Monday, December 30, 2019

Book Write-Up: Why Not Victory?, by Barry Goldwater

Barry M. Goldwater. Why Not Victory?: A Fresh Look at American Foreign Policy. McGraw-Hill, 1962. See here to buy the book.

Barry Goldwater was a U.S. Senator from Arizona and ran for President in 1964. He was a renowned figure in the American conservative movement. Why Not Victory?, published in 1962, was Goldwater’s defense of a tough American stance against expansionist Communism.

Here are some thoughts.

A. What did Goldwater think that the U.S. should do against Communism? He wanted it to go beyond mere containment, and he believed that all nations of the world should be constitutional republics. That does not mean that he supported the U.S. declaring war on the Soviet Union: he expressly denies that he supports that kind of move. Warfare can occur on a number of fronts: propaganda, economic, and psychological, in short, trying to convince nations that freedom is preferable to Communism. In a number of cases, Goldwater maintains that avoiding certain policies can contribute to victory. He opposes the U.S. deferring to the U.N., pursuing disarmament, and voting to admit Red China to the U.N. For Goldwater, the prism through which the U.S. evaluates its stance towards nations (i.e., South Africa, Algerian independence) should be based primarily on their significance in the Cold War. Goldwater also believes, though, that there are things that the U.S. can actively do against Communism. It can support freedom fighters in Communist countries. It can threaten Communist countries if they seek to be aggressive against other nations. It can enforce the Monroe Doctrine against Communism in Cuba. Goldwater at one point states that the U.S. could have gone in and knocked down the Berlin Wall when it was being set up.

B. A fear during the Cold War was that a belligerent policy on the part of the U.S. could spark a nuclear war. Goldwater argues that people should be willing to die for freedom, but he also doubts that nuclear war will come about as a result of a tough U.S. policy. The U.S. is militarily superior to the U.S.S.R. When it has been tough, as when it threatened Red China not to invade Quemoy and Matsu, Red China backed down. Goldwater actually says that the U.S. compromising its military superiority could lead to nuclear war, perhaps because it could erase a deterrent, make the U.S. an easier target, and cripple the U.S. from defending itself in a war.

C. Related to (B.), while Goldwater thinks that the U.S. can proceed with a firm hand on account of its military superiority, he does not believe that the U.S. should become complacent. Communism is expanding throughout the world, gaining more territory, influence, and resources as a result. The U.S. also needs to take heed not to give up its nuclear superiority amidst calls for disarmament. Not only would the Soviets fail to abide by disarmament treaties, but, even if both sides gave up their nuclear weapons, that would put the U.S. at a disadvantage. The Soviets outnumber the U.S. in population and thus would likely win a conventional war, so nuclear weaponry is what puts the U.S. in the game.

D. Goldwater is critical of the U.N. but, unlike the John Birch Society, his main concern is not that the U.N. could lead to a one-world government. Rather, he thinks that the U.S. should accept its stance and responsibility as the safeguard of freedom rather than deferring to a lot of nations that may not appreciate that concept. At the same time, in the chapter on the World Court, Goldwater does express concern about U.S. sovereignty. He supports bills that affirm that the World Court cannot undermine American laws, against those who support subordinating the U.S. to the World Court. He also speaks against other institutions that he believes compromise American sovereignty, such as GATT, which later led to the World Trade Organization. While Goldwater supports U.S. sovereignty, other countries' sovereignty seems to take second place, in his estimation, to American interests and anti-Communism. He criticizes Castro for undermining U.S. business interests in Cuba, implying that Goldwater has no problem with the U.S. being in other countries. Moreover, while Goldwater speaks in favor of self-government, he probably would not be happy if people were to vote Communists into power.

E. The will of the people in a country still seems to play some role in Goldwater’s stance. In arguing that the U.S. should get rid of Castro, he refers to the time when the U.S. had the opportunity to rid Cuba of Spain’s oppressive presence. The implication is that the Cuban people wanted the U.S. to intervene then, and they probably did so again in the 1960’s. A complicated question, though, is how one can discern what the people want. Goldwater himself acknowledges that this can be complicated, for, just because people make a lot of noise, that does not mean that they speak for most of the people of a given country. Here, Goldwater is speaking against those whom he thinks are Communist agitators.

This is an eloquent and intelligent book, even though Goldwater acknowledges that ghost writers helped him put it together, since he was busy in the U.S. Senate! As of late, I have gravitated more towards reading anti-war conservatives, so some of what Goldwater said was a turn-off to me. Yet, he was not exactly trigger-happy in this book but advocated a foreign policy that was tough and firm but not entirely belligerent and provocative.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Church Write-Up: The Talking Christmas Tree

At church this morning, we had “Lessons in Carols,” but there was a children’s message in the middle of that. During that, the Christmas tree was talking to us about how she enjoyed being in church learning about Jesus. Had she not been cut down and brought to church, she would be living hundreds of years, but she would not know Jesus and would thus be missing out. The youth pastor derived from this the lesson that we must die (spiritually) in order to live.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Church Write-Up (Catch-Up): Advent and Christmas 2019

This is a catch-up Church Write-Up, covering last week’s Advent service, last Sunday’s service, and this morning’s Christmas service.

A. In his Advent sermon, the pastor made a point about Malachi 4:2(3:20): “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall” (KJV). Many commentators say that this passage is referring to an ancient conception of the sun, which held that the sun was carried on the back of an eagle, who, of course, had wings. The pastor disagrees with this interpretation. The pastor notes that the Hebrew word translated as “wings” is also used for the edge of one’s garments (see Numbers 15:38; Deuteronomy 22:12; 23:1; 27:20; Ruth 3:9; I Samuel 15:27; 24:5-6, 12). The pastor applies this to the edge of Jesus’s garments bringing forth healing, as it did for the woman with the emission of blood who touched it (Matthew 9:20ff; Mark 5:25ff; Luke 8:43ff; see also Matthew 14:34-36; Mark 6:56).

B. At last Sunday’s church service, the pastor opened with a story about his brother. When the pastor was young, his brother left a terse, unclear note and left. Those were the days before the Internet, so it was easier for people to fall off the grid, since there was little if any way to track them. The pastor’s parents would still get the brother presents every Christmas, in hope that the brother would return. But, year after year, the brother did not come home. Years of unopened presents accumulated. One day, through a mutual acquaintance, the pastor’s parents learned that the brother was working in Texas, and they contacted him. The brother came home that Christmas, and it was an enjoyable reunion.

C. This morning, the pastor said that the Iowa caucus will be in January, and politicians will be verbose in making their promises. The same was true in ancient times, as well, particularly in ancient Greece. There, constituents would hassle politicians, asking the politicians to keep their promises. In Greek, what they said was the same as “Lord, have mercy.” The pastor also talked about how the Hebrew word for “word,” dabar, is powerful: when God speaks, it is done. So let it be spoken, so let it be done, to paraphrase Yul Brynner in the Ten Commandments. God’s word became flesh in the person of Jesus, and Jesus has retained the flesh that he assumed even after his death and resurrection. God’s word, or declaration, was that, in Jesus, death and sin would be defeated. We can have hope in God’s promise.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Battle for the Beginning, by John MacArthur

John MacArthur. The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution, and the Bible. Nelson, 2012. See here to buy the book.

Not surprisingly, this book holds to a young earth creationist, literal-historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

Here are some thoughts and observations about the book:

A. An argument that John MacArthur revisits more than once is that the six days of creation must be literal days because, if they were long eras, implausibility would ensue in the account. For example, God created plants on Day 3 and insects on Day 6. Plants depend on insects for pollination, so it is implausible to believe that plants existed for millions of years before insects came along and pollinated them. For MacArthur, it is more plausible to believe that Day 3 and Day 6 were literal 24-hour days, for, in that case, the plants would not have to wait a long time to be pollinated. They only waited a few days.

B. MacArthur argues that Genesis 1-3 cannot be reconciled with macroevolution. One argument that he makes for this is that Genesis 2:1-3 affirms that God finished God’s work of creation on the sixth day, then rested. If Genesis 1-3 were affirming macroevolution, MacArthur argues, creation would not have been completed on Day 6 but would have continued afterwards, as animals became more complex and evolved into new species. This argument makes a degree of sense. Genesis 1 seems to be trying to explain how the natural world that the Israelites knew came to be, and this world included aspects of their everyday life, such as cattle. Genesis 1 may very well be saying that God made the creation complete from the outset. Where MacArthur’s argument makes less sense is that, even in his scenario, change and development occurred after creation, for MacArthur acknowledges the existence of microevolution.

C. Overall, though, MacArthur seems to believe that God made all of the species that exist today in Genesis 1. He talks about different animals, with interesting and strange characteristics, and he maintains that they reflect an intelligent and creative designer rather than evolution. For MacArthur, that design had to have occurred in Genesis 1. But there are problems with this approach. Even Ken Ham does not believe that God created every single specie in Genesis 1, but rather that God created kinds, and different species then evolved from those kinds. Could every single specie fit on Noah’s Ark?

D. MacArthur argues that Genesis 1-3 should be taken as history, because why would we accept the stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as historical, but not the creation accounts? This is a good question. One response could be that Genesis 1 is poetic, whereas the stories about the patriarchs are narratives, but another idea was swimming in my mind. Perhaps Genesis 1 originally was part of a temple liturgy, as John Walton has implied, and it later came to be deemed to be historical, which was why it was attached to historical narratives. Originally, it may not have been deemed historical, but it came to be.

E. MacArthur observes that God in Genesis 1 created light before making the sun, moon, and stars. The point, he seemed to suggest, is that the world was cold and dark before God created the light. I thought about an argument I heard that Genesis 1 is highlighting that God is the source of the light in order to deny that the heavenly bodies were initially the source of it, as a polemic against pagan worship of the heavenly bodies. MacArthur does not entertain this argument, but what he was saying reminded me of it. The problem with such an argument, in terms of MacArthur’s literal-historical approach, is that it implies that the biblical author made something up to respond to paganism as opposed to relaying what happened. I guess you could say, though, that God at creation foresaw that pagans would worship heavenly bodies and decided to polemicize against that by creating the light before the heavenly bodies. On one issue, MacArthur believes that Genesis 1 is polemicizing against paganism: Genesis 1:21 states that God created seamonsters, who were deemed to be agents of chaos; Genesis 1:21, in that case, is saying that the seamonsters were under God’s control.

F. At times, MacArthur tries to show that Genesis 1-3 is scientifically plausible. He examines different scientific ideas about the origins of the moon and contends that, on a scientific level, they make little sense. He argues that God creating the woman from man anticipates genetics, for male chromosomes (XY) contains the potential for the child to be male or female, whereas female chromosomes (XX) only allow the child to be male. He contends that the cosmos had to have a beginning, and thus an originator, because otherwise it would have run out of energy by now. He doubts that a beautiful order could have statistically arisen from randomness over millions of years. He attempts to reconcile young-earth creationism with the apparent old age of the earth by saying that God created things in an already mature state, rather than young at the outset. He asserts that catastrophism, such as that of the biblical Flood, could have created the geologic strata and fossils, for catastrophic events (i.e., Mount St. Helens) do that sort of thing. MacArthur draws from young earth creation scientists, with whatever strengths and weaknesses their analysis yields. Some of what MacArthur says may be plausible, but scientists who accept evolution will undoubtedly look at what he says and find it to be incomplete in accounting for data and inconsistent with the evidence.

G. As was stated in (C.), MacArthur describes a variety of interesting animals. Essentially, he doubts that they could have originated as a result of evolution. They are too complex, but they also seem to betray a sense of humor on the part of a creator. They evoke wonder. Theoretically, perhaps, such animals could have originated as a result of evolution, for a lot of unusual characteristics can result from species’ attempts to survive. Still, it is tempting to see them as the product of a creator, who has an ironic creativity.

H. MacArthur attempts to harmonize Jesus’s justification for working on the Sabbath—-that the Father works and Jesus works (John 5:17)—-with God resting on the Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3. Essentially, MacArthur argues that God specifically rested from creation on the seventh day, but that does not mean that God rested from other kinds of work (i.e., providence, sustaining the cosmos, etc.). That could be, but then the question would be why God forbids the Israelites to do any manner of work on the Sabbath.

I. MacArthur states that the fall of Lucifer had to occur sometime between Genesis 1 and Genesis 3, rather than before Genesis 1. His reason is that God in Genesis 1:31 sees that creation is very good, and MacArthur doubts that would have been the case if the evil Satan were around at that point. Satan, for MacArthur, had to originate after God pronounced the creation to be very good. Perhaps, but I think that MacArthur may be overly nit-picky here. God could have regarded his work of creation as good, even if Satan had fallen before God undertook the task of creation.

J. MacArthur engages the question of why Eve was not surprised that the serpent could talk. He says Eve was exploring creation at that point, and it was all new to her, anyway, so she was not surprised to find an animal that could talk.

Like other MacArthur books, this one was a pleasure to read. MacArthur knows how to write in an engaging manner, to explain Scripture, and to draw homiletical lessons from the biblical text. He also engages other thinkers, such as old earth creationist and scientist Hugh Ross. This book did not have as much depth as other MacArthur books I have read—-explaining Scriptural details, addressing questions—-but it did have some of that.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Book Write-Up: All the Presidents’ Bankers, by Nomi Prins

Nomi Prins. All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power. Nation Books, 2014. See here to purchase the book.

Nomi Prins is a former Wall Street executive. Her writings have appeared in such publications as The Nation and Mother Jones, which are anti-establishment left-wing periodicals, but also in mainstream sources such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Fortune.

This book is about the influence of bankers from the Presidential administration of Theodore Roosevelt to that of Barack Obama. I decided to read this book as a check on right-wing John Bircher material that I have read. John Birchers believe that the international bankers are conspiring to create a one-world socialistic government. Among the people they criticize are David Rockefeller, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. All of these are featured in Prins’s book, only she writes from the perspective of the anti-establishment left, whereas John Birchers form part of the anti-establishment right.

How did the two compare? Here are some items, based on my impressions:

—-John Birchers criticize the Federal Reserve system and President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as corrupt ways to pad the pockets of the rich and well-connected. G. Edward Griffin, who has a Bircher background, argues that the conflict between Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan was solely a matter of show. Nomi Prins, in these areas at least, tends to accept the standard historical narrative. In her telling, the Federal Reserve system was established to redress the problem of bank panics, the conflict between Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan was real, and the wealthy did consider FDR a traitor to his class on account of his New Deal and attempts to reign in Wall Street. This is not to suggest that Prins always embraces the standard narrative, though. For example, she argues that Dodd-Frank was all for show and fails to curb banks.

—-John Birchers essentially believe that the international bankers are left-wing in that they desire a one-world socialistic government. Prins, by contrast, contends that international bankers have had right-wing ideas. David Rockefeller opposed Richard Nixon’s wage and price controls, acts of government control of the economy that many right-wingers criticized. The bankers during the 1970’s and 1980’s supported deregulation of the banking industry so that they could compete more effectively on an international scale. David Rockefeller also supported the existence, maintenance, and spread of democratic capitalism because democratic capitalist countries allowed the bankers to have more influence and to make more money. Whereas G. Edward Griffin argues that the Federal Reserve pursues inflationary policy, Prins contends that the bankers’ desire has been to restrain inflation. Prins maintains that the bankers and the IMF pressure Third World countries to adopt austerity policies, whereas Griffin holds that they prop up socialist and Communist dictatorships.

—-At the same time, to nuance the above two items, Prins also argues that the bankers prior to the Reagan era at least had a social conscience. Prominent bankers endorsed the Glass-Steagall Act under FDR in order to combat the reckless speculation that had led to economic disaster. The Rockefellers and other elite families felt a need to uphold their family name and thus initiated philanthropic projects. Whereas G. Edward Griffin contends that the international bankers liked war because that allowed them to lend to both sides and make money off the interest, Prins refers to bankers who opposed war and endorsed disarmament, since war could disrupt their economic interests. (John Birchers, of course, would be on board with her about bankers favoring disarmament, since that would coincide with their claim that the international bankers are seeking to create a one-world government). By contrast, Prins contends that, with the Reagan era, the bankers were largely focused on their personal and individual prosperity.

—-Another area of nuance, in Prins’s telling, is that the bankers took different positions. There were bankers who supported the tax cuts of JFK, LBJ, and Reagan, but there was also a concern that tax cuts could be inflationary, especially in the 1970’s. Bankers were concerned about inflation, yet there were Wall Street interests who saw Paul Volker’s high interest rates as too draconian in their attempts to squeeze out the last drop of inflation.

—-John Birchers tend to treat the international bankers and Presidents as part of a conspiracy. You will find some nuance from right-wing conspiracy theorists, though, since some allege that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated because he challenged the banking establishment. Prins presents a more complex picture. In her telling, some Presidents were closer to the bankers than others: Nixon and Reagan, for example, were distant from the Eastern establishment banking interests. At the same time, even Presidents who may not have been close to bankers could pursue their interests, as Reagan did, heavily. President Kennedy was criticized by banking interests because he sought to tax more heavily the business that they did abroad. Overall, though, Prins argues that Presidents have largely been beholden to the banking interests, since Presidents rely on Wall Street for political contributions. This goes for both Republicans and Democrats.

Who is right: the John Birchers or Nomi Prins? Well, both draw from primary sources about what people said and did. John Birchers may say that some positions are for show and do not reflect the bankers’ actual positions. But they themselves draw from what the bankers, the CFR, and the TC say when they argue that these interests support Communism or a one-world government. Why is some polite remark that David Rockefeller makes towards Communist China reflective of his position, whereas the data that Prins amasses are not? Both are probably reflective, on some level. That said, the John Birchers and Prins each highlights things that the other does not. (To her credit, though, Griffins’ book is cited by Prins, since she uses it as a secondary source that engages primary source information.) The John Birchers can point to examples of bankers’ support for Communists, whereas Prins can cite data about their support for democratic capitalism and opposition to Communism. The bankers may not care about whom they do business with, since their goal is to make money. Moreover, the Trilateral Commission may not have supported Communism, per se, but recognized that the West needed to find some way to co-exist with Communist countries and interact with them as established powers in their own right.

Some knowledge of economics can help a person with this book, which is why I struggled with parts of it. In addition, the narrative was useful and informative, but the book is not as juicy as one might expect from reading the cover and the summary.

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Church Write-Up: The Marginalized and the Powerful

Some points from church this morning:

A. Shepherds were marginalized in first century Palestine. They lived and worked outside of towns, so they were not privy to the latest news. They smelled bad because they were around sheep all day and night. Yet, angels appeared to them in Luke 2 to announce the birth of Christ. They became witnesses, telling others about the angelic visitation and the birth of the Messiah. The pastor told a personal story. When he was a child, his mother had a Hannah-complex and thought that she should dedicate one of her children to God. She dedicated the pastor, but, as a child, the pastor did not want to get up in front of everyone and tell people how to live their lives. The joy that he experienced in Christ, however, transformed him, like it did the marginalized shepherds, and he became one who spreads the good news.

B. Herod the Great was insecure. He called himself “the Great.” He was an Edomite, and Edomites had a history of conflict with Israel, as is seen in the Old Testament. He killed some of his wives and children because he saw them as a threat. We, too, are insecure in that there are places in our lives that we hope God does not probe or dig up.

C. God honors the marginalized to show that he is inclusive: he welcomes all to place their faith in him. God’s debasing of the power structure in Israel may have foreshadowed the fall of the Old Covenant, with its institutions of priesthood and cult. With the coming of Christ, it had served its purpose.

Announcement: My work schedule over the next few weeks will be hectic. Consequently, depending on how tired I am after I get home, my Church Write-Ups may have to wait.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Church Write-Up: Zechariah 9, the King, and Light

At this morning’s Advent service, the pastor preached about Zechariah 9. Zechariah 9 predicts a battle and that the king will enter into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.

The promise of a king resonated with Zechariah’s audience, for that was a time when Judah lacked a Davidic king. Instead, she lacked political autonomy and was ruled by Persia, and the closest she had to a Davidic king was her governor, Zerubabbel, who was a descendant of King David. The pastor, like many Christians, interpreted the king of Zechariah 9:9 as the Messiah, Jesus. The pastor applied Zechariah 9’s reference to battle to Jesus’s triumph over sin, death, and the devil at his crucifixion and resurrection.

But Zechariah 9 also talks about light. God’s arrow shall go forth like lightning (v. 14), and the Israelites shall shine like jewels of a crown on God’s land. The pastor said that the light that Christians shine is not their own but the light of Christ. They shine forth love and forgiveness towards others, but, in a sense, God is forgiving those people through the Christians. The Christians also testify that Christ has defeated sin, death, and the devil, when the world believes those are all there is.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Book Write-Up: Witness, by Whittaker Chambers

Whittaker Chambers. Witness. Random House, 1952. See here to purchase the book.

Whittaker Chambers was an ex-Communist who testified in the late 1940’s that Alger Hiss was a Communist. This was significant because Hiss had served in influential positions of the U.S. Government, affecting U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Chambers was an editor of Time magazine and later wrote for National Review.

Here are some items:

A. Why did Chambers become a Communist? Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables had a formative impact on him, leading him towards Communism and, later, away from it. Chambers identified with Les Miserables on account of its sensitivity towards the plight of the poor. Chambers’s family of origin experienced economic hardship after his father left, and he had a positive relationship with the working class when workers helped him to get a job after he was rejected. These considerations probably led him to gravitate towards Communism’s claim to champion the poor. Chambers testified before Congress that, after World War I, the world looked like it was in the verge of chaos, and Communism appealed to him as a way to redress that. Chambers’s brother committed suicide due to a lack of hope, whereas Chambers felt that Communism gave him hope.

B. What did Chambers do for the Communist Party? For a while, he was the editor of the Daily Worker. This was apparently a volunteer position, which he put a lot of time into while performing whatever paying jobs he could find. He also worked in small U.S. Government positions and, when he was elevated to espionage status, passed on government documents to handlers, who in turn gave them to the Soviet Union.

C. Why did Chambers leave the Communist Party? He had a religious epiphany, that there was a God who designed the world, judged even the powerful (i.e., Stalin), and was with him. Stalin’s purging of the party deeply concerned him and put him on probation for a time. Stalin’s agreement with Hitler was the final straw, since Chambers did not want to use his espionage activities to help Hitler. Chambers attained an appreciation for the desire for freedom in the human spirit, which contradicted Communism’s disregard for the individual, and he became impressed by the economic mobility that existed in the United States.

D. Chambers states that the Communist Party sought to overthrow the U.S. Government. Yet, the picture he paints is one of the Communist Party trying to influence the U.S. Government. Communists in the government tried to give the U.S. a strategic global disadvantage in relation to the Soviet Union, resulting in the legacy of Yalta and the fall of China to Communism. On the domestic front, Communists helped shape the New Deal, which imposed socialistic collectivism on the United States. This is ironic to me, since U.S. Communists were critical of the New Deal and believed that it upheld and benefited Capitalism. Stalin, too, criticized the New Deal.

E. Chambers states that he did not want to expose the espionage activities of Hiss, since Hiss was his friend, and Chambers also had other friends in the party whom he did not want to hurt. Chambers simply wanted to expose that Hiss was a Communist, for the benefit of the United States and the world threatened by Communist tyranny. Chambers forgot about the documents that he would put into the pumpkin, which would expose Hiss’s espionage activities. Chambers decided to use them because he was being attacked. People were reluctant to believe that there were Communists in the U.S. Government. The urbane Hiss made a better impression than the quiet, overweight Chambers. And the Communist Party was seeking to undermine Chambers, spreading rumors about him that attacked his character and mental fitness.

F. Where the book is especially powerful is in its stories. Chambers initially comes across as a pretentious writer trying to be eloquent and profound. But he conveys an honesty, a melancholy, and a vulnerability that make one sympathize with him. His stories about his struggles to survive in journalism especially come to mind. Chambers also paints a realistic picture of people he knows, detailing what he believes made them tick. In my opinion, the book was a little thin on ideology. It did not intimately get into the intricacies of why people become Communists and leave the party. Chambers’s stories and character profiles, by contrast, were descriptive, well developed, and detailed.

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

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Church Write-Up: II Samuel 7, Matthew 1, and God's Grace

At church this morning, two of the Scriptural texts were II Samuel 7 and Matthew 1. In II Samuel 7, God promises to build David a house, a lasting royal dynasty. Matthew 1 consists of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. It demonstrates that Jesus is royal yet also includes women who were Gentiles or perhaps of ill repute: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah.

Being Lutheran, the pastor interpreted these texts in light of God’s grace. According to the pastor, many Christians try to make the Christmas story all about us and what we should do (law): we should not be like the innkeeper in the Gospel of Luke who did not make room for Mary and Joseph, but we should imitate the shepherds, who went to see Jesus; similarly, we should clean ourselves up and make God room. But God did not require Israel to become clean before he came and became their God, bringing them forgiveness, grace, love, and provision. God came to Israel even though she has disrepute and sin in her background. In the case of David, David offered to build God a house, but God responded by affirming that God will build David a house. It was about God’s promise and activity.

Book Write-Up: Seeking Church

Darren T. Duerksen and William A. Dyrness. Seeking Church: Emerging Witnesses to the Kingdom. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

In this book, Darren T. Duerksen and William A. Dyrness examine different manifestations of Christianity, including the early church, the churches of the Protestant Reformation, and Christianity in Hindu, Asian, Native American, and Islamic cultures. These manifestations flow from their own culture, even as God appropriates elements of those cultures as part of God’s revelation. The churches do not exist for their own sake, however, but rather they testify to the inbreaking Kingdom of God, as they embrace and practice God’s love and concern for creation.

The parts on international manifestations of Christianity overlap with what I have read in other books, such as Dyrness’s Insider Jesus and Richard Twiss’s work, which this book cites and engages. Some of my concerns about Insider Jesus are not really addressed in Seeking Church (not that I think that they should address me specifically, but rather that my concerns are the sorts of questions other Christians might ask). Duerksen and Dyrness chronicle how Christianity in non-Western cultures reflects those cultures, but are the versions of Christianity particularly orthodox? Does Muslim Christianity, for instance, reject the divinity of Christ? In reading this book, I was thinking that Duerksen and Dyrness were making their point about the church testifying to the Kingdom of God as a way to be inclusive: to say that Christians in non-Western cultures, even when they fail to be completely orthodox, can still do good to creation and thereby testify to the Kingdom of God. How much that is me filling in the gaps, however, is a legitimate question.

The book is informative yet fails to flesh out some issues. Much of its theological analysis is abstract rather than concrete, although the analysis does at least appear to tie together loose ends. It could have illustrated more fully how Christians testify to the Kingdom of God, rather than just saying that it does; still, the concept is profound.

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Church Write-Up: Light and Darkness

My church started its weekly advent service this week.

The pastor spoke about light and darkness. Darkness is something that scares us, yet comforts us. When someone is at the door at night and we cannot tell who it is, we get scared. Yet, when we are doing wrong or falling short of perfection, we prefer the safety and anonymity that darkness brings, since there is nobody shedding light on us and judging us. Ancient Israel in the time of Isaiah, who speaks about light, was experiencing darkness, as Gentiles ruled Israel and even influenced her temple. Light can be powerful: it has been said that a candle in the middle of a dark football field can be seen from both ends of the football field. Christians, by forgiving and loving their neighbors, can be that kind of light in the world, but the light is not their own but is reflected from Christ, flowing from their relationship with him.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Book Write-Up: Josiah’s Reformation, by Richard Sibbes

Richard Sibbes. Josiah’s Reformation. See here to download the book.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1636) was an English Puritan preacher. This book contains a series of sermons that he preached on II Chronicles 34:26-28, which states regarding King Josiah of Judah:

“[26] And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; [27] Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. [28] Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same. So they brought the king word again.”

Here are some thoughts about this book:

A. The book promoted the usual Puritan emotional roller-coaster: people need to be genuinely sad about their sins, then they can receive God’s forgiveness. This is a difficult teaching. I, for one, do not want intense emotions of sadness to inconvenience my life. That was one reason I could not stand Charles Spurgeon’s The Sinner and His Savior when I read it over a decade ago. At the same time, Sibbes does well to highlight the depth and the intensity of emotion that biblical characters felt towards spiritual matters.

B. There is also the Puritan realism, however: the acknowledgment that Christians may have some hardness of heart and may have difficulty arriving at the tender heart that God desires. Sibbes exhorts people in this condition to press forward with the means of grace. But he also cogently addresses the question of how Christian hardness of heart is distinct from the unbelievers’ hardness of heart: if both believers and unbelievers have hardness of heart, how can one tell that he or she is saved?

C. There is an edifying quality to the book, as Sibbes fields questions in a direct manner and systematically lays out points. For example, he lists reasons that Christians can be assured that God desires to answer their prayers, but also reasons that God may choose not to do so.

D. This passage stood out to me: “Christ, as it were, in the sacrament enters through the senses more lively than in the preaching of the word, for there he enters in by the ears, but in the sacrament he is seen, tasted, handled, felt. So that the soul and body have communion together by way of information.” That makes me wonder about the sense in which Puritans believed that Christ was present in the sacraments. My recollection from Roger Olson’s Story of Christian Theology is that Calvin did not go so far as Zwingli in thinking that the sacraments were mere memorials, but he also did not go so far as Luther and the Calvinists in maintaining that Christ was somehow physically present in the sacraments. Calvin thought Christ’s presence was more spiritual.

E. Occasionally, Sibbes offers an insight into the biblical story itself. For example, God let Josiah die before the destruction of Jerusalem, and Sibbes says that was God taking into account Josiah’s tender heart. Josiah had a fierce regard for his people, as evidenced in his rash challenge against Pharaoh Neco. How would he feel were he to see his people defeated and destroyed by a foreign power, the Babylonians?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Church Write-Up: Eight, Numbering, Journey

Some items from church this morning:

A. The youth pastor was talking about the numerical symbolism of various items in the church. One concerned the number eight: God rested on the seventh day after creation, but the eighth day marks God continuing to create. On thing that God continues to create is Christians, as he makes them new creations, conforming them more and more to the character of God. That stood out to me on account of a thought that occurred to me in my prayer time this week. Leviticus 14 talks about a plague that afflicts the house. The owner can remove the plague from the house, but sometimes the plague is so deep in the house that it needs to be destroyed and rebuilt. The plague of sin runs deeply in our characters, such that God needs to remake us. The thing is, this is a process, to be completed in the future. For many in the Reformed camp, the process is never complete this side of heaven. For John Wesley, some in this life can arrive at a state at which they love God and neighbor and a sinful nature no longer afflicts them, but, even then, there is always room for improvement.

B. The pastor chronicled examples of God’s numbering of people in Scripture. The Israelites in the Book of Numbers were counted in a census as part of God’s people. Jesus on earth was numbered with the transgressors. The disciples were to rejoice because their names were written in heaven. In the Book of Revelation, there are vast amounts of saints who cannot be numbered. The pastor said that many of us wonder if we are completely anonymous, but we matter to God and are counted by him. There was an error in the bulletin in which one of the Scriptural passages was the wrong one for that day, and the pastor said that he believed that God used that particular Scripture passage to bless someone in the congregation, either to convict or to encourage. In this season of advent, the pastor remarked that he thinks this is why Jesus was born during a census: to remind us that each one of us counts before God. The pastor did mention the examples in Scripture in which numbering is considered negative: the Israelites had to atone for their census in the wilderness, and God punished David for his census. I wonder how that would fit into his theological consideration of the issue.

C. The Sunday school class has been going through Max Lucado’s Because of Bethlehem series. This class has not been my cup of tea for a variety of reasons. It emphasizes small discussion groups, whereas I prefer Sunday school classes that are entirely lecture, with people in the larger group offering their comments. The pastor was even suggesting that we hold a partner accountable on reflecting on one of the questions in the booklet over the week, and that turns me off, as one who over the past twenty years has recovered from being in an evangelical small group. The booklet also seems heavy on law: feel this, do that, etc., whereas I tend to gravitate towards Lutheranism because it emphasizes human weakness and need for God’s grace, plus I am satisfied with my current devotional life and do not intend to add anything new. But I have been sticking with this class for a variety of reasons: people expect to see me there, I have appreciated the pastor’s personal reflections, I should be more interested in other people’s lives and where they think they have experienced God, and, every now and then, Max Lucado has some gem that I am glad to have heard.

D. The class this week focused on the wise men. The wise men were on a journey. Kids like to go on road trips because of the possibility of seeing something new. Parents, however, may prefer to stay home because of the hassle and planning that road trips entail. The wise men were on a journey to see something new, whereas Herod preferred to stay where he was, the status quo, in which he was in power. Others in the Jerusalem establishment were like that, too. The religious scholars in Matthew’s story knew the correct Scriptural answer to the wise men’s question of where the Messiah would be born, Bethlehem, but they did not accompany the wise men to Bethlehem, even though Bethlehem was not far from Jerusalem. Someone in class speculated that they promulgated biblical teaching for their own power, not because they believed it was the truth. While Matthew’s nativity story depicts the Jerusalem establishment rather dimly, Luke records that some in the Jerusalem establishment eagerly awaited the Messiah. Many of us prefer to remain in our comfort zones, even though God wants us to be on a journey, doing God’s will. Some of this resonated with me, and some of it stirred up questions in my mind. First of all, do I like journeys? I have never cared for road trips. Some of that has to do with car sickness, part of it is boredom, and some of it is that I prefer the comfort of home, and I see nothing wrong with that. At the same time, I do like to go on walks because of the possibility of going to new places, even though the new places never turn out to be that interesting, and I enjoy visiting new destinations in my dreams. Spiritually speaking, I do prefer my comfort zone over going on some nebulous adventure for God, though it is interesting to read about others’ adventures for God. Second, the lesson seemed to suggest that people need to be in the right state of mind to be receptive to God, even though Lucado also said that God in Christ pierces where we are with his presence. That may be biblical, since the Gospel depicts many missing the boat because they were in the wrong place spiritually. Still, I would hope that God’s grace can break through that, since I know that I am not entirely in the right place spiritually, as I have my share of pride, lust, desire for personal exaltation, and issues with God.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Book Write-Up: Twelve Ordinary Men, by John MacArthur

John MacArthur. Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do with You. W, 2002. See here to purchase the book.

John MacArthur is a pastor and author as well as the President of Master’s Seminary. Twelve Ordinary Men is a profile of each of the twelve disciples. MacArthur looks at everything that the New Testament says about the disciples and draws conclusions about their character from that. He also considers various ancient Christian traditions about what happened to them.

Here are some thoughts and observations:

A. MacArthur paints a coherent picture of each disciple, pulling together the various things that the New Testament says about them. To use an example, Thomas was willing to go to Jerusalem and die with Jesus (John 11:16), but he also doubted that Jesus rose from the dead (John 20). In addition, shortly before Jesus’s death, Thomas said he did not know where Jesus was going and wondered how the disciples could know the way (John 14:5). What do all of these statements have in common? Some think that the common theme was that Thomas was a dunce, or that Thomas had his moments of faith and his moments of doubt. More plausibly, MacArthur proposes that Thomas was a pessimist, yet a pessimist who wanted to be with Jesus.

B. MacArthur continually says that the disciples demonstrate that God uses the weak things of the world for God’s glory (I Corinthians 1:27). Yet, MacArthur also thinks that the disciples had natural talents that God used. Peter, for instance, was an apt leader because he was curious and unafraid to ask questions, rushed to be in the middle of things, and boldly got in the forefront and talked. God refined Peter’s character yet used who Peter basically was. MacArthur does not think that everyone has to be like Peter, though. He notes that Andrew quietly brought individual people to Jesus. James the Less and Judas (not Iscariot) were perfectly willing to stay in the background, yet God used them to do great things, just as God used the other disciples.

C. In a few cases, MacArthur tries to work with what little details the New Testament provides. Based on details in the New Testament, MacArthur explores the possibility that James the Less was Matthew’s brother, or Jesus’s nephew. MacArthur acknowledges that these are mere possibilities and is not dogmatic about them. Some details were puzzling: is John 19:25 suggesting that Mary’s sister was also named Mary? What was particularly interesting about James the Less was that his mother and others in his family were followers of Jesus.

D. There were cases in which MacArthur illuminated the Scriptures, or at least offered plausible proposals and interpretations. Why did the Samaritans in the Gospel of Luke have a problem with the disciples passing through Samaritan territory to get to Jerusalem? According to MacArthur, the Samaritans disliked that Jews were going to Jerusalem to worship, when the Samaritans believed that God’s legitimate sanctuary was at Mount Gerizim. How was Jesus responding to the question from Judas (not Iscariot) about why Jesus shows himself to the disciples and not the whole world (John 14:22)? Jesus’s response was that the Father and Jesus appear to anyone who loves him.

E. On pages 98-99, MacArthur contrasts Paul with John. Paul, according to MacArthur, acknowledges that believers struggle with sin (Romans 7), whereas John presents things in black and white: believers obey the commandments, love, do not practice sin, walk in the light, etc. MacArthur states: “From reading John, one might think that righteousness comes so easily and naturally to the Christian that every failure would be enough to shatter our assurance completely. That is why when I read heavy doses of John, I sometimes have to turn to Paul’s epistles just to find some breathing space.” That is a telling statement, since MacArthur’s writings have challenged my own spiritual assurance in the past. Apparently, MacArthur has a similar struggle, at times, and feels a need for breathing space as he reads and processes Scripture.

F. Some of MacArthur’s harmonizations of Scripture are fairly plausible, whereas others are not so much. MacArthur tries to harmonize the different accounts of Jesus’s calling of the disciples. He says that Jesus called them when they were disciples of John, then called them to deeper levels of service, then chose them among other disciples to go out and preach the message of the Kingdom. That makes a degree of sense, for Peter in Luke 5 obviously already knew Jesus. MacArthur’s attempt to reconcile the different accounts of Judas Iscariot’s death was a bit of a stretch, though. What MacArthur seems to be saying is that the priests bought Judas a field with the money that Judas returned to them, and Judas hung himself then collapsed there (cp. Matthew 27:8; Acts 1:19).

G. MacArthur says that Judas left before Jesus and the disciples ate the last supper. This is a significant topic because it is relevant to debates about closed versus open communion. Did Judas partake of communion with the other disciples? For MacArthur, there was no way that Jesus would allow Judas, a greedy, hateful man who had opened himself to Satanic influence, to partake of the holy sacrament of communion. Looking at the Gospels, MacArthur’s interpretation makes sense if one wants to compare John with Matthew and Mark. John lacks a communion service, but it does depict Judas leaving right after Jesus confronts him about the impending betrayal (John 13:21-29). Matthew and Mark depict the last supper occurring after Jesus confronts Judas (Matthew 26:21-29; Mark 14:18-25), so, when one juxtaposes the three passages, it is plausible that Judas left after the confrontation and before the last supper. In Luke 22:15-22, however, Judas appears to be still at the table after Jesus consecrates the bread and the wine, which would imply that he did partake of communion.

H. MacArthur presents an intriguing, albeit distressing, picture of Judas. Judas followed Jesus out of a desire for money and power and was preoccupied with that, even though Jesus continually showed him kindness and spoke spiritual truths to him. Judas was even able to hide his wickedness and to blend in with the other disciples. MacArthur’s picture of Judas was extensive, yet missing a significant element. Why did Jesus make Judas the treasurer (John 12:6; 13:29), when he knew that Judas was a thief? MacArthur does not say. Ellen G. White, a founder of Seventh-Day Adventism, proposed that Jesus was trying to ween Judas from greed by placing Judas in charge of helping the poor.

I. MacArthur assumes that Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew. According to MacArthur, Matthew was so knowledgeable about the Old Testament because he studied the Scriptures on his own, since, as a hated tax-collector, he could not hear them read at the synagogues. How plausible is it that Matthew would have his own copy of the Torah, though, when Torah scrolls were expensive and rare? And not only the Torah, but different versions of it, including the proto-MT and the Septuagint? Perhaps that could have happened eventually, since the Scriptures were read in churches and Matthew could have had access to them that way, but I wonder if Matthew, during the lifetime of Jesus, could have had his own copy of the Torah. MacArthur says that Matthew was a lower-level tax collector, so he was not as well-paid as a chief tax collector. Could Matthew still have afforded a Torah scroll, or attained a copy of that and variants through his extensive economic contacts?

J. MacArthur seems to assume that the Old Testament directly predicted Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, even though there are challenges that can be made to this position. John 13:19 applies Psalm 41:9 to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus: “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (KJV). The problem with applying Psalm 41 to Jesus is that the Psalmist confesses sin against God in Psalm 41:4. Jesus, according to Christian teaching, never sinned. MacArthur should have wrestled with this question, at least briefly, since he goes deeply into Old Testament background throughout this book.

K. There is not a whole lot of application in this book, but that is all right with me, for constructing a bunch of artificial rules would make the book look, well, artificial. The book is a compelling picture, though, of how a loving and righteous God mentors and uses different kinds of people, as well as the importance of valuing God’s purposes rather than simply how God can meet one’s own needs.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Church Write-Up: Loving God More than Anything Else?

At church this morning, one of the themes was that, when we worship anything or anyone other than God, we will be disappointed. We trust in our 401K for life, meaning, and security? Tell that to people whose 401Ks were wiped out in the 2008 financial crisis!

I have heard this sort of message for years. My problem is that it tries to legislate affection for God. “You have to love God more than anything or anyone else.” What if you don’t? How can that even be commanded? You love what you love.

One way to follow it, perhaps, is to remember and find strength in what God has provided: God has given us eternal life, and the hope of eternal life, in Christ. Christians are righteous and forgiven before God in Christ. God is also the provider, using means to bring blessing to people.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Church Write-Up: Christ as King on the Cross

This week’s Bible study was entitled “Jesus as King” and focused on Luke 23. The reason that the church studied that topic this particular week is that next Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. Here are some items:

A. Even at his crucifixion, Jesus was king. Jesus did not stumble into his arrest and crucifixion but deliberately and willfully laid down his life out of love of his Father and us; Jesus was in control of the situation. At his trial and his crucifixion, Jesus’s enemies spoke the truth, albeit sarcastically. They sarcastically affirmed that Jesus saved others and was king of the Jews, so God’s truth was being proclaimed in this dark time. Jesus on the cross was able to extend membership in the Kingdom of God, as Jesus did to the malefactor on the cross. According to Luke, the Kingdom is wherever Jesus is, for, in Jesus, the Kingdom of God is in people’s midst (Luke 17:21). The Kingdom was present even when Jesus was on the cross. The pastor speculated that this may be why Matthew and Mark specify that one malefactor was on Jesus’s right and another on his left (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; see Luke 23:33): it is a reference to someone sitting at Jesus’s right and left hands in his Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23; Mark 10:35-40).

B. Jesus told the malefactor on the cross, “Today you shall be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). There is, of course, the view that the malefactor went to heaven that very day and was with Jesus. The pastor, however, went through a more spiritual interpretation of Jesus’s statement. The malefactor’s confession of faith (however incomplete), Jesus’s word of assurance to him, and the presence of Jesus with the malefactor made the malefactor a Christian, and, due to that, the malefactor became part of the new creation, paradise, the Eden that Jesus was restoring in himself. Jesus said “Today” because that term has salvific import in the Bible: today is the day of salvation (II Corinthians 6:2; Isaiah 49:8).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Book Write-Up: Jesus Before the Gospels, by Bart D. Ehrman

Bart D. Ehrman. Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior. HarperOne, 2016. See here to purchase the book.

Bart Ehrman teaches religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A religious agnostic, he is renowned for his controversial books about the New Testament and theology. Jesus Before the Gospels essentially critiques the idea that the biblical Gospels are historically accurate because they reflect eyewitness testimony.

In this review, I will be laying out key aspects of Ehrman’s argument. Then, I will evaluate it.

Ehrman’s argument:

A. Ehrman refers to memory studies and argues that people often misremember what they hear and see. He cites examples of this, such as John Dean’s inaccurate testimony during the Watergate scandal. Dean was not entirely lying, for Dean said things that made himself look bad. Yet, when the audio recording came out of Dean’s conversations about which he testified, they were revealed to be quite different from how Dean remembered them. Ehrman cites studies about memory that indicate that people fill in the gaps of their memory with similar experiences they have had, that their present influences their memory of the past, and that the power of suggestion and imagination can even influence them to “remember” things that did not actually occur. Being in a group among people who shared an experience does not necessarily guarantee an accurate memory, either, for people can easily subordinate their distinct memories to the memory of the group, or the most assertive person in the group.

B. The transmission of memories, too, leads to inaccuracies. This is like the “telephone game,” in which one person tells something to someone, who then tells someone else, who then tells someone else, etc. Once the story gets to the end of the line, it is vastly different from how it initially was. But do not pre-literate societies accurately pass down oral traditions, since they cannot rely on books to preserve the past? Ehrman argues in the negative. Against a scholar who cited a tribe’s transmission of a tradition as an example of rigorous memorization, Ehrman refers to a study that demonstrates that this tribe’s transmission of the tradition was inaccurate, based on comparison with other primary sources. Ehrman doubts the accuracy of much of the Gospels, too, for at least forty years separate the life of the historical Jesus and the writing of the Gospels. During that time, traditions got altered and embellished, and stories were invented. Against those who argue that students of rabbis could remember vast amounts of their teacher’s teachings, Ehrman notes that the Gospels contain discrepancies about what Jesus said and did, undermining the possibility that disciples were remembering and transmitting Jesus’s teachings verbatum. Ehrman does not believe that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses, for the disciples spoke Aramaic rather than Greek, the language of the Gospels; moreover, the disciples were illiterate and uneducated (Acts 4:13), not the sorts of people who could write Gospels.

C. Scholars and apologists who believe that the Gospels reflect eyewitness testimony like to cite Papias, an early second century Christian, who states that Matthew wrote a Gospel and that Peter relayed information for Mark, who wrote a Gospel. Ehrman does not find Papias to be overly reliable, however: “Writing many years later (as much as a century after Jesus’s death), he indicates that he knew people who knew people who knew people who were with Jesus during his life. So it’s not like having firsthand information, or anything close to it” (page 112). Ehrman also compares the Gospels of Matthew and Mark with what Papias says about them and concludes that Papias does not necessarily have in mind the Gospels in our New Testament. If Papias was aware of the Gospel of Matthew’s statement that Judas hanged himself (Matthew 27:5), for example, why did Papias narrate that Judas died by swelling and collapsing on the street? Ehrman is open to the possibility, however, that church fathers based their ascription of the biblical Gospels to Matthew and Mark on what Papias says about the writings that he is discussing. Papias says Matthew wrote teachings of Jesus in Hebrew, and the Gospel of Matthew is a Jewish Gospel with a lot of teachings from Jesus. Consequently, church fathers concluded that the Gospel of Matthew is the the writing that Papias means.

D. Ehrman does not think that the biblical Gospels were written by the people to whom they are ascribed. When quoting sayings of Jesus that are found in the Gospels, church fathers prior to Irenaeus (second century) never cite the authors of the Gospels by name. Justin Martyr refers to the memoirs of the apostles, which is not very specific. Here, I will interject Larry Hurtado’s observation that Justin in Dialogue 103.8 says the memoirs were written by apostles and those who knew apostles. Hurtado thinks that is consistent with the traditional ascriptions of the biblical Gospel, for John and Matthew were apostles who knew Jesus, and Mark and Luke were not apostles themselves but knew apostles. Hurtado, in contrast with Ehrman, thinks that Justin was referring to the biblical Gospels and was assuming their traditional ascriptions.

E. Ehrman defines “memory,” not just in terms of recollections of what one personally experienced, but also as a community’s statement about what happened in the past, even if that community did not live during that past. Ehrman does not believe that the authors of the biblical Gospels, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Judas personally knew the historical Jesus, but he still calls their writings “memories” because they are making a statement about the past. Their “memories,” Ehrman argues, is their response to what they themselves are experiencing, such as alienation and persecution.

F. Ehrman maintains that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet calling fellow Jews to repent in light of the impending Kingdom of God. Later, as this apocalyptic cataclysm failed to materialize, Christians talked about delay in the second coming of Christ and even came to de-emphasize eschatology. John’s Gospel lacks imminent eschatology, focusing instead on believers going to heaven after they die. In contrast with many scholars, Christian and non-Christian, Ehrman doubts that the historical Jesus even performed miracles, such as healing and exorcism. In part, this is because Ehrman is skeptical about miracles: he refers to an odd occurrence in the Gospel of Peter and simply dismisses it as unlikely. As a historian, Ehrman maintains that historians make judgments about what is likely in the past, and miracles are off the table because they contradict common experience and natural law. Ehrman also notes that miracle stories developed over time and became embellished within Christianity, as can be seen in Christian writings such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and he thinks that sort of thing could also have happened by the time that the biblical Gospels were written. In addition, Ehrman observes different views of miracles among the Gospels. The Gospel of John presents miracles as ways that Jesus proved to others his divine identity. The synoptic Gospels, by contrast, deny that Jesus would perform signs to prove his identity (except the sign of Jonah) and instead present his miracles as acts of compassion. Ehrman also refers to synoptic passages, however, in which miracles are indications that the Kingdom of God has come.

G. I am reading John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men, which is about the twelve apostles, and MacArthur tries to harmonize the different stories about Jesus’s calling of his disciples. For MacArthur, many disciples followed Jesus voluntary, but Jesus later called some of them to deeper levels of commitment (i.e., leaving their jobs) and even sent some out as apostles, proclaiming the coming Kingdom and doing miracles. Ehrman rejects this approach because he believes it compromises the distinct voices of the Gospels. Jesus in the Gospel of Mark tells people to leave all, and they follow, and this demonstrates Mark’s belief that Jesus has an authority that compels people; that cannot be reconciled with John’s belief that people followed Jesus voluntarily and initiated the discipleship.

My evaluation:

A. Conservative scholars have their counter-arguments to the sorts of arguments that Ehrman presents. Against the claim that the disciples could not have written Gospels because they were illiterate and did not know Greek, scholars such as Donald Guthrie have contended that Greek was known in first century Palestine and that some of the disciples, as businessmen, may have been more sophisticated and fluent in it than people realize. Regarding Acts 4:13’s claim that Peter and John were illiterate, Jennifer Dines, who (as far as I know) is not a conservative Christian scholar, points out in her book The Septuagint (pages 112-113) that the Greek word agrammatos refers to a lack of sophistication in writing, not necessarily a complete inability to read and write. Theophilus of Antioch in the second century C.E. says people were saying that the biblical prophets, who wrote books, were agrammatoi; they were obviously literate, since they wrote books, but their books were not deemed to be refined. Conservative scholars also say that the apostles, even if they themselves could not have produced beautiful works, could have had professional writers write down their testimony in a more refined manner, as occurred in antiquity. Ehrman seems to question that Palestinian Christians would be in other countries writing in Greek, but is that so implausible? Paul attests that Christians traveled.

B. Ehrman critiques the work of scholars who hold that the Gospels contain eyewitness testimony, such as Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Ehrman does not engage many of Bauckham’s arguments, such as the argument that the Gospel of Mark is similar to how other ancient sources present the testimony of eyewitnesses. This is not to suggest that Ehrman should have engaged that. Ehrman’s book is popular, and Ehrman manages to pack a punch with the arguments that he does make. Still, readers should know that there may be more to the story than what Ehrman presents.

C. A question that I had in reading this book is what Ehrman thinks got the ball rolling. If Jesus did no miracles, how did people come to see him as God? I have read his book, How Jesus Became God, and he attributes it to early Christians’ belief that Jesus rose from the dead, which was based on visions that they had. I just wonder if that, by itself, would be sufficient to give people such an exalted notion of Jesus. Why wouldn’t they just see him as some prophet who rose from the dead?

D. Christian apologists have argued that the apostles, who had been with Jesus, would have been able to have suppressed any inaccuracies. I decided to read Ehrman’s book to see an alternative scenario to this. The picture I get from Ehrman’s book is that, yes, the apostles were around, but stories got told and retold. Invention and embellishment occurred. The apostles may have heard the story about Jesus walking on water and thought, “You know, I think I do remember that happening,” even if it did not. Their exalted picture of Jesus after Jesus’s resurrection could have influenced them to “remember” such an event. Although the Romans, not the Jews, crucified Jesus, early Christian conflicts with mainstream Judaism could have influenced them to “remember” Jewish authorities playing a greater role in Jesus’s execution. Stories spread, grew, and came to be, and, by the time that people sat down to write the Gospels, the authors drew from those stories, true and false, to paint a picture of who Jesus was. There is a middle ground between saying that the Gospels reflect verbatum what Jesus said and did, and saying that Christians simply made things up, and knew they were making things up. Ehrman presented what that middle ground could have looked like.

E. Ehrman offers explanations as to how the biblical Gospels came to be ascribed to those who bear their names. Luke-Acts, for example, was ascribed to Luke due to parts of Acts that seemed to suggest that the author was a companion to Paul. The Gospel of John appears to refer to eyewitness testimony (John 19:35; 21:24). Ehrman did not adequately address why these factors do not indicate that Luke and John wrote those writings. He may do so in other books, though. A lot of ancient Christian writings purport to be by eyewitnesses to Jesus, even if they were not, as Ehrman talks about in Forged.

F. I am not sure what to do with Ehrman’s argument that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. Even Ehrman does not depict it as thoroughly unreliable: we do remember some things accurately, especially the gist. But there are limitations to our memories. The question is: are those limitations in memory enough to cast doubt on what the Gospels say about Jesus?

G. Do I find Ehrman to be persuasive? He does raise a lot of considerations that make his arguments persuasive. When I read the Gospels, I seriously doubt that they are direct transcripts of what Jesus said and did. There are discrepancies among them. The authors’ distinct theological perspectives influence what they include and how they organize the stories. There are aspects of the Gospels that appear to speak to events after the death of Jesus, such as the persecution of Christians. Apologists have their arguments, though, as to why the Gospels are historical, such as the McGrews’ argument of undesigned coincidences in the Gospels, and those deserve consideration.

H. Ehrman closes the book by saying that the Gospels are still valuable, even if they are historically inaccurate. I was not clear as to whether he thinks they can still be religiously valuable to Christians. Obviously, their interest to him is more historical, since he is an agnostic. Can the Gospels be religiously valuable, even if Ehrman’s portrayal of them were to be correct? Well, they teach good values, such as love for others, including enemies. But I am not sure if their religious worldview—-about God, God’s activity—-can be reliable and authoritative, if the historical foundation of that worldview is inaccurate, if it is solely the product of human beings. I am not saying that the Bible has to be inerrant for Christianity to be true, but certain details should probably be historically accurate, at least.

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Lost World of the Torah

John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton. The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

Biblical scholar John Walton and his son, theologian J. Harvey Walton, argue that the Torah was not originally understood to be “law,” but rather wisdom.

The Waltons advance a variety of arguments for this claim. First, ancient law codes, most notably the Code of Hammurabi, are not cited in ancient court cases. According to the Waltons, this is because they were not deemed to be “laws,” but they were general guidelines of wisdom that may still have guided society, on some level. Second, biblical law is far from comprehensive, which would be odd, if it were considered to be a set of rules that people were literally required to obey. And, third, in the biblical narratives, the characters after the giving of the Torah hardly ever base their decisions on the Torah, even when addressing issues that the Torah explicitly comments on.

Believers in the Documentary Hypothesis can probably answer that last argument by saying that the reason biblical characters seem unaware of the Torah is that the Torah had not been written yet: the biblical narratives about David and Solomon were composed prior to the composition of the Torah. Regarding the second argument, one may inquire if law codes needed to be comprehensive to be actual law. Does a law code need to cover marriage, for example, when local clans and families may have been handling that issue quite well, according to their customs? However, the first argument, about why the Code of Hammurabi is not cited in Babylonian court cases, is a weighty challenge to the idea that ancient law codes were actual law.

The strength of this book is that the Waltons are unafraid to tackle difficult questions and to forge a way forward from the standpoint of Christian theology. The Waltons argue that Paul understood the Torah to be actual law, even if that was not its original function. What, then, can Christians do with Paul: was Paul wrong? The Waltons attempt to offer a solution; how convincing it is would be up to the reader.

The Waltons also honestly challenge the idea that the Torah was a step up from the rest of the ancient Near East, morally speaking. There are aspects of the Torah that appear to be an advancement, from a modern progressive perspective, but there are also elements that seem to be regressive, in comparison with ancient Near Eastern ideas.

The Waltons engage questions that have been in my mind lately, as I have been reading the Book of Exodus. Did the authors of Exodus understand the details of Exodus the way that many contemporary evangelicals do, or were their cultural presuppositions radically different? If the Covenant Code resembles the Code of Hammurabi, does that lessen its spiritual value? And why would the Torah have Ten Commandments that appear to state the obvious: many cultures exhort people not to steal or kill. The Waltons’ answers to these questions make for engaging and thought-provoking reading.

A disadvantage to this book is that the Waltons seem to be inconsistent and nebulous on some issues. For one, was the Torah intended to be implemented, on some level? Parts of this book lean in the “yes” direction, and parts lean in the “no” direction. Second, does the Torah demonstrate the character of God? There is some ambiguity here, too.

It is also difficult to get around the frequent exhortations in the Torah, particularly in the Book of Deuteronomy, that the Israelites are to do it. Here, the Torah sounds like law.

My reservations notwithstanding, this is my favorite book thus far of the “Lost World” series.

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

Church Write-Up: Praying for Storms?

One point made at church this morning, in both the service and Sunday school, was that God works in the midst of life’s storms. Maybe we should pray for storms, the youth pastor said, because that would be a time to see God work. Something that is inspiring about being part of a church body is that I encounter people who are faithful to God, even though they have experienced difficult times. One lady I know lost two of her children years ago, and only one survives. I do not pray for storms, though. I want things to run at least fairly smoothly. I know people who have lost loved ones to cancer, and I am glad that I have not lost loved ones to cancer.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Spirit of Methodism, by Jeffrey W. Barbeau

Jeffrey W. Barbeau. The Spirit of Methodism: From the Wesleys to a Global Communion. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

Jeffrey W. Barbeau teaches theology at Wheaton College. This book is somewhat of a primer on Methodism. Barbeau begins by profiling contemporary Methodism and the landscape of Methodist churches. He then provides a history of Methodism, as he provides biographies of key Methodist figures and discusses Methodist beliefs. Barbeau distinguishes between Methodism and Wesleyanism, and he also talks about the ambivalence within historical Methodism towards slavery. The book also looks at international Methodism, as when Barbeau discusses significant figures in Asian and South American Methodism.

This book is an inviting and friendly introduction to Methodism. The human element is prominent in this book, both when Barbeau tells personal stories and also when he relays the stories of historical Methodists. The part near the beginning, when Barbeau narrates how young John Wesley was saved from a fire, had the feel of a PBS American Experience episode. Particularly compelling was the thirst of people, even religious people, for a personal encounter with God. In the case of John Wesley, he initially was a person who did the right religious things, but he felt something was missing. In another story, a person wrestles with historical criticism of the Bible and seeks authentic spirituality.

The book would have been stronger had it gone into more depth about the divisions within Methodism, particularly over homosexuality. The Social Principles are rather left-wing, yet there are churches and individuals who are more conservative. Notwithstanding this lack, the book was enjoyable to read.

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

Monday, November 11, 2019

Book Write-Up: The United Nations Exposed, by William F. Jasper

William F. Jasper. The United Nations Exposed. John Birch Society, 2001. See here to purchase the book.

William F. Jasper has served as senior editor of The New American, which is published by the conservative John Birch Society. In The United Nations Exposed, Jasper argues that the United Nations is part of a conspiracy to create a one-world socialistic government.

Here are some thoughts and observations about this book:

A. Before reading this book, I read another Birch Society book against the UN: G. Edward Griffin’s The Fearful Master: A Second Look at the United Nations, which was published in 1964. Of course, Jasper’s book, being published in 2001, has a lot more information than Griffin’s book, for a lot has happened since 1964. Griffin focuses on Katanga and the Korean War, but there have been more UN-directed military interventions since then. Environmentalism has emerged as a cited reason for nations to cooperate with each other and impose regulations on capitalism. Discussions have occurred about a UN Treaty on the Rights of a Child and an arms control treaty, which Second Amendment advocates think can lead to a suppression of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. There is an International Criminal Court. The World Trade Organization undermines U.S. sovereignty by telling the U.S. which laws constitute an unfair trading practice, and the European Union imposes rules on member nations. Jasper engages many of the 1960’s UN and U.S. documents that Griffin does, but also documents from the four decades since then. Jasper’s book is far more extensive, but Griffin’s book talked more than Jasper about the governmental structure of the United Nations.

B. Something else that occurred after 1964 was the end of the Cold War. Griffin’s book, consequently, focused more on Communism, but Communism still exists as a problem in Jasper’s book. Jasper cites quotes from Mikhail Gorbachev that, in his mind, support a one-world socialist government. Jasper believes that Vladimir Putin is a threat. That is interesting because, nowadays, anti-globalist conservatives lend to lionize Putin as a bulwark against a one-world government and a protector of traditional values against liberal hegemony.

C. An overarching question in Jasper’s book is whether we can seriously believe that the UN will take over the world. The UN looks so weak, like a paper tiger. One person I know who worked as an intern at the UN remarked, “The UN can’t even start a meeting on time, so I doubt it will take over the world!” Jasper argues, however, that prominent people in the U.S. government and the UN desire a one-world government. They would like for the UN to have more power than it currently has. Whether the documents that he cites point to an organized plot, that is for readers to decide. The documents express a desire for greater global cooperation to solve problems, and even that such cooperation be facilitated by binding agreements and governmental structures. There is a feeling among utopians, some New Agers, and even some in the UN that nationalism creates conflict among nations and should be undermined. The desire for globalism has been out there, but how seriously has it been taken, and how feasible is it believed to be? As one politically-minded person retorted when I told him about State Department document 7277, which talks about the nations disarming and being unable to challenge the UN police force, “There are all sorts of government documents out there.” What is more, how coordinated is the so-called conspiracy? Indeed, there are people in the Communist Party USA who argue that capitalism hurts the environment, but are they seriously in league with powerful elites, or are they people on the margins complaining about the system?

D. Jasper, of course, depicts the UN as part of a conspiracy to create a one-world socialist government. My problem with the Bircher scenario is that it depicts the alleged conspiracy as monolithic. Yes, there are environmentalists who would like more global cooperation and regulations on capitalism. But another challenge to national sovereignty has been neoliberalism, which seeks to undermine national regulations for the sake of global capitalist ambitions. There may be people in the U.S. government who see the UN as a solution to global conflict, but there are also high-ranking people, including people Jasper cites as parts of the conspiracy, who pursue U.S. hegemony and seek to undermine left-wing governments because they are a bulwark against capitalist interests.

E. Jasper talked about Dixy Lee Ray, a scientist who served as Democratic governor of Washington, and who later wrote books against environmentalism. An interesting ally! Jasper also tells a story about how he asked Al Gore about scientists who do not believe in climate change, and Al Gore’s response.

This is a well-written and well-documented book, and, notwithstanding my questions, I enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Church Write-Up: Contentment and Provision

Here are some items from church this morning:

A. Psalm 23:1 says “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” When the pastor was a child, that puzzled him because he thought it was saying “The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want him.” But a Sunday school teacher helpfully informed him that it means “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be IN want.”

B. Why would we not be in want? Is it because God provides all of our needs? Or is it because we are content with God and our inheritance in Christ and thus find ourselves content with what we have, no matter how much or how little? The latter seemed to be the theme coming out in the service and in Sunday school. I have a problem with the idea of contentment, if contentment is understood as not wanting more than one currently has. If I were homeless, of course I would want a home. As the teacher said, nobody has a goal to be homeless, even though he or she may have made decisions that led to homelessness. But Christians already have been given so much in Christ, so they need not be greedy and materialistic. The teacher quoted a statement by Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist who lost family in the Holocaust: I may lose everything, but no one can take away my faith.

C. God leads us to rest and green pastures, spiritually-speaking, and we can return to those anytime. The shepherd had to prepare the way for his sheep to enjoy those green pastures. He would irrigate the field, clear the bushes, and protect his sheep from predators. The sheep enjoyed the pastures due to the work of the shepherd. Similarly, it is through the work of Christ that Christians can enjoy spiritual green pastures.

D. Because God fills our cup to the brim, that can spill out onto others. A bus driver shared a story about people knowing where our church is because the church opens its facilities to the community, for example, by hosting AP tests. We want to pay down our debt so we can serve the community in other ways.

E. God will equip believers to do God’s will. If one wonders what God’s will is, see what God has equipped you to do. Jesus instructed his disciples to take no provisions for their missionary journeys so they can rely on God (Mark 6:8ff). There appears to be a contradiction about whether Jesus permits them to take their staffs (see Matthew 10:10; Mark 6:8; Luke 9:3). Someone read from his study Bible that these may refer to different kinds of staffs: a club for self-protection, a shepherd’s staff, and a walking stick.

F. God gives grace, but grace is a means. One goal of grace is eternal life, but it is also to strengthen people in the here and now for life, work, and service. God provides abundant grace, but people need to make us of it by availing themselves of opportunities to receive it (i.e., word and sacrament).

G. It is tempting to be self-sufficient, but, when we look to God as our shepherd, that deepens our relationship with him.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Church Write-Up: Psalm 23

I did not go to church last Sunday because I attended orientation for a new job. I said that I will listen to the sermon and read the Sunday school notes and write a blog post about them. I listened to the sermon and read the Sunday school notes, but I do not feel like blogging about them. But here is my post about the Wednesday Bible study that I attend.

The study today was about Psalm 23. Here are some items:

A. Psalm 23 is probably not David’s reflections about his time as a boy shepherding sheep in the green meadows, for the meadows were not green in Bethlehem, a dry and arid place. It may have been written when David was on the run from his son Absalom. Absalom killed his half-brother Amnon for raping Absalom’s sister Tamar. Ordinarily, those in and near Jerusalem would bring their cases to King David, but Absalom preempted that by judging the cases himself at Jerusalem’s gates, alienating people from David and attracting them to himself. David wrote a psalm about God’s provision when it appeared that he had nothing. David had lost the throne, which he possessed by God’s promise. A lady read in her study Bible that David courageously backed down from a conflict with Absalom for the sake of others, for a direct battle with Absalom would have been bloody; David abandons his throne and his land out of love for his son and his people.

B. God possesses all things and provides for people through means: through government, the economy, and workers. But our portion as God’s people is also God himself. God has given himself to us. And, when we are in God’s word, God’s word is our desire (Psalm 119).

C. V. 2: The Judean countryside was dry and arid, but there were oases that had water. Shepherds would lead their sheep to these oases. Still waters were essential because sheep could drown in rapidly moving water, since they did not know any better. Similarly, David, on the run from Absalom, was looking for an oasis, both literally and figuratively. He undoubtedly needed a place that had water in a dry countryside, but he also sought a place of safety and rest.

D. V. 3: God as shepherd is like the ultimate GPS. God directs us on where to go and how to get there. Similarly, sheep were trained to know and to respond to their shepherd’s specific voice. God’s word is what guides us, not merely some vague mysterious urging that can coincide with rationalization. Eve herself could have rationalized that God was the source of the forbidden fruit so it must not be bad, coming from God, but she was wrong.

E. God values the sheep and seeks them out because he values them. God also acts for his name’s sake, which refers to his reputation. As the nations hear about God’s reputation as shepherd, provider, and guide, they may be encouraged to learn more.

F. V. 4: The shadow of death refers to utter darkness. A lady read in her study Bible that darkness coincides with something being secret or closed, or a person being blinded. The pastor referred to a friend who described a dark veil in his heart between wanting to believe and where his heart actually was; I identify with that.

G. The rod and the staff in v. 4 does not refer to the staff of a pilgrim on his journey, but the shepherd’s rod protecting and guiding, sometimes with a poke or a jab. This brought to mind my reading of Exodus that morning: God in Exodus 4 rebuked Moses for offering all these excuses not to go to Egypt to deliver Israel. Sometimes, a rebuke is necessary to motivate us into action.

H. The pastor said that God is not like Father Time, waiting at the end of the journey to greet us with outstretched arms. Rather, God is with us in the journey, calming either the storms or the child in the midst of the storms.

I. There is scholarly debate about whether the Psalmist in v. 5 sticks with the shepherd metaphor or switches to a new metaphor, that of a host providing for his guest at the banquet. According to the shepherd interpretation, God as shepherd guides his sheep to the best pasturage land (“table”), especially in the hot summer, and protects them from their enemies, who look on but are too fearful to attack. The oil of anointing is to heal the wounds of the sheep and to keep insects out of them. According to the banquet interpretation, people are in a hostile country, eating from the banquet as their enemies look hungrily on. The anointing oil is so that the guests smell nice and do not alienate fellow guests through rustic odor. The cup runs over because the host keeps the cup of the guest filled.

J. V. 6: God’s love and mercy follow David, even as he flees from Absalom. David still longs to return to God’s sanctuary, where God is especially present; David desires the assurance of God’s presence in Jerusalem, where God promises to meet God’s people.

K. The pastor drew a distinction between two Greek words for life. Bios refers to biological life and physical sustenance and survival; from it we get the term biology. Zoe is life in God’s love, covenant, and grace, from this we get the term zoology. I did not do an exhaustive word study to evaluate the pastor’s claim, but I looked at lexica and the occurrence of the terms in the New Testament. Bios largely has a this-worldly sense: it can refer to physical survival but also the goods that one possesses in this life. Zoe, too, can occasionally refer to physical life in the here and now in the New Testament (Luke 16:25; I Corinthians 15:19), but it is the term that is used for eternal life or life in relationship with God; when discussing eternal life, the New Testament uses zoe, not bios.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Fearful Master, by G. Edward Griffin

G. Edward Griffin. The Fearful Master: A Second Look at the United Nations. Western Islands, 1964. See here to purchase the book.

G. Edward Griffin is affiliated with the conservative John Birch Society and has served as the Contributing Editor of its New American magazine. He is known primarily for his critique of the Federal Reserve System in The Creature from Jekyll Island, which Glenn Beck popularized. Griffin has written for decades, however, and one of the books that he wrote was The Fearful Master, published in 1964. Whereas The Creature from Jekyll Island is a second look at the Federal Reserve System, The Fearful Master is a second look at the United Nations. In Bircher fashion, Griffin depicts the UN as part of a sinister plan to create a one-world government.

Griffin starts by telling the story of Katanga, an anti-Communist country that seceded from the Congo in the early 1960’s. The UN brutally forced Katanga to reunite with the Congo. Griffin fears that we will see more of this in the future, and that the UN may even use such force against the United States.

Griffin proceeds to make other arguments about the United Nations. He contends that Communists, Communist sympathizers, and leftists possess an enormous amount of power and influence in it. That enables Communists to direct world events to their advantage and to have spies in the U.S., since the UN headquarters is on American soil.

Griffin looks at the UN charter and other UN documents and concludes that their endorsement of “rights” takes a remarkably different form from that of the United States. The U.S. sees the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as gifts from God. The UN, by contrast, fails to honor Christianity in its chapels and treats rights as the gift of the State, thereby lessening their value. Moreover, the UN recognizes rights to economic provision (i.e., food, shelter), which not only encourages socialism but may also be cited to compel the U.S. to send aid to Communist countries.

Griffin looks at UNESCO and concludes, from its documents, that it seeks to indoctrinate American schoolchildren to forsake their patriotism in favor of a globalist mindset, which is more conducive to a one-world government. He also criticizes the UN-directed mission in the Korean War. While it was ostensibly opposed to the Communist North, it was led by Communists and hampered any attempt to defeat North Korea, through bombing the Yalu or allowing anti-Communist Taiwan to provide military assistance. Although the Soviet Union outwardly opposed the Korean War, it actually wanted the U.S. to get involved in it, for American defeat would discourage anti-Communists throughout the world and waste American resources. It would also solidify the United Nations as a world police force. The Soviets protested against the Korean War but failed to show up to veto it, which they would have done had their opposition been serious and genuine.

Griffin attempts to refute the view that the UN is no threat to the U.S., since the General Assembly’s resolutions are non-binding, and the U.S. can exercise its veto in the UN Security Council. According to Griffin, a veto in the Security Council can be nullified anytime enough countries in the UN believe there is an emergency. Treaties that the UN facilitates become legally binding on the U.S. and can even supersede the Bill of Rights. The UN, notwithstanding its denials to the contrary, has even sought to interfere in the domestic affairs of member nations, as it has opposed South Africa. Prominent American officials have even claimed that domestic and foreign policy overlap, a sentiment that opens the door to allowing the UN to interfere in American affairs in the name of peace. Support has been expressed in U.S. and UN documents for global disarmament that would be facilitated by the UN, enabling the only body in the world with nuclear weaponry to be the Communist-dominated UN.

In the end, Griffin responds to common defenses of the United Nations. For Griffin, the UN is not necessary for peace. Nations can work things out through quiet diplomacy rather than bringing their disputes to a public forum, where conflict is exasperated as nations attempt to save face. Trade can encourage peace among nations. Moreover, while Griffin is critical of treating economic provision as a “right,” he maintains that a free market can uplift impoverished societies and make them more prosperous.

Here are some thoughts and impressions:

A. The greatest asset to this book is its documentation and extensive quotations. For instance, Griffin quotes American Communist publications that express support for the UN, since it undermines American hegemony, gives the U.S.S.R. a greater voice, and marginalizes non-Communist nations. U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright and even President John F. Kennedy make statements that treat the U.S. Constitution as outdated. Griffin also cites examples of what he is talking about, i.e., where treaties have undermined the economy of the United States. The book raises significant issues, but the question is whether its narrative, of an almost-successful attempt to create a one-world government, is the only way to explain the facts that Griffin presents. There are also additional facts: the U.S. government had its share of influential people who wanted American hegemony!

B. Occasionally, the reader sees glimpses of the “other side,” if you will. One reason that Congo wanted Katanga to be part of the Congo was that it provided the bulk of the Congo’s economic prosperity. The UN, at least ostensibly, claimed to be fighting Communism in its action against Katanga. The U.S.S.R., near the end of World War II, encouraged the Morgenthau plan through its Communist agents in the U.S. government because it wanted a severely weakened Germany, so that Germany would never again invade the Soviet Union as it did under Hitler; that depicts the Soviets as concerned about their security as a nation, not merely as despots trying to take over the world.

C. Griffin provides a compelling and dramatic narration about the UN’s atrocities against Katanga, Katanga’s heroic and even biracial (white and black) stance against the UN, and the mistreatment of Katanga’s anti-Communist leader, Moise Tshombe. This is all important to consider, but the fact is that anti-Communists, too, have perpetrated atrocities, and heroism can probably be found among Communists.

D. Can the UN seriously force the powerful U.S. to do something that it does not want to do? On the other side, is not the United Nations a way to give other countries a voice rather than letting the U.S. run the whole show?

E. It would be interesting to read a John Bircher critique of the UN after the end of the Cold War. For this, I may read William Jasper’s The United Nations Exposed sometime in the future. It was published in 2001.

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