Friday, December 29, 2017

Lecture Series Write-Up: The Psychology of Atheism, by R.C. Sproul

In my post, R.C. Sproul Memories, I mentioned a book that the late R.C. Sproul wrote entitled The Psychology of Atheism, which atheist biblical scholar Robert M. Price actually praised (see here).  I included a link to a series of lectures that Sproul delivered on this topic, and Ligonier Ministries was allowing people to listen to them for free on its web site.  I did so.  Here are some reactions.

A.  One topic that Sproul discussed was epistemology: can we know things and, if so, how?  Sproul referred to rationalism, which focuses on rationality inside of the mind rather than the outside world.  The problem with rationalism is that what is rational or inherently logical is not necessarily real: Sproul said that there is nothing illogical about a unicorn, yet we do not think that unicorns exist.  Empiricists then come back and say that we can only know what we can sense with our five senses.  But Sproul said that our senses themselves are fallible.  He told a story about people who testified that they saw a belligerent man hit another man, but a video of the incident showed that the belligerent man did no such thing.  The eyewitnesses expected the belligerent man to hit the other man, and they confused that with actually seeing it.  Sproul also told a story about when he was giving a lecture, and a woman asked him a question, thinking that he had said something that he did not say.  The thing in, most of the people in that audience thought that Sproul had said it.  Sproul played the tape, and he did not say it.  Yet, people thought that they had heard him say it.

Sproul seemed to prefer Kant’s synthesis of rationalism and empiricism.  How this discussion on epistemology fit into the rest of the series was not entirely clear.  Sproul was asking the question of how intelligent people can have different ideas about the existence of God.  Perhaps he thought that epistemology played some role in people’s different conclusions.  Yet, his main argument is that atheists and agnostics actually know that there is a God, since that is revealed to everyone through nature and conscience (Romans 1:19-21; 2:15), but they choose to suppress that knowledge.  How would the epistemological unreliability (not completely unreliable, necessarily) of rationalism and empiricism fit into that?

B.  As I said in (A.), Sproul’s main argument in the series is that atheists and agnostics actually know that there is a God, since that is revealed to everyone through nature and conscience (Romans 1:19-21; 2:15), but they choose to suppress that knowledge.  Ordinarily, I find that spiel to be revolting because it sounds smug.  Also, it fails to take into consideration the arguments that atheists and agnostics make against the existence of the biblical God, such as the problem of evil, the biblical portrayal of God as violent, or apparent biblical fallibility.

Sproul did not discuss such atheist and agnostic arguments in this series.  Looking at his other teaching series, I see that he has engaged them elsewhere.  But he did not in this series.  He made some arguments for Christianity, though (though maybe in his mind they do not rise to the level of being “arguments,” but rather are things to consider).  At the end of one program, he asked agnostics at least to consider Paul’s claim that humans suppress the knowledge of God because they do not like God, since Paul was one of the most influential figures in history.  Sproul also said that he doubts that humans could invent the idea of a God who is utterly holy: foreign, other, and terrifying.

That last statement is interesting because one of the thinkers whom Sproul profiles, Rudolf Otto, maintained that the concept of the divine as numinous (i.e., other, terrifying) is present in the world’s religions, not just Judaism and Christianity (see here).  What did Sproul do with that?  Did he believe that those other religions had, or preserved some remnant of, the knowledge of the true God, the holy God, and that was why they, too, had a concept of divine holiness?

Something that I liked about Sproul’s presentation was that he stated that what he is saying about agnostics and atheists is true about all human beings, himself included.  Sproul was saying that atheists and agnostics do not want for God to exist and have a personal bias, but he candidly admitted that wishful thinking is part of many theists’ acceptance of theism: he, for example, does not want to live in a cold, godless world, for he deems that to be meaningless.  Sproul talked about how Sartre did not like the concept of always being under God’s watchful, judging eye, for Sartre felt that this would hamper his ability to exist freely, as he desired.  But Sproul said that there is a part of every human being, including himself, that feels that way.

C.  Related to (B.), Sproul referred to Romans 1:22’s statement that those who suppressed the knowledge of God within themselves became fools, though they professed to be wise.  Sproul emphatically denies that Paul was claiming that they were unintelligent, for they clearly were intelligent.  Sproul said that Proverbs 1:7 affirms that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, so those who lack that foundational element lack what is necessary to wisdom, however intellectually competent they may be.

D.  Sproul says that he believes that agnostics are more culpable before God than atheists, for agnostics are essentially saying that the clear evidence that God has provided for God’s existence is not sufficient.  I am not necessarily agreeing with that, but I wondered why he could not say the same of atheists: they, too, reject the idea that there is clear evidence for God’s existence, and thus they do not believe there is a God.

E.  Sproul referred to a question that prominent atheists have sought to address: if there is no God, then how do we explain the existence of religion, the fact that so many people believe in the divine?  Sproul went through the thoughts of Freud, Marx, and Feuerbach.  His explanation of their thoughts was as follows:

Freud believed that humans were scared of nature, so they tried to make nature manageable (in their own minds) by asserting that the elements of nature had a spirit (animism).  With time, they held that different gods were in control of natural phenomena, and they sought to appease those gods.  Another aspect of Freud’s thought was his belief that humans were trying to atone, somehow, for killing their father.  Some primitive humans were upset at how their father was hogging up the resources and taking the women, so they killed him.  But they feared that the spirit of their father would retaliate against him, and thus religion emerged as an attempt to appease a fatherly figure.

Marx held that religion was the opiate of the masses: that the upper economic classes used it to keep the workers happy, or at least content with their labor, so that they would not revolt.  They would keep hoping for paradise in heaven after their deaths and thus would endure the exploitation and misery that they experience on earth.  Also, Christianity encourages people to be meek, the types of people who would not challenge their oppressors.

Feuerbach held that humans project onto divine beings the way that they are and the attributes that they value.  According to Freud, they also look to religion as a path towards human divinization—–specifically immortality.

These parts of the lectures were especially enjoyable.  I thought, “Wow, what if a Christian listens to Sproul’s synopsis of these thinkers and concludes that what they are saying actually makes sense?”  Sproul addressed that concern, saying that there are Christian answers to these claims.  Interestingly, though, he did not exactly make a robust effort to refute these claims.  In the case of Freud, Sproul actually sought to incorporate him into his overall case: that humans will invent a God who makes them comfortable, for they are terrified of the true God being real.

Sproul made that point about people who want a God of unconditional love rather than the just, holy God of the Bible, the one who gets angry at unrighteousness.  Ironically, in response to Sartre’s apprehension about an intrusive God watching and judging him, Sproul essentially argued that those who are repentant do not have to worry about that.  He referred to David’s request in Psalm 139:23-24 that God search him to see if there is a wicked way within him.  According to Sproul, David was aware that he had flaws and things of which he should be ashamed, but he was not afraid of God examining him and finding those things.

F.  Sproul talked about Sartre’s play, “The Flies,” in which Orestes challenges Zeus.  Orestes affirms his own right to find his own way and path rather than being subservient to Zeus.  According to Sproul, this was Sartre’s response to the claims of religion.

Sproul told a story about a mother who was upset that her son was rebelling and would not go to church.  She wanted Sproul to talk to him, and Sproul agreed, though he was  aware that the son most likely would not be open to what Sproul had to say.  Sproul asked the son what his problem was with his mother, and the son replied that his mother is always trying to force him to go to church.  Sproul then asked the son what he believed, and the son said that he believes people should be allowed to do their own thing.  Sproul retorted, “Then why can’t your mother do her own thing and force you to go to church?  At least if you acknowledged a biblical morality under which everyone is accountable, you would have a case to make against your mother: that she is being insensitive and inconsiderate!”  (That is my paraphrase, based on my memory.)

In my post on Gregory Ganssle’s Our Deepest Desires, I wondered if Sartre acknowledged any boundaries in his view that humans should be allowed to exist as they choose rather than being told what their essence is.  I found this post that I wrote on the Cambridge Companion to Existentialism, and I said the following about Sartre, based on my reading of that book:

“Sartre…was rather pessimistic about human beings, thinking that they used others for their own ends. And yet, Sartre was very concerned about the well-being of society: Sartre leaned towards Communism, yet he became disillusioned with it on account of Soviet oppression. Sartre also was critical of racism and colonialism.”

Sartre obviously had some moral conception.  The question would be whether he provided a basis for it, or sought to reconcile it somehow with his existentialist beliefs.  Would he say, for instance, that there is a moral absolute that people should allow others to exist freely?  You know the commonplace slogan: people should be allowed to do what they want, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others.

G.  In my Church Write-Up here, I talked about the “Word of Faith” pastor’s claim that Jesus came to heal us of our hatred of God.  The pastor referred to an interview of atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair.  The interviewer asked everyone in the audience who believes in God to raise his or her hand, and almost everybody did, and the interviewer was implying that this made O’Hair wrong.  The pastor said that O’Hair should have responded to that in this way: “What do you think about a God who punished all of humanity for one couple’s mistake?  A God who demands that you devote every Sunday to him?  A God who commanded that Sabbath-breakers be stoned?”  The pastor said that, had she said that, the hands would have started to go down.

I was actually thinking about this anecdote when I was listening to one of Sproul’s lectures, and, then, lo and behold, Sproul told the same anecdote!  He did not say all of the same things that the “Word of Faith” pastor said, but he essentially made the same point: people in that audience had a nebulous concept of God with which they were comfortable (like the “Force” of Star Wars), but how would they feel about Yahweh, the God of the Bible?  The “Word of Faith” pastor may have gotten the anecdote from Sproul.  The pastor does draw from a lot of resources, quoting from them and showing us clips.  He draws from N.T. Wright, Tim Keller, Ted Talks, etc.

H.  Sproul was making the point that, when humans encounter the holiness of God, they crumble.  He related the story in Luke 5:1-10, in which Jesus causes Peter to catch multitudes of fish.  Peter’s response was not, “Wow!  We should go into business together, Jesus!  You cause me to catch all these fish, and we’ll make lots of money!”  Rather, Peter asked Jesus to depart, for he (Peter) was a sinful man.

This is a compelling point.  Eventually, though, the disciples could be around Jesus as he did miracles, without being overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy.  The multitudes could, too.  Is that because the multitudes did not grasp the extent of God’s holiness?  In the case of the disciples, perhaps they arrived at an understanding of God’s grace: that God is for them, as undeserving as they may be.

Anyway, I enjoyed listening to this series.  I am currently listening to Sproul’s lectures on Roman Catholicism, but I may not blog about that.  They are interesting, but they do not inspire me to write a blog post, as the series on the “Psychology of Atheism” did.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book Write-Up: Probing

Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky.  Probing.  Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

Probing is the third volume of the “Harbingers” series.  As in the first and second volumes, authors Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky each contribute a section, from the perspective of a main character. Bill Myers conveys the perspective of Brenda, a tough tattoo artist who has premonitions of the future. Frank Peretti contributes the perspective of the professor, James McKinney, an atheist ex-priest. Angela Hunt writes from the point-of-view of Andi, the professor’s assistant, who is Jewish. And Alton Gansky shares the viewpoint of Tank, a lovable ex-jock, who is probably the most Christian character in the book. Another character is Daniel, who hears from invisible people. Brenda is a mother-figure to him.

Allow me to comment on each story:

Bill Myers, “Leviathan.”

This story had an interesting concept: there is a colliseum-type environment, and the sinister, conspiratorial Gate is using that to shape people’s morality for the worse.  There was also an insightful exchange about whether God is necessary for there to be morality.  The professor said no, for morality is simply human attempts to keep communities from self-destruction.  Tank retorted, however, that he himself needed God to have the strength to do right.  Bill Myers’ contribution was like his contribution to the other two books: there are some interesting details.

Frank Peretti, “The Mind Pirates.”

I did not care for this story, as much.  It was rather scattered.  I know there were pirates in it, but I cannot tell you much else.  Another issue I have is that the professor was said to be a professor of fields that are in the humanities, whereas Angela Hunt depicts him researching and writing about science (i.e., dimensions).  There could have been more coordination among the authors about what exactly the professor’s field was.  I enjoy many of Frank Peretti’s books, but I have had difficulty with his stories in this series.  He writes from the perspective of the professor, but I usually find that I prefer the other three authors’ depiction of that character.

Angela Hunt, “Hybrids.”

As in the first volume, Angela Hunt’s contribution is the best.  She did a better job telling the story in an understandable, compelling manner.  Maybe that is because she includes more dialogue that tells readers what is going on, or she focuses more on the characters’ feelings than the other authors do.  This story had some interesting scientific speculations about time travel.  A main character drops out, and there is a mysterious incident at the end.

Alton Gansky, “The Village.”

Gansky’s contribution was actually pretty good.  It is from the perspective of Tank.  Tank shares his Christian faith, but he also vividly describes his struggles with his gift of healing, appealing to a scientific experiment on animals as an analogy.  Tank comes across as a sensitive, loving person.

This may be the final book of the series.  Unlike the last two books, this one did not end with an excerpt from the coming book.  Plus, Amazon says this is Book 3 of 3.  There are unanswered questions, such as the question of how the professor lost his faith.  This series is not my favorite, but the characters were entertaining and likable, in their own way.

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Write-Up: An Amish Christmas Love

Beth Wiseman, Amy Clipston, Kelly Irvin, and Ruth Reid.  An Amish Christmas Love: Four Novellas.  Thomas Nelson, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

I will not post this review on Amazon, so it will be more informal than the reviews that I usually post there.

I saw this book on BookLook Blogger’s web site.  I wanted to read it, but I saw other books there that I also wanted to read.  I read two of those books, one after the other, then came back to BookLook Blogger’s and found that An Amish Christmas Love was no longer there.  Fortunately, I found it for a good price on Amazon Kindle, which is not the same price that is there now.    I read the stories during the Christmas season.

Here are my reactions to each story.

“Winter Kisses,” by Beth Wiseman.

This story was all right.  I don’t remember a lot of it, to tell you the truth.  There was a lot of romance, and, in some cases, almost-romance.  The grandmother liked to tell people “You are not the boss of me,” and she had an interesting romantic story in her own background.  Naomi, her daughter, was very straitlaced.

“The Christmas Cat,” by Amy Clipston.

This was my favorite story in the book.  I am a cat lover.  Many of the Amy Clipston books and stories that I have read say on the “About the Author” page that she has four spoiled-rotten cats.  Now, she only has three, and she dedicates this story to the cat who passed on.  This would move me ordinarily, since, as I said, I love cats.  But it especially moved me this year because we lost one of our cats in September, Figaro, and we miss him.

The story is about Emma Bontrager, who was recently widowed.  A fluffy orange cat keeps showing up at her house, and she finally lets him inside.  The cat reminds me of our cat Dante, who is a fluffy black cat with a big bushy tale that twitches when he is especially happy.  Throughout the story, Emma is thinking back to the challenges that she and her husband had when they were younger.  Also, some young friends visit her and provide her with company during the holiday season.  That was nice of them.

I like some of Amy Clipston’s stories, and others I do not like as much.  She can be repetitious, and some of her stories are not very eventful.  The stories of hers that I like are not repetitious.  Perhaps my favorite one that she wrote was “Home Sweet Home,” which was in the book An Amish Home (which you can get for a low price now).  It was a gripping story about a couple that was struggling, and it received no help from the gruff lawyer father (I forget whose father he was—-the wife’s or the husband’s).  Fortunately, a doctor from a church reached out to help them.  “The Christmas Cat” is my second favorite short story that Amy Clipston wrote.  I cannot say that it is eventful, but I loved the cat and the friends, and the flashbacks of Emma’s early struggles made Emma a character with whom one could sympathize and perhaps even empathize.

“Snow Angels,” by Kelly Irvin.

David Byler had a romance with Bonnie, a non-Amish girl, while he was on his rumspringa, but he did not want to leave Amish life.  Bonnie then went off to college and dated there.  David met an Amish woman named Molly, a shy, quiet, and diligent woman.  But Bonnie comes back into David’s life, and what is David to do then?  This was not my favorite story in the book, but I could identify with Molly, who struggled socially.  I also found interesting the concept that Molly actually liked Bonnie, even though Molly felt threatened by her.

“Home for Christmas,” by Ruth Reid.

This story was pretty good, though it took a while until I started to follow it.  Cat lovers will enjoy Amy Clipston’s “The Christmas Cat.”  Dog lovers will enjoy Ruth Reid’s “Home for Christmas.”  Ellie Whetstone has a dog whom she takes to dog shows, and this dog reaches out to a man’s daughter, who has seizures.  There are sweet dogs out there!  This one was not only sweet but had a profound sensitivity towards the daughter’s condition.

Ellie is not Amish, since (if I recall correctly) her mother left the faith.  But her late aunt was Amish, and Ellie is going to the aunt’s house so she can clean and sell it.  She ends up going into the wrong house, that of Ezra, whose daughter has the seizures.  Ezra is rather gruff.  He doesn’t care for the dog!  But he helps Ellie with the house repairs, as he knows a lot about that sort of thing.

Ellie finds her late aunt’s diary, and her aunt’s faith and concern for the well-being of others really moves her.  That was an interesting element of the plot, though the plot was wrapped up too quickly and neatly.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Church Write-Up: Not Letting God Pass By, and the Question of Whether David's Hands Were Unclean

I went to the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church on Christmas Day.

The pastor shared that he was in the process of editing his father-in-law’s old sermons, and he came across a story in one of them.  In this story, the Prince of Wales accidentally got stranded in the middle of nowhere, and he knocked on the door of a farmer, in hopes of coming inside to get warm.  Irritated, the farmer replied that it was midnight, and he had no intention of letting a stranger into his house.  The prince tried again, and the farmer gave the same answer.  The farmer lost the opportunity at least to get his name in the newspaper in a positive way, all because he was committed to his routine.

Similarly, the pastor said, how many of us let God pass us by because of our preoccupations?  We may by busy, or we may find ourselves obsessing over missed opportunities or resentment after a broken relationship.  In the process, do we allow God to pass us by?

The pastor referred to the story of Michal, the wife of King David, in II Samuel 6.  The Ark of the Covenant was entering Jerusalem, and David danced about with enthusiasm about this.  Michal rebuked David, claiming that he was showing off too much skin to the slave women, and that he was behaving in a manner that was undignified for a king.  She let her prejudices and her bitter feelings get in the way of appreciating the entrance of the Ark into Jerusalem.

The pastor shared another story.  Back when he was 17 years old, a guest pastor was preaching at the church that he attended.  This guest pastor was the father of Paul Simon, who would become a U.S. Senator.  (Remember when Paul Simon ran for President in 1988 and wore bow-ties?)  The guest pastor repeatedly said, “Come see the baby in the manger,” and that annoyed the 17-year old.  The 17-year old shared his concern with an elder, and the elder responded that the guest pastor was doing this because he had a son with a learning disability (a brother of Paul), and the guest pastor wanted this son to grasp the Christmas story.  The pastor did not want his son to miss the meaning of Christmas.

The pastor had told the story of Michal because our Old Testament reading was Psalm 24, which talks about the gates opening and the King of Glory, God, coming in.  The pastor asserted that Psalm 24 was written by David in light of the entrance of the Ark into Jerusalem, which is in II Samuel 6.  The pastor noted that there is another element to Psalm 24: v 4 affirms that only one with clean hands can ascend God’s hill and stand in God’s holy place.  But David lacked clean hands, the pastor said, for God forbade David to built the Temple because David’s hands were defiled with the massive bloodshed that he committed in war (I Chronicles 17:26-27; 28:3).  The pastor affirmed that Jesus has clean hands, and it is through his act of salvation that we can approach God.

Here are a couple thoughts:

A.  I looked at I Chronicles 17:26-27 and 28:3, and they do not say that David’s hands were defiled with blood.  Still, David was forbidden to construct the Temple because of the bloodshed that he had committed in war.

Years ago, at an independent Seventh-Day Adventist church that I attended, the Sabbath school teacher was interacting with these passages.  He struggled with them.  Why would God disapprove of David shedding blood in war?  Was not David fighting the battles of the Lord, with which God assisted Israel?  Why would David be punished for doing what God wanted him to do in the first place?  The teacher concluded that these passages were not about David’s participation in wars, but rather David’s murder of Uriah to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba and to take her as his wife.

That does not exactly work, though, if you take the biblical stories chronologically and put them together.  God intended for Solomon to be the one to build the Temple before David’s sin with Bathsheba (cp. II Samuel 7 and I Chronicles 17; II Samuel 11 is where one finds the Bathsheba story).

(UPDATE: I am having second thoughts about my argument here.  II Samuel 7:1 takes place after God had given David rest from all his enemies, and II Samuel 8 describes David’s subordination of the foreign enemies of Israel.  Yet, after those chapters, there are still wars between Israel and the other countries.  II Samuel is not necessarily in chronological order.  Still, I Chronicles 17:26-27 and 28:3 refer to David’s wars, not his murder of Uriah.)

Within the biblical story, God may have regarded David’s wars as necessary, yet less than ideal, in a less than ideal world.  God wanted God’s Temple to be associated with peace.

B.  The topic of the sermon, not letting God pass us by, reminded me of the last year of my college experience.  What many Christians would call a revival was taken place on the campus.  A Christian group was growing exponentially.  People who did not ordinarily go to Christian activities were attending it.  For a while, I was hesitant to go, on account of my social insecurity and my routine.

The leader of the Bible study group that I attended was a pushy sort, and he was saying that I should go to the Christian group.  Eventually, I went, and I did enjoy it.  In terms of my experience, it set the standard for praise and worship.  I have had decent praise-and-worship experiences since then, but nothing quite like what I experienced in that Christian group.  There was an electricity about it.

There have been many times since then that I have regretted going to that Bible study group.  Had I not gone to the Bible study group, however, I would not have attended the Christian group.  To be honest, even then, I think to myself, “Would that have been a big deal?  It was a group that attracted a bunch of people, for whatever reason.  So what?”  But I think that I was right to be excited about what God was doing on the campus (according to one interpretation of events), and to show my enthusiasm by showing up and singing along.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Church Write-Up: Christmas Eve 2017

For church on Christmas Eve morning, I went to the 9 A.M. service at what I call the “Word of Faith” church.  The Missouri Synod Lutheran church was having a 10 A.M. service, rather than its usual 8:30 A.M. traditional service and 11:00 A.M. contemporary service (which I often attend after going to the 9 A.M. “Word of Faith” service).  Consequently, I did not go there.  I was thinking of going to the “Pen church’s” (or so I call it) 11:30 A.M. service, but the “Word of Faith” service got out at 10 A.M., which was earlier than usual.  I do not have a car, and I was not going to walk for an hour-and-thirty-minutes in cold and snow.  Thus, I went home.

I was still hungry for another church service, so I visited the web site for John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church to catch the live 10:30 A.M. service.  But I had to get Adobe Flashplayer to watch that, and I am hesitant to download that right now.  I may later.  I tried the audio service, and that came through, but I could hardly hear it, even though my volume was all the way up.

It was almost 11:00 A.M., and I was looking at my Word document that has links to live- streaming of services, just in case I am snowed or rained in and decide to have church at home.  I saw Rick Warren’s Saddleback church was there, so I tried that.  Although the Saddleback service initially struck me as too “hip,” or as trying to be “hip,” I kind of liked it.  It had a welcoming, friendly quality to it.  I especially liked how Rick said that our needs are important to the church, and he encouraged people to put their prayer requests on cards.  Those watching the service online also could fill that out online, if they so desired.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  There were common themes between the “Word of Faith” service and the Saddleback service.  First, there was the theme of distress.  At the “Word of Faith” service, we were lighting the candles, and the pastor was saying that some of us are candles that are flickering—-and we was not talking about our spiritual condition, but he probably had in mind Matthew 12:20, which applies Isaiah 43:3 to Jesus: a smoldering wick he will not quench.  The pastor also talked about how Jesus was light in the midst of the darkness.

Similarly, Rick Warren talked about how, for many of us, it has been a difficult year—-in some cases, extremely difficult.  There have been natural and human-made disasters.  He cited the overt racism that was expressed in 2017.  Yet, he noted that there have been good things happening in 2017, such as the increasing recognition that sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious problems.

Rick then discussed how, for a number of characters in the Christmas story, it was not initially a “Merry Christmas.”  Not all of the events that he discussed took place on a single day, or even on the same day, but his examples are worth considering.  Mary was troubled when the angel Gabriel appeared to her (Luke 1:26).  The shepherds were terrified when they saw the angel (Luke 2:9).  Joseph was probably hurt when he learned that Mary was pregnant, and not with his baby.  But they had joy when they looked up to heaven and focused on what God was doing.  Warren encouraged us to look up, and he shared about the tragic suicide of his son four years ago.

Another common theme was that of personal change.  At the “Word of Faith” service, we were shown on the big screen people in the church who initially had problems, but then their situation looked better.  They were initially lonely or isolated, but they found acceptance or a sense of purpose at the church.  They were depressed at first, but now they have joy.  At Saddleback, Rick said that he knew thousands of people who have been changed through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  They can testify that they were once one way, but now they are different, and different in a good way.

B.  This second item is actually a conglomeration of items.  They include issues that the services got me thinking about.

(1.) Rick Warren asked how we can be sure that we have met Jesus.  He said that we can be sure when we are humbler and lacking in narcissism, when we gladly worship God, and when we offer God our plans and dreams (or something to that effect, for the last one).  These are the characteristics of the people in the Christmas story after their encounter with God.

I am not devoid of pride and narcissism, since my feelings get hurt easily.  I also doubt that other Christians are devoid of pride and narcissism.  Still, I have to admit: when Christians are enamored with God, that at least has the potential to lessen their pride and narcissism, or to put it into perspective.

But I wonder something: Why do we have to prove to ourselves that we have met Jesus?  If we met him, we met him, right?  I do not have to prove that I met a person: if I met the person, I met the person.  If it needs to be proven, is that because one may have doubts about whether he or she met Jesus?  Or perhaps he or she is attempting to interpret an authentic spiritual experience that he or she has had?

(2.) Rick quoted Matthew 11:29, where Jesus encourages people to take his yoke upon them, for his yoke is easy.  Rick said that yokes were ways for two animals to share their labor, which lessened the burden of the labor for both of them.  Jesus’ point, according to Rick Warren, is that Jesus does not want us to carry our problems all by themselves.  Jesus wants to share that burden with us.
I wonder if that meaning would have made sense to Jesus’ audience at that time.  The resurrected Jesus is one who carries our burdens with us.  But the human Jesus at that time?  I doubt that Jesus’ audience would have seen him that way.  “How can this man carry my burdens?”, they would have asked.

Perhaps the passage was written for a Christian audience, implicitly encouraging them to let the risen Jesus carry their burdens.  Or could it be that even the human Jesus was offering to carry people’s burdens, on some level, by imparting teaching that could help them?

(3.)  The “Word of Faith” pastor was saying how he believed that Jesus was present in every book of the Bible.  I found some of these lists on the Internet, and some of them overlapped with what the “Word of Faith” pastor said, and some of them did not.

My historical-critical tendencies recoil somewhat from this approach: Haggai is not about Jesus restoring worship, I thought, but it is about post-exilic Jews restoring worship.  Still, I think that it is possible to preserve the historical-critical readings and the Christian ones.  Something in the Hebrew Bible can remind a Christian of what Jesus did, according to the Christian religion.  There is also typology: that one event can foreshadow another event—-in the case of Christianity, an event that has to do with Jesus.  The ancient Antiochian school of biblical interpretation was rather literalistic and historicist in its approach to the Hebrew Bible, but it was open to typology.  Typology preserves the historical-literal meanings of Old Testament passages, while allowing them to foreshadow the New Testament.  Where I have a problem is when people suppress or ignore the distinct message of a passage or book in the Hebrew Bible, so that it conforms to a Christian theme.  I-II Chronicles separates between the royal and priestly offices, for example, whereas Jesus in the New Testament unites the roles in himself (particularly in Hebrews).  One should let Chronicles be Chronicles and Hebrews be Hebrews, rather than downplaying the Chronicler’s message in an attempt to make its good kings a type of Jesus.  See my post here.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Book Write-Up: Long Before Luther, by Nathan Busenitz

Nathan Busenitz.  Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation.  Moody Publishers, Master’s Seminary Press, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Nathan Busenitz has a doctorate in church history from the Master’s Seminary, with the focus of his doctorate being patristic theology.

In Long Before Luther, Busenitz argues against the view, held among Catholic and even some Protestant scholars, that the Protestant doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone originated with the Protestant Reformation. The Protestant doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone asserts that God forgives and considers righteous those who place their faith in Jesus Christ; after justification comes sanctification, which is living a holy life.  Some Reformers liken justification to being clothed with the righteousness of Christ: Christ was punished as a sinner even though he was righteous, so those who believe in Christ are reckoned by God as righteous, even though they are sinners.  When God looks at them them, God sees the righteousness of Christ that covers them, not their sins.  The Protestant doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone is often believed to differ from the Catholic doctrine of justification.  Whereas the Protestant doctrine states that sinners who believe in Jesus are reckoned as righteous by God at justification, the Catholic doctrine portrays justification more as God making people practically righteous, infusing into them righteous desires such that they live a holy life.

For Busenitz, the manner in which prominent Protestants have conceptualized justification existed long before the Protestant Reformation.  Not only does it go back to the New Testament, Busenitz argues, but prominent Christian thinkers from the second century C.E. through Augustine and the medieval period made statements that resemble what Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther, Phillip Melanchthon, and John Calvin taught about justification.

The book is abundant in quotes.  Busenitz not only quotes significant Christian thinkers in the body of his text, but he has an appendix that lists quotes.  Among the people Busenitz quotes are Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Hilary of Poitiers, Basil of Caesarea, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Bede, Symeon the New Theologian, Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, and more.

Occasionally in the body of the book, Busenitz provides indications that the issue may be more complex.  In discussing Augustine, Busenitz lays out the arguments that Augustine conceived of justification as God making people practically righteous rather than God declaring people righteous.  Busenitz even acknowledges that, on some level, that is accurate, for Augustine interpreted the Latin term “iustificare” as making righteous rather than declaring righteous.  Still, Busenitz argues, and demonstrates, that Augustine also portrays justification as God forgiving people’s sins and declaring them righteous when they have faith, apart from good works or merits on their part.

The endnotes are especially nuanced.  Busenitz acknowledges that there were patristic thinkers who focused more on good works in their discussion of justification.  He attempts to explain why patristic thinkers focused so much on good works, or were not always precise or crisp in their depiction of justification.  Busenitz also points out that the Reformers differed among themselves in how they conceptualized justification.

One critique that can be made is that Busenitz could have been clearer and more specific about what is at stake in terms of this issue.  He did try, but his explanation was brief and somewhat nebulous.  What does it matter if justification by grace through faith alone was taught prior to the Reformation: if it is in the Bible, it is in the Bible, and is not that what is important?  Why bother with what the church fathers taught, as if they are authoritative?  So some Christians may argue.  Actually, though, it is important.  Do we really want to act as if the church lost something as serious as the Gospel for over a thousand years, until the Protestants came along?  Do we want to assume that the Holy Spirit was inactive until the Protestant Reformation?  Busenitz leans towards these explanations about why the issue is important, but he does not quite articulate them explicitly.

There were also significant issues that Busenitz should have explored.  It is not surprising that, prior to the Reformation, there was a belief within Christianity that God acquitted believers of their sins, even though they did not deserve it.  Catholics today believe that.  But did the church fathers think, like Catholics, that believers somehow needed to maintain or renew that acquittal, through sacraments such as the Mass or acts of penitence?  Did church fathers believe that a Christian could lose his or her salvation through unatoned mortal sin?  These are issues to explore in trying to determine whether the church fathers were more similar to the Protestants or the Catholics on salvation.  Busenitz briefly touched on penitence in an endnote, but, overall, these issues were left untouched.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Publishers.  My review is honest.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Church Write-Up: Comfort Plus Service, the Fall (Again), He Brought Himself, Abundance

I went to the Wednesday Advent service at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.

The pastor opened his sermon by talking about the charity work that the church is doing this Christmas season, in an attempt to make other people’s lives at least somewhat better.  He then mentioned charity work that is being done by others this season.

After that, the pastor discussed the catastrophes that people suffer today, and how, in this age of the Internet, we learn about them instantly.  He remarked that many long for the simplicity of the past.  And yet, he continued, the past was far from perfect.  In certain respects, it was worse back then than it is now.  Many children and infants died.  In the Psalm that we read today, Psalm 147, we see that there were broken and downcast people about two-thousand years ago.

The pastor then said that a number of people ask how, if there is a God, God can allow natural disasters and diseases such as cancer.  The pastor said that this is a difficult question to answer, and he feels that it is the wrong question.  According to the pastor, these things exist, not due to God, but due to human beings, who at the Fall tried to be gods rather than obeying and worshiping the true God.  As a result, creation is under God’s judgment.

But Jesus came and he healed people.  He came, not just to make things better, but to make things new.  This will be completed at his second coming.  In the meantime, the church is to spread the Gospel, and God delays the Second Coming so that this can take place.

Yet, the newness that Jesus came to bring has present relevance, the pastor affirmed.  He referred to when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, and there was plenty left over after everyone in the desert with Jesus had eaten his or her fill.  Jesus brings abundance.  But abundant what?  The pastor said that Jesus brings an abundance of grace and forgiveness.  That can help us, when we are old and a body part starts to ache.  (An elderly woman in the congregation chuckled at that, indicating she identified!)  It can help us, when it is Christmas and we miss a lost loved one.

Here are some of my reflections:

A.  I have been thinking about the church’s service work lately.  A friend of mine wrote a blog post a while back about how, in this stage of his life, he prefers the Lutheran church that he attended since his youth to a Presbyterian church that he has visited.  His reason is that the Lutheran church emphasizes God’s love, redemption, and God meeting people’s needs, whereas the Presbyterian church stresses the importance of becoming changed then going out to change the world.  In his current time of suffering, my friend finds that he needs the former kind of message.

The Lutheran church that I have attended, like that of my friend, stresses God’s love for us and presence with us; at least that has been the case when I have been there.  Yet, it also engages in a lot of service activities.  It does service, and it likely believes that service is an integral part of the Christian life.  But its stress is on God’s love.  It has comfort plus service.  And maybe the two overlap and reinforce each other.

B.  In my last two posts about the Wednesday Advent services, I struggled a little with the concept of the Fall: did it happen, and is it consistent with science or scientific accounts of history?

John Walton’s interpretation of the Adam and Eve story makes some sense to me.  According to Walton, there was death in the world before Adam and Eve sinned, but Adam and Eve could continue living by partaking of the Tree of Life in Eden.  When they sinned, however, they were cut off from the Tree of Life.  One can perhaps take this interpretation (whether or not Walton intended this) in the direction of saying that the Fall of Adam and Eve did not result in a change in the natural order, as if God decided to create (say) fault lines after the Fall: rather, it meant that Adam and Eve were cut off from the Tree of Life and thus were left victim to the natural order.  See here for here for my posts about Walton’s interpretation.

There are elements of Walton’s interpretation that bother me.  For example, Walton believes that Adam and Eve were priests in Eden, and yet there were other people outside of Eden.  But why would Adam and Eve be allowed to live forever by partaking of the Tree of Life, whereas those outside of Eden could not do so?  Walton does seem to believe that the Fall unleashed some sort of chaos into the world, so he may think that even those outside of Eden were better off before the Fall than after it.

C.  The pastor’s sermon made me think about the Christian argument that Jesus’ miracles and healings were a preview of what the World to Come (the world after Jesus comes back and renews it) would be like: a world with abundance for all, free of disease.  I have wondered why Jesus gave those previews to people at that time, only to wait thousands of years after that to come back.  I one time asked a Christian friend of mine what exactly Jesus brought at his first coming—-and I know that he brought a great deal, such as dying for people’s sins, but what was the purpose of his healings and miracles.  My friend responded, “He brought himself.”  Perhaps that is at least one solution to my confusion: Jesus came and showed that he himself was the Messiah who would later (after his second coming) bring abundance and an end to disease.

D.  I struggle with the idea that Jesus brings an abundance of forgiveness.  The reason is that he conditions God’s forgiveness of us on our forgiveness of others (Matthew 6:15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25-26).  If that is the rule, then I will have a difficult time ever getting God’s forgiveness.  But that is an old story on this blog.  I may be struggling with this for the rest of my life.

E.  Does God bring abundance?  It doesn’t often feel like it.  At times, it is a struggle to get through the day with a positive attitude.  Call that what you will—-hanging on, persevering—-but it’s not exactly abundance.  But I like the idea that feeling abundance is at least possible.  I am reading The Reformation Commentary on Scripture for Hebrews and James, and a number of Reformers interpreted Hebrews 11:1, specifically the part about faith being the substance of things hoped for, to mean that, by faith, Christians can make the things that they hope for a reality to them right now.  It’s not that those things physically, concretely exist for the Christians right now, but the Christians’ faith makes those things real to them, such that they impact their lives.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

R.C. Sproul Memories

I didn’t personally know R.C. Sproul, but here are some memories of my encounters with his work.

A.  In the college library, I saw his book, The Last Days According to Jesus.  I wanted to read it, but I did not at that time.  I would read it years later.  I vaguely knew who he was at that time, perhaps because I saw his books advertised in the Christian Book Distributors catalog.  I had gone to elementary, junior high, and high school with someone whose last name was "Sproul," so that may have been why R.C. Sproul's name stood out to me. 

B.  During the summer after I graduated from college, I listened to him a little more.  I was listening to James White debates on the Internet, and I found R.C. Sproul’s “Renewing Your Mind” radio program somewhere.  The episode that I heard was about how certain Puritans opposed the concept of people agreeing to be damned for the glory of God.

C.  I went to Divinity School after college, and I had a job shelving books at the library.  I came across a book by R.C. Sproul.  He was telling a story about when he was in seminary in the 1960’s.  His professor was pretending to be a Mormon, and the students had to come up with an answer to what he was saying.  The professor argued that God had a body, and R.C. Sproul retorted that God cannot have a body because John 4:24 affirms that God is spirit.  The professor responded that God being spirit does not preclude him from having a body, for people are spirits, yet have bodies.  R.C. replied that the passage means that God lacks a body, for its point is that God cannot be confined to a particular sanctuary.  The professor then said, “But, Mr. Sproul, that will never do,” then said that God’s body is very big, and that is why God cannot be limited to a single sanctuary.

R.C. gave up, and other students tried to answer, until they gave up.  Finally, they asked the professor how to answer the argument that God has a body.  The professor appealed to John 4:24.  R.C.’s hand shot up, because wasn’t that the answer that he had given earlier?  Did not the professor tell him that this answer would never do?  The professor said, “But, Mr. Sproul, what sort of answer is ‘That will never do?'”  You can read R.C. Sproul’s telling of the story here.  I liked that story.  R.C. Sproul had long come across to me as learned and professorial, the sort of person who knew how to respond to challenges and questions.  But he was telling the story of when he was a humble seminary student.

D.  When I lived in New York City, I listened to him a little more often.  I remember a sermon that he gave on the Good Samaritan, and he said that a good question we should ask ourselves is, “Who isn’t our neighbor?”  His point, of course, was that we should love that person, too.  I also heard a lecture from a series that he gave on the “Last Days According to Jesus.”  He was arguing that “this generation” in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 meant the generation of Jesus’ day.  People point to that to argue that Jesus expected the end to come soon.  At the time, I did not get to hear how R.C. Sproul got out of that problem.  Later, I would read The Last Days According to Jesus, where he presents a partial preterist (I think that’s what it would be called) perspective.

E.  When I lived in Cincinnati, there were nights when I would listen to Christian radio when I was asleep.  An episode of R.C. Sproul’s program was in my dreams.  I was trying to respond to a professor in the dream, but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise!  But the professor was making interesting points: about how Lutheran views on predestination differs from Calvinist views, for example.  I would later listen to that episode on the Internet when I was awake.  I always liked listening to R.C. write on his chalkboard when he was lecturing.

F.  I was becoming disenchanted with evangelicalism during my time in Cincinnati, and a Christian friend was trying to win me back to it.  I expressed a problem with the idea that Jesus was the only way, and my friend presented a quote by R.C. Sproul that essentially said “Take it up with Jesus: he’s the one who said it!,” albeit with intellectual language.  When my friend was responding to another skeptic online, he asked the skeptic if he had read Josh McDowell and R.C. Sproul, as if they would help this skeptic see the light.  I liked R.C. Sproul, since he struck me as the sort of person who fairly summarized and evaluated different points-of-view.  But I had a slight problem with my friend pointing to him as the end-all, be-all.  “All doubts flee!  R.C. Sproul is here.”

G.  My Dad reconnected with a friend from high school, and she was a Primitive Baptist, a Baptist who believed in double predestination.  My Dad did not buy into that point-of-view.  She lent my Dad a book by R.C. Sproul, and he did not find it convincing.  He thought that Hebrews 6:4 was talking about a Christian who left the faith, not a non-Christian struggling with a relationship with God (or something to that effect).  R.C. Sproul, of course, believes that a Christian cannot leave the faith and lose his or her salvation.

H.  When I lived in upstate New York, I was scheduled to give a sermon at my church about Martin Luther.  I read Sproul’s Faith Alone as part of my preparation for that.  I got the book years before because someone on Christian Mingle, out of the clear blue sky, recommended it to me.  Here was my write-up about it.

I.  I got a bunch of free R.C. Sproul booklets from Ligonier Ministries when they were being offered.

J.  Jason Engwer at Triablogue linked to atheist Bible scholar Robert M. Price’s tribute to R.C. Sproul.  I haven’t listened to Price’s “Bible Geek” show in a while, part of the reason being that I have not been entirely comfortable with the format of his new website.  (Maybe it’s better now.)  But I appreciated Price’s thoughtful praise for Sproul’s The Psychology of Atheism.  Price said that Sproul weaves together Freud and Rudolf Otto and depicts atheism as a repressed mysterium tremendum, as one finds the presence of God too traumatic.  Here is a series by Sproul about this topic online.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Church Write-Up: Baggage and Comfort

I went to the “Word of Faith” church and the Missouri Synod Lutheran church last Sunday.  Here are some items.

A.  At the “Word of Faith” church, we had a guest speaker.  I call this church the “Word of Faith” church, but, as I have said before, this is not always an accurate label.  The guest speaker was talking about when his daughter was in a tragic accident, he and others prayed for her healing, and yet she still died.

B.  The guest speaker still believes that God was present through the ordeal.  He feels that God anointed him and his family during that time—-and he believes it was God’s anointing because it had an ending point.  That reminded me of a book that I read years ago: Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Revival, which was a collection of sermons that Jones delivered about the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905.  There was a time when the revival was clearly going on: numerous people were getting saved, and the ordinarily meek and mild preacher was preaching like a lion.  But there came a point in time when the revival came to an end.

C.  The guest speaker told a story about his daughter.  She was in junior high school, and she ate lunch with a boy every day at school.  The boy talked about his desire to do something great for God, and she said to her father that this boy did not know God.  I wonder how she drew that conclusion.

This somewhat relates to (B.): I may think that God is there for me and that God’s Spirit is within me, but is there tangible proof, or is it just my wishful thinking?  The guest speaker believed that there was a tangible indication that God was anointing him during his time of grief, and that this anointing was not simply in his head but had identifiable beginning and ending points.

D.  The guest speaker also talked about his wife’s shingles.  He said that his wife has a low tolerance for pain, and, the night before, she was screaming out in agony.  It is sad that anyone goes through that.  I am upset when I have gas pains, but I cannot imagine feeling so bad that I scream out in pain.

E.  Now for the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  The main text of that service was Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (KJV).   The youth pastor said that many things come and go: this year’s Christmas celebration, for example.  But, while these things come and go, we will always be talking about the word of God, specifically Jesus Christ.  And we should make sure to focus on the one who is eternal, Jesus Christ, during this Christmas season.

F.  The pastor talked about how life is transient and how we carry a lot of baggage and insecurity.  The Book of Ecclesiastes emphasizes and laments that life is ephemeral.  But Isaiah 40:8 affirms that the word of God stands forever.  And what is this word?  The word that life is ephemeral?  For the pastor, the word is that God is eager to comfort.  Isaiah 40:1 affirms, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.”  After thirty-nine chapters of criticizing Israel for her sins, God comforts Israel and assures her of God’s forgiveness of her sins.  The pastor was tying this to the Gospel.

What was this word that lasts forever?  Within the context of Second Isaiah, the answer is probably that Israel would return from exile.  Cyrus would accomplish this.  Why would a word about this historical event need to last forever?  I can understand why some Christians argue that Second Isaiah had to be about much more than Israel’s return from exile in the fifth century B.C.E.  At the same time, within Second Isaiah, we see dramatic expectations about Israel’s return: that it would accompany the Gentiles coming to know God, and Israel bringing justice to the earth.  God’s word that would last forever is not just Israel’s return from exile, but how that fits within God’s larger purposes.

G.  The pastor was talking about how he one time attended his wife’s high school reunion, and the things that he liked to brag about—-his pastoring a 1,600-person congregation (I don’t think that’s us, but a previous church that he pastored), and him having more master’s degrees than he has cars—-did not matter there.  What mattered there was that he was her husband.  That was his identity there.  Similarly, he said, God looks at us in terms of our association with Jesus.

I remembered that I have master’s degrees.  And, yes, that helps my self-esteem, since I often feel like a failure.  But what the pastor said reminded me of Paul’s statement in Philippians 3:8, after Paul listed his credentials: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (KJV).

H.  There was a common theme in both services, but it was used differently.  At the “Word of Faith” church, a lady was talking about how she works in a school cafeteria, and she cleans tables.  And these are dirty tables!  She said that God wants to clean us up—-cleanse us of our shame, our past, our baggage, our sins.

At the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, and pastor talked about how the mother-in-law of his mother liked to visit and clean up the house, implying that the mother’s cleaning was not good enough.  That was an example of the “baggage” that he was mentioning: the things that happen to us that have the potential to define our lives negatively, if we let them.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Book Write-Up: MUSLIM, by Hank Hanegraaff

Hank Hanegraaff.  MUSLIM: What You Need to Know about the World’s Fastest-Growing Religion.  W Publishing Group, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Hank Hanegraaff is president of the Christian Research Institute and host of the radio program, the Bible Answer Man.  This book, MUSLIM, is critical of Islam.

Here are some thoughts:

A.  The book is very one-sided.  I cannot recall anything positive that Hanegraaff said about Islam in the book.  Can any religion be 100 per cent bad?  For a more nuanced look at Islam in its diversity, one should consult Dynamics of Muslim Worlds: Regional, Theological, and Missiological Perspectives (IVP Academic, 2017), edited by Evelyne A. Reisacher.  There is diversity within Islam about the treatment of women, the application of sharia, and whether the state should punish those considered blasphemers (or whether the punishment instead should be left to God).

B.  That said, the book is well-documented, in that it engages historic Islamic sources and critiques narratives about historic Islamic regimes.  It was also interesting whenever it actually highlighted the diversity within Islam and the attempts of some Muslims to cope with what they borrowed from other traditions: the debate on whether Jesus or the Mahdi should be prioritized in Islamic eschatology comes to mind as an example.  The book is a keeper, for these reasons.

C.  Hanegraaff argued that Islam is a flawed religion, and that Christianity as it is taught in the Bible is superior and has evidential support.  In a number of cases, Hanegraaff does well in arguing that the laws of the Torah are more just and humane than the Islamic passages that he is quoting.  At the same time, he seems to ignore biblical passages that uphold the sort of behavior that he criticizes in Islamic sources: God sending a deceiving spirit (I Kings 22:22), the death penalty in the Torah for religious and moral violations, and the biblical Conquest.  At one point, Hanegraaff states that certain laws in the Torah were temporary.  From his Christian perspective, that may be, but one who deems them divinely-authoritative still has to address why God operated in that way at some point in time.  Hanegraaff briefly tried to do so, but his efforts were inadequate.

D.  While Hanegraaff is critical of the Left, he also embraces positions in the book that some may place on the liberal side of the spectrum: his criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, for example.

E.  Hanegraaff criticizes Islam, while speaking glowingly of Christianity, as he understands it.  For example, he discusses the Christian belief that humans can become divine, explaining that it does not mean that they can become essentially God, but rather that God lifts humans up beyond what they are.  That was an informative discussion, as Hanegraaff interacted with the thoughts of Martin Luther and patristic sources.

F.  Hanegraaff does not care for how American political leaders, both Democratic and Republican, call Islam a religion of peace, for he maintains that its roots going back to Muhammad, Muslim conquests during the Crusades, and radical Islamic groups like ISIS tell a different story.  He believes that political leaders should not hesitate to link terrorist attacks committed by Muslims to the religion of Islam.  Hanegraaff could have been clearer about what exactly is at stake.  Obviously, Islamic terrorists are motivated by their religion, as they understand it.  If law enforcement authorities in the U.S. under President Barack Obama were impeded from even considering Islam when they were conducting their investigations or acting on behalf of homeland security, then that was a problem.  Of course, the terrorists’ religious motivations should be considered, as it was proper for law enforcement authorities to consider David Koresh’s religious motivations.  But it is also wrong to stigmatize all Muslims as violent; even if Muhammad had his flaws, that does not mean that all, or even most, Muslims believe in violence.  It is inaccurate to say that the West is at war with Islam, since Islam is not just what Muhammad taught: it is also how Muslims apply his message, and many do so in peaceful ways.

G.  Hanegraaff acknowledges that a number of Muslims are good people.  He says that many Muslims do not engage in religious deception (taqiyya), and he tells a moving story at the beginning of the book about how friendly the Muslims in Iran were when he went there to do a lecture.  He could have been more forceful in making this point.

H.  Hanegraaff’s strategy for responding to Islam is spiritual.  It appears to be rather apologetic: convince people, with God’s help, that Christianity is evidentially and morally true and that Islam falls short.  Whether one agrees or disagrees with Hanegraaff’s apologetic arguments, one can hopefully agree that the marketplace of ideas (to the extent that there is a marketplace) is the place to address concerns.

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Church Write-Up: Tragedy and Humility

I went to the Wednesday Advent service at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  Here are some items.  I will also be linking to previous posts that I have written.

A.  The pastor opened his message with a personal anecdote.  He talked about a woman to whom he was engaged back when he was a young vicar, and the woman was seeing another man.  They broke off the engagement.  His friends told him that they saw that coming, and he asked them why they did not warn him.  One of them replied, “We would have, but we figured that you wouldn’t have listened anyway.”  The pastor agreed with them: he probably wouldn’t have listened.  I could identify with that.

B.  The pastor related that to how we do not listen to how nature testifies to God, and how we should listen.  Some of this message continued themes from last week’s Advent message, which I wrote about here.  The pastor reiterated that creation’s beauty testifies to God, but that creation, like humanity, is under God’s judgment due to the Fall of Adam and Eve.  The pastor cited earthquakes as an example of the latter.  I wrestled some with that in last week’s post, expressing doubt that God created fault lines after Adam and Eve sinned.  Since then, I reread an old post of mine that has gotten some traction on my WordPress blog: Does “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan” Agree with John Walton?  The ancient Christian work, “The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan,” maintains that God, before the Fall, created aspects of the world in anticipation of the Fall.  In short, God created the world knowing that Adam and Eve would sin and leave the Garden.  Could God have created fault lines before the Fall, knowing that the Fall would occur?

C.  This week, the pastor focused more on natural disasters.  One of our texts was Psalm 107, which mentions four crises from which God delivers people after they call on him.  This particular Psalm intrigued me when I read it about five years ago.  Here is my post about it.  Our text focused on the fourth crisis, which is in vv 23-32.  Some savvy business people are going out to the sea to do business.  They think they know all about seafaring, for that is their profession.  But then God sends a ferocious sea-storm, which humbles them.  They call out to God, and God stills the waters.

The pastor was talking about how nature humbles us.  He mentioned natural disasters, perhaps implying that God uses them to humble us.  But he also noted that two-feet of snow is enough to shut down Portland.

I was reminded of when Kirk Cameron said that God sent recent hurricanes to teach us humility.  It was a controversial statement.  I can understand why people found it so revolting.  People have lost lives, livelihoods, and homes due to natural disasters.  We should consider that to be a horrible thing, and maybe even try to help.  (And, for the record, this particular Lutheran church has donated to victims of natural disasters.)  I do not want to sit comfortably in my room, pontificating that God had a purpose behind taking away people’s homes.  That would be horrible, if that happened to me.  And I do not want God to say, “You think that is a good thing?  Well, here you go!”

Yet, there are so many things in life that are humbling: natural disasters, diseases, etc.  I humbly ask God to protect me from them.  Yet, there are godly people who have suffered them, or even died from them.

I read a book last year, Randy Alcorn’s lengthy If God Is Good.  I wrote a post about it, but I did not mention in that post a part of the book that has particularly stuck with me.  Alcorn said that the times when he is on his back due to his diabetes keep him from getting a huge ego.  There are plenty of things in life that can keep us from being overly egocentric.

I hope that this post does not come across as insensitive.  I want to value humility.  Yet, I would not want to tell people that their suffering is somehow good, since that seems to go against the empathy and compassion that we are supposed to have.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Write-Up: Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Grief

Yvonne Ortega.  Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Grief.  EA Books Publishing, 2017.  See here or here to purchase the book.

According to the “About the Author” page of the book, “Yvonne Ortega is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed substance abuse treatment practitioner, and a clinically certified domestic violence counselor.”

In this book, Ortega talks about ways to cope with grief after the loss of a loved one.  She tells a lot of people’s stories, but she also tells her own, as she has coped with the loss of her mother and her only son.  The book covers a lot of territory: dealing with people’s inappropriate comments, ways to help someone who is grieving, coping with the holidays, fading faith, regret, the dangers of self-medication, and more.

There are similarities between this book and another book of hers that I read, Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Forgiveness.  Both open the chapters with a thought-provoking quote.  Both share poignant and relevant Scriptures.  Both display an understanding, empathetic tone, which appreciates where people are.  And both discuss the importance of music in personal healing.  In Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Grief, Ortega shares songs, both contemporary and traditional, that can help people as they journey through grief.  She also highlights the importance of journaling as a way to express one’s feelings.

Moving from Broken to Beautiful Through Grief strikes me as more detailed than the book on forgiveness.  The book on grief seems to share more of Ortega’s feelings and has more anecdotes.
One critique that I have: Ortega tells the story about a man who did not want to join a grief support group because he was introverted.  I think that she should have discussed more how people who are uncomfortable with groups can cope with their grief.  She did say that he saw a grief counselor, and maybe that is a solution: talk with someone one-on-one.  But what if he is still uncomfortable expressing his feelings?

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Church Write-Up: Snakes with Legs; Luke's Census; Shepherds; Dominion; Healing Atonement; Advent; "Let Me Out"; the Way to Repentance

Here are some items from the church services that I attended last Sunday.  I visited the “Word of Faith” church and the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.

A.  The pastor of the “Word of Faith” church was saying that snakes used to have legs, on the basis of Genesis 3:14, where God tells the serpent that the serpent will crawl on his belly as punishment for his deed.  The implication, according to the pastor, is that the serpent did not crawl on his belly before that curse.  I wondered if snakes used to have legs, according to a scientific or evolutionist perspective.  Blue whales, after all, used to be land creatures.  I found this NPR article: How Snakes Lost Their Legs.

B.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church mentioned a discussion that he had with a skeptical friend.  The friend was saying that Luke 2:1-5 was wrong about the date of Caesar Augustus’ census: that it occurred later than Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus, in 6 C.E., rather than during it, as Luke narrates.  The pastor seemed open to the possibility that Luke was not accurate about the exact date of the census.  This somewhat surprised me, since he appears to treat the Gospel nativity accounts as historical.  He did not elaborate too much on his view here, but he asked why Luke mentions the census, rather than simply telling the nativity story as Matthew did.  The pastor said that Luke-Acts was part of Paul’s defense before the emperor, and Luke 2:1-5 was arguing that God can work through corrupt political systems, such as that of Caesar Augustus, whose census brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, where Mary gave birth to Jesus.  The pastor also said that Luke 2:1-5 had in mind Augustus’ claim to be the Son of God and the inaugurator of a new era: in Luke 2:1-5, Augustus plays a role in the inauguration of a new era, but the Son of God and actual inaugurator would be Jesus.

I have encountered that idea about Luke-Acts before.  Some have claimed that the reason that the death of Paul is not narrated in Acts is that it was written before Paul died, and this would be consistent with the claim that it was composed by Luke as part of Paul’s defense.  Several scholars do not share this idea, though.

I wrote about the census of Luke 2:1-5 here, detailing problems scholars have had with Luke’s historical placement of the census.  But I briefly mention in that post a scholarly attempt to defend Luke’s historical placement of the census as accurate.

I find something that Richard Carrier said about Luke’s historical placement of the census to be interesting.  In this article, Carrier argues that Luke relied heavily on Josephus.  But that raises a question: how could Luke be relying on Josephus, when Luke appears to place the Augustan census at a different time in history than does Josephus, who places it in 6 C.E.?  Carrier argues that Luke is being deliberate here:

“Josephus uses the census as a key linchpin in his story, the beginning of the wicked faction of Jews that would bring down Judaea (and the temple), whereas Luke transvalues this message by making this census the linchpin for God’s salvation for the world, namely the birth of Christ (which also would result in destruction of the temple)…”

For both Josephus and Luke, according to Carrier, the Augustan census instigated a highly significant series of events.  For Josephus, it marked the rise of the Jewish insurrectionists who later would contribute to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the main event that Josephus discusses in Jewish Wars.   For Luke, it marked the birth of the Savior of the world.  Luke also believed that the census related to the destruction of Jerusalem, albeit differently from Josephus.  The census marked the birth of Jesus, and, for Luke, the destruction of Jerusalem was due to Jerusalem’s rejection of Jesus (Luke 13:34).

C.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church said that shepherds were “church-skippers”: they did not go to synagogue or the Temple because they were busy watching their sheep, and they were not considered particularly trustworthy.  Yet, in Luke 2:8-20, the shepherds are the ones to whom the angels appear, and whom the angels tell about the birth of Jesus.  The angels tell them about the significance of Jesus’ birth: to bring peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.  They go to see the infant Jesus, praising God.

I wrote about this view about shepherds here.  I have questions about that view, as I write there.  Still, the pastor’s interpretation is consistent with the message of Luke’s Gospel: that Jesus came to save the unrighteous and the outsiders, those who may not even have thought much about God.  God still honored the “church-attenders” when Jesus was an infant: in Luke 2:25-36, Simeon and Anna, who were devout worshipers at the Temple, got to see the Christ child and appreciated his significance.  But, according to the pastor’s interpretation, God reached out to the “church-skippers” as well.

D.  The “Word of Faith” pastor said that the Gospel is about Christians, as God’s new creation, having dominion over creation, a la Genesis 1:28.  He said that dominion belongs to humans, not to gazelles.  But humans have exercised that dominion poorly.  That is why God recreated humanity.  There may be something to this, when it comes to a Christian reading of the Bible.  I wondered if the pastor was leaning towards political dominionism, and that would be surprising because, ordinarily, he is politically neutral when it comes to Left-Right distinctions.  I remember hearing Pat Robertson say on TV that a person who is not ruled by the Spirit of God has no business ruling in government.  I am not so optimistic, though, considering the damage that religious people have inflicted when they had political authority.  I am not saying that secular authorities are that much better—-there are plenty of secular authorities that have inflicted damage—-but why are there so many cases in which Christians in governing positions fail to bring about peace and justice, and, in some cases, even work against them?

E.  The “Word of Faith” pastor also said that Jesus came to heal humanity’s hatred of God.  We hate God, he said, in that we do not care for God’s command that we place God first, and also in that some things about the God of the Bible rub us the wrong way.  But God healed this division, and we see that God is a loving Father.  This sounded like a subjective view of the atonement—-like the moral influence view—-or he may believe that God through the Holy Spirit heals people’s personal alienation from God.

F.  The pastor at the Missouri Synod church said that “advent” means coming in strength or with enthusiasm.  He said that “ad” in the Latin meant “strength,” while “vent” refers to “coming.”  I knew that “vent” meant coming.  I thought that “ad,” however, meant “to” or “toward.”  I was right.

According to this author, though, “advent” was often used for to refer to military arrival, or the arrival of royalty.  Maybe the pastor was correct on his main point, but not on the basis of his analysis of the word “advent.”  I admit that I have not done a search of the term, though.  This and this dictionary on antiquities state that it was used for the Roman emperor’s arrival, which was commemorated in coins, so it makes sense that it would come to be used for the arrival of Christ.

G.  The Missouri Synod pastor relayed a story that was told by Paul Harvey about a chimpanzee who was taught sign language, and the first thing that the chimpanzee said was, “Let me out!”, meaning out of his cage.  Here is the story.  The pastor employed that story to make a homiletical point, but I felt sorry for the chimpanzee.

H.  Using personal and chimpanzee-related anecdotes, the Missouri Synod pastor addressed the question of how we can possibly repent, when many of us are locked into certain mindsets.  That is a good question.  I wonder the same thing myself so many times.  How can I “turn” from sin, when sin is ingrained within me?  I have a “confession” part of my prayer times, and I often give my flaws to God rather than making a vain promise that I will, by the strength of my own will, cease having those flaws.  In some areas, though, I make a sincere attempt to avoid making the same mistakes, since they can be hurtful to others.

The youth pastor talked about Luke 3:10-14, where John the Baptist gave practical advice about how to repent: share what you have with those who lack; tax collectors should collect only what they are authorized; soldiers should be content with their wages rather than forcibly extorting money from people.  That was a point that also stood out to me in a book that I read over a decade ago: Pastor Gerald Mann’s When the Bad Times Are Over for Good.  I did not particularly care for that book, but two chapters, the one on grace and the one on practical repentance and obedience, have stayed with me for almost twenty years.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Book Write-Up: Mark Through Old Testament Eyes

Andrew T. Le Peau.  Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.  Kregel Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Andrew T. Le Peau is an editor and a writer.  He has taught inductive Bible studies of the Gospel of Mark for over a decade at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Le Peau is also the series editor of Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes commentaries.

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes goes through the Gospel of Mark verse-by-verse, but it differs from many other commentaries in a certain respect: it cites Old Testament parallels to elements that are in the Gospel of Mark.

In some cases, this approach illuminates the Markan passage.  For example, Mark 1:13 states that Jesus was with wild beasts in the wilderness, and Le Peau refers to Old Testament passages that refer to wild beasts in an attempt to interpret the passage.  Le Peau interprets “Son of God” in the Gospel of Mark in light of Old Testament usage of that term, to refer to Israel and the Davidic Messiah (though he maintains that Mark’s Gospel has a high Christology).  There are cases in which Le Peau argues that Mark presents Jesus acting similarly to or differently from an Old Testament character, in order to highlight something about Jesus: for instance, Jesus, unlike Jonah, actually goes to the Gentiles after sleeping on a boat rather than seeking to avoid that task.  On occasion, Le Peau offers a fresh insight, as when he interprets Herod’s statement that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist (Mark 6:14) in light of the spirit of Elijah falling onto Elisha.  Le Peau’s interpretation of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ statement about cutting off one’s right hand or plucking out one’s offending eye were also helpful, as he looked at Old Testament references to intentional and unintentional sin and how the hand and the eye can offend.

These are examples of where Le Peau’s approach illuminates Mark’s Gospel (and there are many more), but Le Peau also maintains that Mark’s indirect allusions to the Old Testament paint a sweeping picture of Jesus’ mission: as a new Moses, conducting a new Exodus.

In some cases, Le Peau cited Old Testament passages, and it was unclear how exactly they were illuminating a Markan passage.  For instance, in discussing the leper who did not obey Jesus’ command to go to the priest after being healed (Mark 1:45), Le Peau referred to Saul’s incomplete obedience in I Samuel 13.  Does the story of Saul somehow inform the story in Mark, though?  At times, Le Peau perhaps should have attempted to explain the purpose behind an element in a verse, rather than just citing parallels; he did so a number of times, but not always.  There were cases in which Le Peau seemed to be throwing everything in but the kitchen sink.  Often, this provided a comprehensive range of interpretive possibilities; sometimes, he appeared to be citing parallels simply for the sake of citing parallels, without the parallels really illuminating the Markan text.

In one case, Le Peau offered an intriguing parallel, but his explanation of the parallel was incomplete.  On pages 208-209, Le Peau addresses Jesus’ statement that his disciples will be able to move this mountain, if they have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed (Mark 11:23).  Le Peau interprets “this mountain” as the Temple mount, and he mentions Zechariah 4:6-7, in which “the temple mount ‘will become level ground’ and be replaced with another temple” (Le Peau’s words).  Le Peau seemed to interpret Mark 11:23 to concern God’s judgment on the Temple in 70 C.E., but he should have further clarified how that related to the disciples moving the mountain.

At times, Le Peau cites parallels within the Gospel of Mark itself, as when he proposed that there were parallels between Jesus’ predictions in Mark 13 and his passion.

Interspersed throughout the book are gray sections, in which Le Peau goes more deeply into an issue in the Gospel of Mark or makes homiletical points.  Some of these were convicting: the part about counting the cost of following Jesus certainly highlighted where I fall short!  Some were infuriating: I think of his statement that a Christian’s church family should take precedence over his or her biological family.  Some softened the draconian statements of Jesus through interpretation; often, this was reasonable.  With Jesus’ statement that the parables were intended to confuse, however, Le Peau’s explanation was rather unconvincing, as he seemed to be concluding the opposite from what the Markan passage was saying.  Some sections had anecdotes, personal or otherwise, which were instructive, inspiring, or thought-provoking.  Le Peau’s discussion of lament in prayer was not earth-shakingly new, but it was helpful to me when I read it, as Le Peau highlighted the importance of being honest with God.

The notes in the back were good.  For example, Le Peau offered arguments that Mark 1:41 says that Jesus was compassionate before healing a leper, rather than angry.  Bart Ehrman argues that “angry” was the original reading and that later scribes changed that to “compassionate” because they had issues with Jesus being angry before healing a leper. But, as Le Peau notes, the texts of the Gospel of Mark that present Jesus as compassionate in Mark 1:41 are not afraid to acknowledge Jesus’ anger elsewhere.

The book is helpful in offering an interpretation of the Gospel of Mark that is rooted in Old Testament texts.  One should remember, however, that time passed between the Old Testament and the Gospel of Mark, so intertestamental literature may be relevant to what is in the Gospel of Mark.  There is hardly any reference to intertestamental literature in Le Peau’s book.

There is also the question of the implications of Le Peau’s approach.  Some scholars, who are more liberal than Le Peau, have argued that Gospel stories that echo the Old Testament are not historically-accurate: that they are midrash, or they were crafted from the Old Testament stories rather than reflecting history.  Is this conclusion avoidable?  Le Peau should have addressed that.

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Church Write-Up: Creation Praises God; If God Forgives, So Will I?; New Beginnings?

On Wednesday, I went to a Missouri Synod Lutheran church’s Advent service.  It will have a Wednesday Advent service every week until Christmas (I think).

The pastor was referring to J.B. Phillips’ 1952 book, Your God Is Too Small.  The pastor said that, over sixty years after that book came out, many people’s God is still too small.  How so?  He gave two examples.  For one, we set limitations on what God can or will do on account of our negative experiences.  Second, we bring God down to our level.  The pastor shared about his own past difficulty in forgiving his brother after they had a falling out.  The pastor officiated at his brother’s wedding and was pronouncing blessing on his brother, when inside of his mind was lingering anger at what his brother had done.  The pastor said that we say to ourselves that God does not forgive someone who has hurt or angered us, because, if God forgives that person, that means that we have to forgive him or her, too.

Somewhere in the course of the sermon, the pastor talked about how creation praises God.  A Psalm we had read, Psalm 96, presents seas, fields, and trees rejoicing at God’s reign.  The pastor also referred to Jesus’ response in Luke 19:40 to the Pharisees’ criticism of the disciples of Jesus who were enthusiastically praising Jesus: if the disciples are silent, the very stones will cry out!  And when did a stone cry out?  At the resurrection of Jesus, when the stone of Jesus’ tomb was moved away.  The pastor presented that as the solution to the reluctance to praise God that he earlier discussed.

The pastor also talked about how creation is magnificent—-he mentioned the Grand Canyon.  Yet, he also observed that creation is fallen, with its earthquakes.

Here are some of my reflections:

A.  At the “Word of Faith” church that I attended on Sunday morning, we sang a hymn that was completely new to me.  It was called “So Will I (100 Billion X).”  It starts out by discussing how nature reflects God’s glory, praises God, and obeys God’s instructions.  If creation does this, so will I, the song goes!  Later, the song focuses on what Jesus did: Jesus left his grave behind, surrendered to God, and died out of love for people to save them.  If Jesus did those things, so will I, the song went.  What the pastor said about creation praising God reminded me of that song.  (BTW, I see from an Internet search that the song is controversial because it says that creatures are “Evolving in pursuit of what You said,” implying, to critics, an endorsement of the theory of evolution.)

B.  How does nature glorify God?  In a sense, it does so through its order and beauty.  Psalm 91 talks about this when it affirms that the heavens declare the glory of God.  God in the Hebrew Bible is also said to have created in wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 3:19; 8:22; Jeremiah 10:12).  But, according to Romans 8:18-22, creation groans, in its state of decay, as it eagerly awaits the glory that will be revealed in the children of God, presumably in the eschaton.  Could Psalm 96 relate to that?  Many relate the seas, fields, and trees rejoicing as creation’s current praise of God, but could Psalm 96 be describing how creation will rejoice when God renews it in the eschaton?  (There have been different scholarly views about whether some of the Psalms conveyed an eschatological message.)  And could Jesus’ reference to the stones crying out be conveying a similar theme?  Then there is Jesus’ resurrection, which inaugurates a new creation.

C.  I have questions about some of the pastor’s points, and I am not saying this to nitpick, but rather to think through issues.  The Grand Canyon is beautiful, but God did not directly create it in the beginning: rather, it came about over time.  And earthquakes: are they an indication of a fallen creation?  Did they originate after Adam and Eve sinned?  I have difficulty believing that God created fault lines after the sin of Adam and Eve: they seem to be integral to how the earth is.  Plus, some have argued that at least some natural disasters perform a function of stabilizing the planet.  There are Christians who say this and then blame humans whose homes are destroyed in the natural disasters: why did humans build their homes there?  Tess actually made that point in an episode of Touched by an Angel, the one about the tornado-chaser.  I do not go that far, since where exactly could a person in the U.S. build his or her home and be safe?  You build on the coasts, and there are hurricanes.  You build in the far west, and there are earthquakes.  You build in the midwest, and there are tornadoes.

D.  Related to (C.), even if the Grand Canyon is not the best example of God’s handiwork, since God did not directly make it (unless you want to say that, for some reason, God providentially made it come into being in the course of time), I can understand the view that the earth has a wise order, which is beneficial to human beings.  Yes, our planet is just the right distance from the sun, and, yes, one can argue that, in a vast universe, there would be at least one planet that would support life.  But this planet does not just have life: it has so many things that can help human beings, in terms of their health.

E.  Also related to (C.), maybe God created the cosmos in a state of decay, and that does not contradict Scripture.  When Romans 8:20 states that God subjected creation to decay, does that necessarily mean that God did so after Adam and Eve sinned?  Could God have created it in a state of decay in order to redeem it, as the blind man of John 9 was blind so that the works of God might be manifest?  One can argue the opposite: God pronounced creation “very good” in Genesis 1, and Romans 5:12-21 presents death entering the world through the sin of Adam.  Still, many scientists have said that entropy has existed since the origin of the universe, is integral to it, and actually enabled order to come into being in sections of it.

F.  I appreciated the pastor sharing his story about his struggle to forgive.  I am sometimes baffled that pastors would struggle with this, but they are human, like everyone else.  And maybe his struggle has made him understanding.  I remember calling in to a Christian program, and the host of the show seemed baffled that anyone struggles with forgiveness.  From his impatient tone, I wondered who he was to judge other people.

G.  The pastor said that we feel that, if God forgives someone, we have to forgive that person, too, so we tell ourselves that God does not forgive him or her.  The two do not obviously go together, in my mindset (which may be flawed).  Just because God likes a person, does that mean I have to do so?  Not everyone like the same people!  In addition, I would hope that even my worse enemy would find a relationship with God.  That does not mean that I want to have anything to do with that person.  Let that person connect with God and leave me alone!  But where people may connect the concepts is here: we should love those God loves, and grudges hinder that from taking place.

H.  The pastor’s point about how we set limitations on God due to our past experiences resonated with me.  I had been to the doctor that morning, and, in going through my medical history, I talked with the doctor about my depression and anxiety: why I am depressed and anxious.  She recommended a behavioral therapist, who could offer me a different perspective.  I asked for the person’s card, leaving that option open.  Maybe the therapist can offer me alternative ways to look at life.  But there are lingering doubts.  Can I really change?  And is there any way that the therapist would make me look at the world differently from how I see it now?  A lot of people are not particularly nice!  That is not all in my head!  And what if the therapist asks me to do something that I do not want to do?  Anyway, this is tangentially related to what the pastor talked about: it’s the question of whether new beginnings are possible for everyone.

I will leave the comments open, in case anyone wants to add insights or respond to what I say.  Feel free to disagree.  I most likely will not get into debates, though.

Search This Blog