.

The pastor was criticizing dualism: assuming some people are in, while other people are out.  Jesus, however, wanted the people of Jerusalem to know that they all belonged to God.  The pastor acknowledged that there were biblical passages that appear to be rather dualistic, but he said that this highlights why we should read the Bible with wisdom.

I’ll stop here.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Reflections on Justice Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed on unexpectedly last week.  I have been wanting to write a post reflecting on him and his approach to constitutional law.  Here it is!

A.  I do not know exactly when I first heard of Justice Scalia.  I know that it was sometime when I was in high school.

We watched the TV program Picket Fences in the 1990s.  There was an episode in which lawyers Douglas Wambaugh and D.A. John Littleton (played by Don Cheedle) go to the Supreme Court to argue a case.  Wambaugh gets some coaching from the legendary Alan Dershowitz about what to expect from the justices.  Dershowitz said that Scalia likes to interrogate lawyers, like professors do to their law students.  Scalia enjoys good legal sparring!  And, sure enough, that’s what the Scalia character did on the Picket Fences episode.  And that is what the Scalia character did in the movie The People vs. Larry Flint.  And that is what the real Scalia did whenever I had the opportunity to listen to oral arguments before the Supreme Court (i.e., on C-Span).  I read an article sometime this past week that said that this did not happen that much in Supreme Court oral arguments before Scalia came along.  I do not know how true that is.  One thing I will say, though: lawyers probably felt that their mettle was being tested when they were being questioned by Justice Scalia!

B.  When I was in high school, there was a Scalia decision that I thought might affect me.  I was part of an Armstrongite church, so I took a few weeks off from school to attend the Feast of Tabernacles.  That got me in trouble with the public school’s attendance policy: you miss such-and-such days, and you could be suspended, maybe even expelled, and it would go on your permanent record.  We believed that this rule should take second place to our religious freedom.

Well, in 1990, there was the Supreme Court case of Employment Division vs. Smith.  Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion.  The case was about Native Americans who got fired for smoking peyote, which they used in religious observances.  The state of Oregon refused to provide them with unemployment benefits because they had smoked peyote.  The question before the court concerned whether the Native Americans’ religious beliefs should take precedence over the law.  Well, Justice Scalia sided with the state of Oregon in that case.  He put the law ahead of the religious beliefs of the Native Americans.

We did not care for that decision.  Neither, for that matter, did a lot of other people, on both sides of the political spectrum.  Congress responded by passing RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  It was supported by the ACLU, but also the right-wing Concerned Women for America.  As a conservative at the time, I was disappointed with Scalia’s decision, especially because I knew Scalia was one of the conservative justices on the court.  But I was happy that conservatives were supporting RFRA.  Later, in 1997, the Supreme Court said that RFRA was unconstitutional because the Supreme Court, not the Congress, is what defines the rights under the U.S. Constitution.

A lot of debates today—-about whether conservative Christian bakers should be required to bake cakes for same-sex marriages, or about whether conservative Christians have the right to refuse service for religious reasons, etc.—-have their roots in RFRA.  In 2014, Scalia himself joined the majority in striking down an HHS provision that would have required Hobby Lobby to pay for contraceptions it considered abortifacients, in violation of religious beliefs.  There, Scalia supported the law taking second place behind religious convictions.  Whether Scalia in that case was contradicting his stance in Smith, I do not know.  He could probably have referred to nuances or differences between the cases to justify his position.

C.  In college, we had a place where we could put our favorite quotes.  I posted something Justice Scalia said: “We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world.”  That was essentially me giving the middle-finger to the liberals at the school!

D.  I read some of Justice Scalia’s writings in college.  For an Honor Scholar’s meeting, we had to read Scalia’s explanation of textualism.  As a senior, I took a class on civil rights and civil liberties, and our textbook included opinions and dissents from Justice Scalia.  Scalia was probably the clearest writer of all of the justices.  And, in my opinion, his arguments were usually pretty good, as were the arguments on the other side.  I do not remember everything that I read back then, though, which explains my point in (E.).

E.  I struggle somewhat to define what exactly Justice Scalia’s principle of legal interpretation was.  Was he a textualist, one who focused on what the text itself explicitly said?  Was he an originalist, one who thought that we should go with the original meaning expressed by the law’s writers?  Were there any times when he believed that changing times should affect one’s interpretation of the Constitution?  He is usually distanced from that last approach, but people can be inconsistent, at times.

There have been times when Scalia prioritized textualism over originalism (see here).  Textualism itself is usually contrasted with intentionalism (see here).  Yet, Scalia did appeal to original intent.  And that did not always lead him to ultra right-wing conclusions: for example, he said that there were traditional laws that banned people from waving firearms in public, and so there were limitations on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.  Scalia also disagreed with strict constructionism, saying that we should neither interpret the text strictly nor leniently, but reasonably (see here).

This is hearsay, but Ralph Nader wrote a piece about a time when he challenged Scalia’s view that corporations were persons.  Nader asked Scalia how that was consistent with Scalia’s originalism.  According to Nader, Scalia “added that, like Social Security, which he believed to be unconstitutional, the according of corporations the rights of personhood is so deeply embedded in our socio-economic fabric, that it is unlikely the status quo could be reversed” (see here).  Is that allowing the Constitution to be a living, breathing document—-or at least giving it a little breathing room?

There is a lot out there that I can read on this, I am sure.  Sometime, I would like to listen to a public debate that Scalia had with the more liberal justice, Stephen Breyer.  Maybe then, I could have a more nuanced understanding of their positions.  Does textualism mean absurd literalism?  Scalia did not always think so.  Does seeing the Constitution as a living, breathing document mean allowing the Constitution to mean anything one wants it to mean, as many conservatives allege?  I have my doubts that Breyer would go that far.

R.I.P., Justice Scalia.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Book Write-Up: Philosophy in Seven Sentences, by Douglas Groothuis

Douglas Groothuis.  Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic.  Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

In Philosophy in Seven Sentences, Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis discusses the thought of seven Western philosophers.  Groothuis focuses on seven quotations.  The quotations (in whatever translations Groothuis is using) are as follows:

Protagoras: “Man is the measure of all things.”

Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Aristotle: “All men by nature desire to know.”

Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you.”

Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.”

Pascal: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

Kierkegaard: “The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all.”

There were things in this book that I already knew, from my undergraduate education and personal reading.  But I did learn things that I did not previously know (or know too well), such as Pascal’s emphasis on knowing apart from analytical reason and Kierkegaard’s views on the self.

The book is a decent introduction to Western philosophy.  It gives details about the seven philosophers’ lives and their significance within the history of Western philosophy.  Overall, it summarizes and interacts with their thought clearly, though a few passages may require a little more concentration on the part of the reader (i.e., in my case, brief passages in the chapters on Descartes and Kierkegaard).

Perhaps the most endearing quality of the book is how Groothuis brings himself into the discussion.  He talks about his teaching experiences, his students’ reactions to some of the philosophers, the philosophical insights he particularly loves, and his experiences as a student.  He writes with a sense of humor.  He evaluates the quotations from his Christian perspective, yet he appreciates each philosopher and tries to understand the philosophers on their own terms (though he largely disagrees with Protagoras).  Groothuis’ book is introductory, yet he clues readers in about the larger discussions and debates within the academic community.

Groothuis’ tone was pleasant, as if he were offering readers things to think about rather than dogmatically trying to force them to believe a certain way.  I think of the final chapter in which Groothuis is discussing what he gains from the insight or perspective of each philosopher.  He disagrees with Protagoras because, if all we have are ourselves and our own perspectives, can we rise any higher than ourselves?  Good question.

There were occasional times when I winced a bit.  Groothuis was talking about the law of non-contradiction and was using that to argue that we cannot say that all religions are right, or that no religion is wrong.  True, but can one embrace some form of religious pluralism while still believing in the law of non-contradiction?  Groothuis says that Socrates at times referred to God rather than a specific god.  I was not sure what Groothuis was implying in saying that: Was he implying some overlap between Socratic thought and Jewish/Christian monotheism?  The Greeks often spoke of God in the singular, while still believing in many gods.  Groothuis may have done well to have included an endnote explaining this phenomenon.

I am still trying to wrap my head around at least one point that Groothuis makes.  Groothuis raises the question of whether Descartes has undermined empiricism.  Empiricism states that “all knowledge is based on our experience of the space-time world of objects, events and processes” (Groothuis on pages 89-90).  In essence, under empiricism, knowledge is gained solely through one’s senses of the outside world.  But Descartes claimed that he arrived at a truth through reason alone, apart from the senses: “I think, therefore I am.”

Of course, one could say that there are still truths that people gain through the senses, and even that some knowledge that certain philosophers believe are ascertained purely by reason (a priori) actually have their roots in sensory experience (i.e., I believe 1+1=2 because I have seen examples of that in real life).  But Groothuis, perhaps like other philosophers, believes that the debate is more absolutist than that: if one can find any example of knowledge that is not empirical, then that undermines empiricism, which claims that all knowledge is empirical.  Is self-consciousness an example of knowledge that is not empirical?  I wrestle with that, somewhat.  Granted, I am not aware of my thoughts or my existence specifically through the five senses, even though what I learn from the five senses does provide things for me to think about.  Would I say, then, that “some knowledge is given to the self apart from the outside world” (page 90)?  Maybe, but self-consciousness is pretty basic, isn’t it?  Groothuis also refers to Noam Chomsky’s view that “basic structures of grammar are innate”, as in “hard-wired” into us (page 93, Groothuis’ words).

Although Groothuis is more advanced than I am in the academic study of philosophy, I was comparing what he said with my own experiences in philosophy and religion classes, and that was enjoyable.  Groothuis criticized how some philosophers focus on Descartes’ skeptical discussions while ignoring how Descartes tries to get people out of skepticism through a belief in God (i.e., one believes in a good God who does not deceive us but places us in a knowable world).  Groothuis later talked about an atheist professor who ignored spiritual aspects of philosophers’ thought: Kierkegaard’s Christianity, or Hegel’s belief in a world spirit.  Fortunately, I had an atheist philosophy professor who did not ignore the spiritual dimension to philosophy.  She did not find Descartes’ argument for the existence of God to be convincing, but she did appreciate the dilemma that Descartes was presenting: either there is solipsism, or a God who makes a world that is knowable to us.

I would like to offer a few areas of disagreement with Groothuis, primarily on matters of taste.  First of all, Groothuis laments that the TV show Dexter is popular, for it heroizes a serial killer.  Contrary to what may be Groothuis’ understanding, the show is not really saying that people can do whatever they want, whenever they want.  Dexter does wrestle with a moral code, which requires him only to kill murderers.  Second, Groothuis does not care for Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  I love that book, even though I would agree with Groothuis that it falls short of Augustine’s Confessions!

Groothuis says in an endnote that he may write a similar book about the Eastern philosophers.  I look forward to reading it!

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

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Book Write-Up: Who'll Be in Heaven and Who Won't?

Dwight L. Carlson.  Who’ll Be in Heaven and Who Won’t?: The Answer May Surprise You.  WestBow Press, 2012.  See here to buy the book.

Dwight L. Carlson is a physician and a psychiatrist.  He has written Christian books about emotional healing, including the bestselling Overcoming Hurts & Anger.  In Who’ll Be in Heaven and Who Won’t?, Dr. Carlson reflects on perplexing questions about salvation and the afterlife.  These questions pertain to the eternal destiny of those who never heard the Gospel, and the question of whether Gandhi will be in hell alongside Hitler.

Carlson says a lot of things that have been said before by evangelicals and Christians who have addressed this question.  Carlson himself acknowledges this, for he quotes renowned Christians, such as C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, and J.I. Packer (not that they necessarily agree with Carlson’s views on this question in their totality).  Carlson says that God knows the hearts of those who never heard the Gospel, and that God will judge them by what they know and whether they searched for God.  In some cases, God may reward their search for truth by giving them more explicit knowledge of the Gospel. For Carlson, doctrine is important, but so are attitudes.  There are Christians who are proud, exclusive, and unmerciful, like the Pharisees in the Gospels who Jesus said would not enter the Kingdom of God.  Carlson has his doubts that these Christians will be in heaven.

Carlson appeals to the example of Job as a righteous man who responded to God, before God’s revelation of the Torah to Israel and the coming of Jesus Christ.  Carlson believes that there may be people like Job today: people who never encountered a Bible or heard about Jesus yet respond to the light of general revelation (i.e., nature attesting to a creator, or conscience).  Carlson believes that Christians should still send missionaries, for the number of Jobs in other cultures and religions may be small, or God may want to use Christians to give spiritual searchers more light.  Carlson believes, overall, that God is generous rather than stingy with salvation, and he refers to Scriptural passages about God’s name becoming renowned throughout the earth.

Carlson also explores the topic of different degrees of punishment in hell.  Carlson believes that there are different levels of punishment.  Carlson appears to be open to annihilationism (i.e., the wicked will be destroyed), but not to universalism (i.e., God will save everyone), or any possibility of chances for salvation after death.

What was somewhat new to me in reading this book was the phenomenon of crypto-Christians, who include converts to Christianity in Islamic countries who keep their Christianity a secret to avoid being put to death.  Essentially, they pretend to be Muslims.  What is their standing before God?  Carlson seems to believe that God accepts them and that they will go to heaven.  Carlson refers to biblical examples of God accepting people who made religious compromises: Naaman entering the Temple of Rimmon and bowing even after becoming a worshiper of the God of Israel (II Kings 5:18-19), or Peter denying Christ.  For Carlson, conversion to Christianity need not entail becoming Westernized, for people can become Christian within their own culture and can influence their culture from within.

Carlson’s Scriptural exegesis has its good and not-so-good points.  His appeal to the example of Job was pretty convincing.  In defending the existence of different levels of punishment in hell, Carlson did not cite Scripture in the text, but he cited plenty of them in an endnote.  (Perhaps he should have done so in the text, but the endnote can provide a starting point for one wanting to research the topic.)  Carlson wrestled some with the question of when the centurion Cornelius became saved.  Cornelius was righteous before he heard the Gospel (Acts 10), yet God still sent Peter to preach the Gospel to Cornelius.  Carlson said that Christians debate whether Cornelius was saved before or after hearing the Gospel.  Carlson brings into the equation the possibility that Cornelius knew about Jesus when Jesus was on earth.

While Carlson’s Scriptural arguments about the crypto-converts had merit, he should have also wrestled with Jesus’ statement that the Son of Man will be ashamed of those who are ashamed of him (Matthew 10:33; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26).  That does not mean that Carlson should conclude that crypto-Christians should openly declare their Christianity and get themselves killed.  But he should have wrestled with the topic: When should people be open about their faith?  Is there a time and a place for Christians to testify about Christ and to put themselves at risk of martyrdom?  If so, when?

Carlson speculates that the other sheep whom Jesus mentions in John 10:16 may be righteous people in non-Christian cultures and religions who never heard of Jesus.  They could refer to the Gentiles, who would later join the church alongside the Jewish Christians.

The book would have been better had Carlson wrestled with the role of signs and wonders in influencing people to believe.  Jesus in John 15:24 states that, if Jesus had not done the works that no other man had done, those who rejected him would not have had sin.  Does that imply that simply hearing about Jesus and rejecting him is not enough to get one damned: that one becomes damned when one truly knows the message is from God (i.e., through signs and wonders) yet rejects it?  And yet, God refused to resurrect Lazarus to convince the rich man’s brothers to repent.  Abraham said that they have Moses and the prophets, and, if they do not listen to them, then they will not be persuaded were one to rise from the dead (Luke 16:27-31).  That seems to downplay the importance of signs and wonders in making people accountable to God.  Yet, at the same time, those brothers were part of a culture that assumed that Moses and the prophets were divinely authoritative.  They had plenty of light, and they knew that the light was from God, yet rejected it.  My main question here is: How much light is enough for a person to become accountable to God for his or her response?

Here are some of my responses to this book:

A.  A lot of times, Christians wrestle with the fate of those who never heard the Gospel.  What about those who have heard the Gospel, yet reject it because it looks like just one more ideology among many?  People like to bring Gandhi into these discussions, but, as Carlson knows, Gandhi was aware of Jesus and Christianity.  Yet, as far as I know, while Gandhi admired Jesus, Gandhi did not do what evangelicals believe is necessary to become saved.

B.  It seems that, in scenarios such as that of Carlson, people in the West are handed the Gospel on a silver platter, whereas people in other countries actually have to work hard to be saved.  They need to be seeking God with all their hearts.  They need to be arriving at some conclusion that there is one God, in a culture that has contrary assumptions (yet not always, for many cultures may have a belief in a supreme God).  My point is that, in Carlson’s scenario, people in other cultures need to jump through hoops to be saved, whereas the path is easier for people in a culture heavily influenced by Christianity.  One could perhaps add to the equation that God reveals Godself to people in other cultures, so their spiritual pilgrimage is not one-sided, for God is a participant.  Maybe.  It just astounds me what some Christians expect people in other countries to do to be saved, without realizing or appreciating how easy it is to accept Christianity in a culture that has lots of churches and Bibles.

C.  Then there is another question, which somewhat contradicts my point in (B.): people are where they are.  Not everyone feels a need to search for God.  Maybe they are too busy getting through life!  Some have been burnt by religion, as Carlson himself discusses.  Some people struggle to forgive and to be merciful.  People have different temperaments!  Some have experienced things that leave scars and are terribly difficult to forgive.  God should cut these people some slack, rather than damning them for eternity just because they failed to get their spiritual ducks in a row in this life.  The book would have been better, perhaps, had Carlson acknowledged human frailty and the need for God’s mercy.  While he did agree that salvation is by grace and not by works, the tone of the book was that people who have their spiritual ducks in a row are the ones who will enter heaven, whatever their culture.  And Carlson seemed to be a proponent of free will: he should at least consider or address the possibility that people’s wills have been shaped by factors outside of their control (i.e., experiences, temperament), which means that choosing the right path is not easy for everyone.  I should keep in mind, though, that Carlson has written a lot on emotional healing.

D.  Carlson said that, if one is not doing good works, one should evaluate whether one truly has faith.  I wish people who say this would explain what one is supposed to be looking for in doing this evaluation.  How does one do such an evaluation?  What thoughts should be going through one’s head in doing that kind of evaluation?

I received a complimentary review copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Write-Up: Wittenberg vs. Geneva, by Brian W. Thomas

Brian W. Thomas.  Wittenberg vs. Geneva: A Biblical Bout in Seven Rounds on the Doctrines that Divide.  Irvine, CA: New Reformation Publications, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

I have long wondered what exactly the difference is between Lutheranism and Calvinism.

In a college history class, I had to read Martin Luther’s “Bondage of the Will.”  Luther sounded to me like a Calvinist in that treatise.  Luther seemed to be arguing that humans cannot come to God through their own free will, for they are too sinful in nature even to want to come to God.  God therefore needs to transform them spiritually for them to come to God.

I was discussing Luther with a Lutheran, however, and he emphatically denied that Martin Luther believed in predestination.  He appealed to his time at a Lutheran school to support his point.  And, granted, when I was going through Martin Luther’s lectures on Genesis, there were occasions in which Luther appeared to be concerned that the doctrine of predestination could breed spiritual insecurity.

When I read a book by a Lutheran that was critical of Calvinism, I gathered that Lutherans differ from Calvinists on certain issues.  (The book, by the way, was Steven A. Hein’s The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?  It is from the same publisher as Wittenberg vs. Geneva, and, as with Wittenberg vs. Geneva, I received a review copy of it through Cross Focused Reviews.)  Calvinists believe that the saints will persevere in the faith unto the end, whereas Lutherans maintain that a saint could fall away from the faith and lose his or her salvation.  Many Calvinists believe that Christ died only for the elect, the specific individuals God chose before the foundation of the world to be saved.  Lutherans, by contrast, think that Christ died for everyone, and that everyone is objectively justified (forgiven), even if he or she fails to accept that salvation and thus goes to hell.

As I said in my review of Hein’s book, the Calvinist position strikes me as neat and internally consistent: God chooses who will be saved, God transforms those people so that they believe and become saved, and those people persevere in faith until the end.  Granted, I agree with Thomas that Calvinists have to stretch their biblical interpretation to accommodate the biblical passages that do not fit so neatly with their system.  (Lutherans, however, try to cope with the tensions, even if they do not resolve them adequately.)  Still, the Calvinist position itself is neat and holds together.  Lutheranism, by contrast, struck me as rather muddled.  I wondered how exactly it held together.

I was eager to read Brian W. Thomas’ Wittenberg vs. Geneva because it identifies and tackles the differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism.  Thomas writes from a Lutheran perspective, so he defends Lutheran positions while critiquing Calvinist positions.

On the issue of predestination, I was disappointed.  Thomas affirms, as a Lutheran, that Christ died for everyone.  At the same time, he believes in single predestination rather than double predestination.  My understanding is that single predestination states that God chose before the foundation of the world who would be saved, and God later provided those people the resources they needed to become saved.  Double predestination, however, states that God chose who would be saved and who would be damned to hell.  Under double predestination, God specifically predestined certain people unto damnation.

Thomas obviously has problems with double predestination, and they are the same problems that many people have with it.  Thomas also makes an effective biblical argument against it when he notes that the people God hardened in Romans 11 eventually become saved: they were hardened for a time, but that does not mean that God predestined them onto a path of inevitable damnation.  Still, the doctrine of single predestination, as I understand it, does not appear to me to be a significant step up from double predestination.  Under single predestination, God still seems to be choosing to save some and not others.  And what happens to those whom God does not choose to save?  They go to hell, right?

The blogger Lotharson compared single and double predestination to people drowning.  (  Under single predestination, God chooses to rescue some people from drowning, while allowing others to drown.  Granted, God under single predestination is not causing those other people to drown.  But God is still allowing them to drown.  Single predestination does not look that much better than double predestination.

Maybe I have single predestination all wrong, and it maintains that people who were not predestined can still be saved.  If that is the case, it was not that clear in Thomas’ book.

The book has its strengths and weaknesses.  Most of Thomas’ discussions have both strengths and weaknesses.

Thomas effectively argues against certain Calvinist positions.  I John 2:2 states that Jesus is the propitiation of our sins, and also of the sins of the world.  Thomas shows that the Greek word translated “world” in I John elsewhere in I John applies to the entire world, not only the elect.  Hebrews 6:4-6 refers to people who tasted the heavenly gift and fell away.  Some Calvinists, who believe that the saints cannot fall away and lose their salvation, argue that the people in Hebrews 6:4-6 merely tasted the heavenly gift, as opposed to having the Holy Spirit as truly saved Christians.  Thomas disagrees and refers to Hebrews 2:9’s statement that Christ tasted death for every man.  Christ’s taste of death was no light taste!

Thomas’ interpretation of Romans 9-11 was mixed in terms of its quality.  Thomas did try to interpret Romans 9 in light of the Old Testament, and that is understandable.  For example, Thomas notes that God chose Jacob over Esau, but God in the Old Testament still blessed Esau, on some level.  At the same time, even though Thomas is correct that Romans 9-11 does not explicitly mention predestination, I have difficulty escaping the conclusion that Paul there is saying that God spiritually hardens some people.  In Romans 9:19-21, Paul seems to be addressing the argument that this is unfair, for how can God find fault with people whom God Godself hardens?  Thomas interprets the argument that Paul is countering as follows: “If God’s mercy cannot be apprehended by physical descent, good works, or sheer willpower, then how can he still find fault? If salvation ultimately rests in God’s merciful hand, reason revolts by shifting the blame back to God.”  Huh?

Thomas discusses the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper extensively.  My impression, from Thomas’ discussion, is that Calvinists view baptism and the elements of the Lord’s supper as symbolic of spiritual realities (and, according to Thomas, Augustine held that position, too).  Lutherans, by contrast, tend to believe that these sacraments have more power than that.  The water of baptism saves a person, by God’s declaration.  When a person eats the bread and drinks the wine of the Lord’s supper, that person is actually partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  (My impression is that Thomas thinks that the elements of the Lord’s supper contain Christ; he rejects, however, the common idea that Lutherans believe in consubstantiation.)

Thomas’ Scriptural discussion of these topics was all right: I can see Calvinists’ point that there are metaphors in the Bible and thus the bread and wine may be symbolic; on the other hand, Thomas’ argument from I Corinthians 11:29 that even those partaking of the Lord’s supper unworthily are partaking of the Lord’s body is a pretty effective argument.  In addition, in reference to transubstantiation, I have wondered how Christ at the original last supper could call the bread and the wine his body and blood, when Christ’s real body and blood were right there: Christ, the human being, was standing right there!  Thomas addresses this by saying that Christ was hosting the event, yet also offering his body through the bread.

There were insights in the book that I especially appreciated, from a spiritual perspective.  Thomas talks about how the Lutheran perspective offers more spiritual assurance than the Calvinist one: Calvinists look at their faith and the quality of their spiritual lives for assurance, whereas Lutherans encourage Christians to look at the objective reality of the sacraments and objective justification.  (Such is Thomas’ characterization.)  I like that, as one who finds that the quality of my faith and spiritual life falls short.  Yet, while Thomas does well to quote the father who said “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24), he also should have interacted with II Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith” (KJV).

I found Thomas’ interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6 to be helpful.  It concerns apostasy: those who fall away from the faith.  The point of the passage, on the surface, seems to be that those who fall away from the faith have lost their salvation and cannot come back to God.  That interpretation has long troubled me.  How can one reconcile that with Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), in which a person leaves his father but later realizes the error of his ways and returns to his father?  God forgave the Israelites continually after they rejected him and returned to him: Is the new covenant a step down from the old covenant, in that respect?

Thomas’ interpretation is that those who continue to reject Jesus cannot repent.  That makes some sense to me, from a Christian perspective: continuing to reject Jesus is arguably inconsistent with repentance.  One can drink the rain that God sends, or reject it (or so Hebrews 6:7-8 may be saying).  If one is on a path of apostasy, he or she is going the opposite direction from repentance.  Under Thomas’ scenario, one can still decide to accept Jesus and repent after going apostate.  I am not entirely sure if Thomas’ interpretation works, though, for Hebrews 12:17 states that Esau could not repent, even if he sought the blessing with tears.  Esau seems to have been willing to repent, according to the author of Hebrews, but he could not do so.

The book’s discussion of single predestination was disappointing, but the book still made effective arguments, in areas, and had some helpful insights.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews, in exchange for an honest review.

Derek Leman on Jesus' Cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15-19)

In Mark 11:15-19, Jesus drives the moneychangers  and merchants from the Temple.  Jesus tells them that the Temple is supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations, but they have made it into a den of robbers.  I found Messianic Jew Derek Leman’s explanation of this passage in today’s Daily Portion to be informative.

“NOTES: The Temple protest action of Yeshua (a.k.a. the Temple cleansing) is poorly understood because few consider the details of this narrative and place Yeshua’s actions in the context of the Judaism of his time and the context of the Temple of Herod and the way it was run by the powerful Temple state. Mark’s account is the best of all four gospels to help us reconstruct what happened. This incident is of great importance, probably being what sealed Yeshua’s doom in the eyes of the Temple state and Rome. We should read Yeshua’s actions in the giant Temple complex as a commotion, not bringing the whole Temple activity to a standstill. Yeshua acted alone and did not ask his disciples to participate. The following sequence from Mark is helpful to restate: (1) Yeshua enters the Temple, likely the outer courts, (2) Yeshua begins driving out traders and overturning some tables, (3) Yeshua preaches against and takes action to prevent people carrying vessels (baskets, bowls, money bags) through the outer courts, (4) Yeshua preaches from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, (5) Yeshua’s protest becomes known to the chief priests and also the scribes, (6) Yeshua’s action draws a crowd which prevents his immediate arrest. What should be obvious is that Yeshua reveres the Temple and protests the Temple state. Any interpretation which assumes Yeshua wanted the Temple to be destroyed is incorrect. The proper running of the Temple would involve redistributing tithes to the poor and make it a place of God’s Presence, of shared resources, and of joy. The Temple state has made it a place of taxation without redistribution and a source of power and position for the elite. What does Yeshua specifically oppose here? He opposes trading in the Temple courts, carrying vessels through, and filling the place of prayer in such a way as to prevent the main activity which should be here: prayer. Collins explains that the idea of commerce in the Temple courts began with Herod enlarging the Temple area and including a Portico, like the Greco-Roman markets on their temples. Prior to this, tradition says the necessary trade (selling animals, changing money) happened on the Mount of Olives. Maurice Casey (Jesus of Nazareth) explains Yeshua’s very plausible prohibition of carrying vessels through holy space, which is similar to the later rabbinic law, ‘one should not enter the Temple mount with . . . his moneybag’ (m. Berakhot 9:5, see also Harrington). Isaiah 56 is about foreigners and eunuchs in the Temple, but also describes its courts as a place for prayer. Yeshua’s main objection seems to have nothing to do with gentiles (the outer courts were used by Jews and non-Jews for prayer, as numerous New Testament texts and other sources confirm). The commerce here at Passover crowded the courts and prevented prayer. Instead of worship, the Temple was a market. This is also the point of the Jeremiah 7 text, where the prophet complains that the leadership have made of the Temple a source of personal power and enrichment instead of a place of prayer and worship. An additional issue in the money-changing is that the Temple state required the Tyrian shekel, which was more pure in its metal content, but which had an image of Baal Melkart on it (the Syrian Hercules) and was therefore idolatrous. The Temple state’s priority was not holiness, but commerce, power, and wealth. Yeshua’s protest action did not stop Temple commerce and was symbolic. But it drew the attention of the Temple state and also a large crowd. By the time Yeshua completed it, his arrest was certain and the chief priests had what they would need to convince Rome to execute him.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Pharaoh's Daughter, by Mesu Andrews

Mesu Andrews.  The Pharaoh’s Daughter.  Waterbrook Press, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Waring: Spoilers ahead!

This is the first Mesu Andrews novel that I’ve read.  I’ve been wanting to read it for a while.  I decided to check it out of the library because I will be receiving a complimentary review copy of its sequel, which is about Moses’ sister Miriam.  I returned The Pharaoh’s Daughter to the library recently, so I will be writing this book write-up based on my memory of its contents.

The Pharaoh’s Daughter is set during the reigns of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb.  According to conventional chronology, these Pharaohs ruled in the fourteenth century B.C.E.  Mesu Andrews said in the Appendix that she chose to assume a thirteenth century date for the Exodus.  That does not necessarily mean that she is misdating Akhenaten, Tut, Ay, and Horemheb.  Maybe she thinks that Moses grew up during the fourteenth century, but the Exodus would occur later, in the thirteenth century.  That is not implausible, from the biblical narrative’s standpoint.  Moses, after all, lived a long time.

Anippe is the daughter of Akhenaten and the brother of Tut.  Anippe is Akhenaten’s daughter through a concubine.  Anippe’s mother died while giving birth to another baby, and that has made Anippe fearful of childbirth.  She fears that Anubis, an Egyptian god of the underworld, will snatch her and her baby were she to give birth.  Anippe has a sister, Ankhe.  Ankhe is emotionally unstable in that she gets anxious and upset easily.  As a result, Ankhe is considered unsuitable for royalty and is made a servant.  Anippe was raised by Horemheb, a military official.

Akhenaten dies, and Tut takes his place.  That may not be entirely accurate, for there was a woman who reigned in between Akhenaten’s death and Tut’s ascension to the throne.  But perhaps that could be reconciled with Mesu Andrews’ portrait.  Maybe the woman reigned until King Tut was old enough to rule.

There are a lot of Hebrews in the Delta.  They were the Semites who stayed behind after other Semites, the Hyksos, had been expelled.  King Tut’s wife is unable to have children, and his advisor, Ay, suggests that this could be because the overpopulation of Hebrews in the Delta has disrupted maat, or order.  Ay convinces Tut to order the death of every newborn Hebrew baby boy.  In this story, Tut is the Pharaoh of Exodus 1.

Anippe wants to give her husband a son but is afraid of childbirth.  She thinks that her prayers are answered when she finds a Hebrew baby floating in a basket on the Nile.  She names him Mehy.  She learns that the boy’s original family gave him another name: Moses.

In the biblical story, Moses is slow of speech (Exodus 4:10).  Mesu Andrews provides a scenario for how Moses developed a stuttering problem.  Moses beholds the brutality of Tut’s successors (I forget which one, Ay or Horemheb) after Tut’s untimely death.  That scars Moses.

Eventually, Pharaoh Horemheb learns that Anippe adopted a Hebrew.  Ankhe let it slip out in one of her outbursts.  Anippe is ordered to be put to death.  What happens instead is that Anippe assumes a Hebrew identity, takes the Hebrew name Bithia (which means daughter of God), and marries Mered, who recently lost his wife Puah.  Mered, his sons, and Bithia are mentioned in I Chronicles 4:17-18.  Puah was one of the midwives who saved Hebrew baby boys from death, according to Exodus 1:15.

Moses does become aware of his Hebrew identity.  At the same time, he is trained in the Egyptian military.  He is rather arrogant.  He tends to look down on the Hebrews and to identify more with the Egyptians.  He believes that he will have to assume the identity of Seth reborn, which apparently means assuming a chaotic personality and thus being an effective threat to the enemy on the battlefield.  Anippe and others try to convince Moses that this does not have to be his destiny, and that he should embrace the God of the Hebrews, who is a moral and stable deity.  It will be interesting to see how Moses develops as a character in the sequel.

I enjoyed the first seventy pages of the book.  The rest of the book somewhat bored me.  I had difficulty following what was going on.  Still, I am willing to read more Mesu Andrews books, in addition to the review copy that I will be receiving, on account of her research and the interesting questions that she explores.

What were some of the interesting questions that she explored?  Well, there is her comparison of Israelite and Egyptian religion.  Assessing the accuracy of her comparisons may entail a lot of research.  Were the Egyptian gods really flawed and flippant, whereas the God of Israel was a vast improvement?  Did ancient Israelite religion have that evangelical idea of God strengthening people and solving their psychological problems (i.e., fear, resentment)?  Did Egyptian religion lack those themes?  I have opinions, based on some things that I know, but not the encyclopedic knowledge I need to answer these questions, in a manner that does them justice.

Another interesting question that stood out to me in this book is what it meant to be a man.  Mered’s son threatens to expose that Anippe has assumed the identity of Bithia.  That could bring death, not only to Anippe, but also to those who participated in this ruse.  Mered tells his son that he wants to be a man, and part of being a man is recognizing the effects of one’s actions on other.  Good point.

One quibble that I have: Akhenaten, of course, is known for demolishing the worship of other gods besides Aten.  Tut later came and restored the worship of those gods.  There is only one reference to this in the entire book, as far as I can recall.  Mesu Andrews should have interacted with it more.  That would have enriched the theological content of the book, which is not to suggest that it wasn’t rich already, for it was.

I liked how Andrews introduced each chapter with a Bible verse, sometimes from Exodus, sometimes not.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Book Write-Up: Evidence for the Rapture

John F. Hart, ed.  Evidence for the Rapture: A Biblical Case for Pretribulationism.  Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

The rapture is the idea that Jesus Christ will come, resurrect the dead saints, and take the risen and living saints with him to heaven (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).  There is debate among Christians about whether the rapture will take place before or after the Great Tribulation.  The Great Tribulation refers to a seven year period that precedes Christ’s coming back to earth to rule.  The Great Tribulation includes the rule of the Antichrist, God’s wrath on the earth, and the Battle of Armageddon.

Evidence for the Rapture includes scholarly essays defending the rapture being pretribulational.  For these scholars, Christ will unexpectedly rapture the dead and living saints to heaven, the Great Tribulation will then occur, and then Christ will come back to earth to rule.  Post-tribulationists, by contrast, maintain that the Great Tribulation will occur, then Christ will take the risen and living saints with him to heaven when he is coming back to rule.  The saints will then accompany Christ back down to earth.

In this review, I will comment on each essay.

Robert L. Thomas, “The Rapture and the Biblical Teaching of Imminency.”

Thomas in this essay makes an argument for the pretribulational rapture that will appear throughout the book.  This argument points out that there are many passages in the New Testament that say that Christ will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.  For Thomas and other scholars in this book, that shows that the rapture is pretribulational, not post-tribulational.  If the rapture were post-tribulational, then Christ’s coming would not be unexpected: the events of the Tribulation would clue people in that Christ was coming soon, according to a timetable.  If the rapture were pretribulational, then it is unexpected: it would come out of the blue, and then would follow the Tribulation.  This is not a bad argument, but I wonder if the unexpected nature of the Day of the Lord necessarily means that the rapture is pretribulational.  More than one scholar suggests in the book that the second coming of Christ and the Day of the Lord can encompass the entire seven years of the Great Tribulation.  If that is the case, then could not the seven year Tribulation (not the pre-tribulational rapture) be what comes on people like a thief in the night?  In this scenario, people would be going about their business, then a great spiritual test and time of tribulation would befall the earth unexpectedly.

John F. Hart.  “Jesus and the Rapture: Matthew 24.”

Hart argues that the concept of the pre-tribulational rapture is in Matthew 24.  Hart contends that Jesus’ reference to one being taken and the other being left (Matthew 24:40-41) concerns the pretribulational rapture, a view that is not shared by another contributor to the book, Glenn R. Kreider.  Hart also argues that Jesus’ likening of the coming of the Son of Man (for Hart, this is the rapture) to the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39) shows that the rapture will be pretribulational.  Jesus notes that, in the days of Noah, people were going about their everyday business (eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage), until Noah entered the Ark and the Flood came.  The Flood came out of the blue.  Similarly, the coming of the Son of Man will occur unexpectedly, when people are going about their everyday lives.  Hart doubts that this would be true if the rapture were post-tribulational.  Could people blissfully go about their everyday lives, unaware of the coming of the Son of Man, if they are experiencing the plagues of the Great Tribulation?  Hart does not think so, which is why he thinks this coming will precede the Tribulation and will come out of the blue.  Hart also notes that God preserved Noah from God’s wrath on the earth, and Hart believes that God will do the same for believers by rapturing them to heaven prior to the Tribulation.  My problem with this argument is that Jesus in Matthew 24 talks about trials that Christians will experience during the Tribulation, and Jesus tells Christians what to do during that time.  The idea seems to be that Christians (the disciples, or the heirs to the disciples—-however one wants to interpret the second person in Matthew 24) will go through the Great Tribulation, rather than being raptured to heaven prior to it.

Glenn R. Kreider, “The Rapture and the Day of the Lord.”

This essay was unclear to me.  Kreider is interpreting Jesus’ Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.  I could not tell if Kreider was applying that Parable to the pretribulational rapture, or if Kreider was saying that the wheat (the righteous) would be taken to Christ’s earthly millennial kingdom, which occurs after the Great Tribulation.  In any case, this essay raised doubts in my mind as to whether this parable fits neatly (or fits at all) with the pretribulational rapture.

George A. Gunn, “Jesus and the Rapture: John 14.”

This essay argues that Jesus’ statements in John 14 about Jesus receiving Christians to himself and them being where he is applies to the pretribulational rapture.  What interested, and surprised, me about this essay was that Gunn seemed open to the possibility that these statements originally had a different context from its context in John 14: that the original context could have been eschatological.

Michael J. Vanlaningham, “Paul and the Rapture: 1 Corinthians 15.”

This is my favorite essay in the book because of how it brought Old Testament prophecies into the equation when addressing whether the rapture in I Corinthians 15 is pretribulational or post-tribulational.  The essay also interacts with how the New Testament interprets the Old Testament, and the question of whether the New Testament assumes the context of the Old Testament passages that it is applying.  Moreover, the essay also provided a rationale for God’s covenant with the nation of Israel, which dispensationalism believes is literal and lasting: “God’s plan was to radiate his magnificence to the world through His restoration and prospering of the nation…”  A problem that I had with the essay, however, is that it did not sufficiently address the meaning of the “last trump” that Paul says will mark the resurrection of the saints (the rapture) in I Corinthians 15:52.  Many post-tribulationists interpret the last trump as the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15, which occurs near the end of the Tribulation.  When Paul calls the trump “last” (eschate), is Paul implying that the trump is the last of a sequence?  Vanlaningham does not appear to think so, but I am unclear as to why he believes that Paul calls the trump “last.”

Kevin D. Zuber, “Paul and the Rapture: 1 Thessalonians 4-5.”

Zuber argues that the pretribulational rapture is not merely a topic of academic discussion but has spiritual application because it relates to the hope of the believer.  Zuber also responds to the post-tribulational argument that Paul in I Thessalonians 4 presents believers going up to meet Christ, then immediately coming back down to earth with him.  This post-tribulational argument interprets I Thessalonians 4 in light of the ancient practice of people going out of a city to meet a dignitary, then returning to the city with him.  This arguably differs from the pre-tribulational view that the saints in I Thessalonians 4 go up to meet Christ in heaven, then stay in heaven for seven years.

Nathan D. Holsteen, “Paul and the Rapture: 2 Thessalonians 2.”

In II Thessalonians 2, Paul is seeking to reassure Thessalonian Christians who fear that they are experiencing the Day of the Lord.  Paul says that they are not in the Day of the Lord, for the man of sin has not yet sat in the Temple of God, claiming to be God.  Holsteen (and Zuber) thinks that this makes sense in light of the rapture being pretribulational.  For Holsteen, the Thessalonian Christians are fearful about experiencing the Day of the Lord because they think that they just missed the rapture and that God left them behind!  If they believed that the rapture would come after the Day of the Lord, then they would have hope, not fear.  Holsteen seemed rather absolutist about what the Thessalonian Christians would have to believe in different scenarios, but his argument deserves consideration.  He does wrestle with scholarly interpretations of the Thessalonians’ fear, and that is admirable.

Andrew M. Woods, “John and the Rapture: Revelation 2-3.”

Woods argues that the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation relate to the pretribulational rapture, or to people being left behind in judgment.  Woods believes that these letters relate to more Christians than the recipients of the letters in the first century.  Unfortunately, as far as I can recall, he did not really discuss how the pretribulational rapture, or imminent judgment, would relate to the first century recipients of the letters.  Why tell these churches something that did not apply to them?  Or did it?  If so, how?  On another note, this essay did contain an effective refutation of the view that the Greek term oikoumene applied to the Roman empire rather than the entire world.  For Woods, sometimes it applies to the Roman empire, and sometimes it has a broader designation.  We need to look at the context to tell which it is.

Michael J. Svigel, “What Child Is This?  A Forgotten Argument for the Pretribulation Rapture.”

John Nelson Darby, a key figure in dispensationalism, argued that Revelation 12 concerns the pretribulational rapture.  According to this view, the son who is saved from Satan’s flood is not just Christ, but also the church.  Meanwhile, the woman who gave birth to the son is Israel, which goes through the Tribulation.  Svigel contends that this view deserves another look.  This was an interesting chapter in terms of the history of the pre-tribulational rapture doctrine: Darby at first believed that only the particularly righteous believers would be raptured, while other believers would be left behind.  The essay also gets technical on Greek terminology.  Almost all of the essays in this book require attention to detail.  The book is not impossible, but it is not an easy read, either!

Michael A. Rydelnik, “Israel: Why the Church Must Be Raptured Before the Tribulation.”

This is a lucid essay that covers some of the arguments for the rapture that other essays missed.  Rydelnik argues that the beings in white singing praises to God in heaven (Revelation 4:4) are raptured saints.  One argument he makes is that “Their white clothes indicate that these were redeemed people who have exchanged their filthy clothes for white garments” (page 365).  Maybe, but not necessarily, since John 20:12 depicts angels wearing white!  Rydelnik also argues that the New Testament distinguishes between Israel and the church rather than viewing the church as the new Israel.  His arguments for that were all right, but I do not recall him addressing Paul’s statement that believers in Christ (which, presumably, includes Gentiles) are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29).

The book also addressed the question of whether the church fathers believed in a pretribulational rapture.  One essay quoted patristic statements about the second coming of Christ being imminent (and thus unexpected).  Another candidly acknowledged that they did not believe in a pretribulational rapture because they believed that they themselves were experiencing the Tribulation!

I give this book five stars, notwithstanding my disagreement in areas, because it is a scholarly, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book.

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

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