Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Triablogue: Thugs and She-Bears

Triablogue: Thugs and She-Bears

Book Write-Up: Conformed to the Image of His Son, by Haley Goranson Jacob

Haley Goranson Jacob.  Conformed to the Image of His Son: Reconsidering Paul’s Theology of Glory in Romans.  IVP Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Haley Goranson Jacob teaches theology at Whitworth University.  This book, Conformed to the Image of His Son, offers a fresh interpretation of Romans 8:29-30.

Romans 8:29-30 states: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  (NRSV)

What does Paul mean when he refers to believers being conformed to the image of God’s Son?  Two proposals are prominent.  The first view is that believers will be conformed to the image of God’s Son in terms of holiness: they will become like Christ in their moral and spiritual character.  The second view is that Paul means that their resurrection bodies will be glorified, shining bright, like Christ’s glorified resurrection body.

Although Jacob rejects these interpretations, moral holiness and bodily composition still seem to factor into her scenario.  Jacob accepts Colossians as authentically Pauline, and Colossians 3:7-9 presents moral aspects to becoming conformed to the image of God.  Paul also depicts believers’ resurrected bodies as new and improved, in possessing immortality, for instance.

Jacob argues, however, that Paul has a different focus in Romans 8:29-30.  For Jacobs, when Paul affirms that believers will be glorified, he means that they will be honored.  And when Paul refers to believers being conformed to the image of God’s Son, he is echoing themes in the Hebrew Bible.  There is Genesis 1:26-27, which depicts God’s image as the dominion that human beings have over creation.  Jesus is God’s Son in the sense that he is the Messiah, for the Davidic ruler in the Hebrew Bible was called God’s Son.  Jacob argues that, for Paul, believers are conformed to the image of God’s Son in that they join Jesus in ruling over a creation that is being renewed.

This has future implications, but it has present implications, as well.  When Paul in Romans 8:26-27 talks about the Spirit interceding for believers when they pray, Jacob believes that this relates to believers praying for creation, not so much their own personal issues.  Jacob translates Romans 8:28 differently from how it is customarily translated.  Most translations render it as all things working together for those who love God (Romans 8:28), but Jacob interprets it in terms of believers working with God in the renewal of creation, not so much things clicking in their personal lives.

In making her argument, Jacob appeals to a variety of considerations.  She examines the usage of doxa (glory) in the Septuagint, highlighting that it often pertains to receiving honor.  She considers Paul’s writings broadly, then she looks at Romans, then she closely looks at Romans 8.  Jacob sees that Psalms 8 and 110 feature prominently, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, in Paul’s discussion of the risen Christ.  Psalm 8 is about the dominion that human beings have over God’s creation, and Paul contends that Christ now has that as the risen Messiah.  Paul interprets Psalm 110 as the Messiah sitting at God’s right hand and ruling.  In Jacob’s argument, Paul holds that believers share in this rulership with the risen Christ, for believers’ participation with Christ is a salient feature of Paul’s writings.  Jacob also offers a grammatical argument for her interpretation of Romans 8:28.

Jacob judiciously engages prior scholarship.  The book is interesting in that it highlights the different interpretations that scholars have offered regarding Romans 8 and other Pauline passages, as well as changes in scholarly trends.  For example, whereas scholarship used to interpret Paul’s reference to the “Son of God” in light of the sons of God in Greek mythology, Jacob states, it has come to interpret the phrase in light of the Messiah of the Hebrew Bible.  While the book is nuanced, Jacob continually stresses her main points, and her introduction and conclusion lucidly summarize her arguments.

A slight issue that I have with Jacob’s argument is that, when I read Paul, Paul does not seem to emphasize believers going out and serving the world.  One can certainly derive that lesson from the Bible, for the Old Testament talks about giving alms, and the Gospels depict Jesus going into the world and helping people.  Paul, however, focuses more on spreading the Gospel and the spiritual care of his congregations.  When he talks about helping the poor, he usually (perhaps always) means the poor of the church, not the poor in the world.  This is odd, if Jacob’s interpretation of Paul is correct.  Still, one cannot dismiss the evidence that she does present, such as the significance of Psalm 8 and 110 in Paul’s writings.

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

Book Write-Up: Revelation and the Antichrist, by William Edward Dewberry

William Edward Dewberry.  Revelation and the Antichrist: A Commentary.  WestBow Press, 2012.  See here to buy the book.

William Edward Dewberry was a data communications technician at AT&T and is currently retired.  This book, Revelation and the Antichrist, is a commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Overall, the prose of this book is well-written.  It flows smoothly, and there is no stylistic awkwardness that I can recall.

There is a lot of regurgitating of what the biblical text says accompanied by fairly obvious homiletical commentary.  You will not find much in here about, say, the identity of the Antichrist.  But there are interesting interpretations, here and there.  Dewberry states that Satan is confined to the Abyss right now and has been there since the ascension of Christ, but he will be released in the end times, causing such mayhem as the Antichrist.  He interprets the Temple as the persecuted church of God, and the two witnesses as the church’s proclamation with the word and the Spirit of God.  In a rare attempt to interpret details of Revelation in light of the book’s historical context, Dewberry states that the white stone promised to the church at Pergamum is a white stone communicating a verdict of innocence, which existed in first century courts.  God is declaring the suffering church at Pergamum innocent.

The book is a combination of a variety of perspectives.  When Christ says that he is showing John what will shortly come to pass or affirms that he will come quickly, Dewberry interprets that to mean that, when Christ does return, it will be rapidly.  No first century expectations of an imminent end there.  Dispensationalists have argued similarly about the Book of Revelation.  Dewberry interprets the letters to the seven churches as related to the first century, and the rest of the book as related to the future end time.  His interpretation of the millennium leans towards the amillennial side.

Whether the book is convincing in terms of its interpretations, that is up to the reader.  I can somewhat sympathize Dewberry’s claim that Satan is currently in the Abyss and will be released at the end time.  Revelation does appear to depict a particularly heightened time of Satanic deception and torment of people, and tormenting spirits do emerge from underground in the Book of Revelation.  At the same time, to say that Satan is currently confined to the Abyss is a bit problematic, as Revelation 12:10 seems to depict him accusing the brethren day and night, which would take place in heaven.  Moreover, there are New Testament passages that depict Satan as active on earth during the time of the first century church.  Dewberry’s interpretation of the Temple as the church rather than as a future, literal reconstructed Temple is plausible.  This claim may have been more interesting, however, had Dewberry explained what II Thessalonians 2:4 means when it says that the man of sin will sit in the Temple of God claiming to be God; will he come from the church?

A lot of Dewberry’s interpretive moves are assertions rather than arguments.  In a sense, a lot of interpretation of the Book of Revelation, in general, can be speculative, but perhaps Dewberry’s book would have been more interesting had it had more exegetical meat, or engaged different perspectives.

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

Monday, July 30, 2018

Church Write-Up: Sidetracked, I John 2:18-3:3, Plagues and Those Wanting a Republican Pastor

Here are some items for this week’s Church Write-Up:

A.  At the LCMS church, the pastor preached about Mark 6:45-56.  The disciples were in a boat out in the sea, and the wind was especially strong, so strong that they could not row against it.  Jesus saw this happening from the shore and walked on the water, intending to pass them by.  Why was Jesus intending to pass them by?  The pastor suggested that Jesus was planning to proceed past them and take care of the storm, but he saw that they were afraid and let himself be sidetracked in order to reassure them.  The pastor told a story about when he was heading home from seminary.  He was caught in a horrible snowstorm, and the snow was getting into his car’s radiator, thereby slowing him down.  He decided to stop at a motel and used a pay phone to call his parents.  His father assured him that everything would be all right and that they would come to pick him up.  That made him feel better.

B.  The Sunday School class was about I John 2:18-3:3.  Because August is Mission Month, the Sunday School class during that time will be hearing from charities.  I will see whether I attend that.  The I John class will resume in mid-September.

The Sunday School class got into a variety of issues.  First, John tells his audience that it is the last hour.  The pastor was explaining the amillennialist perspective, saying that the end times have existed since the ascension of Jesus until today.  We are in the tribulation, since the false teachers Jesus spoke about in the Olivet Discourse have existed since the first century until now; these false teachers come in the name of Christ but deny essentials of the Gospel.  But we are also in the millennium: Satan has been defeated through Christ’s death and resurrection, and Christ reigns spiritually.  That was the pastor’s response when I asked him how we could be in the millennium, when Revelation 20:3 states that the devil will be bound in the abyss during the thousand years so that he will not deceive the nations.  Satan, as even the pastor acknowledged, seems to be active and deceiving the nations today.  After the class, two people in the church were talking with each other about how they are not really persuaded by the amillennial position.  They are premillennial and take the prophecies in the Old and New Testaments literally.

Second, the pastor talked about how I John 2:18-3:3 fit into its context.  John was telling the Christians in his congregation that they had an anointing and did not need anyone to teach them.  Their anointing either referred to their baptism or their anointing by the Spirit; the pastor referred to John 20, in which the risen Jesus breathes on his disciples, who before did not understand him, and they transitioned from being disciples (students) to becoming apostles, people sent out to proclaim the Gospel, which forgives and retains sins.  (I am aware that I am mixing other Gospels and Protestant interpretation with John 20, here.)  The Docetists had said that the Christians needed more spiritual knowledge, but John was telling the Christians that they already had the knowledge that they needed: Christ come in the flesh, his atoning death, and his resurrection.  John was also reassuring them that they were loved by God, for they may have been questioning that, after the church split.  Moreover, the pastor contrasted the Christian perspective, which is oriented around Christ, with the world’s perspective, which has the world as its starting-point.

C.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor was continuing his series through the Book of Revelation.  The pastor said that he does not deny that the Book of Revelation is about how the world will end, but that he believes that it also relates to how Christians right now can live a victorious life.  The pastor derived three lessons.  From the plagues in Revelation, the pastor concluded that God will go to any lengths to free people from sin, as God sent plagues to deliver Israel from Egypt.  Yet, notwithstanding the plagues, people did not repent.  People repented when the plagues were accompanied by prophecy, God speaking into people’s situations through the two witnesses.  Another theme is prayer, which is symbolized by incense.  The pastor told a story of another pastor who had accomplished a lot in his ministry, but felt as if what he did fell short because he did not devote much time to prayer.

The pastor got into related issues in the course of this discussion.  He lamented that people do not take sin seriously, as they joke about their drunken binges the night before.  He talked about how our cheaper products are made by children under the whip, pointing to a cheap piece of technology that he was using in making this point.  He said that Christians should be in the forefront of the ecology movement, not because the earth is warming or cooling, but because this is a beautiful home that God has given us, and God’s goal is to redeem the earth, so we should cherish and take care of it.  The pastor then said that he is neither a liberal Democrat nor a conservative Republican.  He belongs to another Kingdom, as he agrees with elements of both sides and values discussion, as long as people do not get nasty.  “But I want a Republican pastor,” he said, putting words into some people’s mouths.  “Well, they’re out there!”

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Two Perspectives on Women in the Gospel Resurrection Narratives

A Christian apologetic argument is that the Gospels’ resurrection narratives are historically accurate because they depict women as the first witnesses to the risen Jesus.  According to this argument, the authors of the narratives would not have made that up because women’s testimony was distrusted in the ancient world.

Here are two perspectives.  Richard Carrier is an atheist, and he disputes the Christian apologetic argument, presenting indications from primary sources that women’s testimony was accepted in the ancient world.

Richard Bauckham does not necessarily address the Christian apologetic argument, but he does raise considerations that are relevant to it.  There was a strong belief in the ancient world that women were superstitious, especially about religious matters.  At the same time, Pseudo-Philo somewhat runs against that grain, and, even in some of the Gospels, the disciples initially think that there is at least something to the women’s testimony, since they go to check it out.

Richard Carrier: Did No One Trust Women?

Richard Bauckham: The Women at the Tomb: The Credibility of Their Story

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Current Events Write-Up:7/28/2018

The Nation: “An Audacious Proposal for a US-North Korean Alliance,” by Tom Shorrock

I am not entirely clear what this article is recommending, but I still find it interesting.  This is the third article in The Nation that I have read that sees a silver lining in, or at least some rationale behind, President Trump’s foreign policy.  I wonder why this is.  The Nation is a very left-wing publication.  It has anti-Trump articles.  Even on this one, you can sign up to “join the resistance!”  Yet, it can be somewhat positive about Trump.  And it leaves the impression that Trump is doing something outside-of-the-box and groundbreaking.

The Nation: “Democrats Shouldn’t Defend Bad Policies Just to Resist Trump,” by Robert L. Borosage

I read this one just now!  This article is critical of Trump towards the end.  Yet, it has this gem: “The tempest over the Fed illustrates what is becoming a repeated syndrome. In his chaos presidency, Trump clearly relishes disrupting established convention and institutions. Often—as in his vile slander of immigrants, his racist pandering to neo-Nazis, his incessant attacks on ‘fake news’—he spreads poison and division, seeking to delegitimize checks on his misrule. But in some areas—particularly those central to his populist posturing—he challenges entrenched institutions and policies that are long overdue for transformation. In many cases, his targets are those that progressives have criticized for years.”

The New Yorker: “Donald Trump’s New World Order,” by Adam Entous

This article could have been shorter, but it was still an informative, enjoyable read.  It chronicles President Obama’s relationship with Israel; the developing relationship between Netanyahu and candidate, then President-elect, then President Trump; and the growing alliance among Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates against Iran, and how that can impact U.S. policy towards Israel and the Palestinians.  It has a lot of “behind-the-scenes” stories: people are alleged to have said things, but they deny saying them.

Global Research: “The Expansion of U.S. Military Installations in Argentina and Their Implications for Argentine Sovereignty,” by Dr. Birsen Filip

This article is about current U.S. pretensions for its presence in Argentina (i.e., combating drugs and terror) and its historical pretensions for its presence in South America (i.e., the Cold War); how the U.S. Defense Department assumes the reality of climate-change and desires access to Argentine water; and why a number of Argentines do not appreciate the U.S.’s presence and view it as deleterious.

National Review: “Trump Tackles the Art of the Drug-Price Deal,” by John Fund

What the FDA is doing to bring competition and lower prices into the realm of pharmaceuticals.

John C. Goodman: “ObamaCare Can Be Worse than Medicaid”

I have long appreciated John C. Goodman’s analysis of health care issues.  I noticed that I had not been receiving his NCPA e-mails for several months, and I found that he has started the Goodman Center for Public Policy Research.  I cannot say that I agree with Goodman on everything, but he does have ideas about reducing the cost of health care in this twenty-first century technological era that, in my opinion, deserve consideration.  This article details some of the usual problems about Obamacare.  Not enough healthy people are paying into the system; a lot of sick people have signed up for it; Obamacare’s attempts to get money from the healthy to the sick have been inadequate; and a number of places are simply not accepting Obamacare insurance.  I may sound like I am seeing this as an abstract policy discussion, but I understand and appreciate that this issue involves real people, with real-life, even life-threatening, problems.

Mother Jones: How the Hospitals Serving Trump Voters Are Closing—-and He’s Letting It Happen,” by Becca Andrews 

Essentially, some of the red states did not accept Medicaid expansion.  Uninsured people come to the emergency room and hospitals have to treat them.  This taxes hospitals’ finances, and rural hospitals close.

R.J. Rushdoony on Native Americans

Reading this again, I cannot entirely endorse the tone of this status.  Still, it was interesting to me that Christian Reconstructionist R.J. Rushdoony had a heart for the plight of Native Americans, based on his experience working with them.

SFGATE: “Meghan McCain a Feisty New Presence on ‘The View,'” by David Bauder

She has certainly grown as a pundit!  I remember watching her on “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “ABC This Week,” and she was not very impressive.  On the View, however, she speaks with confidence and knowledge.

Fox News: “John Schneider on indicted ‘Smallville’ co-star Allison Mack: She was ‘wonderful, very levelheaded’,” by Sasha Savitsky

I haven’t said anything on this blog before about this.  It’s been a few years since I have watched Smallville.  I have still been saddened by all this.  Chloe was my favorite character.  She is the sort of character who would expose something like NXVIM, not join it and become its junior ringleader!  I read another article a while back about why she joined: she had not gone to college and she wanted wisdom and a mentor, and she thought she found that in Keith Raniere.  I remembering visiting her web site, years before all of the legal issues erupted, and people were warning her about him.  I watched one of his videos and I could see his charisma: he calmly talked about how our failures and insecurities can actually make us more creative.  That may sound like pop psychological mumbo-jumbo to some, but I can understand how one can be a sucker for that kind of spiel.  But to become a ringleader in the activities that Raniere was promoting behind the scenes?  How would a person degenerate to that?  Anyway, this line in the article stood out to me: “Schneider said his own legal troubles have made him take Mack’s case with ‘a grain of salt.’ He was recently released from a five-hour jail stint over unpaid spousal support in his ongoing divorce battle with his estranged wife.”

Friday, July 27, 2018

Christ the Tao: Christ and the Babylonians

Christ the Tao: Christ and the Babylonians

Book Write-Up: The Brain, the Mind, and the Person Within

Mark Cosgrove.  The Brain, the Mind, and the Person Within: The Enduring Mystery of the Soul.  Kregel Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Mark Cosgrove teaches psychology at Taylor University.  The Brain, the Mind, and the Person Within contains Cosgrove’s reflections as a Christian on issues surrounding the brain.

Here are some of my thoughts about the book:

A.  In part, what Cosgrove’s book appears to be is a defense of the existence of the soul.  He does not agree with materialism or naturalism, the idea that human consciousness and mind are due entirely to the physical brain.  Cosgrove does well to dispute the simplistic nature of some materialist and naturalist approaches.  For example, Cosgrove doubts that certain aspects of the human mind (i.e., creativity, spirituality) can be attributed to one part of the brain, for different parts of the brain work together.  But Cosgrove does not really provide a rigorous intellectual defense of the soul’s existence.  A lot of the time, he provides rhetorical flourish, as he grandly asks if the nobility and magnificence of human creativity, intellect, and spirituality can be attributed merely to the brain.  My question in reading this book was often, “Why not?”  Cosgrove shows in the book that the structure of the brain at least relates to these things, as well as influences how humans are.  Why is a soul necessary, and what role does it play?  Cosgrove did not offer much of an answer to that question.

B.  Cosgrove speaks empathetically and knowledgeably about people who are not neurotypical, such as Temple Grandin, who has autism and thinks in pictures.  At the same time, he stresses that God wants people to be in interpersonal relationships.  On the one hand, that is a necessary point to make: people with autism need people who care about them so that they do not fall through the cracks and can make the unique contribution that they make.  On the other hand, the cheery evangelical “You need to be in relationships” line can make autistic Christians feel as if they are displeasing to God, since they struggle to form relationships and to reach out to others.

C.  Cosgrove’s discussion of the advancements that are being made in brain-related research and technology is mind-blowing, going beyond the sorts of things that one may encounter in science fiction.  To quote Cosgrove on page 142: “We hear of mind-reading and dream-reading computers, humanoid robots, immersion entertainment, cyborg military humans, linking monkeys into a shared brain network, and more.”  Cosgrove also mentions potential advancements in treating Parkinson’s and depression.  In some cases, Cosgrove questions whether some of these developments will deliver.  He expresses doubt that humans will be able to achieve immortality by downloading their consciousness onto a computer, for can they really download their very selves (not just things that their brains have done) onto a computer?  But, overall, Cosgrove sees these developments as realistic, and not as occurring in the far, far future, but rather sooner than fifty years!  A lot of this was mind-blowing, and some of it was disturbing, for unexplainable reasons.  The scenario of the world lacking any problems at all, and the sky being the limits in terms of what people can accomplish, does not seem quite right: it is almost as if humans would not need God anymore, since they can become gods themselves.  And how would humans grow and develop character, if everything is perfect?  At the same time, I cannot identify a specific reason why these new developments would be bad, or worse than the luxuries that many humans have now.  Cosgrove does well to say that Christians should not simply dismiss these things as bad in a knee-jerk fashion.  Overall, though, his discussion of the ethical and spiritual questions that Christians should ask in response to these developments was somewhat thin.

D.  The book excels in the information and critiques that it provides.  For instance, some argue that human decisions are not free but are preceded by and attributable to certain sparks in the brain.  Cosgrove effectively demonstrates that the study that supposedly demonstrates this does not necessarily support it, for there are other possible explanations for what occurred in that study.

E.  The book has a winsome, thoughtful quality.  In terms of being a rigorous philosophical and scientific defense of the soul, it falls short.  As a reflective, meandering book about the spiritual implications of research about the brain, it is charming and enjoyable to read.  The book also refers to other books that attempt to tackle the mind-body problem and issues surrounding the brain, and Cosgrove does make them sound worth reading, as they likely are.

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

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Triablogue: Agency Detection

Triablogue: Agency detection

Book Reactions (Loosely-Speaking): Heretics and Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton

This post contains brief reactions to books that I have read.  These reactions are not my usual thorough Book Write-Ups, and it has been a while since I read some of the books.  But I am writing about them here to make a record of what I got out of them.

A.  Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton.

I tried reading Chesterton’s Father Brown mystery series and there was not a whole lot of chemistry, so I switched to reading his book, Heretics.  It has been a while (as in months) since I read this book, and I do not remember a lot of Chesterton’s arguments against the “heretics.”  Among the people whom he critically engages are Rudyard Kipling (the author of The Jungle Book!), H.G. Wells, and Bernard Shaw.  I was going through the book, impressed by Chesterton’s wry thoughtfulness here, wondering if his argument was particularly effective there.  Then I would encounter a section that would come alive to me.  I was reminded of it recently when I was reading Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind, and Kirk was criticizing utilitarians who professed a love for humanity but disdained people in their individuality and particularity, thereby projecting their own preferences and tendencies onto “humanity” and assuming that it is like them.  Chesterton in Heretics has a similar discussion.  He is critical of people who profess to be so cosmopolitan, yet they cannot stand people, especially regular people, in their particularities.  The irony, for Chesterton, is that one can encounter an interesting diversity of tastes, preferences, and characteristics among regular people in their particularity.  This section stood out to me, since I can get misanthropic, and there are aspects of some people’s lives that are important to them but do not particularly interest me.  Another point that Chesterton makes is that critics of socialism are educated because at least they know about socialism in critiquing it.  That stood out to me.  I have not used the right-wing as a punching-bag on this blog as much as I used to, but this passage made me think about the American right.  On the one hand, like, at the Joe-Conservative level, it does sometimes manifest familiarity with key historical figures, and that is impressive.  On the other hand, it tends to caricature other beliefs and conflate categories, such as socialism and communism.  But there are more well-read and sophisticated voices within the right, and the left too, of course, can get knee-jerk.  I may give this book a reread in the far future.  I can see myself getting more out of it the second time around.

B.  Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton.

I moved on to Orthodoxy after reading Heresy.  There was more chemistry between me and Orthodoxy than between me and Heresy.  My memories of Orthodoxy are a bit spotty, however, because I would read pieces of it each day, then I stopped reading it for months, and then I returned to reading it, taking up where I had left off.  Orthodoxy had Chesterton’s usual wry thoughtfulness.  It struck me as a little more personal and relatable than Heretics was.  A section that sticks in my mind is when Chesterton states that he used to read primarily authors who were skeptical towards Christianity, and what struck him at that time were the contradictions in their criticisms of Christianity.  For example, on the one hand, they would say that Christians were push-overs because they turned the other cheek and encouraged others to do so; on the other hand, Christians were accused of being dogmatic, intolerant, and narrow-minded.  That made me think of people and things I like or criticize and the question of whether my expectations of them or what I like or dislike about them are internally contradictory.  Maybe!  Another discussion that sticks in my mind was when Chesterton was responding to the criticism that medieval Christians were a morose lot.  He notes that the opposite was the case: they were happy.  Chesterton concedes here that he is not offering a thorough defense of Christianity, just thoughts, and that is something to keep in mind in reading Chesterton.  For me, reading Chesterton is like reading some of C.S. Lewis’s works: I prefer to enjoy his explorations, rather than nit-picking his every single word.

I am tired, so I will stop here, for now.  I was planning to do this for five books in this post, but I may save the other three for next week, or another week.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Michael Klare, Trump’s Grand Strategy

Michael Klare, Trump’s Grand Strategy 

“The big question in all this, of course, is: Why? Why would an American president seek to demolish a global order in which the United States was the dominant player and enjoyed the support of so many loyal and wealthy allies? Why would he want to replace it with one in which it would be but one of three regional heavyweights?

“Undoubtedly, historians will debate this question for decades. The obvious answer, offered by so many pundits, is that he doesn’t actually know what he’s doing, that it’s all thoughtless and impulsive. But there’s another possible answer: that he intuits in the Sino-Russian template a model that the United States could emulate to its benefit.

“In the Trumpian mindset, this country had become weak and overextended because of its uncritical adherence to the governing precepts of the liberal international order, which called for the U.S. to assume the task of policing the world while granting its allies economic and trade advantages in return for their loyalty. Such an assessment, whether accurate or not, certainly jibes well with the narrative of victimization that so transfixed his core constituency in rustbelt areas of Middle America. It also suggests that an inherited burden could now be discarded, allowing for the emergence of a less-encumbered, stronger America — much as a stronger Russia has emerged in this century from the wreckage of the Soviet Union and a stronger China from the wreckage of Maoism. This reinvigorated country would still, of course, have to compete with those other two powers, but from a far stronger position, being able to devote all its resources to economic growth and self-protection without the obligation of defending half of the rest of the world.”

Triablogue: Countdown to judgment

Triablogue: Countdown to judgment

“Maimonides’ theological principles were never unanimously embraced”

“Maimonides’ theological principles were never unanimously embraced.”

Book Write-Up: The Conservative Mind, by Russell Kirk

Russell Kirk.  The Conservative Mind.  BN Publishing, 2008.   See here to purchase the book.

Russell Kirk was a twentieth century conservative thinker.  The Conservative Mind was originally published in 1953.  In this book, Kirk profiles conservative thought in Britain and America from Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century to George Santayana, who died in 1953.   Some of the names were unfamiliar to me, but some were familiar.  John Adams and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of The Scarlet Letter, are featured in this book as conservatives.  The nemeses of conservatives include the utilitarians, such as John Stuart Mill.

What is a conservative, according to Kirk?  Certain aspects of the conservative mind recur throughout this book.  Conservatives believe in the importance of tradition and continuity with the past.  The wisdom of the past should guide people as they attempt to solve problems, and people have an intuition based on tradition that should guide them.  Preserving the traditional aristocracy is also healthy.  Natural equality is a myth, and the propertied aristocrats serve a role as the capable leaders of society.  Classes provide people with a sense of duty, responsibility, and loyalty, a place in society, if you will, as does religion.  Change is not necessarily bad, per se, but it should organically flow from the past rather than being radical.  Kirk maintains that slavery deserved to be abolished, for example, but he does not agree with how the abolitionists went about it, as it dramatically shattered the structures in the American South; as far as Kirk is concerned, slavery was becoming increasingly criticized and could have left the scene without a major war.  Popular democracy is an ill because the masses would covetously vote to deprive the propertied classes of their property in order to enrich themselves, becoming, in effect, a mob.  Some tyrants or elites would fill the void, but they would lack the character and the traditional sense of obligation held by the aristocratic propertied class.  Traditional diversity would be compromised, as people would all be pressed into a mold.  National character would be undermined, as people would receive wealth through electoral plunder rather than by working for it.  For Kirk, John Adams did well to insist on limitations on the government, so as to protect the propertied classes.  In Kirk’s eyes, conservatism leads towards the happiness of society and has provided people with liberty.

A lot of times, modern American conservatism, of the Buckley and Reagan variety, and British conservatism of the Thatcher variety are presented as classical liberalism: people have natural rights to life, liberty, and property, government was formed to protect those rights, and government should not do much beyond that.  In Kirk’s telling, however, what many of us understand as conservatism actually flows from classical Burkean-style conservatism, and yet the two diverge from each other, in some areas.  The conservatism that Kirk profiles believes in limited government and disdains redistribution of wealth and utopianism, which are key components of conservatism today.  Salient elements of modern conservatism (i.e., the religious right) value such traditional structures as family and religion, and such an approach is consistent with classical conservatism.  Kirk appears to be rather ambivalent about capitalism.  On the one hand, industrialization upended traditional structures and diversity by making people into homogenized worker bees.  On the other hand, Kirk points to capitalism as an example of how respect for private property created increasing prosperity for a large number of people, offering a preferable alternative to utopian government tinkering in addressing economic concerns.  Some of the conservatives whom Kirk profiles distanced themselves from laissez-faire capitalism, maintaining that local communities should have a say in what industries do, as the communities are affected by industry.  Kirk is also critical of foreign interventionism, as he maintains that the West should respect the traditional structures of other societies and should interfere in them only reluctantly.

This book got somewhat into the particularities of the different conservative thinkers.  John Adams, for instance, had some disdain towards traditional Christianity and embraced Unitarianism, and the American experience rejected the traditional concept of a state-established church.  That diverged from classical conservatism, yet Kirk seems to think that America should stick with the distinct traditions that it has developed rather than, say, repudiating the First Amendment by establishing a state-established church.  Alexander Hamilton and John Calhoun both had conservative tendencies, but they manifested themselves in different ways.  Hamilton favored industrialization and hoped that the capitalist class could act as the leaders of society, like the traditional propertied aristocracy.  Calhoun, however, favored the aristocracies of the South, which Northern industrialization sometimes challenged, through protective tariffs, for example.  Although the book covered some of what made the conservative thinkers distinct, it was rather repetitive in that it continually hammered home the same themes, about the importance of property and classes, the ills of democracy, and the healthy social effects of tradition and religion.  This made the book clearer, such that a reader could not get lost in Kirk’s extravagant writing-style, but the book was also a bit monochromatic.

The book that I read, published by BN Publishing, did not have a scholarly introduction.  It just dived into Kirk’s text!  Some may like that; others, however, may prefer more background information, about Kirk’s life and the significance of his thought.

I checked this book out from the library.  My review is honest!

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Epoch Times: Trump Improving Relations With Russia Pressures China

The Epoch Times: Trump Improving Relations With Russia Pressures China

The Federalist: Let’s Get Some Things Straight About The Impact Of Russian Meddling

The Federalist: Let’s Get Some Things Straight About The Impact Of Russian Meddling

Triablogue: Jewish Objections to Jesus

Triablogue: Jewish Objections to Jesus

Church Write-Up: The Bad Shepherds’ Perspective, I John 2:13-17, a Postmillennial Interpretation of Revelation

Here is this week’s Church Write-Up.

A.  At the LCMS church, the pastor’s text was Jeremiah 23:1-6, in which God criticizes the shepherds of Israel for neglecting God’s flock.  These shepherds were the kings and the priests of Israel.  The pastor opened with a story about when he was four years old and his older brother was supposed to pick him up from his first day of kindergarten but forgot, because the brother was working; his mother finally came when the school called her.  We, like the brother, and like the shepherds of Israel, have obligations and duties to which we are not always faithful.

The pastor observed that this sermon was becoming a typical Lutheran sermon that begins by hitting people over the head with God’s law and their failure to observe it.  Why go through this process?  Most of us think that we are doing the best that we can!  Plus, if we were to interview the shepherds of Israel—-Jehoiakim, Jehoiakin, Zedekiah, the priests—-they would probably admit that they were not as good as King David but would say that they are doing their best.  But this outlook is problematic because it focuses on us and our attempts to fix the problem rather than on God and what God does.  If our salvation depending in the smallest degree on our own efforts—-even one percent—-then we would continually wonder if we are doing enough, and we would probably recognize that we could always do more.  The reason that we are reminded of our failure to keep the law is so that we can focus on God and our need for God’s mercy.

When we are Christians, we are with Christ, so we go into our days, the days’ activities, and our relationships with Christ.  And, when we find ourselves in the same situation that the pastor was when he was four—-feeling alone, lost, and confused—-we can be assured that Christ is with us.

The pastor’s point about the perspective of the shepherds of Israel was intriguing because what would Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah, and the priests have said?  I doubt they would have seen themselves as bad people.  They may have said that they were doing their best with what they had.  On some level, they were trying to safeguard their nation, whether that be by going to Egypt for help, by consulting idols, or by attempting to rebel against the Babylonians when God wanted Judah to surrender peacefully.  At the same time, they did exploitative and oppressive things.  Perhaps they saw those things, consciously or unconsciously, as the perks of leadership: they were God’s anointed rulers, so they had a right to prosper.

B.  The LCMS church’s Sunday school class covered I John 2:13-17.  The pastor made three points.

First of all, the pastor was revisiting last week’s discussion on the fathers and the young men whom John addresses.  The pastor said that the correct approach to Scripture is to ask how a passage relates to Christ, before asking how it relates to us.  He candidly confessed that he did not do that last week, but rather was going into a sociological discussion about the identities of the fathers and the young men and how the church should engage young people; his lecture, in that case, was becoming about law.  But he said that the class was trying to pull him back to where he should have been: focusing on Christ.  The pastor’s humble confession was interesting to me because it showed that church is about far, far more than us sharing our knowledge: it is about Christ.

Second, in discussing the fathers and the young men, the pastor speculated that the fathers may have been people who sat at the feet of Jesus or Jesus’ disciples.  This generation was dying off, and the next generation, which had no contact with the historical Jesus, was about to take their place.  These were the people of John 20:29 who believed even though they had not seen the historical Jesus, and Jesus blesses these people.  John was exhorting them to be faithful.  The pastor appealed to the Puritans as an example of what happens when one is not faithful.  The Puritans considered the second generation to be elect, even though it was not behaving as Puritans should, and the result was that Boston went from Puritanism into Unitarianism.

Third, the pastor talked about John’s comments about not loving the world.  The world is the system that is sinful and that hates God.  God loves the world, even though it is hostile to God and rejects him.  We usually are not so generous towards those who reject us or are hostile towards us, but we, too, are to love the people of the world, serving it.  But we are not to be devoted to the world’s system, or the things that are in the world.  It is acceptable to have things, but if those things own us, and we obsessively focus on those things to the exclusion of thinking about God, then that is a problem.  We become like the rich fool of Luke 12:16-21, who was so wrapped up in enjoying his prosperity that he did not give a thought towards God.  The world, John says, is passing away, so our attachment should be to the eternal.

C.  The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church was continuing his series through the Book of Revelation.  His perspective struck me as rather post-millennial: God, amidst setbacks, acts in creating a world of justice, peace, and love, converting people.  God is preparing Christians to be rulers in this new world.  The pastor does not seem to interpret Revelation in terms of Christ coming back and punishing people.  The pastor said that focusing on God’s agenda in creating a new world is preferable to the emphasis of much of Christianity: saying the right words or doing the right things to escape this world and go to heaven.

God’s sealing of the 144,000, the pastor said, is about God’s sealing of Christians: they may go through affliction, but they are ultimately not harmed, for they belong to God.  They can be triumphant amidst their perils.  They also have authority, as seals were marks of the king’s authority.  The pastor also stressed the importance of worship in the midst of our problems, as Revelation focused on the throne-room of God in discussing the early Christians’ problems.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 7/21/2018

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

The New American: “Unmasking Antifa Act Proposed in U.S. House; Left Responds Accordingly,” by Raven Clabough

The New American is the magazine of the conservative John Birch Society.  It is interesting to see where the JBS lands on the issues and political personalities of the day, for it often transcends the typical right-left paradigm.  Here, the author does not care for the Antifa, but the author fears that a Republican-proposed bill against the Antifa could, if passed, be an undesirable federal suppression of civil liberties.  The article closes by encouraging people to support their local police.  Then there is a reader’s comment that not only supports the anti-Antifa bill, but also wants to bring back the House Committee on Un-American Activities!

“7 Truths About Immigration,” by Robert Reich

Robert Reich has posted this sort of post before, but I am linking to it here because it attempts to respond to anti-immigration talking-points, while linking to articles.  These are things to keep in mind.  At the same time, one cannot casually dismiss the concerns people have that contribute to anti-illegal immigration sentiments (i.e., gangs, depressed wages, etc.).

Cato Institute: “A Moderate Two-Point Plan for Reducing ICE’s Power,” by Alex Nowrasteh

The Cato Institute is a libertarian think-tank.  While it sides with the right on such issues as taxes and regulations, it sides with the left in opposing federal abuse of illegal immigrants.  This article proposes a way to enable the federal government to deport the really serious criminals while avoiding harassment of the otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants.  Yet, the article does not address the other concerns that contribute to anti-illegal immigrant sentiments: depressed wages, illegal immigrants using social services, etc.

Izgad: “The Trump Challenge for Libertarians: Are We Willing to Man Up and Admit That the Republican Strategy Was a Mistake?”

Izgad is a libertarian, but here he is critical of libertarians who side with President Trump.  I was thinking some about this a few days ago.  Libertarians overlap with the left and the right on issues.  Like the right, they support less government intervention in the economic sphere, and, like the left, they support freedom in the social/cultural sphere.  But which do they prioritize, and why?

The Economist: “America’s electoral system gives the Republicans advantages over Democrats”

Looks like I reached my article limit by reading this article!  Essentially, it says that the current electoral system privileges Republicans.  A lot of people move to the urban areas, but there are more sparsely-populated rural areas, which are abundantly represented.  The urban areas are liberal, whereas the rural areas are conservative.  This article mentions solutions that some have proposed or even enacted in response to gerrymandering and the Electoral College.

Townhall: “How Trump Can Lower Drug Prices,” by Stephen Moore

Moore argues that pharmaceutical prices are high because other countries evade the patents, produce more of the drugs, and have price controls.  The pharmaceutical companies lose money that they can use for research and development, and they try to make up for that by increasing the prices.  Moore states: “Fortunately, the one person in Washington who is onto this price-control scam is Donald J. Trump. He recently pledged to fight to reverse these violations of American intellectual property in upcoming trade negotiations.”

Reason: “There Is No Such Thing as a Free Pharma Lunch (Anymore),” by Adam Barsouk

It used to be that pharmaceutical reps would treat doctors to lunch while educating them about their pharmaceutical products.  The government has cracked down on that, in an attempt to encourage doctors to prescribe cheaper generics.  But Barsouk believes that there are downsides to what the government is doing here: greater ignorance about medication.  I can sympathize with the government’s goal, but I wonder if there is a way to address Barsouk’s concern.

The Nation: “The Worst Way to Pay for Family Leave,” by Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen critiques a family leave proposal by Senator Marco Rubio, which is supported by Ivanka Trump.  According to Chen, it pays for family leave by taking money from Social Security.  The solution, for Chen, is to have a payroll tax to pay for it.  She says that some states have adopted state-based policies, with success.  So many people in the U.S., however, cannot take a paid sick day.  I am not a policy expert, but a concern that I have is this: there are many people who pay the payroll tax, then they get a huge tax-refund on account of say, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or other credits.  I can sympathize with having credits, since they make the lives of low-middle income people easier, as they already struggle to make ends meet.  But can we have a robust government family leave policy for everyone, if as many people as possible are not contributing to the federal government?

The Nation: “In the Age of Disaster Capitalism, Is ‘Survival Socialism’ the Solution?”, by Laura Flanders

This article examines local measures in Great Britain to assist and uplift economically-marginalized areas, with their positives and negatives.

Barack Obama says that the left should listen to and engage those with whom they disagree, rather than shouting them down.  Amen!

The talk of this week has been the Helsinki summit.  There are so many articles out there.  I’ll give you a taste of what I have been reading and hearing.  Pat Buchanan and David Stockman (Reagan’s first OMB director) applaud the summit as bringing peace, much to the consternation of the warstate.  Megan G. Oprea, on the other hand, essentially says that we should watch Trump’s actions, not his words: he has stood up to Russia in so many practical ways.  In this Federalist podcast, Ben Domenech makes an interesting observation.  Trump has asserted more than once that, sure, Russia has done bad things, but so has the U.S.  Domenech sees no moral equivalence between the two, but he notes that Rand Paul, who is from the school of the right that bemoans interventionist U.S. foreign policy as evil, has been one of Trump’s most robust defenders when it comes to the Helsinki summit.  Rush Limbaugh castigates the left for bemoaning Trump’s distrust of U.S. intelligence, when the m.o. of the left for decades has been to denounce U.S. intelligence!  Cal Thomas chronicles Presidents’ caution about U.S. intelligence.  Michael Dougherty cautions Russia about interfering in U.S. elections by referring to the less-than-desirable results of when the U.S. meddled (or so many think) in a prominent Russian election.  And an article in The People’s World (the heir to the American Communist Daily Worker) criticizes the summit, both Trump and Putin as oppressors of workers, and Republicans who oppose a proposal to safeguard American elections.

And, ending on a lighter note, Saved by the Bell actor Mario Lopez talks about his Christian faith.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Dennis Kiszonas (Dispensationalist) on Matthew 25:35-40 (“I Was Hungry…”)

Dennis Kiszonas (Dispensationalist) on Matthew 25:35-40 (“I Was Hungry…”)

The Nation: Journalism in the Age of Trump: What’s Missing and What Matters

The Nation: Journalism in the Age of Trump: What’s Missing and What Matters

Reason: The Latest Target of the Trump Administration’s Anti-Immigration Jihad: Naturalized Americans

Reason: The Latest Target of the Trump Administration’s Anti-Immigration Jihad: Naturalized Americans

Triablogue: The Number of the Beast

Triablogue: The Number of the Beast

Book Write-Up: Be Careful What You Joust For

Ryan Hauge and Ivy Smoak.  Be Careful What You Joust For (Pentavia Book 1).  2018.  See here to buy the book.

Ryan Hauge and Ivy Smoak are husband and wife and wrote this book together.  It is a work of fantasy.

Here is a description of some of the characters:

Isolda: Isolda is the wife of Duke Garrion.  She has royal blood herself, in that her father was the king of the realm, and her brother Ivan is the current king.  Isolda has been living a secret life as the crime lord Lady Marsilia.  In that capacity, she sees the corpse of the god Arwin, which is a sacred relic.  Because that body is in Garrion’s domain, she suspects that Garrion killed her father and stole the relic.  Isolda is also a bit of a religious skeptic.

Garrion: This book alternates among some of the main characters, conveying their perspectives in the third-person.  We see early on that Garrion is a devout, sensitive soul.  He has his prejudices, especially against the people known as the Rashidi, but he desires to follow the way of Arwin and to pursue peace.  Did he kill Isolda’s father?  Well, believe it or not, he wanted to.  The book spills this early on and explains why he felt this way, so it was not a big mystery that was left until the very end.  There still is the mystery, however, about who actually did kill Isolda’s father.  This does get resolved at the end.

Marcus: Marcus is the firstborn son of Isolda and Garrion.  As such, he is obligated to participate in a jousting contest.  The winner receives the position of Arwin’s Lance, which apparently has a lot of power, considering that the person holding it can declare war.  Word on the street is that Marcus is the second coming of Arwin, and that his victory in the joust will usher in an era of peace among the nations.  Isolda is skeptical about this interpretation of the prophecy, and about prophecy, period.
Rixin: Rixin is the son of King Ivan.  He will be Marcus’ opponent in the jousting contest.  Rixin is cocky and quite sure of himself, but he can be a nice person.

Oriana: Oriana is the firstborn daughter of Isolda and Garrion.  Oriana is obsessed with marrying Prince Rixin, but she remembers that Rixin did not care for her when they were children, and there is word that Rixin might marry the Rashidi princess Navya.  Then Oriana meets Bastian, and that complicates the picture.

Bastian: Bastian is a thief on the streets, who uses his pet squirrel, Nut, to distract people while he steals.  His father was a lord and lost everything.  Bastian rescues Oriana, and they develop feelings for each other.

Terric: Terric is the second-born son of Isolda and Garrion.  As the second-born son, he is to be a priest of Arwin.  But he does not want to be a priest, confined to a monastery, even though he enjoys hearing some of the tales in the Book of Arwin.  He wants to see the world and become a squire.  Terric is rather precocious.  Terric and Bastian try to help each other in their goals, with laughable results.

Reavus: Reavus is the brother of Isolda and King Ivan.  He has no children, but he has exercised a great deal of influence on Prince Rixin.  Reavus was a butcher at the Wizard’s War, and Garrion suspects that Reavus is just itching to get the country into a war with Rashid and intends to use a victory by Rixin in the jousting contest to bring that about.  Garrion thinks that Reavus hopes to do this so that Reavus can be glorious in battle, but Reavus also has a personal ax to grind against the Rashidi.

Sir Aldric: Sir Aldric is Garrion’s long-time friend and right-hand man.  He does what Garrion says and investigates when he is asked to do so.  He is a no-nonsense sort of person.
The book was enjoyable to read.  It reminded me somewhat of a 1950’s-1960’s medieval drama, in full color.

The mythological-religious aspect was interesting, but, hopefully, the next book in the series will explain it more.  Arwin was obviously a Jesus-like character, who took a retreat into the desert, taught peace, and sacrificed himself for his people.  There is no empty tomb in his case, however, since his corpse is a relic.  And it is not explained how he is the one true God.  The book also could have gone deeper into Garrion’s dislike for the Isolda’s father.  Garrion did not care for the king’s reckless war policies, which took the life of Garrion’s father, but he also wanted to establish a pure cult of Arwin, in contrast to the established cult.  His religious motive was not explained.

There is also the question of what Isolda did as Lady Marsilia that made her a crime lord, pursued by the authorities.  And why was she a crime lord?  As far as I recall, this was not really explained.  It seemed as if she primarily went undercover to learn how and why her father was killed.

There are details that are not resolved in this book, and the book ends on a major cliffhanger.  That’s why there’s a sequel!

The Afterword of the book is interesting because Ryan Hauge talks about the role his wife played in developing the characters, as well as the research that he did to make this book better.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Book Write-Up: Captives, by R.A. Denny

R.A. Denny.  Captives.  (Mud, Rocks, and Trees, Book 3).  2017.  See here to buy the book.

Captives is the third volume of R.A. Denny’s fantasy series, “Mud, Rocks, and Trees.”  Emperor Zoltov is the despotic ruler of Tzoladia.  There is a prophecy that three characters believe is relevant to them: that they will meet each other in Tzoladia, each with a significant seal, and this will precipitate a revolution against Zoltov.

Let’s catch up with our characters, without giving away too many spoilers!

Amanki: Amanki is now in Tzoladia.  Although Amanki was raised in humble circumstances, he is actually of royal lineage.  He has one of the seals.  He meets with the Society of the World, a group of elders who are worshipers of the controversial high god, Adon, the god of people who are monotheistic.  Some of the elders deliberate about whether they are interpreting the prophecy correctly, and Amanki struggles with his role and destiny.

Brina: At the beginning of this book, Brina and her young friend, Oaken, are about to be sold as slaves.  A familiar face, Metlan, persuades his uncle, the high-ranking Tzoladian general Zaheil, to purchase them.

Metlan: Metlan was in the preceding book.  He is a Samalitan, or a cat-rider, a warrior who rides a lion in service to Zoltov.  In the previous book, he was a captive of Brina’s group, and he had a wry, flirtatious personality.  He helps Brina for a while only to abandon Brina and Oaken at the last minute in a fit of self-preservation.  We learn more about Metlan in this third volume, as Metlan is reunited with Brina and Oaken.  Metlan is the son (or so he believes) of King Maltan of the Samalitans.  His mother was Tzoladian, and she married Maltan in order to cement an alliance between Tzoladians and the Samalitans.  Metlan lost his mother when he was very young, but he remembers the stories that she told him.  Metlan looks somewhat like Amanki, so there is a question of whether he, too, is of Tzoladian royal lineage.

Tuka: In the preceding book, Tuka gets into a conflict with Telepinus, a drug-dealer.  People who are supposed to guard hibernating women and children are instead cutting off the hibernating people’s hands, as part of Telepinus’ drug trade.  At the beginning of this book, Tuka’s brother Moshoi is missing and presumed to be dead, and Tuka is healing in a sacred pool after a conflict.  He is conscripted into the army of the Tzoladians, where he is given a mission to find a mole who seeks to undermine Zoltov.  Tuka must unite with Amanki and Brina.

This book was helpful in that it concisely summarized events of the previous books, in places.  It was also intriguing in that it got into politics and geo-politics.  In terms of politics, there is intrigue against Zoltov, as Zoltov is seen to be unstable and tries to hold on to his legitimacy with anything he can.  Zoltov has a dream and decides to invade Karso, a land that has the ousted Tzoladian ruling class that lost in the power-struggle with Zoltov.  It refuses to pay tribute to Tzoladia, but some question whether war is necessary, as Tzoladia and Karso have a good trading relationship.  Another interesting aspect of the book was its description of the characters’ mythological-religious beliefs that influenced and undergirded the constitutions of their societies and cultures.

I read a few pages each day but did not entirely know how the book fit together until I looked over it again just now.  That was when the book came alive to me.  There is not much, at least in this book, in terms of action, but there are competing political and geo-political interests, a sense of mystery, and characters who wrestle with their own complex feelings.

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Book Write-Up: Exposing Universalism, by James B. De Young

James B. De Young.  Exposing Universalism: A Comprehensive Guide to the Faulty Appeals Made by Universalists Paul Young, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and Others Past and Present to Promote a New Kind of Christianity.  Resource Publications (Imprint of Wipf and Stock), 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

James B. De Young teaches New Testament Language and Literature at Western Seminary, which is in Portland, Oregon.  In Exposing Universalism, De Young argues against universalism, the idea that all people, and even the devil and his demons, are saved or will be saved.  De Young defends the concept of Eternal Conscious Torment in hell for those who reject Jesus Christ.

Here are some of my thoughts about the book:

A.  I find a lot of universalists to be annoying.  To add some caveats before I explain why, I can sympathize with them having problems with the concept of Eternal Conscious Torment for people who do not accept Christ as their personal Savior.  I also acknowledge that some universalists are more nuanced and knowledgeable than others: Gregory MacDonald/Robin Parry comes to mind as a nuanced, knowledgeable universalist.  And I should highlight that De Young’s problem with universalists is not merely (or even) that they are annoying; rather, he regards their beliefs as dangerous and soul-damning.  For De Young, a lot is at stake in this debate.

That said, I find a lot of the popular universalists (the sorts you will find on social media) to be annoying.  For one, they are so dogmatic about things that they know little about.  I have seen more than one of them dogmatically declare that Jesus in Matthew 25:46 teaches that the wicked will suffer age-lasting correction, not everlasting punishment.  Oh really?  Are they absolutely certain of this?  Are they saying that aionios never, ever means eternal or everlasting?  It seems to be when it is used to describe God!  And does kolasis always mean correction?  There are times when it appears to mean punishment.  Then there is the conspiracy-theory tone of some of their arguments.  Some act as if eternal punishment entered the church as a result of Augustine’s pernicious influence, or the Latin translation of the Bible, even though there are early church fathers who appear to believe in everlasting punishment.  But I have a little respect for the popular universalists who at least attempt to present exegetical or historical arguments, as flawed, as simplistic, and as grossly ignorant as those may be.  Some simply bypass that altogether and say that “God is love.”

In any case, De Young engages these sorts of arguments, and he does so effectively.  He acknowledges nuance, as when he admits that there are times when aionios means a long time rather than eternal.  He makes a contextual case, however, that aionios means eternal when the subject is eternal punishment.  He offers a rather convincing case that, in Romans and Colossians, people are alienated from God and are subject to wrath until they believe in Jesus Christ, showing that Christ’s death did not save them prior to that point; faith is essential for salvation.  De Young refers to New Testament passages that seem to indicate that punishment is the ultimate outcome of the wicked, meaning there is no opportunity for them to repent after that (see, for example, II Peter 3:9), and he contends that passages about the unpardonable sin and apostasy undermine the possibility that everyone will be saved.  He also refers to early patristic passages that say or imply that there is no opportunity to repent after death.  Will any of this convince hard-core popular universalists?  Probably not.  You would make more progress talking to that wall over there!  But, if you want a book that presents effective arguments against universalism, this is one to read.

B.  That said, questions remain in my mind after reading De Young’s book.  Here are some of them:

—-De Young appears to believe that there are exceptions to the requirement of placing one’s faith explicitly in Jesus Christ to be saved.  People who have not heard the Gospel but respond in humble repentance to the light that they have are saved, as far as De Young are concerned.  Does that contradict, or at least qualify, the Scriptural requirement that people believe in Christ to be saved?  If there are exceptions to that rule, then can we dogmatically proclaim that there is absolutely no possibility that God will grant people opportunities to repent after death?  There are times in Scripture when God makes a threat but relents on account of God’s mercy.  This is not to suggest that we should be cavalier, but perhaps there is a sliver of hope for loved ones who die without having said the sinner’s prayer.

—-De Young would quote church fathers who appear to deny the possibility of post-mortem repentance.  Yet, in refuting universalist scholars, he would refer authoritatively to scholars who say that those same church fathers embraced universalism.  How can this be?

—-De Young states that universalism actually depicts God as cruel: God tortures sinners until they finally repent, as if God is twisting their arm.  That is a valid point, but is Eternal Conscious Torment, without any hope at all, any better?  Also, in the Hebrew Bible, it does appear that God afflicts Israel in an attempt to encourage her to repent.

—-At times, De Young seems to depict hell as God giving unbelievers what they want: separation from God.  They sent themselves to hell, and God respects their choice.  Yet, De Young occasionally depicts hell as a place of physical pain, the sort of place no one would want to go.  On the issue of choice, De Young sometimes sounds like a Calvinist, but sometimes he sounds like one who believes that sinners in this life can actually choose to repent and only have themselves to blame if they do not.  In addition, while De Young stresses free will, he appears to deny that people have free will once they are in heaven or hell.  The wicked cannot repent in hell, and the righteous in heaven cannot relapse into sin.  Otherwise, he asks, how can we rest assured that people in heaven will not rebel and start a fresh cycle of sin?

—-De Young briefly refers to the view of Edersheim that the schools of Shammai and Hillel in the first century believed in eternal punishment, that rabbinic Judaism relaxed this view in the second century, and that it returned to eternal punishment in the third century.  There may be some truth to this conception of Judaism, as there are Second Temple references to eternal punishment.  But there is more to the story when it comes to Shammai and Hillel.  According to Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:3, Shammai believed that there was an intermediate group (neither righteous nor wicked) who would cry out to God in Gehenna and receive deliverance; Hillel stressed God’s mercy.  Whether this negatively impacts De Young’s argument is not readily apparent, however, since Shammai states that the wicked receive eternal punishment, and he appears to interpret eternity there as eternity, nothing temporary.  Still, he does regard Gehenna as a temporary experience for a lot of people.

—-De Young contends that hell appears in the Hebrew Bible, and he argues against the idea that the Hebrew Bible lacks a rigorous concept of the afterlife; De Young also briefly engages the idea that the Jews got the idea of hell from the Zoroastrians.  If the Hebrew Bible is relevant, though, then certain texts deserve some consideration (not that De Young did not present a robust case with what he did address).  There is Isaiah 28:24-29, which may be implying that God does not thresh without end but has a productive purpose for threshing.  Would a God with that character torment people in hell without end?  There is Ezekiel 16, which predicts the ultimate restoration of Sodom, a city that Jude 1:7 discusses in reference to eternal fire.  There are also cases in which eternal punishment is temporary, as is the case with Judah and Jerusalem, which eventually are restored (see Isaiah 33:14; Jeremiah 18:15-16; 23:39-40).  On that last point, De Young briefly argues that the temporal destruction in the Hebrew Bible is a type of the eternal punishment in hell in the New Testament, and he points to other examples of types in the Bible.  This argument deserves consideration.

—-A lot of times, De Young seems to suggest that, if universalism is true, then nobody has anything to worry about.  Why would the rich man in Hades want his brothers to be warned, if hell were a place of merely temporary punishment (Luke 16:20-31)?  Why would God be delaying the destruction of the world to give people a chance to repent rather than perish, if everyone will receive an opportunity to repent in the afterlife or the new heavens and new earth (II Peter 3:9)?  But even temporary torment in hell is not enjoyable.

C.  De Young recognizes that there are different kinds of universalists.  He offers an informative history of universalism in America and the various beliefs that emerged within that.  Some universalists believe that there will be a post-mortem, albeit temporary, punishment for non-believers, whereas others deny this.  Some universalists believe that the death of Christ was necessary to reconcile people to God, which implies that people deserve hell, even if, through God’s mercy, they will not go there.  Others deny that people even deserve hell, as they question the justice of it.  While De Young acknowledges such nuance, there are times when he seems to lump universalists together, as if they are monolithic.  It may even be the case that universalists are more diverse than De Young thinks.  One can be a universalist and support the institution of the church or be a political conservative.  One can be a universalist and witness to others about the importance of faith in Christ.

D.  There are occasions in which De Young’s arguments are interesting, yet rather brief and elliptical, as when he asks why there even is a heaven if universalism is true.  There were also times when De Young offered a thought-provoking insight that I had not considered before, as when he sought to reconcile annihilationism and Eternal Conscious Torment by saying that hell will be forgotten by the saints in heaven, and when he said that people in hell will still be committing sins.

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book Write-Up: Evangelical Theological Method, Five Views

Stanley E. Porter and Steven M. Studebaker, ed.  Evangelical Theological Method: Five Views.  IVP Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

This book is part of a series known as the “Spectrum Multiview Books,” published by IVP Academic.  In this book, five scholars present their views on a particular issue, one after the other, then they respond to the other scholars.  The editors of the book, Stanley E. Porter and Steven M. Studebaker, offer an introductory chapter and a concluding chapter that assesses the different perspectives in the book.  The issue in this volume is “evangelical theological method”: How do evangelicals do theology?  What are their emphases and approaches in making statements about God, Christ, and God’s activity and will?

The introductory chapter is entitled “Method in Systematic Theology: An Introduction.”  It is a strong chapter, in that it lays out lucid definitions of methods and terms as well as discusses the sources for theology.  Among the methods and terms that it explains are Propositional Theology, Liberal Theology, Postliberal Theology, Postconservative Theology, the Canonical-Linguistic Approach, and Radical Orthodoxy.  Among the sources that are mentioned are Scripture, religious experience, and the ways that churches have historically interpreted the biblical text.  The chapter offers a summary of the proceeding perspectives.

The first approach, presented by Sung Wook Chung, is more or less propositional: the Bible is a divinely-inspired book that makes propositional statements about God, and interpreters read the Bible to discern the truth about God.  The second approach, that of John R. Franke, stresses the importance of mission: the church has a mission to serve the world in love, in the distinct contexts that the world presents.  The third approach is “Interdisciplinary Theology,” and it is presented by Telford C. Work.  It places the Bible in dialogue with other fields of study, and it discusses homosexuality as a test-case for this.  The fourth approach is “Contextual Theology,” and it affirms that the truth of the Gospel can be applied to different cultural contexts, without the Gospel being compromised.  Victor Ifeanyi Ezigbo contributes this chapter.  Finally, there is “Trinitarian Dogmatic Theology,” contributed by Paul Louis Metzger.  It primarily draws from Karl Barth, who stresses the Trinity’s role in divine revelation.

A question lingered in my mind in reading this book, namely, can any evangelical theological method make a doctrinal statement about God without acknowledging that Scripture makes authoritative propositions?  The first perspective, as was said, is more or less a propositional approach: we have the Bible, which is divine revelation, and we read the Bible to see what it authoritatively declares about God.  Other contributors raised questions or concerns about this approach.  Does it disregard context, particularly the cultural and historical context of the interpreters that shapes how they approach the text and the questions they are asking as they seek to apply it to their own situations?  The concluding essay raises the question of whether it treats the Bible as a univocal text rather than a collection of diverse writings, thereby assuming an inaccurate model of Scripture.  Yet, the other contributors assume doctrinal propositions about God, and they are basing those propositions, by and large, on Scripture.  Whether they realize it or not, they cannot discard the propositional approach, whatever weaknesses they may see in it.  They may recognize the weaknesses, but they do not adequately deal with the weaknesses, and they act as if the weaknesses are not there.  There is also the question of whether the less-than-propositional contributors really go anywhere in showing how their method actually draws theological conclusions.  The contributors critique each other over this, and the final chapter admits that work remains to be done.

That is my overall critique, but the book still has value.  It highlights the tension between needing some foundation or authority for theology, and the existence of theology within a context, as it is applied to people’s real-life situations.  The revealer and the audience of the revelation are both significant, in short.  The introductory chapter is an excellent primer on different theological approaches, even though it left questions in my mind.  For instance, the Postliberal method is anthropocentric in its approach to theology, but does it believe that theology can draw reliable conclusions about God?  Are Christian doctrines true in what they say, beyond the fact that they shape communities and attempt to address human questions?  In a sense, the book hammered home predictable points and made predictable responses to the other perspectives, but it still contained interesting points and details, as the authors illustrated the issues to which their approaches are relevant.  For example, there is this gem by Work: “God may disappoint postcolonial missionaries’ multicultural expectations as much as God frustrated Constantinian missionaries’ civilizing ones” (page 172).  Work’s “response” chapter was more elliptical than the others, but it was also the most intriguing in that I could not tell where he was going to go in his critiques.

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Church Write-Up: Deliverance from the Trap; I John 2:9-14

Time for my weekly Church Write-Up.

A.  There was some overlap between the LCMS service and the “Word of Faith” service, so I will consider them together.  Both talked about how we can become free from a trap.

According to the LCMS pastor, we are trapped in sin, guilt, and shame.  We try to make ourselves feel better by assuring ourselves that we are not as bad as some people, or that we keep at least some of God’s commandments.  But we are fully aware that we think and act in ways that are not holy.  What is more, our nature, who we are, orients us towards going our own way and wanting to be God ourselves.  Is there a way out of this?  The pastor likened our situation to that of the boys in Thailand, who could not rescue themselves from that cave but needed somebody from the outside to come into their situation and do so.

The key to our deliverance is that we are loved and forgiven: God chooses not to see our sins and our flaws.  He told a story about a couple that he married years ago.  Both had gone through horrible divorces and had checkered pasts.  He asked a rhetorical question, not expecting an answer: Do you feel holy?  The groom replied that he did, because he is loved by his bride.  I could identify with this story, not because I am married, but rather because I can understanding how feeling loved and valued can redress feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy.  My long struggle has been that, in the past, Christians have said or implied to me that I cannot rest secure in God’s love, if I fall short in certain areas.  It often feels as if God’s love has strings attached.

The “Word of Faith” pastor referred to a conversation that he had with a non-believer.  The non-believer said that his problem with Christianity is that it teaches that we should give credit to God for the good things, while taking blame ourselves for the bad things.  The pastor’s response was twofold.  First, he said that all was made by and for God.  Within this context, there is no “us” to take credit, for it is all about God.  Second, we are not entirely to blame for our sins.  The pastor referred to Romans 7, which states that there is a force within us, pulling us in the direction of sin.  In a sense, “the devil made us do it.”  We are inclined towards idolatry: we make our desire for credit into our idol, or the things that we feel we have to do.  But our idols can lead us to become hateful or jealous towards others, or to work ourselves to death.  The way out is for us to declare and to affirm allegiance to God.  God can transform us in ways that our idols cannot, as can us giving Christ the credit that we try to take for ourselves.  The pastor made this point within the context of a series that revolves around the Book of Revelation.  The Book of Revelation is about how, in the midst of turmoil and persecution, God is creating a world of justice, peace, and love.  Worship can be a place of peace in the midst of this turmoil, as Revelation emphasizes the worship of God in heaven, along with God’s supremacy and sovereignty.

B.  The Sunday school at the LCMS church discussed I John 2:9-14.  The pastor opened the class with a quote by Martin Luther stating that it is not enough not to hate people, but we actually have to do good to them.  The pastor found this to be an apt quotation because we often tell ourselves that, as long as we do not hate someone, we are doing all right, even though we may willfully ignore or overlook that person.  According to Luther, however, love should bubble out of us and overflow to others.  If someone does not want anything to do with us, we can pray for that person and leave the light on, indicating that we are open to that person being in our lives.  Sometimes, for our own safety, we may have to shake the dust off our feet.  These points long have been a challenge to me, as I struggle with resentment, and the question of how often I need to reach out to people to satisfy God’s demand.  I always feel as if I fall dramatically short in the love department.

I John 2:10 affirms that loving one’s brother is walking in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in the one who does so.  The Docetists believed that they had light, that internal meditation could lead them to transcend their flesh and have a spiritual experience.  But they were forsaking the true Christ, who died for their sins, was resurrected, and valued the physical world, so they were walking in darkness.  They were a stumblingblock to believers in that they were encouraging believers to walk on a wrong path.  Christians who walk in the light, by contrast, try not to be a stumblingblock to others.

Were the Docetists unloving, though?  They were teaching others to pursue what they considered to be light.  Ultimately, however, they pulled away from the body of Christ and did not care that they were splitting it up with their doctrine; their doctrine also made them feel superior to others.  Many may think that the same can be said about a number of orthodox Christians.  Indeed, there are similarities: Christians think they have the truth, they try to enlighten others with that truth, and there may be cases in which their commitment to said truth pulls them away from people.  But, somewhere within them, there should be a principle of love.  They do not desire to pull away from the body or the people in it, or even people outside of the body, for they wish what is good for people.  They do not feel superior on account of their truth but recognize their own need for grace.

Then there is the issue of being a stumblingblock.  Simply put: Is highlighting that there are errors in the Bible or one’s problems with a fundamentalist worldview being a strumblingblock to people?  I think that there have been times in the past when I have done so from a standpoint of arrogance, not caring about the spiritual impact of what I was saying.  I was so upset by what I considered to be the arrogance of Christians, and their attempts to exercise power over others on what I thought was a facile basis.  I can acknowledge that I was partially wrong in my approach, but, on the other hand, I do not believe that the right approach is to pretend that everything is well in fundamentalist-land.  If I believe that an apologetic talking-point has problems, then that should be highlighted, even if a Christian may be basing his or her faith on that talking-point.  Now, context and setting are important.  I am not going to go to the LCMS church and tell people that I think that the Bible has errors.  That is not the place for that.  Not only will people dislike me, but church is a place to affirm the faith.  But, on my blog, I may refer to counter-apologetic arguments, as well as apologetic arguments.  That does not mean that I need to be a stumblingblock in doing so.  I need not do so with the intent to destroy or undermine other people’s faith or spiritual lives.  Perhaps doing so can lead people to a deeper level of faith, as Christians present answers to questions and show that there is no question that needs to be feared.  Or it can encourage people to value important aspects of their faith, rather than making an idol of certain talking-points.

I John 2:12-14 may be a hymn that John drew from another source.  John is making these points to reassure a church that has been ransacked by division.  He starts by assuring the people there that they are forgiven.  Our identity in Christ comes before the question of what we are supposed to do.  John addresses fathers, leaders with influence in the church.  But he also addresses young men.  The pastor told a story about a dentist he had who went to a church for ten years before he was asked to serve in some capacity.  It was after ten years that he was married and had a family of his own; when he was single, the church did not know what to do with him, where exactly to put him.  The pastor was saying that, according to John, young men are in a special position to serve, for they are strong, the word of God abides in them, and they have overcome the wicked one.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 7/14/2018

Time for my weekly Current Events Write-Up.

“Wider Consequences of U.S. Withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council,” by Richard Falk

Falk interviews Daniel Falcone.  Among other things, Falcone states the following about Europe’s reaction to President Donald Trump, which is relevant to this past week’s NATO visit:

“Trump’s crude pushback against European allies has generated confusion. On the one side, there is a European sense that the time has come to cut free from the epoch of Cold War dependence on Washington, and forge security and economic policy more independently in accord with the social democratic spirit of ‘Europe, First.’ At the same time, there is a reluctance to risk breaking up a familiar framework that has brought Europe a long period of relative stability and mostly healthy economic development to Europe. Such considerations create a mood of ambivalence and uncertainty, perhaps thinking that Trump is a temporary aberration from reestablishing a more durable framework versus the idea that Trumpism has given Europe and the separate states an opportunity to achieve a political future more in accord with the values and interests of the region and its member states than its longtime deference to the shifting moods and priorities of Washington. Also, Europe is now facing its own rising forms of right-wing populism, chauvinistic nationalism, and a resulting crisis of confidence in the viability of the European Union under pressures from the refugee influx and the unevenness of economic conditions in northern Europe as distinct from Mediterranean Europe.”

Clarissa’s Blog: “Will of the People”

“It seems that many people have forgotten this, but at first and for years Putin was very pro-American, pro-Western, pro-EU, pro-modernization, and pro-NATO expansion into former Soviet Republics. He was positively glowing with approval when the Baltics joined. I have quotes if people have forgotten.”

Clarissa offers an idea about what influenced Putin to change his mind.

Townhall: “Wait–How Many Immigrants Are On Welfare Again?”, by Matt Vespa

A number of low-skilled immigrants receive some sort of welfare, but Vespa does not specify how many of them are legal or illegal.  Some on the right argue that the parents may be low-skilled and receiving welfare, but their children will grow up, become educated, and enter the middle class, putting money back into the system.

The Nation: “What Does It Mean to Abolish ICE?”, by Julianne Hing

Ever since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory in New York, more and more Democratic politicians are saying that we should abolish ICE.  What exactly do they have in mind?  Julianne Hing explores this question.  Progressive activists are rather nebulous.  Democratic politicians are seeking to be pragmatic about it.

The Federalist: “How Obama’s Medicaid Director Andy Slavitt Sabotaged Obamacare,” by Christopher Jacobs

The subtitle says: “If the Trump administration wanted to use the risk adjustment ruling to ‘sabotage’ Obamacare, it would have halted the program immediately after a February court ruling.”  The article argues that the Trump Administration is not seeking to sabotage Obamacare in this case, and that Andy Slavitt created the problems that set the stage for the current series of events.  I cannot say that I understood everything in this article, and I am sure that there is another side to the story, but this particular perspective deserves a hearing, too.

“Is Norway a Model for Democratic Socialism?”, by Daniel J. Mitchell

“But it’s an artificial number when looking at Norway since the government controls the nation’s oil and also has a big sovereign wealth fund that was financed by oil revenue.  In other words, Norway is geographically lucky because all that oil boosts Norwegian GDP. It makes Norwegians relatively prosperous. And it definitely helps partially offset the economic damage of big government.  But it’s nonsensical to argue that oil-rich Norway somehow provides evidence for overall notion of democratic socialism. It’s sort of like looking at data for Kuwait and asserting that the best economic system is a hereditary sheikdom.”

National Review: “Brett Kavanaugh Won’t Shield Trump from Robert Mueller,” by Andrew C. McCarthy

President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and critics are saying that Kavanaugh supports exempting the President from prosecution.  “How convenient for Trump!”, they proclaim.  Andrew C. McCarthy contends that Kavanaugh was not suggesting that the President is above the law.

Reason: “Kavanaugh and Executive Power—-The Good, the Bad, and the Overblown,” by Ilya Somin

Reason is a libertarian publication, and there has been libertarian concern about Kavanaugh.  Ilya Solyin states that Kavanaugh said that Congress should pass a law minimizing prosecution against a sitting President.  Congress would need to pass a law, so it is not as if Kavanaugh would try to exempt Trump from prosecution as a Supreme Court justice.  Solyin likes some of Kavanaugh’s record, while seeing other aspects as a cause for grave concern.

The Federalist: “Left Cries Extremist, but Brett Kavanaugh Has Supported ‘Common Sense Gun-Control,'” by Margot Cleveland

Kavanaugh is not against all gun control, but he is against banning semi-automatics because a number of Americans own them.

Ralph Reed on Criminal Justice Reform

Ralph Reed is head of the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition.  He made the following heartening statement: “The next time someone tells you bipartisanship is dead, remind them that one of the top legislative priorities of Faith & Freedom Coalition, The First Step Act, passed the House of Representatives yesterday 360-59, the first major criminal justice reform bill to move through Congress in a generation. It gives prison inmates a second chance at a better future be gaining early release from prison by pursuing educational, vocational, and addiction treatment programs. We need a prison system that gives offenders a chance at redemption, not long-term incarceration, which only leads to more crime and recidivism. Special thanks to Congressman Doug Collins for sponsoring the bill and to President Trump for strongly supporting it.”

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