Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Book Write-Up: Creation and Doxology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2018

Church Write-Up: Thanksgiving 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Book Write-Up: The Monkhood of All Believers, by Greg Peters

Greg Peters. The Monkhood of All Believers: The Monastic Foundation of Christian Spirituality. Baker Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Greg Peters teaches medieval and spiritual theology at Biola University. He has also been a visiting professor at Saint John’s School of Theology and is a research professor of Monastic Studies and Ascetical Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.

The larger theme of this book is that monastic principles can and should guide the spirituality of Christians who are not officially monks. Such principles include devotion to God through prayer, liturgy, asceticism, solitude, and Christian community. Peters presents the thought of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox theologians on this issue, and on the principles of monasticism themselves, ranging from the patristic period to the twentieth century. The New Testament forms the foundation for the monastic principles and the concept of institutional monasticism. Acts 2-4, in which the early Christians devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching, prayer, and fellowship as well as share their possessions, looms large as a historical inspiration for Christian monasticism.

The assets of this book include its scholarly rigor, its breadth and its depth, and its edifying effect, as the concept of devotion to God unites the different Christian thinkers whom Greg profiles. Among the most interesting and compelling discussions in the book are Jerome’s defense of scholarly work as actual work, the divinizing effect of liturgy on  sinful believers, and the monastic underpinnings of marriage, which provides boundaries for human sexual desire.

There are recurring themes in this book. First, there is the concept of the priesthood of all believers. All Christians believe in this, on some level, even though Roman Catholicism also has an institutional priesthood. Second, there is the concept of calling, that a Christian’s everyday occupation can be a way to glorify God and to serve God and others. Protestants stressed this, and the concept came to find a place among Catholic thinkers. There is also the question of whether institutional monasticism is meritorious and provides practitioners with a faster route to heaven. Luther inveighed against this idea, believing that it contradicts justification by grace through faith alone.

I have mild critiques, based on my own reading of this book, and other readers may have a different impression; I myself may gain a different impression were I to reread the book. First, Peters perhaps could have explained more why asceticism was and is important. Cannot a person be devoted to God, without going hungry and refraining from sex? My impression, from other scholars I have read and heard, is that there was a multifold rationale for Christian asceticism. Asceticism can remove distractions from one’s relationship with God, but there was also a belief that the flesh alienates one from the spiritual realm and that the appetites are self-centered. The goal of decreasing distractions is one with which I can identify. I have some difficulty, however, accepting the latter two assumptions (i.e., appetites as alienating from the spirit and selfish) as authoritative and normative.

Second, Peters could have explained better why Luther believed that seeing monasticism as meritorious conflicted with justification by grace through faith alone. Roman Catholicism, after all, did not believe that only monks went to heaven, for ordinary Christians could, too. Yet, they thought that institutionalized monasticism could provide a faster track to heaven, as the increased devotion to God was meritorious, and monasticism provided an opportunity to suppress the flesh, which all Christians, on some level, are to do. Some questions enter my mind. Luther obviously had problems with the concept of merit, thinking that it detracted from the importance of divine grace. Yet, would he deny that some Christians will receive more rewards in the afterlife than other Christians? Many Protestants today say that all Christians are saved, but some Christians will receive more rewards, based on their good works. There is also the question of how Catholics believed that ordinary Christians could be saved, even though they, on some level, indulged the passions, by not being complete ascetics. Purgatory may be a significant aspect of the answer to this question: ordinary believers will eventually get to heaven, but they will need to be purified in purgatory.

Third, while the book often spoke about the importance of Christians incorporating monastic principles into their life, it was a little thin about what this practically looks like. It does describe what took place in institutional monasticism, however, along with Clement of Alexandria’s strict depiction of asceticism.

Notwithstanding these critiques, this book is rich, informative, beautifully written, and edifying.

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Church Write-Up: Confidence, and Other Items

Here are some items from last Sunday’s church services. I will not proofread this—-just to forewarn you!

A. The main text at the LCMS service was Hebrews 10:15-25. That text talks about how believers have confidence to enter the holy places through the blood of Jesus.

The pastor talked about things that sap our confidence. We may fear public speaking or going out on our first date. Maria in the Sound of Music tried to have confidence to become a governess to seven children, even though she had no previous experience with children. The pastor shared about how when he was a child and lived in a small town in Wisconsin, he was intimidated by the big city. He also told about a person in another church that he pastored in the past. This person served the church a lot but preferred to do so behind the scenes. He would clear the furnace, for example. But he did not like to go in front of the church for communion. As a result, there were only two times in his life when he took communion: when he was confirmed as a child, and when he died.

The pastor related another story about a truck driver he knew who had slept with women other than his wife. This man was afraid that, at the last judgment, all five women would be there before God, testifying against him.

The pastor said that we may not have confidence to, say, do public speaking, or whatever we fear. But we can have the confidence to approach God, due to what Christ has done. Christ took on our guilt and shame at the cross.

And yet, hopefully, God’s love for us will alleviate our fear about other things. When the pastor was a high school student doing forensics, his mother sat in the back whenever he spoke, providing him with support. It helped him to know that there was somebody in the audience who loved him.

B. At the LCMS Bible study, the teacher was continuing his series on patristic attempts to conceptualize Jesus’ divinity. Some points that were made:

—-Although Jesus in his life on earth continually said that he and his Father were one, the disciples did not get it. At Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, they were afraid. Ordinarily, the Romans did not just arrest the Messianic claimant, but they arrested his followers as well, and they hanged them publicly as an example of what Rome does to those who resist it. Jesus and the disciples were from Galilee and had a recognizable Galilean accent. Those on the road to Emmaus were running away from Jerusalem! And the disciples hid in the upper room, remembering that was the last place they had all met. It was after Jesus’ resurrection that Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). It is due to the resurrection that God was revealed to be Trinitarian. The resurrection convinced them that Jesus was divine, but they had to figure out how that was the case, while God is one. Worship led to reflection, which then impacted worship.

—-Someone in the class shared about a friend who was afraid of death and wanted Jesus to appear to him. After a night of wrestling, the friend concluded that he walked by faith, not by sight. The teacher responded that Jesus actually did showed up to this friend: Jesus did so through the person sharing the story. God does not always speak to us in mountaintop experiences but in a still, small voice. God works through flesh and blood, as when God fills people with the Spirit at baptism, or when Jesus fills people after they partake of the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

—-Someone else in the class asked when a person has the Holy Spirit. Did Peter have the Holy Spirit when he confessed Christ? Was the Holy Spirit latent within him when he denied Jesus? Technically, the disciples received the Holy Spirit later, when Jesus breathed on them (John 20:22), or at Pentecost (Acts 2). When Peter made his confession, he did not necessarily have the Holy Spirit, but God was still somehow revealing to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:17). The teacher replied that Peter had the Holy Spirit at his confession. He said that Christians have the Holy Spirit, yet their sin nature still pulls them towards love of self; when they manage to love God and neighbor, that is the Holy Spirit at work. Christians in the West, though, contend against a culture that prioritizes self: me, me, me, my freedom, don’t you dare tell me what to do! According to the teacher, that is more of a challenge than the atheist snark they encounter on social media.

—-The teacher talked some about the role of Jesus’ divinity in his resurrection. Jesus was one with God, yet there was a rift between him and the rest of the Godhead on the cross, as Jesus asked the Father why he forsook him. Jesus was dead, yet the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in him (Colossians 2:9). Jesus’ divinity swallowed up his own death, and that was how he rose. I was wondering if, somewhere in here, there is a way to reconcile the Scriptural statements about who raised Jesus from the dead. Did the Father raise Jesus (Acts 2:32-33; Romans 6:4; Galatians 1:1)? Did Jesus raise himself (John 2:18-19; 10:18). Did the Holy Spirit raise Jesus (Romans 8:11; I Peter 3:18)? Since Jesus is one with the Father, could him raising himself be the same as the Father and the Spirit raising him? See here for the biblical references, and a brief attempt to answer.

C. Some points from the “Word of Faith” pastor’s sermon, and from the service:

—-In Acts 28, Paul is bitten by a viper and shakes it off. People initially suspect Paul is a murderer who has finally gotten justice, then they see that Paul is all right and conclude that he must be a god. People will say all sorts of things about us, sometimes contradictory, but we should shake it off.
—-In Acts 28:23, Paul expounds upon the kingdom of God morning until night to all who came to him. We need more than brief, seven-point sermons, the pastor said. We need deep teaching. Small groups can be a place where we can flesh out details.

—-The pastor frequently used the imagery of “behind the curtain.” Small groups, church, and daily devotions help us to get a glimpse of what is behind the curtain, but only in the new heavens and new earth will we see fully. The pastor referred to divorce: if a person is trying to get happiness this side of the curtain, he or she may see divorce as an option, but he or she is not looking behind the curtain. That is a tough one, for me, since there are people who leave bad marriages and find better marriages. I would not wish for them to have remained in their bad marriages for the rest of their natural lives.

—-The pastor (whom I will call “J” to avoid confusion) told a story about when he was 18 and came to that church. The pastor at the time said to J, “God told me he does not want you on the leadership team.” J was shocked! At his previous church, J’s parents were active, and J made sure that everyone knew who he was, if they did not know already. At the new church, nobody knew J. J is grateful for that experience. He went to another church and found a way to learn and serve. But his experience at the church where he was rejected gave him the background for when he would pastor that very church years later.

—-Someone at the church, a worship leader, gave her testimony. She talked about how she was sexually assaulted in Nigeria three times, then was assaulted when she came to the United States. She struggled to forgive those who assaulted her, but her reflection on Christ’s forgiveness of those who crucified him and Stephen’s forgiveness of those stoning him brought her to a place where she could forgive, even love, those who assaulted her. Such a concept can be easily abused, and has been in churches, which tell people to forgive their abuser and not to press charges. At the same time, respecting the humanity and hoping for the repentance of all people is, in my opinion, a key element of Christianity.

—-The pastor’s daughter talked about the woman with the blood problem who touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed. She pressed forward to touch Jesus, regardless of what the “church” people at the time thought. This was refreshing, in light of the communitarian emphasis that I heard at times, that Sunday morning. Whatever church people may think, we can all personally reach out to Jesus.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: Wildfires, Macron, on Workers Running Their Companies, Deaths

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

California Wildfires

Some articles at the Federalist defended the President’s claim that mismanagement has contributed to the forest fires. James Taylor argues that climate change is not the problem because forest fires in California have been declining, and he contends that local and state authorities have failed to warn people. Krystina Skurk details environmental policies that she believes have exasperated the problem.

On the other side, Matthew Hurteau at the Guardian challenges the President’s claim.

Libertarian environmentalist and attorney Jonathan Wood proposes ways to reduce the cost of addresses the wildfires. One suggestion intersects with criminal justice reform.


Two conservative columnists apparently disagree on how to characterize French President Emmanuel Macron. Pat Buchanan depicts Macron as a globalist, whereas Rachel Marsden sees Macron as rather nationalistic.


Some socialists talk about the importance of letting workers run their companies. Libertarian economist Daniel Mitchell highlights an example in which that did not work, and the workers actually wanted a manager.


Stan Lee passed on this week. I have fond memories of reading X-Men comics while eating my dinner. Jonah Goldberg has an insightful article about how Stan Lee’s comics reflected their historical context.

Little House on the Prairie actress Katherine MacGregor passed on. She played the over-the-top, mean Mrs. Oleson. I have read that MacGregor in real life was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Book Write-Up: A History of Western Philosophy, by C. Stephen Evans

C. Stephen Evans. A History of Western Philosophy: From the Pre-Socratics to Postmodernism. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

C. Stephen Evans has a Ph.D. from Yale and teaches Philosophy and the Humanities at Baylor University. Before Baylor, he taught philosophy at Calvin College, St. Olaf College, and Wheaton College.

As the title indicates, this book goes from the pre-Socratic philosophers to postmodernism. It covers major philosophical figures from classical, medieval, and modern periods. In comparison with its interaction with other thinkers, the book’s coverage of existentialism and postmodernism is rather terse, but it is still a quality discussion.

Here are some of my thoughts and impressions:

A. Evans engages interesting questions. Some samples: How much did Plato’s writings reflect the views of the historical Socrates, and how can we tell? What were the differences between Hume and Kant, in terms of their epistemologies? Were Hume and Kant as skeptical as many scholars think? To what extent was Nietzsche a precursor to Nazism?

B. A while back, I read John Frame’s History of Western Philosophy and Theology. It is a lucid introduction to philosophy, like Evans’ book, and Frame even covered more philosophers and theologians. Where Evans’ book is superior, however, is that Evans really tries to get into the heads of the philosophers and to understand the rationales for their positions. Frame seemed rather dismissive of some philosophers, and I would scratch my head thinking, “How could a philosopher believe that?” For instance, how could Kant profess to solve the problem of Hume’s epistemological skepticism, only to be a skeptic himself? Evans showed how: our reason does not match the reality that is out there, but it is still rational and universal, so it can provide some basis for science. Another philosophy that Evans explained well was Stoicism, as Evans addressed whether the Stoics believed that a literal fire inhabited the cosmos and likened the divine rationality of the cosmos to the soul that occupies the human body. Where Evans perhaps could have done better in highlighting the motivations of the philosophers was in his treatment of the pre-Socratics: why did they seek a common element that permeates and underlies everything. What did they believe was at stake?

C. The epistemological discussions in Evans’ book were difficult, in areas. They are a lot more lucid than other treatments I have read. Evans uses helpful illustrations, such as rose-colored glasses to illustrate Kant’s view on the relationship of the mind to the outside world. Still, some things were unclear. For instance, did Berkeley believe in matter or not? Representationalism is a recurring theme in this book, and it has been held by rationalists like Descartes and empiricists like Locke. Essentially, it states that we do not see subjects as they really are but according to our ideas or concepts about them in our minds. Yet, at least for Locke, how they are somehow influences our ideas and concepts of them. There seems to be a difference of opinion among representationalists as to whether the ideas precede our apprehension of the outside objects, or the outside objects shape our ideas. Overall, I could follow the epistemological discussions in Evans’ book, though I must admit that the distinctions between Hume and Kant went a little over my head. At the same time, even after reading this book, I cannot rattle off to you what each philosopher believed about epistemology. In order to retain knowledge in this book and to be able to rattle it off to others or to write it on a test, many might do well, not simply to read this book, but also to study it, take notes on it, and review one’s notes.

D. In some cases, the book informed me about details on which I was fuzzy. For instance, Aristotle’s view of the soul is often characterized as being that the soul is what makes something what it is: the soul of a human is the form that makes a human a human. This is often differentiated from seeing the soul as an internal reality that animates people and survives death, but Evans did well to highlight that Aristotle believed in the latter, too. Another detail that stood out to me was that Kierkegaard influenced the existentialists. Kierkegaard is often called a “Christian existentialist,” and the impression that can easily leave is that Kierkegaard merely Christianized existentialism; actually, Evans states, Kierkegaard influenced existentialism.

E. The book is especially meaty in conveying the views of the philosophers. I recall reading Descartes’ Meditations in a philosophy class years ago, and I will say that Evans accurately and clearly conveys the details of Descartes’ arguments. Evans’ discussion of Kierkegaard was likewise detailed and interesting, as he shows how Kierkegaard employed pseudonyms to articulate positions with which he disagreed, but which he still thought had some merit. Kierkegaard played the role of a hedonist, then a strict moralist, defending both positions before he defended a third perspective, that of a religious person. Nietzsche is often characterized as one who dismissed Christianity as a crutch, and so he did, but Evans shows that Nietzsche also thought that Judaism and Christianity contributed something positive in that it made humans more reasonable and not just focused on strength. Nietzsche hoped that the Superman would transcend both the good/bad system that focused on strength and Christianity.

F. While Evans made a sincere and largely effective effort to get inside the heads of the philosophers, he also acknowledged where he thought that they were unclear or contradictory, or did not make sense.

G. The conclusion contains a stirring paragraph about the importance of religion to many prominent philosophers, as it laments the marginalization of religion in philosophy departments. Evans’ own conclusions were a little thin: he tried to advocate epistemological humility while not going as far as the postmodernists, but he did not flesh out how he could have the best of both worlds. But, in all fairness, he probably did not intend that discussion to be the end-all-be-all but was simply sharing brief reflections in response to the thinkers whom he profiled.

This is a fantastic book, and it is almost 600 pages. It would make a fine introductory textbook in philosophy.

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

Church Write-Up: Eagerly Awaiting, Incarnation and Resurrection, Idolatry and Intellect

Time for this week’s Church Write-Up about last Sunday’s services.

A. The main text at the LCMS church was Hebrews 9:28b: “unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (KJV).

The pastor in his sermon was talking about how Christians, as a result of Christ’s sacrifice, are in the world but not of the world and are to testify to this world that this life is not all that there is: that it is not a matter of “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Christians have the hope that they will one day experience the benefits of God’s salvation full blast. The pastor talked about how, in his pastoral visitations this last week, the theme of Hebrews 9:28 came up multiple times, without his promptings, as people talked about how they are looking forward to seeing Jesus and those who have come before them. The pastor also tied his message into Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day was originally Armistice Day, a day celebrating the end of World War I as the war to end all wars. People back then hoped for peace, as Christians anticipate Christ’s second coming. Also, our veterans sacrificed themselves for something greater, and Christians are to realize that this life is not all that there is, that there is more than our moments in this life.

During the Scripture reading part of the service, I was thinking some about the relevance of Hebrews 9:27 to Hebrews’ argument. Vv. 27-28 state: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (KJV). A lot of times, v. 27 is cited when Christians are claiming that reincarnation is a false and nonbiblical concept: men die ONCE, not many times, and afterwards is the judgment. But why is the author of Hebrews making this point? It has to do with Jesus only dying once for our sins.

That raises questions in my mind. Would Jesus have had to die multiple times, if humans die multiple times rather than once? Elements of this make sense, and elements of it do not make sense. On the one hand, Christ is humanity’s representative, so it would make sense that he would die once, due to people dying once. On the other hand, Christians can cite reasons that Christ died only once that have nothing to do with how many times humans die. Christ only needed to die once because his sacrifice was sufficient to cover everyone’s sins, due to his vast worth. In addition, there are exceptions to the “die once” principle: there are people in the Bible whom God raised from the dead in this life, who died twice. Jesus did not die a second time for them. His one death sufficed for their salvation.

Is the author of Hebrews simply drawing an analogy? Humans die once and then experience the judgment, and, similarly, Jesus died once and will bring Christians salvation when he comes in judgment.

I will leave on the comments in case anyone wants to chime in. I should check commentaries to see how they handle this, but it is late, so I may save that for another time.

B. The Sunday school class got into a variety of issues, as it usually does. Its topic is the Trinity and the incarnation. Among the questions that were engaged: Were the church fathers wrong to try to understand God, since God cannot be comprehended? Does all this theologizing contradict having the faith of a child? Why were Christians debating about whether Jesus was fully God, when the Gospel of John says that he was? Does Sola Scriptura mean that “me and my Bible” is enough, or is it consistent with interpreting Scripture in community? In what respects can a non-believer of a religion understand that religion better than a practitioner, and in what respects does a practitioner understand it better? And why would a non-believer study and write books about a religion? How did the ancient Christians believe that Jesus, as God, could be human, since something that makes humans human, their appetites, was deemed to be selfish and sinful?

The teacher offered answers to a lot of these questions: children ask a lot of questions and try to understand and reconcile what they hear, while trusting the one who is teaching them; Augustine was not saved by his intellect, but humans are still creatures with intellect, so they should try to understand things about God; Sola Scriptura meant Scripture without Catholic teaching, not “just me and my Bible”; community can be a place of correction (“But what about this?”) and encouragement; John depicts Jesus as God, but Mark highlights Jesus’ humanity and human limitations; the teacher has studied Talmud and may know more about it than the average Jew in a synagogue, yet that average Jew in the synagogue, as a practitioner of Judaism, knows things about Judaism that he does not.

On the thorny question of how Jesus’ divinity and humanity interrelate, I did not hear an answer, but I will see what the class concludes.

A question was raised in our reading of a Robert Wilken article. Wilken noted that the church fathers, in discussing Jesus’ divinity, started with Jesus’ resurrection. That is not where most contemporary theological treatments of the incarnation and the Trinity begin. Romans 1:4 states that Jesus was declared to be Son of God through his resurrection. Was not Jesus already Son of God, before that? The teacher said that perhaps Romans 1:4 was saying that Jesus’ humanity was made to be divine, or something to that effect. I may be mangling or misunderstanding what he said there. I was thinking of asking for clarification, but I was unclear about how to formulate the question clearly.

How does Jesus’ resurrection relate to Jesus’ divinity? The standard Christian interpretation of Romans 1:4 is that the resurrection attested to the divinity that Jesus already had: it did not make Jesus divine, but showed the world that Jesus was divine. The teacher did not say that, though. I sometimes got the impression from what the teacher was saying that the church fathers were not just wrestling with how the pre-death Jesus was God-incarnate, but with how the risen Jesus was God-incarnate. The Robert Wilken article and the teacher were highlighting other ways that the resurrection was relevant to Jesus’ divinity. Jesus’ resurrection is why Jesus’ divinity matters: prayer to Jesus and the Eucharist would be pointless, if Jesus were not resurrected. Plus, saying that Jesus rose invites the question of why and how he was human in the first place, for, to die, he needed to be human.

What I especially enjoy about this teacher’s classes is the historical context that he provides. Nicea was a city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and it was Emperor Constantine’s annual resort. Many of the older Christian bishops who came to the Council there bore wounds, due to the intense persecution that Christians experienced in the third century CE at the hands of imperial Rome and locals. Legend states that Constantine humbly kissed the wounds of the bishops when he met them. The Council of Nicea produced the Apostles’ Creed, not the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed came out of the later Council of Constantinople, and it is called the “Nicene Creed” because it is based on conclusions that were reached at the Council of Nicea. Lutherans recite the Apostles’ Creed on non-Eucharistic Sundays, and the Nicene Creed on Eucharistic Sundays. This tradition goes back to the Council of Constantinople.

C. At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor was continuing his series about Acts. Specifically, the title of the series is “There’s a Place at the Table.” Past sermons in the series have affirmed that there is a place at the table for the religious, for the pagan, and for the broken. This week’s message was that there is a place at the table for the intellectual.

The pastor’s main text was Acts 17. Paul is in Athens, a highly intellectual city, and notices all of their idolatry. Intellectualism can easily degenerate into “what we have done, or what we can do.” The pastor talked a lot about idolatry. It cheapens or denigrates the image of God within us, and it replaces a real Jesus with a Santa Claus Jesus who caters to our idolatry. We also debase God’s gifts—-sex, alcohol, recreational sports—-when we abuse them or make idols of them.

Over the last few weeks, people from church have delivered testimonies, as they sit at the table with others who have delivered testimonies. When the series started, someone talked about his background in a legalistic religion; his family refused to buy clothes from the Goodwill because the clothes may have demons attached to them! The next week, someone talked about his background in Chinese paganism. The following week, a lady talked about her broken marriage and her sensitivity to rejection. This week, someone talked about being an intellectual.

How was he an intellectual? Essentially, he was curious and loved learning. He loved to read books. But he also wondered what made people tick. Although he was a nerd back when he was in high school, he hanged out with jocks and rednecks because he wondered how they approached life. He has held political office and has been all over the political spectrum: Republican, Democrat, Green. He grew up as a conservative Lutheran in a church that was anti-Catholic, but, later in life, he was curious about the Holy Spirit, so he found himself attending a charismatic Catholic church to learn more. He also enjoys solving problems. He still enjoys learning, but, as a Christian, he has concluded that politics is not where the solution lies. He also thinks that his intellectualism can get in the way, if he is not careful: for example, he struggles with praying to a God who already knows how things will turn out.

I will stop here.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Derek Leman on Isaiah 1:27-31

Derek Leman’s Daily Portion today comments on Isaiah 1:27-31. Here are his comments:

ISAIAH 1:27-31
27 Zion will be ransomed because of justice,
her penitents by righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will be ruined together,
and those who forsake Adonai will come to an end.
29 For they will be ashamed of the terebinth trees you have desired;
You will be embarrassed of the gardens you preferred.
30 For you will be like a terebinth tree, its leaf withering,
like a garden which has no water.
31 And the strong person will be like tinder from the flax,
and his handiwork a spark.
Both of them will burn together with no one to quench it.

An important new theological idea is introduced in this section, one that is not an emphasis in the writings of First Isaiah (the eighth century prophet who authored much of the material in Isaiah 1-39). That idea is the separate destinies of the righteous and the rebellious. This emphasis bears the imprint of Third Isaiah (the author of Isaiah 56-66), who has been convincingly identified as the final editor of the book of Isaiah and the creator of Isaiah chapter 1 (Jacob Stromberg, Isaiah After Exile).

Connections between Isaiah 1:27-31 and Third Isaiah are easy to detect. The clause “those who forsake Adonai” in vs. 28 shows up again in 65:11. Condemnation of worship under terebinth trees is seen again in 57:5. The practice of worshipping in sacred groves or gardens only shows up again in 65:3 and 66:17. The mention of judgment by fire and people worshiping in groves and gardens forms a literary inclusio for the entire collection of Isaiah. Inclusio is a literary device in which the beginning and end of a literary work refer to the same or similar images and topics, like bookends.

The specific bookends in the book of Isaiah are judgment by fire and idolatry in groves and gardens.
In 1:27-31 we read of Adonai’s forsakers coming to an end, being burned with no quenching. In 66:24 the terrible image of dead bodies burning without quenching concludes the entire book. The terebinths and gardens of 1:27-31 find their counterpart in 66:17 (also in 57:5 and 65:3) concerning “those who enter the gardens” and who perform sanctification rituals and eat unclean meat there.

First Isaiah expresses more of a concern for social justice whereas Third Isaiah focuses more on condemning disloyal worship practices. This last section of Isaiah chapter 1 reflects a difference in outlook from earlier sections, not only concerning the notion of separate destinies for the two groups but also in its primary complaint against the city.

The final and undeniable parallel is the horrific image of burning. “Both of them will burn together with no one to quench it,” says Isaiah 1:31. How similar this is to the end of the book of Isaiah:

“They shall go out and gaze on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me . . . their worm shall not die nor their fire be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24).

How has Isaiah chapter 1 altered the outlook from that of the original Isaiah to the viewpoint of the anonymous writer after the exile we know as Third Isaiah? The truth is more complicated even than a two-step editorial process. In between First and Third Isaiah was, of course, Second Isaiah, a hopeful prophet in Babylon who gave words of assurance to the exiles from Judah and promised a glorious return and renewal for ruined Jerusalem. But Isaiah chapter 1 seems to be the edited product of First Isaiah’s words and Third Isaiah’s arrangement and additions. The final editor of the book has assembled words of the ancient prophet and given them a new meaning by means of insertions and additions.

The message of Isaiah 1:27-31 is that God will avenge himself on the leaders of Jerusalem in order to save and restore the holy city. Only some will be saved from this coming conflagration, those who live by justice and righteousness. Others who live by rebelliousness and iniquity will meet their final doom. Those living in the holy city now are encouraged to join the faithful and to know that God will differentiate in the coming judgment. The words of Isaiah of Jerusalem have been re-preached by Third Isaiah as an introduction to a whole new way of reading the book of Isaiah. The book began as words to Jerusalem in the eighth century, morphed into a book for Judeans in exile during the time of Second Isaiah, and now is read as an all-encompassing revelation for the small-but-restored Jerusalem risen from the ashes two hundred years after Isaiah.

Ancient temples sometimes had gardens attached to them. The produce of these gardens represented the power of the gods over fertility of crops (John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament). In a scene in Assur (capital of Assyria) a carving shows a god with four streams (like the streams of Eden in Genesis 2) flowing from him and he is between two sacred trees. According to Walton, groves and gardens have been found near temples in Egypt and Mesopotamia. These sometimes featured pools and fountains, exotic plants, and crop plantings. Because of the linkage with Isaiah 65-66, it seems likely the references in Isaiah 1 also have to do with returnees from Babylon bringing some of these practices with them to Jerusalem.

Descriptions of worship amid terebinths and oaks (Isa 57:5; Hos 4:13; Jer 2:20-27; 3:6) often use imagery of sex and adultery. Some think that there were literal fertility rites practiced under the trees (cultic sex acts), but the sexual imagery may simply be a metaphor for the betrayal of God by preferring idols. Trees could function as a kind of Asherah pole, a practice alluded to many time in the Bible but whose exact details are unknown. Worshiping deities of fertility was common in the ancient world since humanity’s greatest problems (survival, progeny, fertility of soil) all revolved around ability to conceive. Israelites fell into idolatry, thinking offerings and other rites performed in groves would bring prosperity, but instead they brought total calamity.

Current Events Write-Up: Elections, the Caravan, Health Care, Odd Political Bedfellows, Whitewashing the Vietnam War

Time for this week’s Current Events Write-Up. Some of these items will be reruns, since I posted or reblogged them earlier this week.


The Federalist: “What’s Behind Educated, Suburban Women Flipping to Democrats,” by Denise C. McAllister.

McAllister’s answer to this question is not surprising, but I still like the article because it highlight things that I did not know. For example, why did more educated, suburban women vote for Mitt Romney in 2012 than for Donald Trump in 2016? Also, you hear frequently about how gerrymandering helps the Republicans. Well, it helped the Democrats in 2018!

The Nation: “Where the Blue Wave Hit a Red Wall,” by D.D. Guttenplan.

To quote the subtitle, “Progressives picked up some sweet victories, but Election Day also brought some sobering lessons.”

The Caravan: Opposing Viewpoints

The Nation: “Why the Refugee Caravan Is So Big, and What We Need to Do About It,” by Laura Carlsen.

The article details the dire straits in which people of Honduras find themselves and how the United States has contributed to their country’s problems. It is a little thin on the “What We Need to Do About It” part, but it does say that Mexico is offering the refugees’ jobs.

The Stream: “An Interview With Rev. Samuel Rodriguez on the Migrant Caravan and How Christians Should Respond,” by James Robison, and The Stream: “I’m a US Citizen Living in Honduras. Here’s What I Think About the Caravan,” by Jennifer Zilly Canales.

A point that both articles make is that most of the refugees have not taken Mexico up on its offer for asylum and jobs. The second article presents the problems in Honduras as bad, but not as dire, and it states that some people in Hondurans refuse help and want to come to the U.S. for more opportunities, not in a desperate search for asylum.

Health Care

The Federalist: “What the Press Isn’t Telling You about the Politics of Pre-existing Conditions,” by Christopher Jacobs.

One argument that this article makes is that Obamacare has its own backhanded way of turning down people with certain pre-existing conditions.

Naked Capitalism: “Former Health Insurance Executive Debunks Trump Attacks on Single Payer,” by Yves Smith.

Responds to the usual objections.

Townhall: “Big Government Will Raise Drug Costs for Medicare Patients,” by Paul Anuzis.

“Medicare patients are not allowed to benefit from discount coupons that drug manufacturers offer to increase access, and many do not have private add-on plans to help them pay for their prescriptions. For Medicare beneficiaries prescribed the above cholesterol-lowering drug, this meant that they had to pay up to $370 out-of-pocket every time they filled their prescription.”


The Nation: “When Environmentalism Meets Xenophobia,” by Gaby Del Valle.

Where early twentieth-century environmentalism overlapped with xenophobia and eugenicism.

Tomgram: Arnold Isaacs, Misremembering Vietnam. 

“The Pentagon Whitewashes a Troubling Past.”

Friday, November 9, 2018

Church Write-Up: Hebrews 9

Here are some items from last Wednesday’s LCMS Bible study. It will not be meeting again until sometime in January. But the church will probably have a Thanksgiving service and Advent services, and I will write about those.

The main text on which the pastor commented was Hebrews 9:24-28. I will post that:

24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (KJV)

A. The Greek word diatheke refers to a will or a covenant. The pastor highlighted two usages of the word in Hebrews 9. First, it is used for a will. A will becomes effective once the person dies: that is when his or her inheritance passes to the people to whom it is bequeathed. Similarly, according to Hebrews 9:15-17, the eternal inheritance is passed on to the saints after Christ has died. Christians receive what God gives to them after Jesus’ death. Second, diatheke in Hebrews 9 is used to mean a covenant. The authors of Hebrews refers to the Mosaic covenant, or agreement: God agreed to be Israel’s God, and Israel agreed to be God’s people through obedience; if Israel disobeyed, she lost the land. At the institution of the Mosaic covenant, the people and the holy things were sprinkled with the blood of animals, for without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. Moses said, “This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you” (see Exodus 24:8). Similarly, the pastor noted, Jesus at the last supper said took the cup of wine and said that it was his blood of the new testament (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 11:25).

B. Hebrews 9:23 states: “It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.” The pastor seemed to question the interpretation of “patterns” in Hebrews that states that it refers to an actual sanctuary in heaven (see Hebrews 8:5), as if the Tabernacle and Temple on earth were copies of the sanctuary in heaven. To quote the pastor’s handout: “‘Copies’ or ‘representations’ of the heavenly things—-the tabernacle and the vessels represent heavenly things—-doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a heavenly version of the tabernacle—-John tells us that Jesus’ flesh took the place of the tabernacle.” In support of his point about John, the pastor referred to John 1:14, which states that the Logos became flesh and tabernacled among us, and to Jesus’ statement in John 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The presence of God on earth is not in a building but in Jesus, and the Tabernacle is a type of Jesus himself. Indeed, the Greek word translated as “pattern” in Hebrews, tupos, can refer to a type of something to come (Romans 5:14). The pastor’s interpretation fades in and out in terms of making sense to me. It is difficult to bypass that Hebrews is speaking of something in heaven that is like the earthly sanctuary. I was thinking: “Well, if there is a Temple in heaven, are animals offered there?” Then the pastor referred to Hebrews 9:23 in saying that the things in heaven do not need the blood of animals but Jesus’ better sacrifice. Yet, it is not as if there is a literal altar in heaven on which Jesus dies and is burnt, like the sacrificial animals in the Old Testament. The Old Testament Tabernacle and Temple still express what Jesus did, from a Christian perspective.

C. The pastor tied in the other Scriptural readings to Hebrews 9:24-28. The Old Testament reading was the story of the widow of Zarephath in I Kings 17. To quote the handout, “The widow with Elijah trusts God’s word through Elijah with both the oil/flour and their lives and the death of her son.” The Gospel reading was the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12: “The widow of the Temple in Mark 12 trusts God with her well-being, giving all that she has to the LORD.” Similarly, the Jewish Christians in Hebrews are encouraged to trust God, even though persecution is tempting them to leave Christ and to return to Judaism. Not only were they tempted to return to Judaism because Judaism was a legal religion, the pastor said, but, if they were former priests and scribes, Judaism guaranteed them a job in the Temple. But they were to recognize that the new covenant was better than the old: Jesus only had to be sacrificed once, whereas the old covenant required the continual sacrifice of animals. Jesus was interceding for them before the Father, knowing what it was like to be them. And, there was the hope of an eternal inheritance. Also, like the widows, who lived each day, Christians live each day, but they do so in anticipation of Christ’s second coming. The pastor likened Jesus’ second coming in Hebrews 9:28 to how the high priest on the Day of Atonement came out of the sanctuary and pronounced the people forgiven.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Book Write-Up: Revelation and Reason in Christian Theology

Christopher C. Green and David I. Starling. Revelation and Reason in Christian Theology: Proceedings of the 2016 Theology Connect Conference. Lexham Press, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

This book addresses the question of whether reason and divine revelation are contradictory or can intersect. It is based on papers delivered by Christian scholars at the 2016 Theology Connect conference in Sydney, Australia. In this review, I will say something about each essay and occasionally offer reflections about the book as a whole.

Chapter 1: “Let There Be Light: A Meditation on Biblical Narration and Divine Self-Disclosure,” by Christopher C. Green.

An asset to this chapter is its biblical interpretations. Green offers an intertexual reading of Deuteronomy 28 with the Samson story, as well as tackles the question of why God in Genesis 1 does not pronounce the water canopy to be good. The book occasionally has these sorts of gems.

Chapter 2: “The Public Character of Revelation: Divine Speech and Finite Reason,” by Daniel J. Treier.

Treier wrestles with objections to the idea that divine revelation is primarily divine speech, asserting that divine speech is paramount, even if there are other supplementary means to revelation. He also critiques how “all truth is God’s truth” and a belief in general revelation have led to forcing secular things into a religious mold. He offers a way to appreciate them as they are, within a context that is still theistic.

Chapter 3: “The Personal and Cultural Character of Reason: Christ’s Triumph over Modern Technique,” by Daniel J. Treier.

Treier critiques “technical” reason, which is essentially autonomous reason that arrogantly seeks to systematize, homogenize, and dominate everything. Treier also offers an insightful critique of the conventional wooden method of Bible study in which application (i.e., rules) follows interpretation. He provides an alternative on page 41: “Framing the exegesis of Scripture more theologically, and the nature of theology more holistically in terms of ‘wisdom,’ helps to resist the regime of technique.”

Chapter 4: “Divine Revelation,” by William J. Abraham.

Abraham engages the problems within theological studies that the concept of divine revelation has faced, particularly the question of foundationalism: is there a basis for our acceptance of the divine revelation as true? Where Abraham seems to rest is on experiential ground: people have a religious experience that enables them to see the world in a new way. The essays in this book did not really promote classical apologetics as a way to offer an evidential or rational foundation that attests to the truth of divine revelation. Reason still plays a role in the Christian life, as far as they are concerned, for it helps people to understand the revelation, and Christians’ reasoning proceeds from the truths that are contained in the divine revelation. But people do not climb to God through their reason, as far as this book is concerned.

Chapter 5: “Ordering with Intent: Restoring Divine Order in Isaiah and Genesis,” by Caroline Batchelder.

This chapter argues that God created humans to exercise a reasonable stewardship over creation, and the Servant of Isaiah 40-55 did that through his humble promotion of mishpat. An interesting detail in this chapter is Batchelder’s reference to D.J.A. Cline’s point that Psalm 19:7-17 is interacting with Genesis 2-3, presenting the Torah as superior to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Torah makes the simple wise and enlightens the eyes, things that the Tree of Knowledge did, albeit in a negative way.

Chapter 6: “‘As to Sensible People’: Human Reason and Divine Revelation in 1 Corinthians 8-10,” by David I. Starling.

Although Paul appears to display a negative attitude towards worldly wisdom in I Corinthians 1, he appeals frequently to reason in I Corinthians.

Chapter 7: “Figural Reading within Contemporary Theological Interpretation of Scripture: Problems and Parameters,” by Chase R. Kuhn.

A question with which Kuhn wrestles is whether disunity undermines the witness of the church.

Chapter 8: “Meditation and Reason: Some Reflections on the Right Way to Happiness in God,” by Christopher R.J. Holmes.

This is an example of what I discuss above in my comments on chapter 4: reasoning from divine revelation. Atheists probably would not be convinced by this chapter. Still, Holmes does well to inquire about the telos of reason: can autonomous reason lead anywhere fruitful, fulfilling, or nourishing?

Chapter 9: “A Mysterious Relationship? Herman Bavinck on Revelation and Reason,” by Bruce R. Pass.

Pass highlights the importance of mystery, the aspects of Christian theism that are beyond human understanding. Mystery humbles human beings and establishes that God is above them. This is a point that is made more than once in this book: this book is pro-reason, yet it asserts that Christianity humbles and chastens human reason. Atheists would probably consider this a cop-out. I would also ask about non-Christian religions that have their share of mystery and paradox.

Chapter 10: “Discipleship on the Level of Thought: The Case of Karl Barth’s Critique of the Religion of Revelation,” by Chris Swann.

Barth is often characterized as one who thinks that God does all of the work in revealing Godself to humans, yet Barth saw some place for reason. And this is probably unavoidable, since reason is part of who humans are. Barth also did not want religion to become paramount, as that would contribute to human pride and pretense.

Chapter 11: “Revelation and Reason: A Christological Reflection,” by John McClean.

According to McClean, the Chalcedonian conception of Christ as fully human and fully divine informs the relationship between divine revelation and reason. This chapter makes more sense as I peruse it again. It is important that Christ had a human mind that was illumined by the Spirit, McClean seems to argue, because that is related to humanity’s ability to receive revelation. To quote from pages 198-199: “As Christ knows God as a man, he knows according to reason, he knows as the human capacity of knowing and understanding is sanctified and put to its full and proper end.”

Chapter 12: “Free Speech: Scripture in the Context of Divine Simplicity and Divine Freedom,” by Steven J. Duby.

Does God’s use of human speech somehow limit God? No, Duby answers. God communicates God’s attributes, but our knowledge of God remains limited. More than one essay in this book makes that point: that revelation enables people to apprehend but not comprehend God. Duby maintains that the concept of divine simplicity addresses this issue. He lucidly explained what divine simplicity is, but its relationship to revelation could have been more clearly articulated.

Chapter 13: “Christ in Creation: Shortcut to Liberalism or a Neglected Truth?”, by Andrew Moody.

Moody engages the idea that creation reveals Christ, the divine Logos. On the one hand, this seems rather obvious. On the other hand, however, it is rather controversial, since so many theologians pit God’s revelation through the incarnation against general or natural revelation, as if relying on the latter is subjective and detracts from or is not as clear as the former. Moody engages this criticism and attempts to offer a way forward. The essay perhaps would have been better had it offered examples of how nature reveals Christ.

Chapter 14: “Revelation, Sola Scriptura, and Regenerate Human Reason,” by Mark D. Thompson.

Divine speech is significant, Thompson argues, for the persons of the Trinity speak to each other, and Jesus upholds the cosmos by his word. Divine speech also has an impact on humans, as Thompson and other essays in this book argue. Divine speech, in this model, seems to be eternal, and yet Thompson also depicts God as taking on the tools of limited, creaturely, historically-conditioned speech to communicate, while enabling people of different backgrounds to understand. That is somewhat paradoxical and was not fleshed out that much in this chapter: is divine speech different from human speech and, if so, how? Thompson offered a sensible account of how the Old Testament sets the stage for Christ.

The book has an occasional biblical gem and offers thoughtful insights. It is sometimes elliptical, yet sometimes its points are rather obvious; more also could have been fleshed out. One can still read this book and be edified by its points, however, gaining an appreciation of the role of reason in the Christian life.

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

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Nation: Why the Refugee Caravan Is So Big—and What We Need to Do About It

The Nation: Why the Refugee Caravan Is So Big—and What We Need to Do About It

Richard Baxter on Navigating Friendships

I have felt this way. And I have been this way!

“Thy friends here have been thy delight, and have they not also been thy vexation and grief? They are gracious, and are they not also sinful? They are kind, and are they not soon displeased? They are humble, but, alas, how proud also! Their graces are sweet, and their gifts helpful; but are not their corruptions bitter, and their imperfections hurtful? And art thou so loath to go from them to thy God?”

From Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest.

Church Write-Up: Grace-Filled SoM?; New Class on Incarnation; Cornelius Lacking

Time for this week’s Church Write-Up about last Sunday’s services.

A. At the LCMS church, the pastor’s sermon was about the beatitudes in Matthew 5. He was offering a spiritualized, grace-oriented interpretation of them. Those who come to God with nothing in their hands, mourning over their sins and hungering and thirsting for righteousness will be redeemed. He said that the word for “blessed” in the beatitudes should be understood as redeemed.

The pastor said where he got the “redeemed” interpretation of makarios last Wednesday, at the adult Bible study, but I forget what he said. Looking at the lexica on my BibleWorks and at the LSJ, I do not see “redeemed” as a definition of makarios, but I do see “blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged recipient of divine favor.” Some of that may fit with what the pastor is talking about.

I understand elements of the sermon, but not entirely what the pastor was getting at. Was he saying that the Sermon on the Mount is about how to get saved? Is it about how the redeemed live in God’s Kingdom? Last Wednesday, he was saying that the sermon is about discipleship, since Jesus is teaching his disciples, who were already saved.

Another point that the pastor made last Wednesday is that the Sermon on the Mount is not about what Christians have to do, but what they get to be as participants in God’s Kingdom. They get to be complete in their righteousness. Perhaps he would also say that they get to be pure in heart, as God purifies them.

Questions persist in my mind. Why the emphasis on Gehenna in the sermon? Are redeemed believers still supposed to worry about hell? Are being merciful, being pure in heart, and being persecuted for righteousness’ sake also required for salvation, as being poor in spirit, mourning over sin, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness are? Some of that may work in the pastor’s scenario. A person comes to God as a beggar in need of mercy, and that person is likely to show mercy to somebody else. A person is pure in heart, not in the sense of being perfect, but in intent, as he or she approaching God in humility.

I was reading some commentaries. The Hermeneia one on Matthew 1-7 had a spiritualized interpretation of the beatitudes, as the pastor did. The Word Biblical Commentary, by contrast, had a more physical interpretation. The poor in spirit are also economically poor, mourning at their own plight and the plight of others. They hunger and thirst for God’s justice.

B. The LCMS church started a new Sunday school class. It will last through the month of November. The person teaching it is the professor who taught about patristic interpretations of John from January to March. The subject of this class is the Trinity and the incarnation. How did the early Christians, monotheistic Jews, come to conclude that Jesus was God?

The teacher talked about Pliny the Younger. As a Roman governor of Bithynia, which is by the Black Sea, Pliny is writing to Emperor Trajan about Christians, since Pliny recently executed some of them for refusing to worship the Roman gods; the Romans worshiped many gods to hedge their bets and did not want to offend any of them. This occurs in the early 110s CE. The teacher said this is the first time that we see an outside observer differentiating Christians from Jews. Pliny says that the Christians meet on a fixed day before dawn, and the teacher said this was Sunday, and that they pray to Christ as to a god. See here for Pliny’s letter and Trajan’s response.

Someone asked if Pliny was a scholar, and the teacher replied that most Roman governors were well-read. The teacher also noted that Pliny’s uncle was Pliny the Elder, a scholar. As an admiral, Pliny the Elder rode a boat to Pompeii to rescue the Roman fleet and was killed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Another student questioned the wisdom of trying to figure out the Trinity and the incarnation. She quoted Deuteronomy 29:29: ” The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (KJV). If God could be understood, she said, then God is no better than we are.

The teacher replied that a lot of revelation took place after the time of Deuteronomy: God became incarnate, after all. While we will never fully understand God, perhaps we can make progress in understanding more about God.

The teacher also touched on the marginalization of the Spirit in the New Testament and early Christianity. Often, the Father and the Son are mentioned, while the Holy Spirit is not. After Nicea, there was a greater attempt to understand the Holy Spirit, but, before then, Christians spent their energy on trying to understand the Son. The Armstrongite answer is that early Christianity was binitarian, not Trinitarian. The teacher said that the reason Jesus was addressed first was that Jesus was considered the concrete revelation of God, whereas the Spirit was seen as more ephemeral. The teacher also noted that there are still Trinitarian formulas in the New Testament, such as baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

C. At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor spoke about Acts 10, the story of the centurion Cornelius and the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church. In Acts 10:4, an angel tells Cornelius, “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God” (KJV). The pastor denied that God was impressed by Cornelius’ righteousness, saying that we are all sinners and God shows us grace. According to the pastor, God was responding to Cornelius’ search for God, under the influence of God’s Spirit. Cornelius’ devotion was incomplete. He could worship the God of Israel as his patron deity, yet his absolute allegiance, as a Roman centurion, was to the emperor. After becoming a Christian, he could still protect the emperor, but his ultimate allegiance was to Christ.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Current Events Write-Up: 11/3/2018

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

The Economy

The Federalist: “When Attacking the Federal Reserve, Trump Actually Attacks Anyone with Savings,” by Christopher Jacobs.

Conventional Ron-Paulite wisdom is that an easy money supply leads to inflation. Christopher Jacobs provides evidence that this is happening. “Hitler’s Economics,” by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

Hitler and Keynes.

Health Care

The Federalist: “How an Obscure Regulatory Change Could Transform American Health Insurance,” by Christopher Jacobs.

Can’t say I understood this, but I am saving it for future reference. The outcome of this policy would be portable health insurance. It reminds me somewhat of John McCain’s 2008 plan, and the plan that Republicans were floating during George W. Bush’s second term.

Townhall: “Supreme Court Decision Will Mean Higher Pharmaceutical Prices,” by Andrew Wilford.

A tax that suppresses supply and competition.


Townhall: “The True History of Millstone Babies,” by Ann Coulter.

I do not endorse Ann Coulter’s snark, but she does have a way of crystallizing issues. Here, she challenges the idea that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees citizenship to babies born to illegal immigrants in the United States.

The Federalist: “Here’s the Key Clause in the Birthright Citizenship Debate, Briefly Explained,” by Elad Hakim.

Basically a polite, more detailed version of the Ann Coulter piece.


Politico: “The Democrats’ Culture Divide,” by David Freedlander.

Here’s the subtitle: “Energized progressives are thrilled with their momentum in the Trump era. But the party’s blue-collar base might not want what the new left is delivering.” The article was a little contradictory: it said that the rich progressives support socially democratic candidates, yet they are reluctant to pay more taxes for government health insurance. The article also presented a disturbing detail about Ocasio-Cortez’s opposition to an affordable housing measure.

The Federalist: “Steve King Isn’t a Nazi, but He Still Shouldn’t Be Re-elected,” by Lyman Stone.

Where Stone thinks Steve King was right, where Stone thinks Steve King was wrong, and where Stone thinks Steve King was just plain tacky.


The Federalist: “No, Pence Did Not Invite a Messianic Jew to Pray at Pittsburgh,” by Chad Felix Greene. 

Presents more nuance to the situation. What I got out of the article was: No, that’s not what happened, but so what if it did? I oppose demonizing Messianic Jews. At the same time, that may not have been an appropriate way to respond to the Pittsburgh tragedy.

“Liberals Seek Ban on Metaphors in Wake of Arizona Shooting,” by Ann Coulter.

This is actually an old column, dated to January 12, 2011. It responds to those who blamed the Arizona shooting on Palin putting bulls-eyes on politicians’ districts. This column came to mind due to the recent attempts to blame Donald Trump for tragedies.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Book Write-Up: The Journey of Modern Theology, by Roger Olson

Roger E. Olson. The Journey of Modern Theology: From Reconstruction to Deconstruction. IVP Academic, 2013. See here to purchase the book.

Roger E. Olson has a Ph.D. from Rice University and teaches theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University.

As the title indicates, this book is about modern theology. It goes from the challenges that modernity posed to faith, as Newton conceived of a cosmos that was like a machine, leading scientists to seek natural causes and to exclude the possibility of supernatural intervention. It goes through Kant and Hume, Hegel, realists, romanticists, existentialists, Schleiermacher, Ritschl, Troelsch, Catholic modernists and conservatives, conservative Protestants such as Hodge and Warfield, Isaak August Dorner and Horace Bushnell (Orthodox theologians), Barth, Bultmann, Reinhold Niebuhr, Tillich, Process Theology, Moltmann and Pannenberg, liberation theologians such as Cone and Gutierrez, Rahner, Kung, von Balthasar, evangelical theologians such as Carl Henry and Stanley Grenz, and theologians who respond positively to secularism, such as Bonhoeffer and Harvey Cox. The final chapter is about postmodern and postliberal theologians, including Hauerwas, William Placher, and John Caputo. The book chronicles the variety of ways in which theologians sought to respond to modernity and postmodernity: through an emphasis on personal religious experience so as to insulate religion from the acids of modern and postmodern challenges, or through an emphasis on ethics or the ethical community that God is creating.

The book is a little over 700 pages. It explains the thoughts of these theologians and the others whom it profiles in a lucid manner, while also presenting other theologians’ critiques and offering critiques of its own. Olson also provides biographical background on the theologians, such that one gets to know them better as people. Occasionally, Olson offers personal anecdotes about his interactions with some of them. I remember when I was wrestling with a theological book, and a professor recommended that I read the section of William Placher’s History of Christian Theology about that theologian, since Placher summarized theologians’ thought in a concise and lucid manner. I would definitely say the same about Olson’s Journey of Modern Theology, but I would add that Olson covers more territory and goes deeper. This book’s breadth does not sacrifice its depth, as is the case with some books, for Olson really focuses on the theologians, and his narrative effectively situates them within the trends and developments of modern theology.

Here are some reactions, thoughts, and questions that I have:

A. Newton, of course, presented the cosmos as machine-like, and Occam’s razor led people to search for natural causes rather than supernatural causes. Prior to this, Olson narrates, Christians believed that God had a more hands-on approach to running the cosmos. I wonder, though, why modernism necessarily precludes the possibility of miracles. Sure, the cosmos runs a certain way, but why can’t God make interruptions in that order, every now and then?

B. Kant was a significant influence on modern theology. Kant’s view was that we can only know things as they appear, not as they truly are, so his religious focus was more on ethics rather than metaphysics. Is Kant’s view that we cannot know God as God truly is really that new, though? Would not Aquinas would say the same thing: that God is above us and condescends to our level to interact with us? We do not completely know God in God’s essence, and God is described in human terms to make God a little more comprehensible to us. Perhaps the answer to my question is that Aquinas was more optimistic about how much we can know about God than Kant was.

C. Olson’s discussion of Lessing and Troelsch was helpful. Lessing had a ditch, which said that we cannot draw universal truths from history. Olson said Lessing’s rationale for this was that there is so much that we do not know about history, and what we “know” changes. Troelsch highlighted that Christianity was influenced by its culture. I am not of the caliber of Troelsch, but I have had similar thoughts: so much of the Bible reflects its cultural surroundings and mindsets, so how can we derive anything universal from it? I gained some respect for Bultmann’s demythologization project in reading this book. I remember trying to explain Bultmann to a Christian student, and he mocked demythologization as an attempt to keep Christianity up with the times, to make it trendy. The thing is, our cosmology today is not entirely the same as the cosmology of the ancients, so Bultmann’s attempt to seek a universal or existential truth in the Bible behind the mythological layers is understandable.

D. Olson says that John Locke downplayed miracles, but I recall learning in a Christianity class that Locke saw Jesus’ miracles as attesting to the truth of Christianity. I am not saying that Olson is wrong, since he knows more than I do, but I wonder how to square what he said with what I learned in that class.

E. Olson addresses questions that readers may have. Did such-and-such a theologian believe that Jesus actually and literally rose from the dead? Did such-and-such a liberation theologian see violent revolution as a viable option?

F. In discussing liberation theology, Olson has a paragraph about poverty in Latin America, and it effectively conveyed the dire situation in which many people there find themselves.

G. Rahner is often characterized as one who believes in the natural human ability to know God, but Olson shows that the supernatural plays a significant role in enlightening people, in Rahner’s thought.

H. Some of the critiques that Olson highlights seem rather obvious. For example, Carl Henry defined rationality more in terms of inner consistency than a solid foundational basis (i.e., evidence), and the response to that was, “Well, is not Buddhism internally consistent? Why is it false while Christianity is true?” My suspicion is, though, that Henry anticipated that objection and may even have responded to it. Hauerwas focused on communities shaped by the Gospel rather than foundationalism, and an objection to that was, “What truth would check the community from straying?” Olson seemed to consider that objection to be unfair, but I think it raises a valid question. Is there anything other than the desires of the community that would be authoritative enough to keep the community in check?

It is hard for me to do justice to this book in a review, since it covers so much territory. I recommend it, as an introductory textbook for students and for people who was to learn about modern theology. This book provides a roadmap for those who want to go deeper, but, in many cases, one can also get a sense in reading this book that he or she is understanding the theologians’ contributions, as well as the rationale for them.

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

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