Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Book Write-Up: The Soteriology of James Ussher

Richard Snoddy.  The Soteriology of James Ussher: The Act and Object of Saving Faith.  Oxford University Press, 2014.  See here to purchase the book.

James Ussher was a seventeenth Irish Reformed thinker, who had an influence on England.  Richard Snoddy has a doctorate from Middlesex University and has been a teacher and a fellow at London School of Theology.

Snoddy is addressing certain scholarly trends.  For one, there is a view that Ussher eventually repudiated his Reformed beliefs.  A lot of this book addresses Ussher’s ideas on soteriology—-the atonement, justification, sanctification, and personal assurance of salvation—-highlighting where Ussher changed his positions.  Ussher did come to accept that Christ died for all people, not only the elect, yet, in accordance with Reformed thought, he still maintained that the Holy Spirit enabled those whom God elected to salvation to believe.  Others held this position, too, but Ussher was significant because he had an influence on English Reformed thought.

Another position that Snoddy addresses is that of R.T. Kendall.  (By the way, this is the second scholarly book on the Puritans that I have read recently, and both books assert that Kendall’s conclusions are inaccurate!)  Kendall maintains that Calvinists after Calvin became highly introspective because they were departing from what Calvin believed.  According to Kendall, Calvin thought that Christ died for all people, not only the elect, so Christians could find assurance of salvation on the basis of Christ having died for them.  Calvinists after Calvin, by contrast, supposed that Christ only died for the elect.  Consequently, people wondered if they were saved and if Christ actually died for them, and they sought assurance of salvation from internal signs of grace.  Snoddy does not thoroughly dismiss Kendall’s model, but he believes that Ussher provides a counter-example to it.  Ussher, when he believed in limited atonement, had a more objective emphasis on assurance: believers could look at what Christ did for them and draw assurance from that.  When Ussher moved towards believing in unlimited atonement, however, he stressed believers trying to make their calling and election sure, seeking to move them away from easy-believism.

Others have probably written a better quality review than this one, but my goal here is to give my impressions of the book, and to leave a record of what I got out of it.

Those with a bare-bones understanding of Reformed theology will understand this book.  Those bare bones include predestination, penal substitutionary atonement, imputed righteousness, and Christ sanctifying whom he justifies.  At the same time, the book goes much deeper than that, as it highlights the diversity of thought about soteriology among Reformed thinkers, Catholic thinkers, and even within Ussher himself.  Among the questions that are touched on in this book: Why did Christ have to die to save people, if God had already chosen people unto salvation?  Are believers’ good works meritorious on account of Christ’s merit, or is there something meritorious in the works themselves, since they are inherently righteous?  Does justification precede or come after regeneration?  Is justification for past sins only, meaning one has to confess and repent to receive forgiveness of future sins, or is it for future sins, too?  Does God impute Christ’s active righteousness (obedience to the law) to believers?  How does one reconcile Paul and James?  Is James talking about believers’ justification before human beings rather than God, or is there a sense in which believers become internally and practically righteous, before God as well?  What exactly provides people with assurance of salvation?  Is it their faith, the object of their faith, the work of the Spirit on their heart, their remembrance of specific Christian propositions, or something that they gain as they proceed in their Christian walk, trying to make their calling and election sure?

Keeping track of who said what and where Ussher landed was a daunting aspect of this book.  Still, Snoddy did well to provide lucid conclusions to the chapters, a conclusion to the book itself, and a personal touch, as he shared biographical information about Ussher.  The book was highly nuanced, though, and not just in tracing Ussher’s soteriological positions.  The conclusion to the book highlights ambiguity in Ussher’s view on baptism, asking if Ussher treated baptism as a seal of faith, or as an institution that actually imparts grace.  There was also the question of whether Ussher wrote some of the things that are attributed to him.

On some things, I am scratching my head.  I can understand the anti-Calvinist argument that Calvinism makes us unsure about whom Christ died for, so how can we preach the Gospel to people when we do not even know if Christ died for them?  I am a little puzzled over the concern that Calvinism obviates the importance of Christ’s death in salvation, treating it more as a display of God’s justice and mercy than as an absolutely necessary means to atonement.  Could not God predestine to save certain sinners, and then effect that salvation by sending Christ to die for their sins?  On page 157, Snoddy states: “In 1546, the Council of Trent anathematised all who asserted that in baptism ‘all which pertains to the true essence of sin is not removed’.  The Tridentine fathers insisted that sin did not remain after baptism.”  What remains is concupiscence, which in itself is not sinful.  If Catholics believe this, however, why do they have a confessional?  Why do they insist that mortal and venial sins are challenges with which Catholics contend?  While Snoddy is writing for a scholarly audience, I wish he had defined what syllogism means, within the context of assurance of salvation.  I am also slightly unclear about what benefits Christ’s death brought to the non-elect, according to Ussher, and what the difference is between internal cleansing in sanctification and “habitual inherent righteousness,” which Ussher taught.

I am still glad that I read this book, however, as it exposed me more to the diversity of Reformed thought.

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Triablogue: Divine Deception

Triablogue: Divine Deception

Church Write-Up: I Kings 8, Exodus 33, Service

Time for this week’s Church Write-Up.

A.  The pastor at the LCMS church preached about I Kings 8.  Solomon is dedicating the Temple, while acknowledging that no earthly Temple can contain God, since the heavens and the heavens of heavens cannot contain him.  The pastor talked about how people like to use exalted language to pray, but they also fear God because God knows all of their deeds and their innermost thoughts.  Solomon had a conception of divine forgiveness, but his theology only got him so far, since he believed in God’s vastness.  In the New Testament, however, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and that demonstrates to us God’s love and mercy.  Moreover, the pastor appealed to Romans 8 in claiming that the Holy Spirit intercedes for believers when they are so overwhelmed and burdened that they do not know what to say in prayer.

The youth pastor explained that we can pray to God, even without a Temple or a church building.  The Temple was destroyed in 70 AD and was replaced with a Temple to a pagan god.  Still, Solomon declared that God could not be contained in a Temple, and that shows that we can pray to God anywhere.  We should do so more!

B.  I attended the largely African-American Baptist church, for the first time in months.  The sermon was about Exodus 33.  The setting is the aftermath of the Israelites’ sin with the Golden Calf.  The Israelites had stripped themselves of their ornaments, and that was because they were repentant of their sin, as they had used ornaments to construct the Golden Calf.  A sign of our repentance is that we want nothing to do with our sins.  God is frustrated with the Israelites and offers to send an angel to guide them to the Promised Land, rather than going with them himself.  Moses was not satisfied with that, for, after going with God, going with an angel is only second best.  Moses went out to the Tabernacle outside of the camp, where people went to seek the LORD, and there Moses and God talked, as if they were friends.  That, and the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence, inspired the Israelites to worship God.  In the course of the discussion between Moses and God, grace and God’s knowledge of people were emphasized.  We should continue our devotions to God, the preacher said, because then God knows us, as a father knows his children.  God then resolves to go with Moses and reassures him that God’s presence will bring rest.

The preacher issued a Gospel invitation, using A, B, C, D.  Admit you are a sinner, believe that Jesus is who he said he is and died on the cross for your sins, confess your sins, and decide for Jesus.  The preacher said that, whether we decide “yes,” “no,” or “not yet,” we are still making a decision.

C.  Service was a big theme this past Sunday.  The LCMS was having a service fair in which people set up booths about how to serve in and outside of the church.  I skipped that.  While I was walking to the African-American Baptist church, I noticed people from the Pen church doing a service project.  This was the Sunday of the year in which the Pen church skips church services and devotes the Sunday to service projects.  At the African-American Baptist church, I learned that it will be having a service fair in September.  I couldn’t dodge the theme of service!  Maybe I should have gone to that LCMS service fair!

BTW, the African-American Baptist church ran a humorous video, in which the pastor has to leave giving the sermon to clean the freezer, man the phones, and teach unruly kids in Sunday school.  The point, of course, was that volunteers are needed!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 8/25/2018

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

Townhall: “Murder by Government in Burma is the Definition of Genocide,” by Kerri Toloczo

Toloczo criticizes the Obama Administration for doing nothing about this and expresses hope that President Trump will do something.  I wonder why she is optimistic about that, considering Trump’s “America First” approach.

Mintpress News: “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart,” by Caleb T. Maupin

Not only does this article blame the U.S. for Venezuela’s current economic woes.  It critiques the whole narrative that capitalist economies are better than Communist/socialist/collectivist economies.

National Interest: “Israel Is Not a Liberal Democracy” vs. “Yes, Israel Is a Liberal Democracy”

Good point/counterpoint.

OffGuardian: “They Lied to You About Iran,” by Andre Vltchek

Iran is not some backward, repressive theocracy.

The Federalist: “Meet Ukrainian Victims of the United States’ Proxy War with Russia,” by Adam Barsouk

A sobering article.  Some feel going to war is the only way to be heard from the Western world.

Townhall: “Turning a Blind Eye to Discrimination in China,” by Jonah Goldberg

This article stood out to me for two reasons.  For one, I wonder why the right-wing chooses to highlight some human rights abuses, while giving others a free pass?  The same can be asked of the left wing.  Second, Goldberg offers an interesting analysis of Jim Crow in the American South: “America’s Jim Crow system of second-class citizenship is rightly remembered as our version of apartheid, a racist raft of laws designed to dehumanize and marginalize African-Americans in the name of white supremacy. But it was also a form of economic regulation designed to prevent blacks from participating fully in the labor market and to protect business from the supposedly dire threat of rising wages. Such statist crony capitalism doesn’t detract from the moral horror of Jim Crow, but it does help put it in context.”

The Federalist: “The Rise of the Asian Superpowers Isn’t Inevitable,” by Wilson Shirley

They’re dealing with their own problems.

Breitbart: “Donald Trump Tackles Murder, Expropriation of White Farmers in South Africa,” by Joel B. Pollack

Breitbart is usually too gossipy for my taste, but I am glad that I read this article.  I think it concisely lays out the historical and political background for South Africa’s current policy, as well as highlights where President Trump’s comments may be factually correct.

“Christian War Fever,” by Chuck Baldwin

Chuck Baldwin is a pastor and ran for Vice-President and President on the conservative Constitution Party.  Here, he criticizes Christian conservatives who support wars, as long as Republican Presidents lead them.  A quotes an article about renowned preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s criticism of war fever and insights about the disaster that war brings.  Spurgeon was a little chipper about British imperialism, but he was insightful about the horrors of war.

Some defenses of President Trump’s John Brennan Move: “In Spies Battle, Trump Holds the High Ground,” by Pat Buchanan, and “His Long History of Lies Justifies Yanking John Brennan’s Security Clearance,” by Jon Omidi

Buchanan makes a decent point: why should we assume that ex-intelligence people are entitled to security clearance?  As far as the latter article goes, Brennan’s lies sound like the usual spin to justify policies.  They’re bad, but not unprecedented, on both sides of the political spectrum.

The Federalist: “Trump Is Not Only Right to Criticize Jeff Sessions, It’s His Duty,” by Adam Mill

I thought this piece was a bit of a stretch.  What happened to the conservative mantra that the rule of law should trump democracy?

The Case for Capitalism: “Will Medicare for All Save Money?”

This blog post answers “no.”  The health care policy geek in me was intrigued by the following point: “Sanders’ proposed bill optimistically assumes that M4A would reimburse medical providers at Medicare rates…Remember, Medicare reimbursement rates are 40% lower than private insurance plans, and don’t always cover the cost of treating patients.  Low Medicare payments are possible today when Medicare covers only a slice of the population. Medical providers recover some of the shortfall by billing higher amounts to patients with private insurance coverage.  But with M4A, private insurance goes away and M4A covers most of the population. It’s unlikely that government would be able to apply those lower Medicare rates so broadly. At least, not without serious consequences.”

Reason: Elizabeth Warren’s Anti-Corruption Bill Is a Big Government Mess,” by Christian Britschgi

According to this article, it makes petitioning the government for a redress of grievances (First Amendment right) a huge inconvenience.  Plus, the rich special interests will be unaffected since they can afford to lobby, anyway.

CNS News: “California’s ‘Must Stay Gay’ Bill Is an Attack on Religious Liberty, Free Speech,” by Peter Sprigg

I am not endorsing everything Sprigg has ever said, or everything that he says in this article.  I do believe, though, that if an adult homosexual wants to undergo reparative therapy, that should be his or her right.  This article offered a lucid explanation and critique of the California bill against reparative therapy.

Huffpost: “Omarosa And Her Trail Of Receipts,” by Julia Craven

“Black women, even the ones with garbage politics, always hold on to the proof.”  Or as a relative of mine says: “If it is not written down, it didn’t happen!”

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Triablogue: Barcelona Disputation; Is Jesus David’s Heir?

Triablogue: The Disputation at Barcelona

Triablogue: Is Jesus David’s heir?

Book Write-Up: Approaching the Study of Theology

Anthony C. Thiselton.  Approaching the Study of Theology: An Introduction to Key Thinkers, Concepts, Methods and Debates.  IVP Academic, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

Anthony C. Thiselton has taught Christian Theology at the University of Nottingham in England.  He is the author of numerous books.

As the subtitle indicates, this book is “An Introduction to Key Thinkers, Concepts, Methods, and Debates” in the study of theology.  The book’s Introduction is entitled “Landmarks in the History of Theology.”  It covers the biblical roots of key doctrines concerning God, humanity, and the church, as well as briefly introduces the church fathers, the medieval era, the Reformation, and the modern period.  The section on the modern period examines both Roman Catholic and Protestant thinkers.

Part 1 is entitled “Approaches.”  The theological approaches that it explores are biblical theology, hermeneutical theology, historical theology, moral theology, philosophical theology, political theology, practical theology, systematic theology, and theology of religions.

Part 2 is entitled “Concepts and Issues.”  The topics that is discusses include atonement, biblical authority, Catholicism, Christology, ecclesiology, eschatology, feminist theology, theology of God, humankind, justification, liturgy and liturgical theology, natural theology, Eastern Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Protestantism, the resurrection of the dead, divine revelation, sin and alienation, theodicy, and the Trinity.  Thiselton briefly mentions things that theological thinkers have said about these topics.  Some discussions focus more on pre-modern thinkers, whereas others have a greater emphasis on modern thinkers.  Occasionally, post-modern thinkers make an appearance.  In both Parts 1 and 2, Thiselton mentions thinkers: sometimes he offers a sentence or more about their thought, and sometime he just lists names.

Part 3 includes key terms.  I will not list all of them here.  They range from denominations (i.e., Baptists, Lutheranism), to belief systems (i.e., atheism, agnosticism), to historical theological trends and approaches (i.e., Thomism), to concepts in the Christian religion (i.e., demons, predestination).  This is not a brief glossary tucked in the back of the book.  It is about forty pages, and it covers a lot of terms, providing a paragraph-length discussion of each of them.

The book ends with a bibliography, an index of Scripture and patristic references, and index of authors, and an index of subjects.  The bibliography lists books in the fields of biblical studies (mainly New Testament), theology, and religious denominations and trends.  It includes primary and secondary sources.  There is a star system: three stars are beside works that Thiselton recommends as textbooks, two stars are beside works that he recommends as seminal, and one star is beside works that he believes add special value to a given subject.  Most of the books on the list have no star at all.

In my opinion, this book would serve better as a supplementary reference work than a beginner’s primary introductory text.  Reading it was like going on a quick tour and briefly seeing the sites.  Or it was like snacking rather than eating a full-course meal.  It is difficult to determine whether it is deep or superficial.  It is easy to read this book and say, “Is that what the great, abstruse (insert famous theologian here) thought?  I can get that from watching TBN, or by reading popular evangelical books!”  But that impression would be off-base, for Thiselton would toss in something about the distinctness of the theologian’s thought or approach.  It just went by so fast that a reader may forget the nuance that he or she just read.  The book’s prose was simple, but some of the discussions were a bit elliptical and perhaps could have been fleshed out more.  But one should remember that this is not a major tome: it is a 240 page book that covers a lot of territory, and even then there are topics that it does not cover.  For a beginner who wants to get a deeper taste of theology, Roger Olson’s tomes (The Story of Christian Theology, The Journey of Modern Theology) would probably be better to read.  Thiselton’s book, however, would be a suitable reference work, particularly if you want names of authors to read in a given field or on a given topic.

Occasionally, Thiselton offers his own point-of-view.  Sometimes, he states it by inserting an adverb (i.e., “unfortunately”), without offering much of an explanation.  In some cases, he offered a viewpoint that was intriguing and maybe outside of the box, but he did not really ground it in historic Christian theology.  For instance, he distinguished between justification and divine forgiveness of sins, and he questioned the Augustinian model of original sin.  He appeared a few times to be suggesting something like soul-sleep.  While Thiselton is a greater theologian than I am or will ever be, there were a few occasions in reading this book when I took what he said with a grain of salt.  For example, he seemed to be characterizing Irenaeus as an annihilationist.  I have not done research on this particular topic, but I am a bit skeptical about this.  Saying that unbelievers will experience a post-mortem death is not necessarily the same as being an annihilationist, for believers in eternal torment characterize the torment as a conscious spiritual death.

At times, this book was inspiring and edifying.  The discussion of the Cappadoccian fathers’ views on the Trinity comes to mind here.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Write-Up: A Great Light, by Jennifer Ball

Jennifer Ball.  The Kingdom to Come, Book 1: A Great Light.  Revelation Publishing, 2018.  See here to buy the book.

I felt honored when Jennifer Ball asked me to review her newest Christian fantasy book, A Great Light.  In 2015, I read and reviewed another book that she wrote, entitled Here.  The version of Here that I read was in dire need of editing, yet it was a powerful book, which remains in my mind to this day.  What especially stood out to me about Here was its detailed prose and its depth about the characters and religious topics.

A Great Light is  a vast improvement from Here in terms of editing and organization.  There are hardly any grammatical or typological mistakes in A Great Light, and its prose flowed very smoothly.  At the same time, something that I enjoyed about Here was its tangents, how it went into detail about things that were not central to the story.  Here was like the Brothers Karamazov in that respect: some of the best parts were its tangents!  A Great Light did not have as many tangents, by contrast, as the vast majority of its parts were essential to the story; A Great Light was more focused, in short.  A Great Light also was not as detailed as Here, but it still went into detail about the thoughts, feelings, and characteristics of the characters, demonstrating Ball’s care for them.

Another difference between Here and A Great Light was that Here shared more.  After reading Here, there really was not more that I wanted to know or learn about the characters or the plot: Ball shared what was essential, and I felt as if I knew them.  With A Great Light, however, I felt as if I was receiving a mere glimpse of a bigger picture, particularly when it came to the historical relationship between the countries of Merrhius and Trinicity.  I wanted to know more about how the elite in Merrhius came to have such a dismal view of Trinicity, as they concealed their knowledge of Trinicity’s existence and regarded Trinicity as a Satanic kingdom.  But Ball shared what she shared, and that actually added mystery and realism to the story.  We often deal with situations in which there are several layers of background underneath.

The main character of A Great Light is Karhiad, the prince of Merrhius.  Karhiad is popular because he has a common touch; in fact, to the dismay of his parents, he would prefer the wholesome life of the peasantry to his own royal life!  His father, King Vilsig, is arrogant and desires to conquer more countries.

Karhiad meets a mysterious lady named Julia, who is from the country of Trinicity.  Karhiad’s parents profess never to have heard of that country, and it is absent from all of the official maps.  (I thought of Attack of the Clones: “Find Obi-wan’s missing planet we will!”)  The flirtation and teasing between Karhiad and Julia dragged on and on, yet it did serve to establish some depth of relationship between them, which set the stage for what was to come.  What was particularly interesting about their interactions was their comparisons of the sociology and culture of Merrhius and Trinicity.

Tragedy strikes.  Karhiad keeps seeing an apparition, and he wonders if it is good or evil.  People in his kingdom are aware of a sinister spiritual entity known as Abaddon, and Karhiad thinks that could be who is appearing to him.  By chance, Karhiad stumbles onto an account of what the Merrhius elite truly thinks about Trinicity.

I look forward to reading the next book of the series.  The brief Afterword indicates that what Karhiad experienced in this book was a cakewalk compared to what he will experience in the next one!

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Book Write-Up: Cryptic, by Darryl Anka

Darryl Anka.  Shards of a Shattered Mirror, Book 1: Cryptic.  VBW Publishing, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

This book is a combination of science fiction and fantasy.  It is science fiction in that it is set in the future and has space ships, aliens, and sentient computers.  It is fantasy in that…well, what exactly is fantasy?  The story had some elements that I have encountered in fantasy books, such as a character who is trying to develop paranormal gifts, intriguing creatures, and a spiritual dimension.  The book is set in the far future, and the earth has reverted to a more natural set of conditions, as certain groups are close to nature.  That sounds like the Shire of Tolkein’s works.  Yet, there is all this technology in the background.

I am accustomed to reading Christian fantasy.  I have requested review copies in that genre, and, as a result of that, authors have asked me to read and review their Christian fantasy works.  This book did not have an evangelical Christian perspective, so, as far as I can recall, there were no God or Jesus equivalents in the book.  Yet, the book had elements that I have encountered elsewhere.  Grey aliens play a role in this book, and there is the theme that certain aliens or creatures form a basis for some of earth’s stories and legends, such as the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and Santa Claus.  That appeals to the side of me that enjoys watching Ancient Aliens or Star Trek.  There is a power hungry antagonist trying to take over the universe.  There are tree spirits, or sentient trees, or something like that, which reminded me of the sentient tree in the Disney movie, Pocahontas.  The space-time fabric looms large in this book, as the main character is developing the ability to alter space and time, and some fear that this could destroy the fabric of the universe.  Remember when Doc Brown in Back to the Future II expressed similar concerns?

There is an intriguing character, Belladonna Bloodroot, who was placed in some no-man’s realm so that she would not cause a rift between the realms of life and death.  Of course, she wants to get out of that realm.  I do not recall encountering this theme elsewhere in exactly this form, but it sounds somewhat familiar.

It turns out that the author is a channeler.  I did not know that when I read this book.  It is not explicitly mentioned on the “About the Author” page, though it does refer to Bashar Communications, and Bashar is an entity whom the author apparently channels.  Channeling gives me the heebie-jeebies, perhaps because I was raised to believe that it was demon possession.  There was nothing in the book that gave me the heebie-jeebies, but perhaps I would notice things that did not stand out to me were I to reread the book.

As far as the story goes, it was all right.  I would give the book a four.  It had elements that I found to be intriguing.  The book is competently written: the prose is simple, but the author is still able to pack a punch and make the characters sympathetic.  There is a helpful guide to the characters in the back, which not only shares who the characters are but describes what they are like.  The author obviously cares for his characters.  While I found the book to be satisfying, I am not exactly dying to read the sequel or to know what happens next.

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

Monday, August 20, 2018

Church Write-Up: Idols, Two Cities, Romania

Time for this week’s Church Write-Up.

A.  The theme at both the LCMS church and the “Word of Faith” church was idolatry.

At the LCMS church, the Scripture text was Joshua 24, in which Joshua exhorts the Israelites to stop worshiping other gods and affirms that, for him and his house, they will serve the LORD.  The youth pastor said it was odd that the Israelites still had foreign gods, after experiencing miracles and acts of provision from the true God.  He went through idols, ancient and modern: Ra, sports, money, and ourselves.  Sports and money are not bad in themselves, he said, but they become idols when they are all-consuming to us and eclipse our relationship with God.  When we worship God, our other interests and commitments fall into their rightful place.  The youth pastor said that, whereas idols demand that we serve them, Jesus served us.  He gave up his place in heaven, was hungry, and died, all for us.

The pastor spoke in the same vein.  We like to be in charge, he said, but do idols allow us to be in charge, or do they enslave us?  He noticed that Joshua referred back to the days of Abraham.  Abraham’s father, Terah, waffled in his commitment to God, and Abraham was taking a radical step by worshiping a God he could neither see nor touch, rather than a god he could put inside his backpack.  The Israelites in Joshua’s day were tempted to worship the gods of the Canaanites: the gods of the Canaanites brought Canaan prosperity, so maybe they should be appeased, they thought!  The pastor talked about using our talents and hobbies, not as things over which we should obsess or treat as ultimate, but as means to serve God.  August is mission month, so he referred to next week’s mission fair, which will inform people of ways to serve the church, and to help the church serve the world.

That point on gods one can see and touch can perhaps be qualified.  The ancients, of course, did not believe that the idols themselves were gods, but rather than the idols contained or channeled the power of the gods.  The idols were like mini-temples.  At the same time, the pastor may have a point about Abraham and Israel proposing something revolutionary: taking a leap of faith to follow a God who gave them a word and acted on their behalf, even if this God did not show them what he looked like or provide them with talismans each of them could personally grasp.  Even when the Israelites had the Ark of the Covenant, it was usually hidden from most of them and seen by the priests.

The pastor at the “Word of Faith” church wrapped up his series on the Book of Revelation.  He said that Revelation was a story of two cities.  One was the city of Babylon, which rested on human pride and achievement.  The other was the city of God, which does not (or at least should not) value people or themselves in terms of their achievements; unfortunately, he noted, the Babylonian mindset afflicts the church!  The pastor said that big cities set the culture of the country and can even have a worldwide impact.  Another point that the pastor made was that Satan in the Book of Revelation was an accuser, and, unfortunately, people, including Christians, set themselves up as accusers of others.  They should be in the mercy business.  He said that he was not going to weigh in on capital punishment, but, whether it is right or wrong, Christians should be remembering that even murderers have their own stories and should be pleading with them with tears to accept Jesus.

B.  At the LCMS church, a couple was sharing about their experiences in Romania, where they worked at a camp for orphans.  A lot of these kids are technically not orphans, but the children have been given up because their parents cannot afford to take care of them.  They often do not have enough to eat, they are ashamed over things they have done in an attempt to survive, they have few adult models to teach them life skills, and prospects are available to very few.  They are excited to see this couple every year that they visit.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 8/18/2018

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

American Conservative: “Iranians: Not Pining for American Intervention,” by Akhilesh “Akhi“ Pillalamarri

Are Iranians yearning for the U.S. to support an overthrow of the current Iranian regime?  Pillalamarri argues “no,” as Iran in the past has had negative experiences with foreign intervention into its country.  Pillalamarri also expresses a dim view about the resistance against Iran, warning that it could turn out to be an even harder-line regime than what currently exists.

The Federalist Radio Hour: “Here’s What Is Happening in Turkey,” and The Federalist: “Turkey Has Only Its President to Blame for Its Financial Crisis,” by Helen Raleigh

I will probably listen to that episode of the podcast again, as there were details that I missed.  The Helen Raleigh article provides helpful background about Turkey’s current situation, but the podcast offers more context and nuance.  The podcast offers much more than a negative portrayal of Erdogan by discussing his possible motivations and appeal.

The Nation: “‘An Eternal Night of Persecution and Death’: Activists Speak Out about Nicaragua’s Crackdown,” by Maia Hibbett 

On one of my Current Events Write-Ups, I posted an interview with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.  This article is a leftist critique of him.  It presents him as inefficient, repressive, and selective about whom his social programs help.  Ironically, it presents highlights that some of his opponents deem him to be too far to the right!  And it was interesting to learn about his anti-abortion policies.

Townhall: “John Brennan Was Long a Danger to US National Security,” by Humberto Fontova

And, of course, since this is Humberto Fontova, the article will have something to do with Fidel Castro.

The Federalist Radio Hour: “Security Clearances Are Not Free Speech and Other Ideas the Media Elite Get Wrong”

The title is snarky and opinionated, but the discussion itself was actually quite thoughtful and three-dimensional.  It tackled, of course, the John Brennan issue, but it also discussed social media censorship.

“America’s Burgeoning Civil War,” by Chuck Baldwin

Chuck Baldwin is a pastor and was the 2008 Presidential candidate for the conservative Constitution Party.  In this article, though, he transcends the usual right-left polarities.  Some notable lines: “The left is wrong to dismiss the attacks on the Second Amendment liberties of gun owners, and the right is wrong to dismiss the attacks on the Fourth Amendment liberties of blacks and other minorities.” “Quite frankly, I am tired of hearing so-called patriots talk about the ‘murder’ of Lavoy Finicum while completely ignoring the murders of dozens, if not scores, of young black men every year by policemen all over America. The double standard is sickening!”  “On this subject, I totally support the efforts of Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders to overhaul the bail system in America’s criminal justice system…Don’t tell me we need bigger jails. All that does is feed the Police State and further tax the taxpayers. What we need is more justice in the justice system. The bail system is a dinosaur that needs to be fossilized.”

Townhall: “Prison Reform: An Unlikely GOP Issue,” by Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas gives examples of what President Trump and the Senate are doing to bring about prison reform so that convicts can re-enter society.  “Secretary of Energy Rick Perry noted that while governor of Texas he was able to ‘shut down eight prisons, saving more than $3 billion dollars a year in prison costs, and conservatives look at that now and go, ‘That was smart on crime.'”

Tomgram: “William Hartung, Gunrunning USA” 

I remember reading right-wingers criticizing the “UN Gun Grab.”  President Trump is pursuing the opposite sort of policy, of course.  William Hartung argues that is not good.

Townhall: “Charlottesville: A Clash of Left vs. Left?”, by Arthur Schaper

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the clash in Charlottesville, between people protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue and the “Antifa” people protesting against them.  Schaper argues that both sides are different shades of the left: both are authoritarian and are critical of capitalism.  The difference is that the former is nationalist and racist, whereas the latter is not.  To give you a taste: “One of the rally’s keynote speakers, Richard Spencer, the godfather of the ‘Alt-Right’, despises the founding principles of our country, including limited government, individual liberty, and the divine origin of natural rights. Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary ‘Death of a Nation’ brilliantly presented in one interview with Spencer what the founder of the Alt-Right movement has expounded on for years. He is a left-wing statist invested in the ultimate authority of the state, socialized medicine, and the nationalization of public lands. He is a national socialist, but a socialist nonetheless. Jason Kessler organized this ‘Unite the Right’ rally, but he’s actually another left-winger. He voted for Barack Obama.He participated heavily in the Occupy Wall Street Movement and once touted himself as a liberal organizer. The reports of Kessler’s left-wing leanings came out within days of the Charlottesville clash last year, but few actually read about it.”  See the article itself for the links documenting these claims.

Townhall: “Eyes On The Prizefighters,” by Ann Coulter

I loved this part, as I was thinking the same thing: “Last year, President Trump blamed ‘both sides’ for the bedlam at the rally to defend Confederate statues — sending the media into a moral panic. Naturally, Trump also denounced white supremacy, for anyone who missed it the first million times he did so…BOTH SIDES? But ‘Antifa’ is pure as the driven snow! They are anti-fascist! To blame ‘both sides’ was to endorse fascism.”  Ann Coulter is being sarcastic, of course.

ABC “This Week” Transcript 8-12-18: Kellyanne Conway, Rep. Elijah Cummings and Michael Avenatti

Several things stood out to me in this episode.  For one, Elijah Cummings was impressive because he refused to cater to media sensationalism by declaring that Donald Trump is a racist; he still has grave concerns, of course.  Kellyanne was awesome because she does not take crap from anybody.  Republican strategist Ana Navarro made an interesting point about Omarosa: maybe she is an opportunist, betraying Trump for self-promotion, but birds of a feather flock together; Trump attracts people who do that sort of thing.  And Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is planning on running for President.  He sounded reasonable in his policy positions.  He is the only potential Democratic candidate so far whom I do not find annoying.  He is tough without being over-the-top and self-righteously dramatic in his criticisms of Trump.  But my track record on this sort of thing is flawed.  I was impressed by Herman Cain in 2012 after watching him on ABC “This Week,” and that did not turn out well!

New York Post: “The SPLC’s Terrible Year Just Got Worse”

I ordinarily do not care for the New York Post.  But I liked this: “It’s been a rough year for the Southern Poverty Law Center — deservedly so. And it just got more difficult, thanks to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The SPLC, formed in 1971 as an aggressive civil-rights nonprofit law firm, has become the left’s go-to arbiter of what constitutes a hate group. Its pronouncements are quoted without challenge by the news media, and it has an endowment of $300 million, enriched by major corporate donors.  Yet its overly broad definition of ‘hate’ often goes far beyond truly vile outfits to include people and groups that simply don’t toe a politically correct line. That’s why the SPLC two months ago had to pay $3.4 million and publicly apologize to Maajid Nawaz, whom it had falsely labeled an ‘anti-Muslim extremist.’ (He’s actually a practicing Muslim who opposes extremism.)”

Salon: “Ben Shapiro baits Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez: A bad-faith challenge is rejected,” by Yoav Litvin

This article kind of made me sick!  It was so snooty liberal.  Believe me, I understand that not everyone is good at debating.  I am not.  But, as a candidate, Ocasio-Cortez eventually will have to debate someone who holds contrary positions.  I suppose she can pull a Nixon (1968 and 1972) and not debate her opponent, but that would not look good.

National Review: “Andrew Cuomo Was Never That Great,” by Charles C.W. Cooke

And, speaking of intolerant, dramatic liberals, Charles C.W. Cooke depicts New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as one.

The Federalist: “Why Preschool Doesn’t Usually Do Much Good for Small Children,” by Auguste Meyrat

Auguste Meyrat has background and credentials in the field of education.  Like a lot of conservatives, he argues that kids who were in pre-school do not perform better academically than those who were not.  Remember what Republican Presidential candidate Arnold Vinick said in the TV show, The West Wing: “Head Start doesn’t work!”  But Meyrat also offers arguments for why it doesn’t work: that is not the age to barrage kids with a bunch of academic learning.

Robert Reich: “How Trump’s War on Regulation Is Trickle-Down Economics”

Not much new here, in terms of arguments, but the reason this stood out to me was due to a discussion I overheard at church last Sunday.  Someone was wondering why people cannot suck up water from the lakes and use that to put out forest fires, and the pastor responded that this is not allowed.  Robert Reich weighs in: “Last week [President Trump] even blamed regulations for the wildfires now ravaging California. They’re ‘made so much worse,’ he tweeted, ‘by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount[s] of readily available water to be properly utilized.’  I have news for Trump. California’s tough environmental laws are among America’s (and the world’s) last bulwarks against climate change. And it’s climate change – not regulation – that’s reaping havoc across California as well as much of the rest of the world.  Oh, and Californians are using water very carefully.”

Reason: “Subsidies and Price Controls Aren’t the Answer to Skyrocketing Prescription Drug Prices,” by Nikhil Sridhar

Not much new here, but this article reminds me of where I find libertarian/conservative analysis to be limited, and where I find it to be intriguing or helpful.  Let’s start with limited.  The article may be right that Medicare increases the cost of prescription drugs by elevating demand; similar arguments are made against a single-payer health care system.  I just find that argument to be cold because it seems to imply that we should bring down prices by depriving people of medication.  The article argues against the government negotiating lower drug prices with pharmaceuticals because that could result in pharmaceuticals having less money for research and development; but couldn’t patent reform, which this article endorses, have the same sort of effect?  Maybe.  I somewhat like a proposal that I read by James Carville and Paul Begala: let the pharmaceuticals have a patent for a period of time to reap the fruits of their labors, but at a certain point the patent expires and others can develop the drug, too, resulting in competition and lower drug prices.  Sridhar’s article is critical of the FDA and how it slows down the release of new drugs, resulting in high prices.  What about safety?  Well, Sridhar argues that the threat of lawsuits can ameliorate that problem: pharmaceuticals will develop safe drugs, without the FDA rigamarole, to avoid being sued by people harmed by drugs.

Vox: “Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan to Save Capitalism” vs. National Review: “Elizabeth Warren’s Batty Plan to Nationalize . . . Everything”

Two opposite perspectives on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act.  The former article is better than the latter in that it is more detailed; perhaps I would have done better to have dug up a Heritage Foundation critique of the bill.  But it is interesting how two people can look at the same bill and reach astoundingly different conclusions.  Both are obviously discussing the same details, but one says that Warren’s bill is good because it does not rely on the welfare state, whereas the other argues that Warren’s bill is socialistic redistributionism.

Townhall: “Fear and Loathing of Jordan Peterson,” by Suzanne Fields vs. Jacobin: “Jordan Peterson’s Bullshit,” by Harrison Fluss

I have listened to things by and about Jordan Peterson, but I have felt as if my knowledge of him is rather spotty and scattered.  These articles, one positive and one negative, helped me to place his thought and his significance within some sort of narrative.  If someone were to ask me, “Who is this Jordan Peterson, and what does he believe?”, I could now rattle off a brief answer.

The Federalist: “Examine the Key Figures Who Shaped Our Understanding of the Constitution,” by Michael Rosen

I don’t have anything to say about this article, only that it was informative.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Book Write-Up: Isaiah, by Alfred Martin

Alfred Martin.  Isaiah.  Moody Publishers, 1956, 2018.  See here to purchase the book.

This book is part of the Everyman Bible Commentary series.  It is a reprint of a book that was originally published in 1956.  The author, Alfred Martin, had a Th.D. from Dallas Theological Seminary.  He also served as Vice-President and Dean of Education at Moody Bible Institute and taught at Dallas Bible College.

Rather than serving as a comprehensive commentary, the book comments on highlights in the Book of Isaiah.  Its comments are largely homiletical, yet they focus on details of select texts.  Occasionally, Martin weighs in on a piece of scholarly minutiae, as when he disputes the scholarly view that Isaiah received his prophetic commission after the death of King Uzziah (Isaiah 6:1); for Martin, Isaiah received it before then.

Martin takes frequent swipes at liberal and non-Christian interpretations of Isaiah, as well as Christian interpretations that differ from his own.  Martin believes in one Isaiah who wrote before the exile rather than more than one author of the book who wrote during the pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic periods.  He thinks that the Book of Isaiah makes predictions that were directly relevant to Isaiah’s historical situation, but also prophecies concerning Jesus Christ and the time of the end.  Based on I Peter 1:10-11, Martin contends that Isaiah lacked a full understanding of how God’s prophecies to him would be fulfilled.  Martin disputes the liberal scholarly idea that ancient Israel was henotheistic and tribalistic, instead seeing its divinely-inspired religion as monotheistic and universalistic: it held that God was the only truly existing God and had sovereignty over and concern for all nations, not just Israel.  Martin interprets the Suffering Servant as the Messiah, Jesus Christ, not as the nation of Israel.  His approach is also literal and dispensational.  As far as Martin is concerned, Isaiah’s prophecies have been and will be fulfilled literally, meaning they are not allegorical; in addition, what is spoken about Israel is about Israel, not the church.  At the same time, Martin believes that believers can derive spiritual application from the Book of Isaiah.

There are times when Martin presents actual arguments in favor of these ideas.  He notes common themes throughout the Book of Isaiah (i.e., the highway), indicating, to him, that it is all the work of one author.  He observes that the Book of Isaiah discusses the outcome of nations other than Israel and affirms the God of Israel’s reality against the un-reality of other gods, showing that it is far from henotheistic and tribalistic.  For Martin, the Suffering Servant makes more sense as a righteous individual rather than the nation of Israel, which is far from righteous, throughout the Book of Isaiah.  Martin looks at how the New Testament approaches the Book of Isaiah and notices that it treats several of Isaiah’s prophecies as being literally about Jesus Christ, and as finding their literal fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ.  Martin deems that to be evidence about the prophecies’ original meaning, and Martin thinks that liberal scholars’ disagreement with him on this is a spiritual more than an academic problem.  And, against Christians who interpret the prophecies as symbolic and as about the church, Martin argues that, if the prophecies are literal in describing Christ’s sufferings, then they must be literal in all other areas, as well.

One can critique Martin’s approach.  Martin makes a fairly decent argument that the Book of Isaiah is monotheistic and universalistic, but scholars have still had reasons for concluding that henotheism finds expression in certain biblical writings.  See Deuteronomy 32:8-9, where the Most High gives Israel to the LORD and other nations to other gods.  There are occasions in which the New Testament appears to apply Old Testament prophecies in a less-than-literal fashion.  Reading Old Testament prophecies about the Gentiles’ worship of God in a literal fashion, one would conclude that such worship would take place after Israel is restored and God establishes a paradise on earth, with physical Israel as the center.  The New Testament, however, seems to hold that such prophecies are finding fulfillment in the church age, as Gentiles join the Christian church (see Acts 15:14-18; Romans 15:7-12).  Contrary to the impression that Martin leaves, scholars who believe differently from him have actual reasons for their conclusions.

Martin’s Christological interpretation of Isaiah also leads to some awkward conclusions.  For example, Martin wants to interpret the Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14 as Jesus Christ, since Matthew 1:23 does so.  Yet, Isaiah 7 at least appears to treat Immanuel as a child in Isaiah’s time, as events in Immanuel’s life and experience serve as a sign regarding events in Isaiah’s day.  How does Martin handle this?  He says: “The thought seems to be that if the baby Immanuel was born in the immediate future, before He would be old enough to make known His distinction between good and evil, the two enemy kings would withdraw” (pages 43-44).  So Isaiah is presenting a hypothetical: Immanuel would be born centuries later, but Isaiah is saying that, if Immanuel were born in Isaiah’s lifetime, his life would serve as a timetable for events in Isaiah’s day.  That sounds like a stretch!  Martin wants to interpret the voice in the wilderness in Isaiah 40:3 as a literal prediction about John the Baptist, since the Gospels say that it is about John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23).  But why would Isaiah talk about John the Baptist, within a larger discussion about the restoration of the exiled Jews from Babylonian exile?  How does John the Baptist relate to that?  Martin fails to explain.

There may be something to Martin’s method, however.  Jews and Christians did interpret Isaiah as concerning not only events in Isaiah’s day, but in reference to Israel’s larger story and place in God’s eschatological plan.  Martin does not endorse canonical criticism, but one could make the case that, within the Book of Isaiah itself, old prophecies are updated and applied to new situations, showing that even some of the writers, editors, and organizers of the book believed that it was about more than the eighth century B.C.E.  Martin’s book would have been better had it explained more fully why God would tell people of Isaiah’s day about events in the far-off future, but Martin occasionally offered something to chew on, as when he said that Isaiah presented Israel’s deliverance from Babylon as “a foretaste of an even greater deliverance” (page 127).

Martin offered intriguing interpretations.  He believes that the Gospel is in Isaiah 59: Israel is alienated from God, God notices the absence of an intercessor, so God sends a redeemer.  Martin’s interpretation of Isaiah 6:9-13 was faithful to what the chapter says: Isaiah would not gain many converts, but God would preserve a remnant.  Such a theme, as Martin observes, extends beyond Isaiah’s time and is cited in the New Testament (Romans 9).  The book is edifying, as it attempts to provide a justification for God’s ways, presenting them as righteous.  Martin can be mocking towards other perspectives, as when he disparages liberal Christians who speak with an exalted tone about the “lowly Nazarene” while rejecting the substitutionary atonement.  I roll my eyes at those types, too!  Still, the book has a certain gravitas, as Martin speaks with weight and seriousness.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Write-Up: Wheels of Wisdom

Tim and Debbie Bishop.  Wheels of Wisdom: Life Lessons for the Restless Spirit.  Open Road Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Tim and Debbie Bishop married each other when they were in their early fifties, and that was the first time that either of them was ever married.  Both of them have bicycled across the country together, and this book is a collection of spiritual insights that they have gained through this experience.  They also work for the Hope Line, which offers help to teens and young adults who are suicidal, addicts, or coping with other problems.  Their cross-country bicycling has promoted this cause.

There are fifty-two reflections in this book, some of them written by Tim, and some written by Debbie.  They are written from an evangelical Christian perspective, which maintains that one receives forgiveness of sins by accepting the free gift of salvation that was made possible through Jesus’ death on the cross.  Each reflection ends with a Bible verse and a series of questions to inspire reflection.  The substitutionary atonement appears twice in this book: once in a chapter about hell, and another time in the epilogue, which is a Gospel invitation.  Most of the book focuses on other themes of Christian living, such as God’s providence and provision and finding God’s calling on one’s life.  There are lessons in the book that can resonate with secular-minded people, about facing worry, getting along with people, and moving on from the past.  Debbie brings in her experience in twelve-step recovery.  In some cases, their bicycling journey serves as an allegory for a life or spiritual truth concerning life’s journey.  At other points, people they meet along the way inspire them to consider a spiritual lesson.

One can probably read or hear the sorts of reflections that the book presents elsewhere.  While the book is not incredibly deep, it is still edifying.  It is evangelical Christian, but it has a friendly, inviting tone towards those who may believe differently.  The book has a positive, uplifting quality, but it still acknowledges the challenges and struggles of life.  Both Tim and Debbie talk about their challenges in being married, in light of their different backgrounds and temperaments, and all of the previous years that they were single and did what they wanted.  They also discuss medical injuries that they faced on their itinerary.  The book gave a taste of the challenges that cross-country cycling can present, including the threat of inclement weather, hills, wild animals, and nightfall.

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

Monday, August 13, 2018

Church Write-Up: Despairing Elijah, Worship After Justice, Home for Unwed Mothers

Time for my weekly Church Write-Up.

A.  At the LCMS church, the pastor preached about I Kings 19, in which the prophet Elijah flees from the wicked queen Jezebel after the fiery demonstration of God’s divinity and might before Israel at Mount Carmel.  Elijah is despairing and lacks strength, and an angel strengthens and sustains Elijah with bread and water.  Dramatic phenomena—-a wind breaking the mountains, an earthquake, and fire—-pass before Elijah, but God in not in those things.  Rather, God speaks to Elijah in a still, small voice.

The pastor also referred to John 6, in which Jesus calls himself the bread of life.

The pastor told a story that he has told before, but he shared more details.  He went to the Grand Canyon to hike, and he got up at 3 A.M. to beat the heat.  He only ate two pop-tarts.  He did not manage to beat the heat, however, and the pop-tarts did not last that long in terms of giving him energy.  He sat down because he was tired and could not give any more.  Another hiker came by and gave him some bread, and that strengthened him enough to finish the hike and to make his way to the nearest McDonald’s.

The pastor told another story about a woman who was cutting his hair in St. Louis.  They got to discussing the pastor’s occupation, and the pastor told her that he was a Lutheran pastor.  The lady responded that she has always wanted to be a Lutheran, and the pastor asked why.  She replied that it is because Lutherans do not think that they have to be happy all of the time!

The spiritual lesson that the pastor derived is that we may find ourselves spent, and that is understandable because we are limited human creatures.  But Jesus meets us in our place of need, helping us through his presence in holy communion and in his word throughout the week.

B.  At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor’s daughter was preaching about the Book of Revelation.  Her main text was Revelation 15:

“[1] And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God. [2] And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. [3] And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. [4] Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.  [5] And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened: [6] And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles. [7] And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever. [8] And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.” (KJV)

The pastor’s daughter drew at least three conclusions from this text.

First, she observed that people were praising God after surviving the turmoil.  They were like the Israelites who praised God after crossing the Red Sea, becoming free from the Pharaoh’s oppression and threat (Exodus 14-15).  Similarly, we may find ourselves praising God after being delivered from turmoil or depression.  She called praise the soundtrack of her life, as she remembers songs that she sang during difficulties that she  experienced.  Here, she seemed to present praise as something bubbling out of relieved believers after they have been delivered.  At other points in the sermon, however, she was stressing the importance of discipline and obedience.  She says that she struggles to get up in the morning to do her devotions and to read Ezekiel, and that there have been times in her life when she has been frustrated with people in church, because people are people.  But she sees value in praising the God of the universe and fulfilling God’s call on her life, so she does not simply press the snooze button when it comes to her Christian life.

Second, she talked about how God is a God of justice, one who is upset, not at sinners, but at sin.  God’s abhorrence at, say, human trafficking flows out of God’s love.  God in Revelation is bringing justice to the world.  God is not pleased with pouring out wrath, though, which is why the text says that it is one of the four beasts, not God, who gives the angels the vials full of God’s wrath.  God is distancing Godself from wrath here.

Third, she observed that people were not running away from God, terrified, but that the nations will come and worship God, happy that justice has come to the earth.

Those last two points can be critiqued, of course, and I do not want to mount a comprehensive critique here.  I will cite something that has long interested me about Revelation, though.  On the one hand, you have Revelation 16:9, which depicts people blaspheming God and refusing to give God glory in response to one of the plagues.  On the other hand, you have Revelation 11:13, which presents God sending an earthquake that kills people, and those remaining give glory to the God of heaven.  Are most people happy or rebellious when Christ returns?  Some may say that my question here is based on a hyper-literal reading of the text.

C.  Related to (A.) and (B.), I would like to share a couple of my posts from the past.  I usually share their WordPress version, but here I am sharing my Blogger versions because they have interesting reader comments.

Here is a post about I Kings 19.

Here is a post about whether most people at Christ’s return will be happy or rebelling against God.

D.  At the LCMS Sunday School, representatives from a home for unwed mothers, as well as unwed mothers themselves (with their babies), came to speak to us.  August is mission month.  Some points that I want to highlight:

—-The home is not a fit for everyone, and some have had to leave.

—-About five people at a time stay there, and it is generally for a year.

—-Each resident has to do twenty hours a week of either school or paying employment.
—-Each resident has to cook dinner once a week.

—-That they got a house with seven rooms for the home for a relatively inexpensive price is a miracle, especially in this area.

—-Convincing corporations to donate is a challenge, since some corporations are reluctant to help faith-based groups.  That is interesting to me.  You would expect this from government, due to church-state issues.  But it is true of some corporations, too, perhaps because they see religion as divisive and do not want to offend people.

—-One of the residents gave her testimony about how she was abused by her step-father and later lost custody of her first child because she hit him when she was high.  She felt horrible about what she did.  Now, she gets to be a mentor to other women at the home.   She also talked about how a Bible verse and a song touched her heart years ago and planted a seed within her, which later blossomed into faith.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 8/11/2018

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

The Nation: “How Medicare Was Won,” by Natalie Shure

The subtitle says, “The history of the fight for single-payer health care for the elderly and poor should inform today’s movement to win for Medicare for All.”  Shure disputes the idea that Medicare passed because not many private insurance companies covered the elderly and thus did not mount a massive opposition to it.  On the contrary, about half of the elderly were covered by private health insurance, plus there was massive resistance to Medicare, from the AMA and the right-wing.  What led to Medicare’s passing was grassroots support for it, as people wondered what would happen to their elderly or aging relatives.  Organized labor was inclined to support it due to its own struggle to provide health insurance to the elderly.  Plus, it was a time of social change, with the Civil Rights Movement.  Is the time ripe for Medicare-for-All?

The Epoch Times: “Trump Administration Uses Competition to Drive Down Drug Prices for Millions on Medicare,” by Holly Kellum

You hear a lot about how Medicare should use its size and leveraging power to negotiate lower pharmaceutical prices, or how single-payer would enable the government to negotiate lower pharmaceutical prices.  What this article taught me (and I am sure this is obvious to many) is that private health care companies already do this, on some level.  You have, say, Kaiser Permanente, which covers a lot of people, using its size and large customer-base to negotiate pharmaceutical discounts.  Trump’s plan is for Medicare Advantage to do the same for Plan B drugs.  This article was saddening because it illustrates how there are seniors who skimp on necessary medication because of its financial cost.  Again, many people already know about this, but it was still sobering for me to read about it.

The Epoch Times: “Trade War Turns Out to Be a Boon for Some Companies,” by Emel Akin

Essentially, China is buying soybeans from South America as it puts high tariffs on American soybeans.  But that frees up others to buy soybeans from the U.S. (though the decreased demand from China initially resulted in plummeting soybean prices, to the consternation of American soybean farmers).  Plus, South America has a shortage, due to drought, so China may resume buying American soybeans.

Townhall: “Are Trump’s Tariffs Actually Increasing The Trade Deficit?”, by Veronique de Rugy

What happens is that other countries ramp up their production to make a killing before the tariffs take effect.  de Rugy also argues that, contrary to protectionist claims, trade deficits are not necessarily bad.  Other countries use the money that they make from American purchase of their goods to invest in the United States.

Mintpress News: “Is Oily Econo-Politics Behind Saudis’ Crude Canadian Diplomacy?”, by Whitney Webb

Canada and Saudi Arabia are having a spat.  What is really behind it?  Webb speculates.  The United States imports a lot of oil from Canada.  Is Saudi Arabia targeting Canada’s economy, so that Canada will use more of Canada’s oil domestically, influencing the U.S. to buy more oil from the Saudis?  According to Webb, the Saudis have used those sorts of shenanigans in the past.

LeftVoice: “No, Venezuela Was Never Socialist”

Marxist Milton D’Leon disputes the idea that Venezuela’s economic troubles are due to socialism.  He states: “In Venezuela, it isn’t ‘socialism’ that failed. What failed is a policy that kept Venezuela dependent on oil revenue, a policy that guaranteed the profits of bankers and businessmen, while the people suffer from hunger.”  Also: ” From the beginning, the Chávez government always had frictions with US imperialism because it wanted more elbow room in economic questions. But Chávez never broke with imperialism. The big oil multinationals have always been active here, and they repatriated their profits as they would in any other country. The international financial sector is active here as well.”  There are solid critiques in that article, but I am not sure what Venezuela, or Venezuelan social programs, would do without oil revenue.

Mintpress News: “An Interview with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega,” by Max Blumenthal

Some things I got from the interview: Ortega has helped the Nicaraguan people and the economy, but organized and violent insurgents and U.S. sanctions are undermining progress that has been made.  The result is illegal immigration from Nicaragua to the U.S.  Plus, according to Ortega, the U.S. is hypocritical when it comes to human rights.

Truthdig: “Three Reasons Why ‘Fire and Fury’ Won’t Work With Iran,” by Scott Ritter

According to Ritter, Trump’s playbook for North Korea (fire and fury followed by openness to negotiation) will not work with Iran.  This is an interesting (albeit brief) article on North Korean and Iranian motivations, and Iran’s religious democratic system.

ThinkProgress: “Republican Gerrymandering Wall Is Starting to Crumble,” by Ian Millhiser

State Supreme Courts and ballot initiatives have undermined Republican gerrymandering.  The question is, will that survive the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly if Kavanaugh gets on it?

Federalist Radio Hour: “Policy Impacts on Women and Families: Paid Leave, Housing, and Social Engineering”

Vanessa Brown Carder is a policy analyst with the Cato Institute.  She makes the usual conservative critiques of paid leave: it will discourage the hiring of women who use it, it will result in an entitlement that adds to the government debt.  At the same time, she offers ideas for reform: removing the requirement that child-care providers have high school diplomas, for example, can result in more child care providers, bringing the cost down.  I think libertarians have good ideas, here and with zoning reform to solve high housing costs.  But I question whether such reforms will pass.

Chicago Tribune: “Not Just a Feel-Good Step: Businesses Are Increasingly Hiring People with Disabilities, and It’s Helping the Bottom Line

This is good news, though more work remains to be done.  The article is uplifting because it talks about how people with disabilities are good workers when given the chance, and how their presence helps the workplace.  People with autism, for example, need clear directions, and that can benefit everybody, not just them.

Fox News: “Dem Revolt against Pelosi Grows, amid Fears her Shadow Could Cast Pall over Midterm Hopes”

And, like Hillary, Pelosi blames sexism.  I feel that I have to support Democrats for the sake of the vulnerable, but, honestly, I do not like Democratic leaders and politicians.

Fox News: Macaulay Culkin Reveals He Turned Down ‘Big Bang Theory’ 3 Times

I can’t picture him on it, but this article was informative about how grueling the acting business can be, and why one would want to retire from it.

Washington Post: “Five Myths about the Atomic Bomb,” by Gregg Herken

August 6 marked the anniversary of the U.S. dropping the atomic bomb on Japan.  Was it necessary?  There was the option of conditional surrender.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Book Write-Up: Theologygrams, by Rich Wyld

Rich Wyld.  Theologygrams: Theology Explained in Diagrams.  IVP Books, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

Theologygrams is a book that has charts, graphs, and illustrations explaining key concepts in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Christian theology.  It is based on the author’s popular blog of the same name.  The bio of the author states: “Rich Wyld is an Anglican priest and has a PhD from Durham University in theology.  The blog came into being during some of the more tedious days of study.”

There were times when I rolled my eyes in reading some of the charts, graphs, and illustrations because the jokes were corny or cheesy.  The book also would have done better with less self-deprecation.  It just makes me uncomfortable, maybe because I would like to be the sort of person who puts people at ease rather than making them overly defensive or apologetic.  (People may read that last line and think, “Then get more of a sense of humor,” or “Stop being so nitpicky!”  Fair point.  Now I’m being self-deprecating!)  But there were times when I chuckled after reading a chart, graph, or illustration and thought, “That’s cute.”  The pie chart, “Marks of Mission,” comes to mind: there are small slivers with lofty marks of mission, but over three-fourths of the pie chart is devoted to “Anxiety about talking to other people.”  Got that right!  Another illustration catering to introverts was about how much time introverts spend at fellowship hour before they’re out the door!  One cute pie chart, based on I Corinthians 2:2, dealt with what Paul knew when he came to Corinth.  The vast majority of the pie was for “Jesus Christ, crucified,” but a very small sliver was for “Directions to Corinth”!  There was another illustration that was both cute and informative, as it illustrated the challenges of finding a middle ground of translation between literal and free, using John 20:17 as an example.

At times, the charts, graphs, and illustrations were pretty obvious.  There was a chart about Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, and its point was that the good soil produced good fruit (Matthew 13).  Another chart showed that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9).  Pretty straightforward!  At some points, I hoped for a little more exegesis of the biblical text.  Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-20) has long troubled me, since the master seems so hard on the unprofitable servant who buried his talent, sending him to hell (or some horrible place).   Wyld offers the helpful insight that “My own view is that Jesus is not talking about failure through fear or weakness, but about complacency.”  But the unprofitable servant in the parable seems to express fear and weakness!  How would Wyld account for that?  Plus, the discussion was somewhat spoiled by “But I’m getting too preachy so I’ll shut up.”  No, please go on!

There were charts, graphs, and illustrations that taught me something.  One was about Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:24-27 about building one’s house on rock versus building one’s house on sand, and Wyld referred to some scholars who want to flip Jesus’ imagery around because there were areas in which building one’s house on sand was better.  Another one was about the Venerable Bede and his attitudes towards certain Christians, based on their spiritual character, their haircuts, and whether they kept the right date for Easter.  Some of these Christians got two out of three right, in Bede’s eyes!

While some charts, graphs, and illustrations were obvious, others required more thought.  It took me some time to get used to the overlapping circles, but they eventually made more sense.  There was one chart that was a “Just War Checklist.”  It listed traditional Christian criteria for a just war and graded Star Wars, Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Independence Day according to them.  That would require some thought: “Does the battle in this movie or book follow that criterion, or not?” I am a little confused by the “Apocalyptic Chess Puzzle.”  John the Revelator is a pawn, and the only place he can move is one block forward.  There are knights around, but John is out of their range, anyway, so what difference does his movement make?  Is the point that he’s safe because God is in control?

Some charts, graphs, and illustrations were particularly helpful because they clearly and simply explained a theological concept that I have encountered more than once, but I may not know it well enough to explain it at a dinner party.  Wyld’s charts on Barthian dialectic, models of ethics (i.e., deontological, utilitarian, etc.), and revelation-based vs. natural law-based ethics come to mind.  That last one was both educational and cute, as it showed how complex making ethical decisions can be!
Some of the commentary was spiritually edifying or challenging.  At one point, Wyld referred to a friend who said that many theologians can get caught up in talking about who others say Jesus is, but they should not forget the question, “Who do you say that I am?”  (Matthew 16:13-20)  On page 132, Wyld offers this edifying comment: “If theology seems like a very detached and academic discipline, Jeremiah might remind us that in a world of great suffering there is an urgent need to seek God for the sake of the world.”

Overall, this was a light yet informative and edifying read.

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Book Write-Up: The Broken Welcome Mat, by Helen Raleigh

Helen Raleigh.  The Broken Welcome Mat.  2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Helen Raleigh is an immigrant from China.  She holds two master’s degrees: one in business economics from the State University of New York, and the other in business administration from the University of Wyoming.  She has worked in the financial services industry and is the founder of Red Meadow Advisors, LLC, an investment advisory firm.  She is an immigration policy fellow at the Centennial Institute, a conservative think-tank at Colorado Christian University, and she has written for the Wall Street Journal, Townhall, and the Federalist.

The Broken Welcome Mat is about how the United States can fix its broken immigration system.  Raleigh provides a history of immigration to America, starting with the Jamestown settlement and the settlement of the Pilgrims and the Puritans.  She moves on to the immigration stances of America’s framers, who largely supported immigration as a way to bring in workers and increase America’s GDP, while wanting to keep out criminal immigrants.  Her story proceeds to the immigration of Germans, Irish, and Chinese people to the U.S.  They built America’s GDP, and the Chinese worked for low pay in extremely menial jobs that many Americans did not want to do.  In times of economic turmoil, however, they were scapegoats, as American workers considered them to be competitors who drove down wages.

Overall, Raleigh views immigration as beneficial to the United States.  There is a high demand yet a low supply of skilled workers, and immigrants have met that need.  While some immigrants in the short term may compete with native-born Americans for low-skilled jobs, they also free native-born Americans to take jobs that require more facility with English.  For example, when doctors immigrate to the United States and become specialists, that frees American doctors to enter general practice, and the greater supply of doctors has a positive effect on American health care costs.  Raleigh argues that a number of immigrants work and that few commit crimes (other than being here illegally, in the case of illegal immigrants).  Surveys indicate that many of them have positive attitudes towards the United States, indicating some desire to assimilate.

While Raleigh rejects the nativism of Donald Trump, she still believes that he is raising real issues.  Immigrants have not always been adequately vetted, leading to Islamic terror on American and European soil.  Raleigh notes that one such assailant actually left anti-American posts on Facebook, but the Department of Homeland Security did not check that out due to politically-correct sentiments and a desire to preserve civil liberties.  While illegal immigrants pay sales and income taxes, their consumption of government benefits outweighs the amount of money that they contribute to the system.  They are ineligible for a number of federal benefits, but some states are more generous in their welfare policies.  The children of illegal immigrants who were born in the U.S. are also eligible for housing and medical benefits as well as public education and school lunch programs, and even illegal immigrants receive emergency care.  Raleigh disagrees with building a wall, seeing that as a very expensive and slow-moving process.  At the same time, she acknowledges that there are gaps in the border that put America at risk and that can be addressed, through security and cameras.

Based on her own personal experience as well as her formal analysis, Raleigh concludes that the U.S. immigration system is grossly inefficient.  It can take decades to become a U.S. citizen, explaining why there are illegals who try to bypass that process altogether.  The American immigration system is backlogged, and the criteria is not always consistent: the lottery program, for instance, randomly lets people in without regard to their ability to support themselves and contribute, as other programs seek to bring in skilled immigrants.  There are categories (i.e., asylum, refugee) that can and should be consolidated.  Among Raleigh’s proposals are border security, tightening the welfare system, and admitting people who can support themselves or at least be supported by people other than the government.  She does not favor so much a single bill that would claim to fix immigration, as that could increase backlog, inefficient bureaucracy, and a host of new regulations.  Rather, she believes that adjustments and consolidations can be made, here and there.  Raleigh also cites the Canadian and Australian immigration systems as models to follow.

Raleigh also favors addressing the problems that lead immigrants to come to the U.S.  For instance, she supports safe zones for refugees in Syria, which would be militarily protected by the U.S., Europe (which would want to solve the refugee influx to her own area), and Arab countries.  These would be more than refugee camps, for they would include schools and businesses.  Raleigh also believes that the U.S. should encourage free-markets, democracy, and anti-corruption measures in other countries, in some cases making foreign aid contingent on that.

The book is written from a conservative perspective.  It has somewhat of a “pull yourself up by your own bootstrap” mentality.  In one place, Raleigh notes the irony of how the Colorado Supreme Court in 2015 ruled against school choice by appealing to the Blaine Amendment of the nineteenth century, which marginalized and discriminated against Catholic schools, reflecting Protestant xenophobia and nativism against Catholic immigrants.

The book was interesting to read, in areas.  Raleigh effectively told the tale of how the Puritans received financial support from British merchants to settle in America.  The Puritan immigrants wanted to practice their religion, and the British merchants wanted to profit from what was in America.  The British merchants required a huge payback from the Puritan settlers because the merchants were making a risky investment, as there were perils to coming to America and settling there.  Raleigh also tells the story of Squanto, the Native American who was crucial to the Pilgrim’s survival.  The Pilgrims were fortunate to meet someone who knew English, due to his unique background.

Raleigh’s policy proposals are understandable.  A problem that I have is that their “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” attitude does not seem to grasp the difficulty that some have in supporting themselves under the American system.  For example, the American health care system is expensive and daunting even for many native-born Americans, explaining why there are people who feel a need to receive Medicaid or Obamacare subsidies.  We do not want more a lot of newcomers overloading the system, but is depriving immigrants of a safety net a compassionate policy?  In addition, while Raleigh supports prioritizing the admission of skilled immigrants, she still wants to admit people seeking asylum, and not all of them are skilled.  How can American society give them the skills that they need?  That could have been explored more.  Raleigh’s discussion of how to address the problems that lead immigrants to come to the U.S. could have used more detail.  It seemed a little ginger—-yay, promote free markets!—-and it ignored the rationale that officials have had for pursuing an opposite path from what she recommended: the Obama administration, for instance, was skeptical about the effectiveness of safety zones in Syria because it doubted whether other countries would be willing to provide the ground troops for them.  A proposal of ways to help other countries to control crime and violence would also have enhanced Raleigh’s discussion.

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Derek Leman on the Divine Name/Presence and Deuteronomy

Derek Leman had interesting thoughts in his August 7 Daily Portion.  Deuteronomy frequently states that God has set God’s name to dwell in the sanctuary, rather than saying that God personally dwells there.  Derek, engaging Stephen Cook’s Reading Deuteronomy, offers possible reasons why.  Enjoy!

“God’s presence in Deuteronomy,” says Stephen Cook (Reading Deuteronomy), “. . . is mysterious.” The author here has a new way of describing the connection between God and the temple, between God and the people. Instead of insisting as the priestly texts of Torah do that God’s visible manifestation is always inside the shrine, Deuteronomy says his “name” is at the place. As Cook says, “The book emphasizes a striking presence and absence of God.”

Israel’s history up to that point has included many close encounters with God. God had brought Israel out “by his Presence,” in other words, in person in a tangible appearance (Deuteronomy 4:37). The people heard God speak out of the fire on Sinai (4:33). God went “before them” during the conquest in Joshua’s time (1:30; 9:3). God is said to be presently “in your midst” (7:30). God’s care and blessings will be over the land where the people live (11:12). As Stephen Cook observes, Deuteronomy even asks, “What other nation has a god so near to it?” (4:7).

But Deuteronomy also takes pains, says Cook, to emphasize absence or only partial presence. The people did not see any shape or semblance of God on Sinai, but heard only a “voice” (4:12). In the historical writings which are edited by the author of Deuteronomy, Elijah goes to Horeb (Sinai) and does not see God there, but hears only a voice (1 Kings 19:12). What the people will find at the temple is God’s “name.”

It is vague. God may or may not be actually present, but his name is always there. Cook says with an idol, a statue thought to concentrate the divine energy into a physical object, the god is forced to be there. Idols are objects used for trapping deities in a place, for making divine beings do the will of human beings.

But God is free. The relationship between human beings and God is subject to the will of the Omnipresent, the Transcendent One, who is always a mystery to us.

He may or may not be present in any tangible sense, but God is in the world, in the land of Israel, and in the place of the temple in varying degrees of potency. In one sense the whole earth is under his care. In a heightened sense, the land of Israel is a place God potentially will bless with supernatural conditions unlike anything experienced in any other place on earth. And at its most potent, the divine Presence is potentially at the site of the temple, the place where God chooses for his name to dwell.

People need not limit their worship to places and times when God appears in a visible manifestation. We can honor his “name” from anywhere at any time. In Judaism there is a longing for God’s actual presence and thus, like Daniel in Babylon, we face Jerusalem several times a day and pray in the direction of the temple site. As Solomon is represented as saying in his great prayer in 1 Kings 8, when the people of Israel find themselves thrown out of the land, living in exile in some far country, may “they pray to you in the direction of their land which you gave to their fathers . . . and of the house which I have built in your name” (1 Kings 8:48).

The idea of God’s “name” being with us is a fitting description for the situation we find ourselves in, where God’s proximity to us is a matter of mystery, where presence and absence both seem to be true.

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