Monday, December 31, 2018

Church Write-Up: St. Nicholas

At the LCMS church, the service was lessons and carols. We did not have an actual sermon, but an allusion to Philippians 1:6 encouraged me: He who began a good work in you will see it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The Sunday school class was conducted by a visiting pastor. He said that he does not currently serve a congregation but drives a bus. He showed us this video by Dr. Ken Klaus of Lutheran Hour Ministries. The pastor and Dr. Klaus seemed to have a problem with telling kids that there is a Santa Claus. One reason, of course, is that Santa does not exist. But another reason is that people ascribe to Santa attributes that belong to God. Santa gives gifts, and James 1:7 states that every good and perfect gift is from God. Santa has omnipresence, somewhat, in that he can cover the world in a single night. Santa is also omniscient in that he knows when you are sleeping, when you are awake, and when you have been bad and good. I thought about a handout that I received in a Hebrew class years ago, which facetiously argued that Santa was based on the God of the Hebrew Bible. Both ride a chariot, both are ancient, and both say “Ho, ho” (Zechariah 2:6).

The pastor and Dr. Klaus were suggesting that it is preferable to tell children about the historical St. Nicholas. Not only does that highlight the Christian nature of Christmas, but Dr. Klaus also said that it obeyed Hebrews 13:7’s exhortation to Christians to remember their leaders who taught them the word of God, to consider the outcome of those leaders’ lives, and to imitate their faith.

St. Nicholas was born in 270 to wealthy parents in Pataia, Turkey. His parents were wealthy, and they died from a plague when Nicholas was young. Nicholas went to Myra to church to pray early one morning, and the bishop there had a vision that the first person at that church in the morning would be his successor as bishop. The pastor said that the historicity of this incident has been doubted, but that more than one scholar maintains that Nicholas was only one of three bishops who did not serve as a priest beforehand (the other two are St. Ambrose and St. Severus). The pastor suggested that this may buttress the legend.

Nicholas is known for his charity towards the poor. He saved a man’s three daughters from becoming prostitutes, attempting to donate gold to them anonymously, in accordance with Jesus’s command. He was also known for confessing the faith during the Diocletian persecution. But he is also known for decking Arius, who claimed that the Son (who became Jesus) was a created being and was inferior to the Father. That was no more acceptable then than it is now, so Nicholas was stripped of his bishop’s garments and thrown into a cell. Nicholas was sorry, and he was visited by Jesus and Mary, who gave him bishop’s robes and Scriptures to read during the night. Mary also instructed two bishops to forgive Nicholas.

Scholars probably accept some of this story while debating other aspects. The pastor also referred to a ministry that seeks to celebrate Advent by worship, giving to the poor, and cutting back on commercialism. They continue the legacy of St. Nicholas.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Book Write-Up: Flame in the Night, by Holland C. Kirbo

Holland C. Kirbo. Flame in the Night. Illadian Publishing, 2018. See here to buy the book.

Flame in the Night is the first book of the “Legends of Aewyr” fantasy series.

Lakyn is the protagonist of this book. Her family is attacked by an evil presence, and, surprisingly, she manages to unleash powers that defeat that presence. That brings her to the attention of a group called the Immortals, since she is an unlikely person to have that kind of power. Lakyn meets some of the Immortals, and they undertake the task of teaching her to harness her powers. Before meeting them, Lakyn was aware of legends about them, but she did not know that they were real. They fill her in on who they are, provide her with a fuller picture about the religious theology/cosmology that she already held, on some level, and inform her about an evil being’s agenda, not only for her and people like her but for the land.

Lakyn becomes romantically close to an Immortal named Reuel. Reuel does not trust her, and one reason is that she reminds him of somebody he knew. Reuel’s strong feelings for Lakyn are unusual for an Immortal, as Immortals are rather Stoic.

The religious view promulgated by the Immortals is rather odd, for a work of Christian fiction. One might think that the “Three” is the Trinity, but there is a degree of rivalry among them, and that contributes to creation. Holland Kirbo manages to present an intriguing religious perspective within a fantasy universe. This is amplified by the quotations that introduce each chapter, which are from a fictitious monastic work. It is unclear what exactly the work is: a prophecy, or a myth about someone whom Lakyn resembles. Some things are unexplained, and perhaps elements could have been tied together more effectively. I am not dying to know what happens next, out of a bond with the characters, per se. More information about the religious perspective in the series might be interesting, though.

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Church Write-Up: Jesus Enters Our Messiness

I went to the LCMS Christmas service this morning. The pastor’s main point was that Jesus comes into the midst of our messes.

Unfortunately, the pastor said, the tendency of Christendom and culture as it has been influenced by Christendom has been to distance the nativity of Jesus from human messiness. Shows about Christmas depict the holiday as ethereal. Nativity scenes are neat and tidy, with nothing out of place. Back in the second century CE, Justin Martyr claimed that Jesus was born in a cave, outside of town. The pastor speculated that this was because Justin wanted to present Jesus’s birth as mysterious, as occurring away from people. Some Christians went so far as to say that, since Jesus was sinless, the mother who bore him must have been sinless as well.

Matthew 1, by contrast, presents Jesus as a descendant of sinners. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, women with messy or controversial backgrounds, are listed in Jesus’s genealogy. Jesus comes into the midst of our messes. He entered human messiness in becoming a human being, even though he did not sin.

The pastor mentioned an archeological factoid: that the crib in which Jesus was born was made of stone. Jesus was born in a stone with a hole, and he rose from the dead after being buried in a stone with a hole.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Church Write-Up: Christmas Eve 2018

I went to the LCMS church’s 5:00 Christmas Eve service. It was a full house! Here are some quick items.

A. The youth pastor talked about how Christmas trees used to have apples rather than ornaments hanging on them. One reason was that the apples recalled original sin: the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. Another reason is that the core of an apple looks like a star, and that recalls the star of Bethlehem.

The youth pastor also talked about how we give gifts to each other on Christmas. Similarly, the pastor said, that is what Jesus has done for us. Jesus left his home in heaven to be born in a stable, and he laid down his life for us.

I grew up not observing Christmas, and something I heard people say was, “Why do people give gifts to each other on Christmas? The wise men gave gifts to Jesus, not to each other.” But giving gifts to others can remind us of the importance of giving, which Jesus exemplifies.

B. Some points that the pastor made in his sermon:

—-The pastor opened with a story about when he was a vicar and, every Sunday, the pastor’s wife, who was also the church organist, would greet him by saying, “Vicar, this is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” After months of this, he wondered if it was real. This lady rejoiced in the Lord, even though she had her share of problems. One of her sons was a pastor, but another of her sons was in jail for manslaughter. One of her daughters had been married for decades, but another daughter had gone through multiple divorces and herself had a daughter who had made bad decisions.

—-The pastor talked about the light, since we were going to light candles to shine in the darkness. The pastor exhorted us not just to see this ritual as a sweet reminder of past Christmas eves but to reflect on how God has conquered the darkness, and that gives us hope, which helps us to be light in the darkness.

—-The pastor talked about how we like to be in charge and have our own version of God. But that comes crashing against reality. God’s wrath in the Minor Prophets is real. People flee from a lion and meet a bear (Amos 5:19).

—-The pastor’s main text was Zephaniah 3:14-17, which exhorts Zion not to give up. God has cleared away her enemies, is a mighty one who will save, and rejoices over her with gladness. The name “Jesus” relates to salvation, and Jesus fights for us, against our sin and selfishness.

On these notes, let me say that I respect people who continue to go to church, even though life is extremely rough. I know people who are having trials at this church, and at a previous church that I attended when I lived in another state. Yet, they remain faithful.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Church Write-Up: Son of Mary

Here is my write-up on last Sunday’s LCMS service that I attended.

A. The youth pastor asked us if we collect anything. He said that, as a man entering his 40s, he enjoys collecting Pokemon. He has thousands of them. I have heard the name, but I have no idea what it is.

The youth pastor said that Mary collected something. Luke 2:19, 51 states that Mary treasured her experiences of Jesus in her heart. He continued to speculate that perhaps Luke received information about the nativity from Mary herself. Similarly, we can treasure in our hearts our experiences of Jesus.

B. The pastor has been doing a series entitled “Jesus, Son of….” Today, the sermon’s title was “Jesus, Son of Mary.” The pastor did not talk a whole lot about Mary, but he did engage the Immanuel passages in the Book of Isaiah and discussed the incarnation.

The pastor opened with a personal anecdote. He shares the same first and last name with a cousin, who also is a LCMS pastor. A woman from LCMS was accusing the pastor at the LCMS that I attend of lying to her because she read about him, and the bulletin had different information about his wife’s name and how many kids he had from what he had told her. The pastor replied that she is mixing him up with his cousin, who has the same first and last name.

The pastor asked if we have the right Jesus this holiday season. Some people see Jesus as a lawgiver. Some have a hard time forgiving, so they assume that Jesus was reluctant to forgive, requiring all sorts of hurdles (i.e., repentance) to be traversed before he would forgive a person. Jesus met us where we are through the incarnation, experiencing what we experience as humans, and he meets us in our unforgiveness and false images of him, lavishing on us his mercy, which hopefully encourages us to forgive. We might fear that Immanuel would come in wrath: rebuking Ahaz for his faithlessness (Isaiah 7), or sending the Assyrians to decimate Judah (Isaiah 8:8). But Immanuel is merely Jesus’s title: his name is Jesus, which relates to salvation.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Book Write-Up: Theologies of the American Revivalists

Robert W. Caldwell III. Theologies of the American Revivalists: From Whitefield to Finney. IVP Academic, 2017. See here to purchase the book.

Robert W. Caldwell III teaches church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This book describes the theologies that were present in the First and Second Great Awakenings in America.

What I will do in this review is go through select chapters and highlight what I found to be interesting. Then I will offer my overall assessment of the book.


The book opens with a story about Ann Hasseltine, who experienced spiritual turmoil in 1806. She thought God was unfair and had a distaste for God’s holiness, and she longed for personal annihilation rather than to go to heaven or hell. But she had a religious experience in which she ceased thinking about her own salvation and was happily absorbed in contemplating the character of Christ. Ann’s struggles resonated with me, but her story also set the stage for Caldwell’s subsequent discussion of the ideas behind the First Great Awakening, which included a belief that love of God should be a disinterested love for God’s beauty.

Chapter One: “Moderate Evangelical Revival Theology in the First Great Awakening.”

Essentially, Moderate Evangelical Revival Theology was a prominent strand of Puritanism: God chose who would be saved, and people do not know if they are chosen, but they should make use of means of grace and hope that God regenerates them and gives them saving faith. One may struggle, but that does not necessarily mean one is unsaved, for the struggler may have a tender conscience; plus, salvation is a process. The theologians profiled in the remainder of the book interact with this viewpoint, some affirming and absorbing it and others rejecting it. One theologian, Samuel Hopkins, suggested that an unregenerate person making use of the means of grace (i.e., prayer, Bible reading, church attendance) was only making himself or herself guiltier before God by handling the holy things in a state of uncleanness; sinners, for Hopkins, should be encouraged to repent on the spot, not to partake of means of grace hoping that God will grant them repentance. Frightening thought: that God would look at a person seeking God through means of grace and say, “You are doing these things sinfully!” What can such a person do, especially if he or she does not feel the right way, on the spot?

Chapter Two: “First Great Awakening Alternatives: the Revival Theologies of Andrew Croswell and Jonathan Edwards.”

Andrew Croswell departed from Moderate Evangelical Revival Theology. He thought people should bypass the quest for assurance of salvation through means of grace and simply believe that Christ died for them, period, and gain assurance from that. As Caldwell says, a lot of evangelicals today believe that way, but it was a controversial notion in the eighteenth century. Critics saw it as self-centered rather than God-centered, and Croswell was accused of being an antinomian. Jonathan Edwards largely followed Moderate Evangelical Revival Theology yet tweaked it in certain respects. Issues that he stressed or put on the table would be engaged by subsequent theologians. Edwards sought to explain how humans are responsible for Adam’s sin, and subsequent theologians would wrestle with that as well. There were people who repudiated the idea that Adam’s sin passed down guilt and/or a sinful nature to the human race, and some offered alternatives, such as the notion that the Holy Spirit withdrew from humanity at Adam’s sin, and that has contributed to human sinfulness. Like many Puritans, Edwards stressed disinterestedness: being enamored with God for God’s own sake, not what God can do for a person. Edwards’s successors would take that in the direction of saying that people should be willing to be damned for the glory of God, to display God’s justice. Edwards argued that humans were morally unable to be righteous, but naturally able to be so. What Edwards meant by that was that humans have a natural propensity towards sin, but it is not as if something like a force field, handcuffs, or a prison cell is holding them back from doing good. It is like an alcoholic who thinks he can stop anytime, but he does not want to. Edwards still believed that the Holy Spirit needed to transform a person for that person to desire to do God’s will. But Edwards’s successors took his thought in the direction of saying that humans have a natural ability on their own to embrace God, apart from divine regeneration.

Chapter Three: “Revival Theology in the New Divinity Movement.”

What stood out to me in this chapter was how the New Divinity Movement rethought such doctrines as original sin, the atonement, and justification. Inherent in their reformulations was their notion that merit is personal: neither guilt nor merit can be passed on to another person, as these doctrines presume. Consequently, in New Divinity reformulation, original sin was not Adam’s guilt being passed on but rather the spiritual alienation that Adam’s sin created. Jesus’s death was not Jesus being punished for people’s sins but God putting on a show demonstrating God’s hatred of sin. Justification was not believers being clothed with Christ’s righteousness but divine pardon of sin. Some critics saw penal substitution as contrary to divine forgiveness: if Jesus pays the debt for our sins, that is not God forgiving sin, for the debt is being paid. Forgiveness would be God cancelling the debt.

Chapter Four: “Congregationalist and New School Presbyterian Revival Theology in the Second Great Awakening.”

On page 111, Caldwell mentions the sorts of events that precipitated revivals: “Often some not-so-extraordinary event—-a death in the community, the preaching of a visiting minister, the news of revival in a neighboring town—-triggered a domino effect of conviction.” Nathaniel Taylor argued that participating in the means of grace can weaken selfishness and actually cause regeneration to occur, and people accused him of Pelagianism for that: as if he was saying that human effort could generate conversion, rather than that only God can convert a person.

Chapter Five: “Methodist Revival Theology in the Second Great Awakening.”

Methodists, of course, departed dramatically from Moderate Evangelical Revival Theology. They thought that Christ died for everyone and that God’s prevenient grace gave everyone the ability to have faith. There were some surprises to me. I already knew that Wesley rejected the idea that humans were guilty of Adam’s sin: for Wesley, Christ’s death took care of that. But, from what I gather from this book, Methodists were also like the people profiled in Chapter Three: they rejected penal substitution for a governmental view of the atonement, and they did not believe that Christ’s righteousness clothed believers. The second point is not incredibly shocking: Methodists stress holiness, after all, and such a stress could lead them to reject the idea that people could trust in an alien righteousness rather than doing good works of their own. I am surprised, though, that they rejected penal substitution, and I wonder if that is the full story. Some obviously did, but I doubt that all of them did.

Chapter Seven: “The New Measures Revival Theology of Charles Finney.”

Finney had a fascinating explanation for human sinfulness and conversion. Finney did not believe that humans inherit a natural propensity towards sinfulness, but he thought that humans were selfish before their mental faculties developed, and that selfishness lingered. On conversion, Finney believed in human free will—-that humans by themselves could accept or reject God. But he still held that the Holy Spirit played some role, impressing truths on people’s minds in a way that was uniquely suitable to their own situation. Finney seemed to believe, though, that the Spirit’s role was solely persuasive: the Spirit did not unilaterally transform sinners’ desires to become righteous but rather tried to persuade them to embrace God. The ball ultimately rested in their court.

Chapter Eight: “Two Responses to Modern Revival Theology: Princeton Seminary and the Restoration Movement.”

The discussion of the Princeton response was all right. Nothing too surprising, but Charles Hodge had an interesting discussion about whether original sin and regeneration alter the physical make-up of the soul: he says it does not. The discussion of the Restoration Movement put into context things that I have heard and read from Church of Christ people. From what this book says, the Restoration Movement held that humans are able to believe, apart from divine regeneration. They believe, that leads them to repent, and then they are baptized, and it is at their baptism that they become forgiven and regenerated.

Now for my overall assessment. The book lucidly conveys what people believed, in a manner that gets into the inner logic of the theologies. One may not agree with their conclusions, but one can see how they arrived at them. The book was a little short in terms of the Scriptural support that theologians used. It talked more about that with the Restoration Movement, since it prided itself as a “Back to the Bible” movement. But I was wondering, for example, what Scriptural support Finney offered for his positions; the book offered one example of that, but that was it. The book also was somewhat thin in showing how these theologies related to revivals: how they shaped revival preaching, or defined the purpose for revivals. Some chapters were better than others on this: Finney, obviously, thought that revivals were a means to persuade people unto godliness. But why did Calvinists have revivals, when they believed everything was decided a long time ago? I know the answer many of them would give: God uses means to bring the predestined to faith, so God can use preaching at revivals. But I recall a professor saying that Calvinists believed revivals were a way to join God in God’s work, or something to that effect (I may be mangling that). More of an explanation of this would have enhanced this book. Still, I am giving the book five stars because I enjoyed reading how people wrestled with the doctrines of Christianity.

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

Book Write-Up: Teaching Across Cultures

James E. Plueddemann. Teaching Across Cultures: Contextualizing Education for Global Mission. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

James E. Plueddemann (hereafter JEP) has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Wheaton College. His fields include missions and educational ministries.

As the title indicates, this book is about teaching in different cultures. Of course, there is the problem that one culture may not understand another culture’s idioms, and teachers should be aware of that. But, as JEP demonstrates, different cultures also have their own propensities when it comes to education. Some emphasize lecturing, whereas others stress discussion. Some dislike ambiguity, whereas others have no problem with it. Some regard the teacher as authoritative and the students dare not challenge him or her in class, whereas others have a more informal relationship between teachers and students. Some are individualistic, whereas others are collective. Some are more rigid than others.

Part of this book is about teachers becoming more sensitive to their audiences so that they can teach them more effectively. But JEP also presents his own ideas about what education should look like. For JEP, simply passing down information and testing students on it does not really teach them anything. They can easily forget what they “learned” after taking the test. They are more likely to retain information as a result of problem solving, or if the material is related to their own life. Moreover, when it comes to teaching Christianity in a religious context, education should be not only about passing down interesting information but spiritual formation as well.

The book has its share of stories. JEP shares some of his own experiences, and most of the chapters have a blurb by someone else who learned something in teaching cross-culturally. The stories illustrate JEP’s points and add a friendly tone to the book. JEP also brings into the discussion educational theorists, such as Dewey and Piaget. John Dewey has usually gotten a bad rap in the right-wing literature that I have read, but JEP argues that Christianity had a profound influence on Dewey’s educational ideas, even if Dewey later abandoned Christianity. Piaget had the idea that we learn when our previous paradigms are challenged and we need to account for the new data in a new manner.

Personally, I am the type of student who likes to listen to lectures and take notes, and I hated the days when part of my grade depended on class participation. Consequently, I cringed at some of what JEP was saying. At the same time, JEP does well to highlight cultural differences on education, which can be helpful to students. He also discusses ways to bring shy or reluctant people into class discussions, which is commendable.

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

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Church Write-Up: Looking Beyond David

At the LCMS Advent service this week, the pastor preached about Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (KJV).

The pastor talked about how many want to get “back to basics.” Judahites in Micah’s day longed for someone like David. The problem is that many romanticize the past, when the past was pretty scary and bad when they were experiencing it. And even if the past was good, we cannot go home again. According to the pastor, Micah calls the Judahites to look prior to David, towards one whose going forth has been of old: the promised seed who would crush the head of the serpent, as he is hurt by him (Genesis 3:15). King Ahaz of Judah is called to rest in God rather than power politics. Although Micah encourages his audience to look beyond David, the pastor said, David was still relevant to what he was saying. David was the least of his brothers, and Micah 5:2 affirms that his town, Bethlehem, was little among the thousands of Judah. Yet, God brought forth David from what is small. Similarly, God has worked in unexpected ways, using Jesus’s crucifixion to save us.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Church Write-Up: Tomato Wisdom, Son of Solomon, Isaiah 9, the Magi

Here is my Church Write-Up about last Sunday’s services.

A. The LCMS church that I attend has been doing a series entitled “Jesus, the son of…” The latest sermon was about Jesus being the son of Solomon.

The youth pastor in the children’s part of the service talked about how Solomon asked God for wisdom. He asked the kids what the difference was between knowledge and wisdom. He said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing that you do not put it in a fruit salad. I had not heard that saying before. It crystallizes the difference quite well.

B. The pastor said that Solomon’s reign was looked back on as a time of Israel’s splendor and heyday. Israel was prosperous at that time. Israel also was dominant, as there was no significant foreign power challenging her when Solomon reigned. I would add that Jesus himself refers to the glory of Solomon in the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel on which the pastor focused, as Matthew 1 presents Jesus as the legal descendant of Solomon. In Matthew 6:28-29, Jesus encourages his disciples not to worry about clothing, for God will provide, as God provides for the lilies of the field. Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like the lilies, Jesus said. In Matthew 12:42, Jesus is rebuking his generation that saw his signs but rejected his kingdom, comparing it unfavorably with the Queen of the South, who came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom. Jesus said that one greater than Solomon was in his generation’s midst.

A number of Jews in Jesus’s day were looking for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, hoping that the new Davidic king would inaugurate a reign like that of Solomon in its glory. They contrasted that hope with their own situation under the yoke of the Romans. The pastor referred to Isaiah 60:6, which states regarding the time of Israel’s restoration: “The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD” (KJV). The pastor said that this passage was echoing the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. Matthew’s story of the magi visiting the child Jesus may allude to Isaiah 60:6, since the magi bring Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Moreover, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21), as the eschatological king of Israel would do in Zechariah 9:9. Similarly, Solomon rode on a mule when he became king of Israel (I Kings 1:33, 38).

But the pastor maintained that Matthew was acknowledging another dimension to Solomon. He noted that Solomon in Matthew 1:6 was called the son of David through the wife of Uriah. That recalled the shameful incident in which David departed from the will of God and used his own power as king to sleep with Bathsheba and to take her from her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Bathsheba is not even named, highlighting the shame of that incident.

The pastor talked about how Solomon degenerated spiritually, as he married foreign women and set up temples to their gods. Solomon probably rationalized what he was doing, seeing it as a practical measure of building alliances with other countries. In effect, he put the God of Israel into a nice, tidy place, alongside other gods, rather than placing God at the center.

We are much like Solomon, the pastor said. We started well, as we resolved at our baptism to follow God and to reject the works of the devil. How is that working out for us? We try to place God into a tidy little place rather than placing God at the center. We do that as individuals, and as a culture. The pastor shared that, during the 1700s, the new year in America was moved from March 25, which was the church’s feast of the Annunciation, to January 1 (see here), placing Christianity more to the margins. And, like Solomon, we rationalize.

There were high hopes that Jesus would be like Solomon when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, but those hopes were dashed when the Romans crucified him. Yet, in Jesus’s death and resurrection is God’s solution to our failures, our tendencies to marginalize God, and our rationalization, as Christ met us where we were through the incarnation and continues to meet us in his word and sacraments. God loved us while we were yet sinners, which is a remarkable thing, the pastor observed, considering that we have enough difficulty loving those who love us back, with all our jealousies.

C. The pastor conducted a Sunday school class on Isaiah 9. The Assyrians conquered Galilee in the eighth century B.C.E. This was Israelite territory, but the Assyrians replaced Israelites with foreigners who were loyal to them. Israel degenerated further into darkness and paganism, and that grew worse during the time of Jesus, as a worship site for the god Pan was located at Caesarea-Philippi in Galilee. In the midst of this deep darkness, Jesus would be a light. And Jesus would free people from spiritual darkness in an unexpected way. Isaiah 9 recalls the story of Gideon, in which God used unconventional means to deliver Israel from Midian. God used mealy-mouthed Gideon, who was not entirely sure whether he even wanted to worship God. God reduced Gideon’s army so that the victory would be attributed to God rather than Israel’s strength, and the Midianites killed each other off in panic. Similarly, God delivers people through humble, unexpected means: the death of Jesus on the cross.

The pastor went through some of the names of the son in Isaiah 9. “Wonderful counselor” literally says “wonder counseling.” God is wonderful in that we cannot get our minds around him. In Judges 13:8, an angel asks Samson’s parents why they inquire about his name, for it is wonderful, or incomprehensible. Although God is ineffable, God still acts as our counselor, imparting to us God’s wisdom.

The pastor shared another factoid. The god of Nineveh was represented as a fish. Could that be why the fish was in the Jonah story?

D. The pastor’s daughter spoke at the “Word of Faith” church. She was talking about how her kids sing Christmas carols as they hear them, with humorous results. But sometimes they hit upon a theologically profound point. “Let every heart prepare HIS room,” they sang, rather than “prepare him room.” Jesus does not only want to visit us now and then, coming when we feel we need him. He wants to live within us.

The pastor’s daughter interacted with the story of the magi in Matthew 2. The magi came to Herod, looking for the king of the Jews. Herod, an Edomite, believes that he himself is the king of the Jews and fears that his position will be unmasked as fraudulent. He wanted to be king, as many of us want to be king rather than submitting to Jesus as king. We would like more sleep rather than getting up to do our devotions. We don’t want to be in a small group, being vulnerable with other believers. (I know I don’t, and still don’t, even after hearing that message.)

The religious establishment hears from the magi and says that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, according to the Scriptures, but the scholars’ response is essentially “Oh hum.” We are like that, too, when it comes to our relationship with God, as we become preoccupied with life, the pastor’s daughter said. This religious establishment would later spit on Jesus and mock him. I think the pastor’s daughter was saying that indifference to what God was doing could easily lead to hostility towards God.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Book Write-Up: Early Christian Readings of Genesis One, by Craig D. Allert

Craig D. Allert. Early Christian Readings of Genesis One. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Craig D. Allert has a Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham, and he teaches religious studies at Trinity Western University.

This book is about patristic interpretations of Genesis 1. Allert largely focuses on Theophilus of Antioch, Ephrem the Syrian, Basil of Caesarea, and Augustine.

Chapter 1 is entitled “Who Are the Church Fathers, and Why Should I Care?” Allert criticizes Protestant Christians who dismiss the church fathers and believe that the apostolic age was a Golden Age, shortly supplanted by Catholic corruption. Allert argues that the church fathers were heroes of the faith, that Protestant founders respected them, and that reading them provides a sense of continuity with the past.

Chapter 2 essentially frames the discussion in the rest of the book. Allert critiques young-earth creationists who appeal to the church fathers to argue that the traditional position of Christianity is that God created the cosmos in six literal days. One version of their argument is to quote passages in which church fathers appear to interpret Genesis 1 as literal history. Another version is to differentiate between the “literalist” Antiochian school and the “allegorist” Alexandrian school, contending that there were fathers who adhered to the former, which young-earth creationists deem to be consistent with their own position (i.e., Genesis 1 is literal history).

Chapter 3 is entitled “What Does ‘Literal’ Mean? Patristic Exegesis in Context.” In this chapter, Allert critiques young-earth creationists’ argument regarding the Antiochian and the Alexandrian schools. But Allert also challenges how many scholars define the two schools, as he contends that the last fifty years of scholarship has undermined the conventional definitions. For one, the difference between the Antiochian and Alexandrian schools was not so much that the former valued history, whereas the latter did not. What motivated the Antiochian method of interpretation was a regard for rhetoric: the impact of a writing, particularly a narrative, in teaching an ethical lesson. Antiochians tended to focus on the narrative itself, whereas Alexandrians regarded texts as symbolic of spiritual or philosophical truths. And even here, both schools were not entirely consistent, for there are cases in which Origen (an Alexandrian) was more literalistic than some Antiochians. This chapter also argues that both the New Testament and also the church fathers did not practice the grammatical-historical method of biblical exegesis that young-earth creationists champion. Both interpret parts of Scripture in light of what they consider to be the larger Christian narrative rather than immediate context or authorial intent.

In Chapter 4, Allert attempts to refute a young-earth creationist’s argument that Basil of Caesarea rejected the allegorical in favor of the literal method of biblical interpretation. Allert highlights examples in which Basil strayed from the literal and approached allegory, and he attempts to contextualize the occasions in which Basil appears to criticize allegorical interpretation.

Chapter 5 is about creation ex nihilo. It discusses how pagans conceived of cosmic origins: Plato thought that the Demiurge formed already existing matter into an orderly cosmos, whereas others believed the universe simply was, which precludes design or intent behind it. Focusing on Theophilus of Antioch, Ephrem the Syrian, and Basil of Caesarea, Allert shows how a belief in creation ex nihilo was significant in their interpretation of Genesis 1, and what they believed was at stake. A goal of this chapter is to demonstrate that the church fathers had their own concerns, quite different from those of young-earth creationists.

Chapter 6 talks about the days of Genesis 1. This chapter, like the previous one, looks at Theophilus, Ephrem, and Basil. There was a tendency among some fathers to take the surface level of the text at face value: Basil, for instance, tries to account for the sequence of the creation order. A significant question in this chapter concerns what the light was that God created before God created the sun, moon, and stars. But there was also a patristic tendency to seek a deeper spiritual meaning in the days of Genesis 1, about the spiritual life, salvation history, or eschatology. Allert also refers to an example of Basil rejecting a literal interpretation of biblical cosmology.

Chapter 7 focuses on Augustine. Augustine seems to question a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. He thinks God created everything simultaneously. Yet, from what Allert presents, it does not seem as if Augustine thoroughly repudiates Genesis 1 as history, for he seemed to have thought that God’s simultaneous creation played itself out sequentially in time (or so I interpreted Allert), and he sought to explain how light could exist prior to the sun, moon, and stars. Allert also discusses Augustine’s attempt to explain God resting on the Sabbath. Does God need to rest, and how does one reconcile that with Jesus’s statement in John 5:17 that he and the Father work, even on the Sabbath? Augustine’s answer echoes Hebrews 4: that God created a spiritual rest in which people can partake.

Chapter 8 is about being like Moses. Moses was meek, but, according to Basil, Moses also contemplated creation when he was fleeing from Pharaoh. This enhanced Moses’s appreciation of God.

Some of my reactions:

A. Allert’s task was noble. The church fathers should not simply be quote-mined, but they should be appreciated on their own terms.

B. The spiritual and eschatological interpretations of Genesis 1 that Allert highlighted were intriguing and edifying.

C. Chapter 3, which is about the Antiochian and Alexandrian schools, is lengthy (around sixty pages), but it is important for people who want to enter scholarship on this field, or who desire a more nuanced understanding of the two schools. That said, Allert said more than once that the Antiochians did not conceive of historia as grammatical-critical interpreters conceive of history, and he was a little unclear about how this was the case. He said that they interpreted fiction (literature) as well. But the important question, I think, is this: Did they believe that the events of Genesis 1 happened as narrated?

D. It seemed to me that a lot of the church fathers Allert profiled believed that the events of Genesis 1 occurred as narrated. Why seek to explain the light that existed before the sun, moon, and stars, if it is all just symbolic, anyway? They may have believed there was a deeper spiritual meaning to the details of Genesis 1, but they seem to have accepted Genesis 1 as history: a narrative about what happened in the past. A question would then be whether there were fathers who rejected Genesis 1 as a narrative about what happened and solely saw it as allegorical. Allert perhaps could have addressed this question more directly, though he raised considerations that might be relevant: Basil’s criticism of over-literalizing, Basil’s repudiation of taking biblical cosmologies literally, Augustine’s reservations about seeing Genesis 1 as literal science, and Origen’s statement that there are cases in which the literal level of the text should be rejected as without value.

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

Friday, December 14, 2018

Book Write-Up: Reciprocal Church, by Sharon Galgay Ketcham

Sharon Galgay Ketcham. Reciprocal Church: Becoming a Community Where Faith Flourishes Beyond High School. IVP Books, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Sharon Galgay Ketcham has a Ph.D. from Boston College and is a practical theologian at Gordon College. She has decades of experience in ministry.

This book discusses the problem of young people leaving the church, and in some cases the Christian faith, after they leave high school.

Some points that Ketcham makes:

—-Contemporary Christianity is largely consumerist. Christian community is treated as non-essential. Worship songs have a lot of “I” in them rather than “we.” The importance of Christian community is emphasized throughout this book. Young people are looking for something real, and they see that when Christians exercise the fruit of the Spirit towards each other. In the New Testament, the fruit of the Spirit and Christian maturity concern how Christians interact with each other in community. That is where the Spirit does for people what they cannot do for themselves. Ketcham acknowledges that community is difficult and offers suggestions as to what can facilitate the Spirit’s work in encouraging community: Christians remembering that they have Christ in common, attempting to understand where people are coming from, fasting (from food or technology) as a form of self-denial, and picturing Christ standing between them and the Christian who has offended them. Ketcham also talks about communal memory and how that can tie people to the faith.

—-Unfortunately, young people are often seen as a problem, when they have much to offer churches. They can provide zeal, while the older people provide experience and wisdom.

This was a difficult book for me to read. The prose was clear and the book had its share of stories. It is easy, though, to become demoralized with communities: to be disappointed with others, and to wonder if one has a deep enough well of love to show people. Ketcham tried to address these concerns, and that is commendable. I just wonder how the Spirit works in the midst of so much hurt and dysfunction.

Then there is another side. There are plenty of friendly churches, where people serve one another and others. Yet, they struggle to hold on to young people. What are they doing wrong? Some of the case studies Ketcham talks about were in a Christian community, before they left. Obviously, being around other Christians is not necessarily a panacea, as important as it may be. Ketcham refers to some secular studies, but perhaps more would have enhanced the book. What are churches with numerical growth doing that is working, in terms of gaining and keeping young people?

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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Church Write-Up: Prepare for Bleach

I have two items from the Wednesday Advent service at the LCMS church.

A. Overall, the sermon was about John the Baptist. One of the texts on which the pastor commented was Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (KJV). The pastor said that the Hebrew word translated “prepare” actually means to clear the way. It is like clearing the way for the President to arrive. Indeed, that is what Holladay has: “piel: pf. פִּנָּה, פִּנִּיתָ, פִּנּוּ, impv. פַּנּוּ: — 1. get rid of Zp 3:15; — 2. clear up Ps 80:10; obj. house Gn 24:31; — 3. obj. derek, clear (the way) Is 40:3.”

What do we need to clear? There is our desire to be in charge, to decide who deserves love and forgiveness and who does not. There is our busy schedules, or our tendency to “nice-ify” the Christmas story rather than seriously considering its ramifications.

B. Malachi 3:2 states: “But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap” (KJV). Fullers’ soap, the pastor said, is bleach: it really whitens what it washes, even if one did not want it to get so white! We decorate for Christmas, making things look better, but God wants to purify us. God does so by forgiving our sins through Christ, but also practically.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Write-Up: Reading Mark’s Christology Under Caesar

Adam Winn. Reading Mark’s Christology under Caesar: Jesus the Messiah and Roman Political Ideology. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Adam Winn has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary and teaches at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor College of Christian Studies.

The idea that the New Testament is polemicizing against the Roman empire is popular within scholarship these days. My impression, right or wrong, is that some of the treatments of this issue are rather superficial. They seem to amount to something like: “Caesar claimed to be the Son of God, and Jesus claimed to be the Son of God! Jesus was such a revolutionary!”

Adam Winn’s book has some of that. Winn offers other arguments as well near the beginning of the book, some of which I have encountered in some way, shape, or form in scholarship or even popular Christianity. He presents arguments for a post-70 rather than a pre-70 date for the Gospel of Mark, notes that Mark uses the same word for “good news” that Roman imperial ideology used in anticipation of Roman imperial reigns, and observes that Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, like Vespasian, performed miracles.

Then the book presented mildly interesting arguments. The argument that the Gospel of Mark was responding to Vespasian’s claim to legitimacy and superiority to the God of Israel due to the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple comes to mind. According to Mark, Jesus knew that would happen, and God was the one who orchestrated that event as part of divine punishment.

It was near the middle of the book that it became truly mind-blowing. It was then that Winn argued that the Gospel of Mark was appealing to Roman political views by actually depicting Jesus as a humble servant. One can get the impression from Christian apologetics that Christianity was a light of virtue amidst a sea of selfishness and rank ambition. Christianity encouraged service and love? That was revolutionary back then, Christian apologists have implied or even flat out said. Such a narrative should not be thoroughly discarded, for, like many narratives, there are things that support it. But Winn effectively demonstrates that there was another side to the story, that Roman imperial ideology wanted an emperor who was humble and a servant due to Roman fear of tyranny. The cross was deemed shameful, but Mark sought to show that Jesus’s death on the cross exemplified the imperial service that Roman imperial ideology idealized.

That also undergirds the Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark, Winn argues, as Jesus helped people in secret rather than taking public credit for his good deeds. Of course, Winn acknowledges that there are places in Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus does miracles publicly. Jesus is not consistent about the Messianic Secret, and that is one reason that scholars have posited two layers of Mark’s Gospel: Jesus as miracle-worker, and Jesus as sufferer. Winn surveys this scholarship and finds it wanting. Jesus in the Gospel of Mark sometimes did his miracles publicly and sometimes wanted to keep them a secret. The latter, for Winn, was Jesus reflecting Roman imperial ideology by being a servant-leader rather than an ambitious tyrant.

The book started out somewhat interesting, as Winn talks about his change in mind about a scholarly issue. Initially, he thought that Mark’s Gospel elevated Jesus’s suffering at the expense of Jesus’s miracle working and glorification, but he changed his mind and concluded that Mark sees the miracle working and glorification as important, too. Then the book got a little dry, as it laid out the scholarly positions on how the theme of Jesus the sufferer relates to that of Jesus the miracle worker in Mark’s Gospel; this chapter was probably essential, but still rather dry. The book was then mildly interesting in dating the Gospel of Mark. Then, the book became mind-blowing as it talked about the emperor as a servant-leader and fit the Messianic Secret into that theme. The book ended with a clear summary of Winn’s positions.

The book was also judicious in sifting through scholarly views, rejecting ideas that have been commonplace in New Testament classes. It was a pleasure to read.

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Book Write-Up: Placemaking and the Arts, by Jennifer Allen Craft

Jennifer Allen Craft. Placemaking and the Arts: Cultivating the Christian Life. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Jennifer Allen Craft has a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews and teaches philosophy, theology, and the arts at Point University, which is in West Point, Georgia.

As the title indicates, this book is about how the arts convey and contribute to Christian place-making. Craft distinguishes between a place and mere space. In reading that, I thought about a time when my Mom and her husband moved into a new house. Initially, the house was just space: empty rooms. When my Mom was through decorating it, it became a home, bearing the family’s distinct personality and history. In short, it became a place.

Craft discusses four topics, some of which overlap with each other. The first topic is nature. Nature is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and worth preserving, and humans have a divinely-imparted responsibility to be stewards of it. The second topic is hospitality and homemaking. This concerns homes and churches being hospitable, but it also has larger social justice ramifications, such as the preservation of distinct societies in the face of massive homogenizing interests. The third topic is the divine presence and place: sanctuaries and places of worship, in short. The fourth topic is God’s kingdom. This topic has the strongest social justice element, as it concerns being inspired by beauty or challenged by art and performing ethical action in light of God’s eschatological in-breaking.

The chapters interact with authors, theologians, and the Bible. Craft acknowledges tensions within Scripture: the tensions between home and exile; between Jesus telling people to leave their families and Jesus telling people to go home to their families; between feeling homeless and finding one’s home in God and finding one’s home in home; and between the priestly and Deuteronomic conceptions of the sanctuary. She talks about when desires get misplaced, as the desire for sacred place, when motivated by a desire to be like God, led to the Golden Calf.

And, of course, the work interacts with works of art that Craft believes illustrates these topics. Most of the works are from the twentieth-twenty-first centuries, but there are occasional exceptions. Craft refers to an African-American community that has been making quilts since the time of slavery. She briefly contrasts medieval and modern art on the notion of sacred space.

This book did not get as much into the artists’ backgrounds and beliefs as another book in this series that I read, Modern Art and the Life of a Culture. It did occasionally, though, as Craft honestly acknowledged that some of the artists are skeptical of religion, or may be skeptical yet respectful. She refers to Jacob’s statement in Genesis 28:16 that the LORD was in that place, and he was not aware of it.

I liked the other book that I read in the series, Modern Art and the Life of a Culture, better than this book for a variety of reasons. I thought that Modern Art got more deeply into the artists’ religious beliefs, the complex nature of them, and the different scholarly conceptions of them. I also thought that the Modern Art book discussed more the different positions on art: how art performs a spiritual function. Craft’s book struck me as more homogeneous, and a lot of the points that it hammered over and over seemed rather obvious or conventional: beauty should inspire action! This is an important point, and books should make it, but it is also nice when a book can convey something fresh. Occasionally, Craft’s book had interesting insights, as when she said that Adam, in naming the animals, was giving them a sense of place. Her discussion of the art may interest readers, since she talks about a variety of pieces and thoughtfully details their message and significance, or, more accurately, how they convey the same sorts of themes in their own unique ways.

These are my impressions of the book. Others’ impressions may differ.

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

Monday, December 10, 2018

Church Write-Up: Son of Abraham

The LCMS church that I attend has been doing a series on Jesus being the “son of…” Last week, the topic was that Jesus is the son of David. This week, the topic was Jesus being the son of Abraham.

The youth pastor talked about libraries, and how one can access all sorts of cool things—-books, movies, video games—-for free. Similarly, Jesus offers us even better treasures for free: forgiveness, eternal life, etc. In the Old Testament, this was available to the sons of Abraham; in the New Testament, it is available to everyone.

The pastor’s sermon started with Jesus’s genealogy in Matthew 1, which starts with Abraham. Matthew’s Gospel was directed towards Jewish-Christians, as Jesus’s mission was initially to Israel. But the pastor thinks that Abraham is being evoked for an additional reason. One of our texts was Genesis 22, the story of the akedah, God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God’s reason for commanding Abraham to do this is mysterious, but Abraham had faith that God would provide a lamb for a burnt offering. And God provided a ram, whose head was caught in thorns. Similarly, when we experience things that we do not understand, and when grief is our only friend, we can take comfort that God has provided a way of salvation.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Current Events Write-Up Announcement

I have been doing a Friday Current Events Write-Up over the last six months or so, in which I have linked to news and opinion pieces that I found interesting on a given week. I will be dropping that for the time being. I will still post Church Write-Ups about the church services that I attend, and at least one book review a week about any review books that I receive.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Church Write-Up: Home on Advent

The LCMS church is having Wednesday Advent services this year. In the sermon today, the pastor talked about home. When he was growing up, he had to move every five years due to his father’s job. Eventually, his father settled down in one place, and soon thereafter the pastor would move around: to different schools and pastorates. His father and mother lived for decades in their house, such that it was home to them, but they had to move in with the pastor’s sister, due to circumstances.

The pastor said that home is supposed to be a safe place. It is the place that has to take us in! The pastor has lived in different places, and he has come to see home as the place where he is loved, wherever that may be. But the pastor acknowledged that there are many who lack such a picture of home, due to their having grown up in abusive, unloving, or unpredictable environments.

The pastor’s text was from Jeremiah. Jeremiah criticized people’s sins, and sin is what makes homes so unsafe. But Jeremiah also predicted God’s forgiveness of sin and acceptance of Israel. Through Christ, we can be at home with God: loved.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Book Write-Up: From Glory to Glory, by Bob Santos

Bob Santos. From Glory to Glory: Finding Real Significance in an Image-Driven World. Search for Me Ministries, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

This book is a forty day devotional. Each devotion is four pages and opens with a Scripture and an insightful quotation of some Christian luminary (i.e., Spurgeon, Tozer, Augustine, Mother Theresa, Jonathan Edwards, Pascal, Beth Moore, J.I. Packer, Paul Washer, etc.). Each devotion ends with three questions, two biblical references to check out, and a brief prayer.

The book’s message is one that recurs in contemporary evangelicalism: humans are starving for personal glory and are hurt and disappointed when they do not receive it, but that desire can be filled through a relationship with a loving God. Augustine’s God-sized hole, in short.

Here are some thoughts:

A. The message may initially appear trite, but this book is still edifying. It is far from boring, for Bob Santos manages to make the message his own and to explore different dimensions of it, while sharing insights based on his own life experiences. As is characteristic of his writing, it has a weighty style.  The book is like water to a thirsty soul. It empathizes with people in their longings and hurts, while recognizing that those longings and hurts can lead to disastrous directions. It also offers constructive spiritual outlooks to life, which emphasize God’s acceptance, love, and grace.

B. I have long been ambivalent about the sort of message that this book conveys. On the one hand, I definitely identify with it. Like others, I desire recognition and affirmation and find that they are difficult to obtain in this world, and I appreciate that the Bible and Christianity have distinct insights and resources that can meet or at least address those desires.

On the other hand, I have problems or questions with that message. I wonder if every human being has the luxury to be obsessing over personal glory. Many just try to get through the day, as they accept their position in life, however menial. I recall a theological critique of Reinhold Niebuhr’s stance that humans seek personal glory and dominance: it essentially said that men are like that, but women are not. That critique may be simplistic, but it does well to question whether Christianity is primarily about some universal human search for personal glory that only God can fill.

Then there is the difficulty of implementing the Christian solution to the problem. Transcending the harsh reality that is seen by remembering concepts about the unseen is challenging, and human neediness can run deep. Yes, reading the Bible and being in Christian community can help one arrive at personal healing, but these things can be double-edged swords. The Bible has its share of affirming, encouraging messages, but it also contains messages, in both the Old and the New Testaments, that can make people feel more insecure: God’s wrath, God won’t forgive those who do not forgive others, etc. Christian community has people and thus can run into the same problems that Santos identifies in human society in general: valuing people based on how impressive they are, judging people rather than empathizing with them, etc.

C. Santos seems to draw from Reformed insights, but whether he is totally in the Reformed camp is unclear. He talks about predestination, yet he also appears to think that it is consistent, in a mysterious way, with libertarian free will. In addition, one can get the impression from this book that Santos believes that God loves everyone the same amount, and yet he also implies that God likes some people (i.e., Christians in general, or Christians who do the right thing) more than others.

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

Monday, December 3, 2018

Church Write-Up: Jesus’ Genealogy and Davidic Descent, Jesus’ Humanity, the Breath of Life

Here are some items from last Sunday’s church service and Sunday school class:

A. The church service at the LCMS church was about Jesus being the son of David. The pastor focused on Matthew 1, which contains Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus through his father Joseph. Matthew 1 highlights Davidic kings in Jesus’ ancestry up to the time of the exile, which was when the Davidic kingship ended. Jesus is to be the restoration of the Davidic monarchy.

B. And what kind of king is Jesus? The pastor noted the few women mentioned in Jesus’s genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife. The first three are outsiders: non-Israelites who became part of the community of Israel. Uriah’s wife was part (perhaps unwillingly) of a shameful act on David’s part. Jesus includes outsiders, as he did with tax-collectors and sinners, including Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). And Jesus takes on our shame, the sorts of things that Satan brings to our minds at 3 a.m., or on long road-trips.

C. The pastor said that the Rahab of the genealogy may or may not be the Rahab of the Book of Joshua, but her name in Matthew 1 still evokes the Rahab of the Bible. I think that Matthew 1 does present its Rahab as the Rahab of the Book of Joshua. Matthew 1:5-6 states: “And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias” (KJV). Salmon, who bore Boaz through Rahab, was the son of Nahshon the son of Amminadab. Nahshon son of Amminadab lived in the time of Moses (Numbers 1:7; 2:3; 7:12, 17; 10:14). His son, Salmon, could have married the Rahab of the Book of Joshua, since they lived at the same time. And Rahab could have given birth to the Boaz of the Book of Ruth, since the Book of Ruth is set in the time of the judges (Ruth 1:1), which started soon after the time of Joshua.

The question would then be whether Rahab could have been David’s great-great grandmother. Does the chronological math fit? However one dates Joshua (1400 BCE or 1200 BCE), there are two centuries or more between his time and that of David. Is that too much time for Rahab to have been David’s great-great grandmother? Well, perhaps it would work if one accepted a 1200 BCE date for Joshua: four generations at forty years each is almost two hundred years. Another argument that has been made is that biblical genealogies do not always include every single person in the line but can skip generations.

D. A question occurred to me. It is a question that people have asked before, so I did not come up with it. It is: “How could Jesus be the son of David through Joseph, when Joseph was not his actual father, due to the virgin birth?” I first heard this question on a Jews for Judaism cassette, in which the rabbi said that Matthew shoots himself in the foot by saying Jesus is descended from David through Joseph, only to deny that Joseph was Jesus’s literal father.

One Christian response to that was that Joseph was Jesus’s adoptive father, meaning Jesus was the son of David through adoption. Does that argument work, though? There are passages that seem to present Jesus as a biological descendant of David. Acts 2:30: “Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne” (KJV). Romans 1:3: “Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (KJV). II Timothy 2:8: “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel” (KJV).

Another Christian response is that Jesus was a descendant of David through his mother Mary. The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to ancient Christian sources that go with that view:

“Tradition tells us that Mary too was a descendant of David. According to Numbers 36:6-12, an only daughter had to marry within her own family so as to secure the right of inheritance. After St. Justin (Adv. Tryph. 100) and St. Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians 18), the Fathers generally agree in maintaining Mary’s Davidic descent, whether they knew this from an oral tradition or inferred it from Scripture, e.g. Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8. St. John Damascene (De fid. Orth., IV, 14) states that Mary’s great-grandfather, Panther, was a brother of Mathat; her grandfather, Barpanther, was Heli’s cousin; and her father, Joachim, was a cousin of Joseph, Heli’s levirate son. Here Mathat has been substituted for Melchi, since the text used by St. John Damascene, Julius Africanus, St. Irenæus, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus omitted the two generations separating Heli from Melchi. At any rate, tradition presents the Blessed Virgin as descending from David through Nathan.”

A third suggestion is that God took Joseph’s seed and used it to form Jesus in Mary’s womb, meaning that Jesus literally and physically was a descendant of David. See these Triablogue posts: here, here, and here. The posts offer a biblical basis for that as a possibility, at least. I was reading the Athanasian Creed in the church hymnal, however, and I was wondering whether that would fit ancient Christian orthodoxy about the nature of Jesus: “that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance [Essence] of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Substance [Essence] of his Mother, born in the world.” Is that saying that Jesus’s humanity is through his mother, not his physical father?

E. Moving on to the Sunday School class. The teacher was wrapping up his series on patristic views on the Trinity and the nature of Jesus in the incarnation. Athanasius, he said, believed that Jesus had a divine mind and a human body. The church later deemed that position heretical, but the teacher said that it was all right, where Athanasius was. In Athanasius’s time, the fourth century CE, the debate was over whether Jesus was God, and Athanasius affirmed that he was. The next two centuries would try to iron out how Jesus was God and human, the relationship of his divine and human natures.

F. The teacher said that Jesus came to restore human nature. We were made to love God and neighbor. He tells his students that, when they do community service while thinking only about God and neighbor and not themselves, their heart sings. Jesus came to make us that way all of the time. But we are weighed down by sin, brought about when Adam and Eve chose themselves over God. The teacher may have said that Jesus’s human will was in accord with God. Was it entirely, though, if Jesus said “Not my will, but thine” (Matthew 26:42; Luke 22:42), implying that, on some level, his will was different from that of the Father? Jesus still could have been like pre-Fall Adam and Eve in that he had free choice: he could say “no” to the Father’s plan, but, unlike Adam and Eve, he chose to submit. But would pre-Fall Adam and Eve have had fear, as Jesus seemed to have in the Garden of Gesthemane? The text does not explicitly say that he had fear, but something motivated him to ask God to take away the cup from his lips.

G. The teacher got into a back and forth with one of the church members in the class about the soul. He said that people then determined whether a person was dead by seeing if they had breath: was there breath on the mirror? His implication may have been that they saw the breath as what gave life, since they did not know of brain waves or think to check the pulse.

I will leave the comments open, in case anyone wants to add anything.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 12/1/2018

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up.

Former President George H.W. Bush Dead at 94.

I have had ambivalent feelings about this President throughout my life. When I was a conservative, I thought he wasn’t conservative enough, yet I rooted for him in the 88 and 92 elections. I even read his 1988 autobiography, Looking Forward. He came across as a decent, down-to-earth person, a gentleman, a grandfather, one who fought in World War II. But he was part of the political and governmental establishment and the elite, and people claim there is behind-the-scenes and even not-so-behind-the-scenes dirt. I was thinking earlier this week that Gulf War I was phony. “This act of aggression shall not stand.” Yet, the U.S. allows plenty of acts of aggression to stand and may even support and participate in them.

Thom Hartmann program.

On November 27, I was flipping through channels. I don’t watch TV during the day since I have work to do, but I was briefly seeing what the programs that evening would be about. I came across Thom Hartmann’s daytime call-in program. I have followed him off and on, mostly off, during the years. I have somewhat mocked progressive talk radio as an unsuccessful attempt to imitate Rush Limbaugh, only from a left-leaning perspective. But I kind of liked what I heard. Hartmann lucidly and calmly took apart Trump’s tariff policy: it is based on a national security provision, so it is temporary, and that is why jobs are not flocking back to the U.S. I won’t be taping his program every day and watching it, since three hours a day is quite a commitment. But I subscribed to his free newsletter to get updates.

“If Patterns Hold, There May Indeed Be Terrorists Inside the Border Caravan,” by Todd Bensman.

“Middle Easterners do travel the same routes as Hondurans to the U.S. southern border, and rising numbers of suspected terrorists have been apprehended at the border in recent years.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Dishes It Right Back To Lindsey Graham In Twitter Tiff.

I ordinarily am not the sort of person who gleefully says “SNAP!” But I said it this time. Maybe it’s because I like it when someone refuses to let someone else set the narrative and to be condescending to her. The same thing appeals to me about Trump. He fights back.

“Is Putin the Provocateur in the Kerch Crisis?”, by Pat Buchanan.

Pat has written columns like this before, but this is an interesting read if you are interesting in Putin’s perspective on Crimea and the Ukraine.

“Mission Agency Clears Away Some False Assumptions about John Chau’s Missionary Work,” by Denny Burk.

Explores the depth of John Chau’s commitment and preparation.

Taki: “In Defense of Franklin Armstrong,” by Jim Goad.

I am not agreeing with this site, but I liked aspects of this article. It defends Charles Schulz from accusations of racism, while telling the story of why Schulz created the character Franklin Armstrong.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Book Write-Up: Creation and Doxology

Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, ed. Creation and Doxology: The Beginning and End of God’s Good World. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

This book contains essays about how Christians should see creation. A significant portion of the book is about their engagement with science, in terms of what science has concluded about origins and the cosmos, as well as technological advancement. The book also engages theological issues, such as the question of whether creation is sacramental and the importance of looking to Christ to understand the image of God. Here are some comments about the essays:

“Reading Genesis 1 with the Fourth Commandment: The Creation Week as a Calendar Narrative,” by Michael LeFebvre.

LeFebvre argues that the Hebrew Bible sometimes takes events and dates them in reference to Israel’s liturgical calendar, in order to make a theological point. This is the case with the Flood story, and also with Genesis 1-2:4, where creation is mapped in reference to the work week and the weekly Sabbath. The implication is that God did not literally create the world in six days. This is a model to consider. At the same time, how does one know that P did not believe that these events literally occurred on those dates and in those times?

“Galaxies, Genes, and the Glory of God,” by Deborah B. Haarsma.

This essay sometimes reads like an infomercial for Biologos, yet it does explain the Biologos position in a lucid, concise, and friendly manner. It engages questions, such as the theological significance of stars dying and being born on a continual basis, the vastness of the cosmos, the emergence of order from randomness, and how danger accompanies beauty in creation. Haarsma also briefly presents a model that states that evolution can be compatible with the existence of a literal, historical Adam and Eve who sinned and passed on their genes to all humanity, as their descendants mated with other humans.

“Mere Creation: Ten Theses (Most) Evangelicals Can (Mostly) Agree On,” by Todd Wilson.

Basically, God created, the Bible is authoritative, God exercises providence, and Christians should be nice to each other. Wilson makes the interesting observation that, in Genesis 1-2, humans are similar to animals, and yet distinct. Genesis 1-2, in that sense, overlaps with evolutionary models that present humans as advanced animals.

“All Truth Is God’s Truth: A Defense of Dogmatic Creationism,” by Hans Madueme.

Madueme does not find scientific young earth creationist arguments to be convincing, yet he still seems to embrace young earth creationism and finds Biologos-type arguments to be problematic. The essay is commendable on account of its honesty, though readers may conclude that it presents questions rather than answers.

“Is the World Sacramental: Ontology, Language, and Scripture,” by Jeremy Mann.

A critique of a sacramental view that sees God as present in creation. For Mann, such a view can lead to idolatry of the natural world, and yet creation has value, as a gift of God’s grace and as something that the church should orient towards its Maker. Mann also refers to Aquinas’ discussion about how God is present and not present in demons.

“Irenaeus, the Devil, and the Goodness of Creation: How Irenaeus’s Account of the Devil Reshapes the Christian Narrative in a Pro-terrestrial Direction,” by Gerald Hiestand.

For Irenaeus, the devil fell because he did not want to be subordinate to man, who was to become steward over God’s creation. Such a model differs from Platonic and Stoic ideas that devalue the material. It also differs from Milton’s account of Satan’s fall, which overlaps with Platonic ideas.

“Wendell Berry and the Materiality of Creation,” by Stephen Witmer.

Witmer engages Berry’s insight that sexually objectifying women disconnects men from reality: how they are, and how the women are. This is vital to remember, yet the essay would have been better had it balanced that insight with the consideration that humans have natural, sexual desires.

“Creation, New Creation, and the So-Called Mission of God,” by John H. Walton.

Some aspects of this essay will not be new to those who have already read Walton. I still enjoyed the essay as a concise reminder of Walton’s points, such as his view that Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 sought to replace God with themselves as the “source and center of order.” Walton relates Babel to Pentecost, as if Pentecost undoes Babel. Others have done this, but Walton helpfully highlighted their differences and the theological significance of those differences. Walton also engages the question of whether Genesis 3:15 is about Christ’s victory over Satan. As Walton observes, Genesis 3:15 presents ongoing conflict, not victory. Walton notes that Romans 16:20 interacts with Genesis 3:15 yet is about the church, not Christ, trampling Satan. Walton does well to question whether the biblical writers saw Genesis 3:15 as “launching a metanarrative,” as many Christians think, yet he did not really flesh out the theological implications of his observations. Walton’s overall argument is that the Hebrew Bible is about God’s dwelling with God’s creation. There may be something to this. At the same time, I wonder if all of the biblical writers had this big picture in mind. Did P, for example, agree with an eschatological scenario in which God intimately dwells with creation, or did he think that God dwelling in the Temple was as good as it got?

“Intellectually Frustrated Atheists and Intellectually Frustrated Christians: The Strange Opportunity of the Late-Modern World,” by Andy Crouch.

People are learning that they do not know as much as they thought they did about the cosmos. Yet, Crouch maintains that scientific conclusions are consistent with Christianity. Crouch also comments on the theological significance of a cosmos in which death and decay have existed from the beginning, raising Revelation 13:8’s statement that Christ was slain from the foundation of the world. I thought of Pastor David Grantland’s view in Catherine Marshall’s Christy that there may be an afterlife because death and resurrection are prevalent in nature. As Crouch shows, so are relationality, mystery, and logos.

“It All Begins in Genesis: Thinking Theologically About Medicine, Technology, and the Christian Life,” by Paige Comstock Cunningham.

How can Christians respond to technological and scientific advancements, which will likely confront people in their community at some point, and have already? While Cunningham acknowledges that the Bible does not explicitly comment on such issues, she believes that it does provide principles, such as the folly of human hubris (Babel) and the need to respect animals rather than seeing them solely as means to human ends (i.e., do not eat blood). The part of me that is defiant against Christians telling people what to do winced at this essay, but it still does well do posit ways that Christians can constructively engage ethical issues, on the basis of their tradition.

“Justice, Creation, and New Creation: In Christ All Things Hold Together,” by Kristen Deede Johnson.

This essay supports the Barthian-type tendency to recoil from natural theology and to uphold Jesus Christ as the starting-point for theology and anthropology, in this case, the meaning of the image of God and justice. The conclusion is that humans are with God and are with one another. Johnson offers interesting considerations in supporting her point: Barth, of course, believed that natural theology contributed to Nazi racialism, but Johnson shows that Reformed beliefs about recovering a divine order of creation contributed to Apartheid. She also raises the profound insight that Jesus recapitulated creation but also took it in new directions, as she looks at Jesus’ imparting of the Spirit through his breath in light of God breathing into man at creation (John 20:22; Genesis 2:7). And she briefly discusses Barth’s attempt to appreciate the Old Testament as a record of God the creator’s acts in history, while still seeing the Old Testament as inadequate. Where I wince at essays like this is that they seem to think that saying “Jesus Christ” over and over solves everything. This is my impression of Barthians, but also of progressive Christians who say that we should look at Christ for our theology rather than the Old Testament. Perhaps Johnson and company are correct that such concepts as God’s covenant with humanity and the incarnation can richly shape and inform a Christian conception of justice. Still, does looking at Jesus solve everything, since what Jesus said and did can be taken in progressive but also regressive directions?

“Creation, Theology, and One Local Church in Southern California,” by Gregory Waybright.

Waybright presents case studies of scientists and educated people and reflects on how the church can minister to them. A scientist is going along his merry naturalistic way, then he sees a woman he knows become healed of her blindness at a small church. A person goes to college and hears how humans arrive at their beliefs and wonders if the faith of her youth can hold its own intellectually. I could identify with these case studies.

This book can be a friendly resource to Christians wondering how they can respond to science, taking science and their faith seriously. Its overall points are not earth-shakingly new, for I have encountered them before: they are the sorts of obligatory things that Christian intellectuals usually contribute to the discussion. Still, there were occasional insights that were new to me and that point in potentially helpful directions.

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Book Write-Up: Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

Patti Callahan. Becoming Mrs. Lewis. Thomas Nelson, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a novel about Joy Davidman’s relationship with C.S. Lewis, the renowned Christian academic, apologist, and author. Joy Davidman married C.S. Lewis and died of cancer during their marriage.

This book is written from the perspective of Joy Davidman, and each chapter opens with a quotation from her writings, as she was an author in her own right. The book starts with a brief prologue about her childhood, then it jumps to her first marriage to the author Bill Gresham, who is unfaithful to her and is struggling to stay sober with Alcoholics Anonymous. Joy undergoes a conversion to Christianity. She develops a relationship with C.S. Lewis, in letters and later in person, and it is initially Platonic, though she finds herself to be infatuated with him from the beginning. The book details her insecurities in her marriage to Bill and in her relationship with C.S. Lewis. It ends with the aftermath of her death.

The book had interesting details. It shares how C.S. Lewis got the nickname “Jack.” It was also noteworthy that Lewis’ brother, Warnie, had literary projects in his own right. Joy’s mother was entertaining: she still thought every man was physically attracted to her!

What I especially liked about this book was that the relationship between Joy and C.S. Lewis was so affable, and both C.S. Lewis and Warnie were friendly and approachable people. As I read this book, I continually compared it to the movie Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins. C.S. Lewis in that movie came across as rather stuffy and snobbish, and Joy rebuked him for creating a world in which nobody could challenge him. This book had none of that. C.S. Lewis was open, humble, and self-deprecating. Joy often was unconvinced by C.S. Lewis’ platitudes and had her share of frustrations within the relationship, but she still enjoyed his company. There is a saying, “Don’t meet your heroes,” but, if C.S. Lewis was like he was in this book, I would have loved to have met him. The saying does apply to the book’s portrayal of Tolkein, however, for Tolkein in the book comes across as no-nonsense and gruff.

Patti Callahan received input from Joy’s Davidman’s son, Douglas Gresham, and she also discusses the new developments in research in the last decade, as new documents have been discovered.

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

Book Write-Up: The Unveiling, by R. Jeff Collene

R. Jeff Collene. The Unveiling: The Book of Sevens. WestBow, 2016. See here to purchase the book.

R. Jeff Collene is a pastor. This book is about the Book of Revelation. Here are some thoughts.

A. In terms of the author’s perspective, it seems to be that the millennium and the last days cover the time from Christ’s death to Christ’s second coming. The Man of Sin represents demonically-supported government throughout history. The first century specifically, however, is especially significant in Collene’s thought. One reason, of course, is that this is when John wrote Revelation. But Collene also believes that the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE in a key element of the Book of Revelation, and he refers to sources that highlight a high amount of earthquakes and famines in the first century CE, the sorts of things that Jesus predicted in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 24. What is Collene’s perspective? Perhaps it is a combination of amillennialism, preterism, and idealism. And yet, Collene in one isolated comment states that there will be increased chaos prior to Jesus’ second coming, which sounds somewhat like futurism. He does not flesh that out, though.

B. There are other loose ends. For example, there is the date of Revelation. Collene seems to go with a pre-70 date, since Revelation depicts the Temple as still standing. Yet, he acknowledges the validity of arguments for a post-70 date: Christianity has spread to Asia Minor and is a Gentile movement there, which had to have taken time. Of course, how much of a challenge is that to a pre-70 date? Paul established churches in Asia Minor, and he was pre-70. There is also the issue of the Sabbath. Collene seems to advocate its observance. He disputes that the Lord’s Day of Revelation 1:10 is Sunday, maintaining that Christianity at this time was Jewish and observed the Sabbath. Yet, he pastors a church that meets on Sunday. Also, he appeared to contradict himself in his paragraph on Revelation 1:10, for he denied that Christians kept Sunday until the fourth century, while also referring to biblical passages about first century Christians meeting on the first day of the week, which he believes was for celebration. Did they observe Sunday or not? Collene’s discussion of kairos and chronos had potential and may be one way to illuminate the parts of Revelation that seem to imply an imminent end in John’s time, but that discussion could have been developed more.

C. The book is informative, in places. For instance, Collene’s discussion of the Nicolaitans referred to patristic interpretations; he mostly did not cite the exact references, and the discussion would have been better had he done so, but he still referred to church fathers by name. Collene is aware of scholars who question the apostle John’s authorship on the basis of Revelation’s style, and he offers a way to account for the style; his knowledge and engagement of scholarship is a plus. His articulation of the different positions on Revelation was also informative, especially when he referred to examples of adherents. A disadvantage to the last discussion, however, is that its purpose was not clear. It seemed to be thrown in for the sake of being thrown in. Perhaps more evaluation of the positions would have made that discussion better.

D. Occasionally, the book had a thought that was new to me. Collene does not interpret the Lord’s Day, for example, as Sunday or even the Sabbath. Rather, he states it was the day on which people were to proclaim that Caesar was Lord. It was on this day that Jesus chose to reveal his own ultimate Lordship.

E. The book is homiletical, as it aims to be a Christ-centered, spiritually-edifying book about Revelation. A lot of parts sounded like cheerleading, yet Collene did cite a lot of Scripture. The anecdotes and historical allusions could be appealing. I think of the story of the grandson who learned that the Bible purified his mind, even if he did not retain much of what he read. It was like a basket that leaks water: the basket is still clean.

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

Church Write-Up: Truth, Sharing the Crown, and the Two Natures and Wills of Christ

I went to the LCMS church service and Sunday school class last Sunday morning.

A. At the LCMS service, the pastor preached about John 8:33-38. Jesus is appearing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The two interact about whether Jesus is a king, and Jesus states that his kingdom is not of this world. “So you are a king””, Pilate responds. Jesus then affirms that he (Jesus) came into the world to be a king and to bear witness to the truth, and that anyone who is of the truth listens to him. Pilate replies, “What is truth?”

The pastor speculated that Pilate, somewhere inside, may have hoped that Jesus was who Jesus claimed to be: a different kind of king. During this time, Tiberius was emperor. Tiberius did not particularly want to be emperor and let his mother and certain subordinates govern, so Pilate was not entirely sure who was in charge and whom to appease.

The pastor talked about how many treat truth as foggy. We live in a postmodern era, and the pastor quoted a performance artist, who asked why one person’s experience of something should be considered more authoritative than anyone else’s. Moreover, we rationalize to avoid ill consequences or to feel better about ourselves. The pastor’s ultimate point was that Christians live with the embodiment of truth, Jesus Christ, who observed God’s commands of truth and saves us.

B. The youth pastor talked about how it was conventional for people to fight to be king, but Jesus is unusual in that he laid aside his kingly glory to give others the crown.

C. The Sunday school class got into the Nestorian controversy in the fifth century and the seventh century controversy over whether Jesus had one or two wills.

Nestorius was the bishop of Constantinople, which was a significant and prominent position, as Constantinople was the capital of the Roman empire. Nestorius believed that Jesus had a divine nature and a human nature, but he saw the two natures as like two boards glued together side by side: they did not mix with each other. He also opposed calling Mary the bearer of God, saying that it was more accurate to call her the bearer of Christ. Cyril of Alexandria opposed Nestorius on this, maintaining that Mary was the bearer of God by being bearer of the God-man. Not long after Cyril died, the Council of Chalcedon sought a solution to the controversy, declaring that Jesus had a divine nature and a human nature that were distinct and yet in one person. The divine nature influences the human nature without overwhelming it.

The teacher told a story about Cyril. Cyril was a cantankerous man. After he died, one person wrote to another person, saying that Cyril is with the angels. “Let’s hope they don’t send him back!”, the other person said.

In Matthew 26:39, Jesus asks God, if it is possible, to take from him the cup of suffering and death that he is about to experience, but Jesus then says, “Not my will, but yours be done.” The question Christians asked on the basis of this passage is whether Jesus has a will that differs from that of God the Father. In the seventh century, Maximus the Confessor and the pope, Martin, affirmed that Jesus had two wills, one divine and one human. The emperor, however, held that Jesus only had one will. Maximus’ tongue was cut out and his right hand was mutilated, so that he would neither speak nor write. According to the teacher, the rationale behind Maximus’ position was that Jesus had to have free will, like human beings, in order to assume and to transform human nature. God could have unilaterally gotten rid of sin, but the fact that God became a man indicated that God sought to do so by assuming and transforming human nature. To be truly human, Jesus had to have free will: the ability to say “no” to God.

The rationale of the monothelite (one will) position was probably that Jesus was God and thus only had a divine will. I do not know how it interpreted Matthew 26:39. I read ahead on that Robert Wilken article we are going through, and the two-will position held that, ultimately, Jesus’ will was not separate from that of the Father because Jesus submitted to the Father. That sounds like a way that “one-will” advocates could explain away Matthew 26:39: by saying that Jesus’ two wills were actually only one will. But apparently it was the position of the “two-will” people.

As is often the case, people in the class wonder why ancient Christians were so worried about these issues. Why not simply accept what the Bible says—-that Jesus was human and divine—-without trying to understand how that was the case? The teacher’s response has been that humans are thinking beings, and that our interpretation of the Bible benefits from two thousand years of Christian history, which contains such struggles. Maybe. I just wonder what headway the church fathers made. I have long agreed with Wilken that the Chalcedonian council artificially acknowledged and tried to hold together tensions, without explaining how the tensions conceptually hold together. Reading ahead after I came home, I see that debates continued after Chalcedon, so I wonder if they ever reached a solution.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: May’s Un-Brexit Brexit Deal; Radical Environmentalists and Wildfires; Bay Buchanan on Israel

Here are some links for this week’s Current Events Write-Up.

The Federalist: “Theresa May’s Deal Is A Betrayal Of Brexit Voters That Could Cost Her Prime Ministership,” by Helen Raleigh.

I have read more than one critique of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. This is the first one that broke it down in a way that I could understand.

The Washington Times: “Zinke blames lawsuits by ‘radical environmentalists’ for creating more wildfires,” by Dave Boyer.

Brief article, but it is a summary of what Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary said, and his basis for saying it.

Townhall: “Trump’s Leadership Is Just What America Needs Now,” by Bay Buchanan.

I’m not necessarily agreeing with the article, but what interests me is that Bay Buchanan takes a staunch pro-Israel stance. Her brother Pat, by contrast, often does not.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Church Write-Up: Thanksgiving 2018

I went to the LCMS’s Thanksgiving service this morning.

A. The pastor gave the children’s message. He asked the children if they knew what pilgrim means. A pilgrim is someone who goes from one place to another. That was what the pilgrims did: they left England and eventually came to America.

In America, the pilgrims struggled with the winter. They did not have to worry about winter when they lived in the cities of England, he said, but they did in America, and many did not survive. Native Americans introduced them to corn.

When I came home and read about Native Americans mourning Thanksgiving, I looked for articles that convey an anti-Thanksgiving perspective. I found this one. It raises the question in my mind of how Christians, inhabited by God’s Holy Spirit, could treat people that way, assuming the details of that article are true.

B. The pastor’s sermon was about Christians bearing witness on Thanksgiving. He started by talking about the Common Prayer, which Lutherans apparently pray on Thanksgiving. It is a common Lutheran custom, but non-Lutherans are unfamiliar with the prayer. And, for that matter, he said, the prayer itself has so many versions!

The pastor asked why we did not immediately go to heaven after our baptism. The answer, he said, is that God wants Christians to bear witness to the world on earth.

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