Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Church Write-Up: Unshakeable, Consuming Fire, Wealth

The Wednesday Bible study was about Hebrews 13:5-6. As is usually the case, the pastor commented on the preceding verses, as well. Here are some items.

A. The Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that Christians are on their way to someplace else, as the Israelites in the Old Testament were on their way to the Promised Land. Christians are not citizens of this world but are on their way to another place. Christians wait for a new city with a new Temple and thus are not tied to the current Temple. This Promised Land towards which Christians journey cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:18-29). This is in contrast to the trembling that the Israelites experienced at Mount Sinai, as well as the shaking of the earth and heaven that God will do. If Hebrews were written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., the author of Hebrews may have mentioned shaking because the destruction of Israel’s national symbol had a terrifying effect on the Jewish people. The author of Hebrews was also seeking to encourage and comfort, in the faith, those Christians who were being persecuted, who had their lands taken away due to their faith in Christ. Christians were tempted to revert to Judaism to avoid persecution, since Judaism was legal and recognized within the Roman empire.

B. Hebrews 12:28-29 exhorts Christians to be grateful for receiving the kingdom that cannot be shaken, and to offer God worship with reverence and awe, for their God is a consuming fire. God is called a consuming fire to remind the Hebrew Christians that God has accomplished victory in Christ, so they need not fear their enemies, whom God has destroyed in a consuming fire. It is also a reminder that divine judgment exists outside of God’s grace in Christ.

C. Christians are to help one another within the body of Christ, since they are members of one another (Hebrews 13:3). The Hebrew Christians are to assist those Christians who are being imprisoned. They are also to honor their marriages, for disrupted marriages can have a demoralizing effect on the body of Christ. Not only does the body of Christ care for its members, but it may also feel that it has done something wrong if a lot of marriages in the church end up in divorce.

D. Hebrews 13:5 exhorts the Hebrew Christians to be free from the love of silver and to be content with what they have. Silver was big money; talents were measured in silver, whereas denarii were copper. The author is not rebuking those trying to pay the bills but rather is criticizing a preoccupation with wealth; at the same time, Christians need not fear recession or creditors because God will not leave them orphaned, without any support or provision. The orientation, foundation, priority, and trust of Christians’ lives should not be love of wealth, but God and trusting in him.

E. The concept of contentment has been misapplied, ever since the Middle Ages appealed to it to tell people to be satisfied with their position in the hierarchical chain of being, so that the social-political order is not unraveled. Contentment is believing that all that we have is from God. Christians have wealth at their disposal, and it is to be used for service: in the case of the Hebrew Christians, they were to use it to serve people in the community and for hospitality to strangers. God provides through the creation, since all belongs to God.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Book Write-Up: The Feasts of Repentance, by Michael J. Ovey

Michael J. Ovey. The Feasts of Repentance: From Luke-Acts to Systematic and Pastoral Theology. IVP, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

Michael J. Ovey was a scholar, writer, and the principal of Oak Hill College in London. As the title indicates, this book is about the subject of repentance in Luke-Acts. While Luke-Acts is its main source, it gets into broader issues and questions concerning repentance.

For the first fifty pages or so, Ovey is plodding along, stating the obvious. He tries to connect stories in Luke’s Gospel to repentance by showing that Jesus’s adversaries lacked a sincerely repentant attitude because they had the spiritual flaws that people usually associate Jesus’s adversaries (i.e., prizing wealth and status, exclusion of others).

Around page 54, the book gets interesting. Ovey starts to address difficult questions as well as qualifies his points by seriously addressing potential and actual objections.

Some examples:

—-Is there such a thing as culpable spiritual ignorance (see Acts 3:17; 17:30-31)?

—-In what way were Zechariah and Elizabeth righteous (Luke 1:6)? They were not sinless, right?

—-Is repentance mere moralism and self-improvement?

—-Do people become authentically human through their relations? Ovey believes that a “yes” answer is a key to the definition of repentance and an accounting of its importance, particularly when it comes to the human relationship with God. But, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, he raises serious reservations.

—-What is the relationship between faith and repentance? If one is justified by faith alone, does that mean that repentance is unnecessary, incidental, or optional to salvation?

—-Does forgiveness entail a miscarriage of justice? How does miscarrying justice help anyone?

Some of Ovey’s answers are better than others. His discussion of forgiveness is particularly cogent, as Ovey balances justice, compassion, and the importance of repentance and demonstrating fruits of repentance, all while grounding what he says in Scripture. Ovey also distinguishes between the church as a place of forgiveness, repentance, and discipline and the world as a place of judgment. His discussion of the relationship between faith and repentance is likewise helpful, as when he says that faith is repentance-shaped and repentance is faith-shaped.

I am somewhat ambivalent about Ovey’s critique of Brian McLaren’s view on repentance. McLaren presents repentance as a change in direction, away from the futility of sin. Ovey maintains that McLaren’s definition prioritizes what humans want over what God requires: it focuses on people asking themselves how their sin is working out for them, rather than what God wants. Ovey also thinks that McLaren’s definition lacks contrition. I can see Ovey’s point when he accuses McLaren’s definition of being anthropocentric rather than theocentric. I do not think that what humans want should play no role in repentance, however, since people start to appreciate righteousness when they see the ditches into which sin has landed them. Ovey’s point on contrition rubs me the wrong way, since how can God command us to feel a certain way? And does one have to be emotional to make a change in one’s life?

Along the journey, Ovey broaches other points, such as Calvin’s response to Catholic arguments for honoring saints, and how humans who idolize machines come to resemble what they idolize.

Repentance is a subject that has long been a stumblingblock to me. When it is defined as ceasing to do evil and learning to do good, I trip over it, for can anyone seriously cease doing evil? To make that a requirement for salvation, in my opinion, makes salvation a matter of works rather than a celebration of God’s free grace. Ovey’s book is helpful in its presentation of this difficult subject.

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

Book Write-Up: No Higher Power, by Phyllis Schlafly and George Neumayr

Phyllis Schlafly and George Neumayr. No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom. Regnery, 2012. See here to buy the book.

Phyllis Schlafly was a renowned conservative activist. George Neumayr is a contributing editor to the conservative magazine, The American Spectator. Hereafter, I will refer to the authors as “S & N.”

This book was released in 2012, which was at the end of Barack Obama’s first term as President. S & N essentially argue that Obama has undermined religious freedom and has used the federal government to attack Christianity. One way that S & N believe Obama has done this, of course, is through the contraceptive health care mandate: requiring companies to pay for health insurance that covers abortifacents. Such pressure threatens to put more and more Catholic hospitals out of business, if they choose to be non-compliant. Another way is by pressuring military chaplains to support same-sex marriage. According to S & N, Obama’s policy here gives lip service to religious freedom, but it prefers chaplains who support same-sex marriage, while marginalizing those who reject it on religious grounds. S & N also discuss Establishment Clause cases, which strip Christianity from American public life, all so that atheists will not be offended by a God they do not even believe in.

S & N appear to imply that Barack Obama has a personal animus to Christianity. Obama has consistently omitted references to the Creator when quoting the passage of the Declaration of Independence that mentions the Creator. His pastor, Jeremiah Wright, questions whether Obama is even a Christian. While Obama lauds his mother as a Christian, she actually was a disbeliever in Christianity. S & N also maintain that Obama has not been honest with the American people about his views. He claimed to oppose same-sex marriage before supporting it, when there is evidence that he supported it at the outset. S & N acknowledge that Obama is a good family man, but they believe that he manifests a bias against Christianity.

While Obama is negative towards Christianity, his Administration is more positive towards other religious expressions. Islam gets high praise from Obama and his underlings. And students in public schools sing praises to Obama, as part of official class activities.

S & N take the opportunity to criticize other aspects of Obama and his Administration. Saul Alinsky, the renowned radical community organizer who inspired Obama, gets a chapter. Former Weatherman radical Bill Ayers has a cameo. And the book contends that Obama appointees, nominees, and czars have radical personal and political views. One condones pederasty. Another argued in a case for prohibiting students from having a Christian club on a public school campus. Yet another endorsed abortion as a means of population control.

S & N are also critical of Christian supporters of Obama. They note that one makes almost a million dollars a year in her pro-Obama activities!

S & N see a conflict between two ideologies. The ideology that they oppose lets the State take care of people from cradle to grave and devalues the family as the place of instruction. S & N’s perspective, by contrast, values the family and faith while fearing that government will impinge on freedom, if given leeway to do so.

Here are some items:

A. S & N refer to a case that was like the later case of Kim Davis, the clerk who refused to provide same-sex marriage licenses on religious freedom grounds. This other clerk, however, was perfectly willing for her subordinate to provide the licenses, just so long as she did not have to do so.

B. Unlike some on the right, S & N are critical of those who support compulsory birth control for welfare recipients. They fear that Obama’s policies could set the stage for that, as a way for the government to save money.

C. It is interesting what causes Schlafly takes up. In more than one issue of her Phyllis Schlafly Report, for example, she weighs in on “patent reform.” As far as I know, not too many conservatives get fired up over that! In this book, she is somewhat critical of organ donorship, since doctors may be reluctant to save a person’s life if they can use that person’s organs to help someone else. A relative of mine has a similar attitude: he does not want hospitals to sacrifice his life to save a Rockefeller!

D. Overall, S & N in this book are rather negative towards Islam. They cite acts of Islamic extremism in responding to glowing accounts of Islam by Obama and his appointees. Surprisingly, S & N did not comment on how Obama’s stance towards Islam influenced his policies regarding the War on Terror. Despite their largely negative stance towards Islam, they manage to acknowledge nuance, every now and then. They are aware of the existence of moderate Muslims, for they state that Obama tends to favor radical Muslims abroad over moderate Muslims. They criticize Obama’s attempt to pressure the Kenyan government to support reproductive freedom, to the consternation of Muslim clerics.

E. S & N’s treatment of Alinsky was better than that by other right-wingers I have read, who attribute to Alinsky things that he never said. S & N quote Alinsky’s writings. I happen to be more sympathetic towards Alinsky than they are, since Alinsky seems to have been seeking to empower people who lacked a voice and political power. Why should corporations and governments be able to do anything they wish, without resistance from the people they impact? Even S & N advocate civil disobedience later in the book!

F. On some issues, I am broadly sympathetic towards S & N. I can understand why it is a bad idea for the government to attempt to compel people to violate their religious convictions: that is futile, since people will resist! Obama was arrogant to even try. In terms of S & N’s dire predictions about the outcome of such a policy, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision and the succeeding Trump Administration probably undermined the policy significantly. I am also opposed to students being pressured to sing Obama’s praises. But is not indoctrination in public schools wrong, period, including the indoctrination that S & N may support: public school support for Christianity, or textbooks that have a conservative bent?

G. S & N are critical of setting up schools for LGBT students. What is wrong with this, though? They can be places where LGBT students can thrive academically and socially, without fear of harassment or violence. S & N are for private Catholic schools. Why are LGBT schools so wrong?

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

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Church Write-Up: Giving Because You Want to Give

Church this morning talked about the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17ff. Here are some items:
  1. The youth pastor talked about how it is difficult to give some things up. When the rich man was exhorted by Jesus to sell all that he has and give to the poor, he should have responded that he could not do that. He needed Jesus because his heart was not right and his heart was attached to his possessions.
  2. The pastor’s sermon included a couple stories. The first story was about when he was a pastor years ago. He had Saturday off and company was over, so he was looking forward to a day of relaxation. But he received a phone call from someone who needed help. The pastor was trying to think of ways to brush the man off or to refer him to somebody else, since the pastor did not want to give up his Saturday. The pastor’s brother-in-law, however, was eager to help. The pastor and the brother-in-law picked the man up, and the man looked ragged. They drove him to a hotel, and the woman behind the counter looked like Granny Clampit. She had a frown on her face, and there was no way that man would stay in her hotel! But the pastor showed her his card, which identified him as a pastor, and suddenly her entire disposition changed. She was now happy to do something for Jesus. She let the man stay at the hotel and fed him dinner.
  3. In the second story that the pastor told, the pastor was a child. He earned a dollar and was very possessive of it. His dad came up to him and said that, if the pastor gave him his dollar, he would give him what was in his pocket. Inside the dad’s pocket was a great big Eisenhower silver dollar. The pastor replied, “No,” so possessive was he of his dollar. The dad was disappointed because his son did not trust him.
  4. The Sunday school class was about giving. We see in the Bible laws and warnings about giving. In the Torah, the Israelites were required to give, according to the degree that God blessed them. In the New Testament, there are exhortations to place God above one’s wealth, along with warnings about the negative consequences of materialism. God does not want us to give because we have to give (law), but because we want to give. God does not need our money, for it is all his to begin with. What concerns God is our heart. Remembering God’s love and mercy for us can give us the proper motivation to give; God has lavished us with spiritual riches, even though we do not deserve them. We can therefore offer ourselves as living sacrifices, trusting that God accepts those sacrifices because of Christ’s atonement for our sins. When we love others, we are pleasing to God. We do that imperfectly, and sometimes far and in between; if our hearts were where they should be, we would not need a capital campaign, for our lives would be characterized by giving. But it is a process. The teacher also defined stewards. Stewards are managers of somebody else’s wealth. We manage the wealth that God gave us, as well as creation.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Church Write-Up: The Rich Man of Mark 10:17-27

The Wednesday Bible study group focused on the story of the rich man in Mark 10:17-27. Here are some items:

A. The story comes in between two predictions by Jesus that he will suffer, die, and rise from the dead (Mark 9:12; 10:33-34). The pastor thinks this is significant. The disciples wonder how anyone could be saved, and Jesus responds that, with man, it is impossible, but all things are possible with God. How does God make salvation possible? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

B. The story comes after the disciples rebuking people for bringing their children to Jesus so Jesus can lay hands on them in blessing (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus responds that one must become like a child to enter the Kingdom of God. In those days, the pastor said, children were not considered important. Moreover, people would not place their hands on someone else’s children, as Jesus did; the children’s mothers did that. Someone asked if children were allowed at the Temple, and the pastor replied that the Temple was for adults; women may have brought their infants, but not their toddlers. I will let that stand without comment, at this time, since here I am primarily recording what I heard in class rather than embarking on a major research project; I wonder to what extent it was true. In any case, the pastor thinks the placement of this story before the story of the rich man is significant because the story of the rich man is about the need to become humble: the rich man was self-righteous and proud on account of his riches and his status within the community.

C. The rich man says, “Good master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Perhaps he wondered if there was anything more that he needed to do, or he was seeking commendation from Jesus. Jesus asks the rich man why he is calling Jesus good, since there is only one who is good, namely, God. The rich man was coming at Jesus focusing on himself and what he could do, but Jesus shifts his attention to God: God alone is good, while human beings are sinners in need of a savior. Jesus then tells the man to keep the commandments and specifies commandments from the second table, which focus on not harming one’s neighbor. Jesus may have focused on the second table because that concerned a man’s standing in the community, of which the rich man was proud. The rich man replies that he has kept those commandments from his youth, and Jesus then expands on the second table while shifting the rich man’s attention to the first table (love for God above all else). Jesus exhorts the man to sell all he has and give to the poor. The man was not merely to avoid harming others, for the law required him to help others, as well; it also requires him to place God above his wealth. The man is offended and walks away. The challenge of the law either kills a person and drives him to the Savior, or it offends him and makes him angry with God.

D. The pastor also commented on II Corinthians 9:7, which affirms that God loves a cheerful giver. Paul was raising money for the Christians in Jerusalem, so they could buy food during a coming famine (Acts 11:28). With food scarcity comes higher food prices, so Christians in Jerusalem would need money at that time. The Christians in Corinth owed some spiritual debt to the Jerusalem church, which was the mother of Christianity. At the same time, Paul wanted their contribution to be solely voluntary, not under compulsion. People were to decide for themselves how much they wanted to give, if anything. God loves a cheerful giver. “Cheerful” refers to more than an upbeat attitude but means an attitude of joy. This joy is in response to God’s grace and the promise of eternal life.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Church Write-Up: God Meets Us in the Physical, at Communion

Here are some items from last Sunday’s church activities:

A. The youth pastor contrasted the Old Testament system of access to God with what Christians have. The Old Testament had only one church building: the Tabernacle. Only the high priest had direct access to God, and only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. When Jesus died, however, the veil of the Temple was split in two, and now everyone can have access to God. This model raises a question in my mind. People could pray to God in Old Testament times, without being at the Temple, so what is the difference between what Christians have now and what Old Testament people had then? Perhaps, in the Old Testament, being at the Temple was a surer path of access to God.

B. The pastor talked about the importance of the physical. God meets us in the physical, through such rituals as communion and baptism. That was also the case with the Old Testament sacrificial system. People needed something physical to assure them that they were forgiven. That is true of humans, as well: an apology may not be enough, but a hug can reassure a person that you have forgiven him or her. The physical is also important because, if we overspiritualize things, we can say that our heart was right, even though our outward actions are damaging.

C. A lady gave her testimony. She talked about how she became a Christian at her confession of faith at her confirmation. She did not read the Bible that much, until she was older and had to teach Sunday school. But she felt that she was not growing. She could not attend adult Sunday school, since she was teaching Sunday school to kids at that time. She found a Bible study class, which went through the Bible slowly. They were in Genesis when she started, and, two decades later, they are in Proverbs. She also learned about Christian radio, and she has been fed by the same spiritual teachers for forty years.

D. The Sunday school class was about communion. There was some ambiguity about what exactly communion accomplishes. More than once, it was said that communion brings people forgiveness, but the teacher backtracked from that and said that it was about appropriating the benefits of the forgiveness that Christ brought through the cross. This is a Lutheran church, which believes that Christ is literally present in the elements of communion, and people there expressed their sentiment that Christians who see the elements merely as symbolic are missing out on something: not justification, but a help in sanctification, the path of growing in and building on the faith. Why communion? Well, I would say that, first of all, it is a memorial. Jesus at the first communion said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:24-25). We are memorializing that Christ died for our sins, and perhaps, by eating the elements, we remind ourselves of the importance of being nourished by Christ’s sacrifice by placing our faith in it. Believers in the “real presence” may take this a step further by saying that Christians actually are ingesting Christ’s sacrifice at communion and being nourished by it, not merely symbolizing their act of faith. Second, in my opinion, the teacher did well to point out that communion is a place to fellowship with God, to eat a meal with him. Paul in I Corinthians 10:20-21 places the table of the Lord in the same category as the table of demons, the idolatrous sacrifices. Obviously, the first is good and the second is bad, but both are places where a worshiper fellowships with a deity.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Church Write-Up: Messiah as Melchizedek; Jacob’s Stone in the Temple

Here are two items from Wednesday’s church Bible study:

A. The Book of Hebrews interacts with Psalm 110. Psalm 110 opens: “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (KJV). Within the New Testament, “my Lord” in Psalm 110:1 is interpreted as the Messiah, Jesus Christ (see here). Psalm 110:4 goes on to say, presumably still to “my Lord”: “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” According to a New Testament interpretation of Psalm 110, the LORD is telling David’s Lord, the Messiah, not only that the coming Messiah will sit at God’s right hand and rule his enemies, but also that the Messiah will be a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was a priest prior to the time of the Levitical priesthood (Genesis 14), so Hebrews 7 argues that the Messiah, Jesus, is high priest, even though he did not descend from Aaron or any other Levite. The pastor speculated that, upon receiving the revelation that the coming Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek, David moved the Ark to Jerusalem, the site of Melchizedek’s old kingdom Salem.

B. The pastor said that the Ark of the Covenant was not inside of the Holy of Holies of the Second Temple. Instead, there was a stone, believed to be the stone on which Jacob slept and poured oil in Genesis 28. In Genesis 28, Jacob saw a ladder going up to heaven. The stone in the Second Temple reinforced that the Temple was a place to encounter God: it was where people could meet God, and God could meet people. There are rabbinic traditions about a stone in the Temple, first and second, and some of them associate it with Jacob’s stone (m. Yoma 5:2; Pirke R. Eliezer 35; see here for more information).

Monday, October 14, 2019

Church Write-Up: Baptism

Here are some items from last Sunday’s church activities:

A. The youth pastor talked about some of the places where contributions to the “mite box” go. They help bring Africans clean water. We saw a picture of what their usual water looks like, and I thought it was chili at first. The contributions also train women on how to sew so they can get jobs, as well as fund braille Bibles for blind Christians in Europe.

B. The sermon was about baptism. When we are baptized, we become connected with Christ, and we thereafter receive our nourishment and sustenance from Christ rather than the corruption of the world.

C. The Sunday school class was also about baptism. The teacher quoted Luther’s statement that baptism and the Lord’s supper are visual aids for the Word of God. Baptism is a visual picture of conversion: the old person dying and rising with Christ. Christians are baptized into Christ’s death because it was Christ’s death that brought the atonement, whereas Christ’s resurrection is Christ’s victory over the things he came to defeat (i.e., sin, death, the devil). Christ’s death was also when Christ connected with us, and we become connected with Christ in baptism.

D. There was discussion about the Greek word baptizo. In some cases in the New Testament, it refers to washing (Mark 7:4). But there are also places in which it can refer to dipping or immersing (LXX II Kings 5:14; Mark 10:38-39). Baptism entails being identified with someone or something: when the Israelites were baptized into Moses, they became identified with Moses (I Corinthians 10:2).

E. When we are baptized, we put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). The teacher likened that to wearing colors that show one belongs to a gang. We are part of the gang of Christ. And we demonstrate Christ to others, however imperfectly. We show people in our words and our lives who Christ is and what Christ wants to do for them.

F. A church member from Hong Kong shared a story. Jesus in Matthew 28 commands the disciples to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But many Christians in Hong Kong were baptized solely in the name of Jesus, and, after they arrived at a Lutheran understanding, they wondered if their baptism was valid. The teacher responded that, in his belief, the baptism is valid as long as the baptizees were sincere and believed that Jesus was part of the triune God.

G. One of the members traced her conversion to her confirmation and confession before the church. That does cause me to wonder what the baptism accomplished at infancy, if salvation came later.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Book Write-Up: Inflation (Opposing Viewpoints, 2013)

Noah Berlatsky, ed. Inflation: Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven, 2013. See here to purchase the book. See here to purchase the book.

This book contains different viewpoints on inflation. Here are some thoughts, observations, and questions.

A. Richard Salsman has an article, entitled in this book as “Deflation Is Not a Serious Danger.” Salsman argues that deflation did not cause the Great Depression and cites numerous other economic problems that contributed to it. One of the problems was the Smoot-Hawley tariff. That makes me wonder if the prices were high or low. Deflation is extremely low prices, whereas tariffs are controversial because they raise prices. Perhaps the prices were high, then suddenly low. Some have criticized the Federal Reserve for suddenly contracting the money supply, and FDR in his New Deal sought to increase prices, which may indicate that he thought the prices had become too low.

B. A conventional piece of economic wisdom is that nations try to increase their exports and decrease imports by debasing their currency. I am not entirely sure how one leads to another, but I can envision inflation at least discouraging Americans to buy imports, since a debased currency means prices in America are high on imports (as well as domestically-produced items, of course). A couple authors in this book seemed to question the conventional economic wisdom, for they argued that domestic inflation negatively affects exports. When prices are high, it costs more for companies to make a product, and thus there are fewer of those products to export.

C. Something that has puzzled me is that the Consumer Price Index indicates inflation is low, yet people continually complain about high prices at the grocery store. This book offered an explanation for this: the Consumer Price Index averages out high-price items (i.e., food) with low-price items. The CPI may be low, yet food still costs a lot. Lower-price items are pulling the CPI down.

D. If the Federal Reserve printing lots of money results in inflation, why do we not see hyper-inflation? One reason, of course, is that, just because there is more money out there, that does not mean that people are spending it. This was the case after the 2008 financial crisis. But that has passed, right? What other explanation is there? Peter Bernholz explains that most dollars are overseas, but how does that obviate hyperinflation? Is it because there are fewer dollars in the United States, meaning the U.S. in effect has a small money supply? But how relevant is that in a global economy, where the supply of something (i.e., oil) in the world affects its price in the United States?

E. One of the debates in this book concerns whether money supply is a primary factor contributing to inflation. It makes sense that it would be. More money out there stimulates demand, and, if the supply fails to keep up with that demand, the price goes up. The view that money supply contributes to inflation is related to the conventional supply-demand explanation for whether prices are high or low. Some contributors, however, acted as if supply and demand were the primary factors. If prices are high for one product, they may be low for another product, since high demand for one product may entail low demand for another product. People are spending a lot for that one product and thus do not clamor to buy that other product.

F. The editor explains how inflation can actually lead to an increase in consumption. People may purchase a car immediately rather than saving for it if they realize that the price will soon go up.
This is a good book, albeit difficult to understand, in areas.

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Book Write-Up: Proverbs, by Irving L. Jensen

Irving L. Jensen. Proverbs. Moody: 1982, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

Irving L. Jensen taught Bible and chaired the Bible department at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. This book is a reprint of Jensen’s 1982 commentary on the biblical Book of Proverbs.


—-Jensen interprets wisdom in Proverbs 8 in a manner that is faithful to its probable original meaning (wisdom is being personified), while smoothly integrating into his discussion the ancient Christian interpretation of wisdom as the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ, through whom God created the cosmos. According to Jensen, what is said about wisdom in Proverbs 8 is consistent with the ancient Christian interpretation.

—-Jensen does well to address the question of whether Proverbs is simply a bunch of scattered meanderings, or if the proverbs instead are grouped together as they are for a specific reason.

—-Jensen offers a compelling picture of wisdom inviting people into a relationship.

—-Jensen argues that the Book of Proverbs was largely written by Solomon and that some of the proverbs reflect the lives of David and Solomon. This may be speculative, but Jensen argues artfully.


—-The commentary is not particularly meaty. Overall, it proceeds rapidly from one subject to another rather than dwelling on things in depth. A significant amount of the book consists of charts rather than narrative.

—-Jensen argues for a tee-totaler interpretation of Proverbs 23:30-35. He fails to engage Proverbs 31:6-7, in which the author seems to encourage the poor and despairing to drink alcohol.

This commentary has some merit, but better ones are out there.

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

Pat Buchanan: Is Trump At Last Ending Our ‘Endless Wars’?

Monday, October 7, 2019

Church Write-Up: Rust

At last Sunday’s church service, the pastor told a story about his brother when he was younger. The brother had a car, and the bottom of it was gradually rusting due to salty slush in winter-times. The brother took the car on a joyride on the railroad tracks, and the top of the car separated from the bottom. That rust had caught up!

The pastor likened that to the spiritual condition. He referred to The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. A demon is advising an apprentice demon about how to spiritually trip up a Christian. The Christian falls in love, and the demon suggests that the apprentice demon try to trip up the Christian on the seemingly small things—-the irritations that the Christian has as he and his spouse become accustomed to living with each other.

The pastor also told a story about when he was a boy, and he forgot to say his prayers one night before he went to sleep. He woke up, and he realized that he was still alive, even though he had not said his prayers before falling asleep! That resulted in spiritual doubt, which became a rust on his person’s spiritual condition.

The youth pastor shared about spiritual slumps he had been in. He says he knows that God loves him, even though there are times when he wants to stay in bed and not do anything! He also referred to Philippians 4:8, in which Paul exhorts the Philippian Christians to think upon what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.

That overlapped with the pastor’s sermon, which was about the importance of letting the word of God enter into one’s innards, such that it affects one’s outward confession.

How has this related to me?

—-I have been listening to political podcasts. I think of something Joel Osteen said on one of the rare occasions when I watched him on television. Joel referred to a man who used to listen to talk radio on the way to work, and he was grouchy after listening to people’s continuing disrespect for each other. So the man decided to listen to Joel Osteen on the way to work instead, and the man’s disposition was much better, as he was cheerful and friendly to his co-workers. I am trying to be discerning as I listen to political podcasts, since they do demonize others; at the same time, some of the ones that I listen to highlight the complexity of people’s motivations and examples of heroism. Plus, they expose injustice, and does not the Bible do the same? I would like to continue to listen to political podcasts. It would be dull for me to listen to Joel Osteen instead!

—-I have been reading some Christian conservative exposes of the New Age Movement. Johanna Michaelsen’s Like Lambs to the Slaughter. Constance Cumbey’s Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow. I am getting back in touch with the sorts of reading material that I read in my youth: conservative Christian and politically right-wing books. The thing is, I found some of the New Agey things that were quoted to be more appealing to me than traditional Christianity. In times of loneliness, it would be tempting for me to visualize myself visiting a mysterious temple and seeing a loving old man who can talk back to me and be my spirit guide! With God, it often feels like what the priest on last week’s episode of Evil said: God is the quietest roommate! I do not want to open myself up to anything evil, though, so I will not be doing New Age things. Plus, at least I attend a conservative church where the Gospel is faithfully preached, week in and week out. Churches where New Agey things are said from the pulpit strike me as annoyingly flakey.

I’ll stop here.

Book Write-Up: The US Deficit (Opposing Viewpoints, 2013)

Kathy Jennings and Lynn M. Zott. The US Deficit: Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven, 2013. See here to purchase the book.

This book contains different points-of-view on the federal budget deficit. It was published in 2013, so it largely focuses on the budget battles of 2011: the sequester, the Simpson-Bowles commission, etc. It discusses whether the deficit is a serious economic problem, as well as the relationship of entitlements, taxes, and defense spending to the deficit.

Here are some thoughts and observations:

A. Those who think that the deficit is a massive problem, to be ameliorated through tax increases and/or cuts in government spending, predict high interest rates and drastic economic slowdown if the deficit is not reduced. The other side, by contrast, maintains that the federal government may need to spend more money to stimulate the economy, deficits notwithstanding, and the economic growth will lead to more tax revenues and allow the deficit to take care of itself. To the deficit hawk side, I ask why we have not seen the massive problems that it has predicted, even though the U.S. has trillions of dollars in debt. To the Keynesian side, I can somewhat agree with the deficit hawks who question whether more government spending necessarily leads to stimulus, since such an argument assumes that the government efficiently allocates resources, which has been debated.

B. Some of the contributions were rather tepid in defending the position that is attributed to them. The Congressional Budget Office explains how “Raising Taxes Can Help Reduce the Budget Deficit,” but it candidly admits that taxes can have a constraining impact on businesses.

C. The section on defense is a little one-sided. It could have included more of a pro-defense contribution. That is not to say that I disliked the critiques of bloated defense spending or the U.S. being the world policeman.

D. On the section about entitlements, the view that entitlements impact the deficit looks almost like a no-brainer. Yet, my question to this position is the same as my question to the deficit hawks in (A.): why have we not seen the apocalyptic events that such a position forecasted? Some of the dates when they said things would fall apart have already come and gone. Alan S. Blinder has a contribution, “Cuts Should Be Made to Health Care Costs, Not to Entitlement Programs.” That first part is rather obvious, too obvious to be stated, without offering proposals as to how to do this. James Kwak has an excellent article, entitled in this book as “Cutting Medicare Spending Is Unnecessary Because It Is an Affordable Program.” It proposes simple common-sense reforms that can bring Medicare more money, as well as observes that, though health care costs rise, so does federal revenue. There is some unclarity in the section about whether today’s workers subsidize today’s retirees in the Social Security System, or if they actually are storing money in Social Security for their own retirement down the road.

The book could have been better, but it is a decent overview of the topic.

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

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Church Write-Up: Romans 10

The Wednesday Bible study group focused on Romans 10. Paul there talks about hearing the Gospel and responding to it in faith.

Some items:

A. The pastor gave a biblical history of the priority, nature, and authority of God’s word for the people of God. In Genesis, God speaks directly to people, though he sometimes communicates through dreams. The sacrificial system was then set up, and God promised to meet God’s people at a sanctuary: the Tabernacle and, later, the Jerusalem Temple. There, people would receive forgiveness of sins from God. After King Jeroboam in Northern Israel set up alternative sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel, God communicated with the Northern Kingdom through prophets, since God did not recognize Jeroboam’s sanctuaries. In the South, the sanctuary was the primary place where people met God, but there were still some prophets, including the official prophets in the king’s court. With the destruction of the Temple in 587 B.C.E., Judahites wondered how they would meet God. They could offer their own sacrifices in their backyard, but there was no divine guarantee that God would recognize or accept those sacrifices, meet them at those sacrifices, and forgive their sins. In the Babylonian exile, the view emerged that God meets people through God’s word, and synagogues and places of biblical exposition were created. Because the Israelites did not want to bring divine wrath upon themselves again, they shifted from seeing the Torah primarily as God’s divine self-revelation, to seeing it largely as God’s rules for them to follow.

B. Paul in Romans is trying to demonstrate that his Gospel is consistent with the Old Testament. In Romans 4, Paul argues that his Gospel that one becomes righteous before God by faith, not works, accords with the example of Abraham. In Romans 10, Paul demonstrates that his Gospel is consistent with Moses, another founding father of ancient Israel. In Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Moses makes a point to the Israelites about the nearness and accessibility of God’s commandment. The Israelites do not have to search for it in heaven or across the sea, for the commandment is near them, in their mouth and in their heart to do it. Paul applies what Moses says about God’s commandment to the Gospel. People need not go to heaven or to the underworld to hear it, for Christ himself came from heaven and revealed God’s word in the incarnation, and Christ went to the underworld and rose from the dead. The proclaimed word of God creates faith in the hearer and penetrates deeply into that person’s innards, such that it influences his confession, profession, and life.

C. Was Paul misapplying Deuteronomy 30:11-14 by applying it to the Gospel, when it originally was about God’s commandment? The pastor seemed to address this in two ways. First, he interpreted the commandment in Deuteronomy 30:11-14 as God’s broader revelation in the Torah. What is said about the commandment can apply to God’s other words in the revelation. Second, Jesus is the fulfillment of the commandments, in that Jesus did the law on our behalf, died to pay the penalty for our transgression of the law, and rose from the dead, demonstrating the Father’s acceptance of his sacrifice. What is said about the commandment is applicable to the Gospel, which concerns Christ’s fulfillment of the commandment.

D. The pastor was asked about the soul, and he replied that the soul in the New Testament is not so much a sentient spook inside the shell of a body but is the breath of life. The physical is important. This makes some sense, since I Corinthians 15 contrasts the present human body animated by the soul with the glorified resurrected body animated by God’s spirit. The soul there does not appear to be a person’s inward person, for would not a resurrected body have that as well? At the same time, what the pastor said raises a question in my mind. What about the intermediate state, between death and the final resurrection? Are there disembodied souls in the intermediate state? In that case, the soul would appear to be a person’s inward person, not merely the breath that gives life to the physical body.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Book Write-Up: Men and Women in Christ, by Andrew Bartlett

Andrew Bartlett. Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts. IVP/SPCK, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

From the back cover of the book: “Andrew Bartlett QC is based in London and is a highly rated international arbitrator with a wide range of experience in dispute resolution in numerous locations. He has a BA in theology (University of Gloucestershire) and has served as an elder and a churchwarden in various churches.”

This book weighs in on the complementarian/egalitarian debate within evangelical Christianity.

Here are some thoughts, observations, and subjective impressions:

A. While Bartlett tries to give the impression that he is transcending the debate, Bartlett leans towards the egalitarian perspective. When Ephesians 5:23 affirms that the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, Bartlett rejects the view that this means the husband has authority over his wife; rather, after doing a word study on the Greek word kephale, Bartlett concludes that the husband is head in that he nourishes and provides for his wife. The wife responds by providing her husband with support, which is what believers are supposed to be doing for each other in the first place. For Bartlett, I Corinthians 11 does not posit a hierarchy in which women are under male authority. Rather, Bartlett argues that Paul is trying to prevent married women from attracting other men in church services through their long hair, and men from attracting male lovers by wearing their hair long. As far as Paul is concerned, this violates Christ’s created order, which is significant because Christ is the source of (not head over) man. On I Timothy 2:11-15, Bartlett does not believe that Paul is prohibiting women from church leadership for all time. Rather, Paul is against rich heretical women who spread false teaching and practice witchcraft, and Paul likens that to Eve misleading her husband. Paul encourages women to serve as wives and mothers. At the same time, Bartlett does not think that women being saved through childbearing means that they are saved by having kids. Bartlett refers to two alternative possibilities: (1.) that the childbearing refers to the birth of Christ, who saves women from the stigma and guilt of the Fall, and (2.) that the verse is saying that God, not Artemis, protects Christian women when they are bearing children.

B. Bartlett leans towards egalitarianism, but he still believes that men and women are different and contribute their distinct talents and dispositions. Women in church leadership can bring positive feminine qualities (i.e., nurturing, compassion) to their positions. Bartlett points out that this view is not unusual among evangelical egalitarians. Similarly, complementarianism is rather complex, for, while it rejects official female leadership in church, many modern complementarians are open to female leadership in politics and business.

C. Bartlett provides relevant historical details. Against the complementarian argument that married women in antiquity wore veils as a public demonstration of their husband’s authority, Bartlett points out that ancient depictions of Greco-Roman women often do not show them wearing veils. This is relevant to debates about I Corinthians 11. Against the argument that I Timothy 2:11-15 forbids women to teach because women in that time were uneducated, Bartlett cites examples of Greco-Roman women who were well-educated. Bartlett also refers to ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman conceptions of male authority over women in marriage, using them as a foil for what he believes is the New Testament teaching.

D. Bartlett mentions intriguing, sometimes disturbing, interpretations within the history of biblical interpretation. Calvin thought that it would be illogical for women to lead men, so he stumbled over God’s choice of the judge Deborah to lead Israel. Augustine thought that women were helpers of men specifically because they bore children, not due to companionship, for, if men wanted social company, could they not get that from fellow men?

E. Bartlett made some effective arguments. Against the argument that Adam naming Eve demonstrates his authority over her, Bartlett refers to Hagar’s naming of God in Genesis 16:13. Obviously, Hagar did not possess authority over God. Bartlett also refutes the complementarian argument that Paul’s permission of women to prophesy (I Corinthians 11) refers to private prophesying rather than prophesying in the church assembly. As Bartlett points out, Paul’s focus in I Corinthians 11 is on what goes on in the church assembly.

F. I Peter 3:6 states that Sarah called Abraham “lord.” Sarah does so in Genesis 18:12, where she expresses skepticism that she will bear children in her old age. According to Bartlett, Sarah submits to Abraham as “lord,” not by seeing him as her boss, but rather by submitting to God’s plan that she have offspring, as incredible as that may seem.

G. Bartlett seems to downplay the patriarchy that pervades the Bible. In a footnote, he wrestles with Numbers 30’s statement that a man can nullify his wife’s oath, speculating that this is a concession to human fallenness. That may be how he accounts for all of the patriarchy that is sanctioned in the Bible: that men, not women, can inherit property in the Torah, etc. Bartlett does well to point out that women are not passive doormats in the Bible: they have their own voice, and the ideal woman in Proverbs 31 takes economic initiative in her own right. Still, the patriarchy that pervades the Bible cannot be dodged, for women in the Old and New Testaments were not the social equals of men.

H. Bartlett’s approach to Scripture is rather harmonizing. For Bartlett, Paul in I Timothy 2:11-15 cannot mean that women are forbidden to teach in church, for Paul in I Corinthians 11 accepts women prophesying. Paul in I Timothy 2:15 does not mean that women are saved by having children, for Paul affirms in other epistles that salvation is by grace through faith alone. Many scholars, by contrast, hold that the pastoral epistles and the Pauline epistles have different authors; Paul may have been more egalitarian than the patriarchal author of the pastorals, according to this view. That said, “Paul” in I Timothy 2:15 probably does not mean that women earn their salvation by bearing children and thus do not need Christ as their Savior. Still, could he have believed that childbearing and childrearing were part of the spiritual fruit that Christian women bore in the salvation process? As even Bartlett notes, Paul praises childrearing elsewhere in the pastorals.

This book is clear and informative. Some of Bartlett’s arguments are effective, and some may seem like a stretch. Still, Bartlett engages issues that are relevant to the debate.

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

Book Write-Up: Income Inequality (Opposing Viewpoints, 2016)

Noel Merino, ed. Income Inequality: Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven, 2016.

This book is about income inequality in the United States. Income inequality contains two facets. First, it means that a tiny percentage of wealthy people possess a vast percentage of the wealth. Second, there is an enormous income gap between the top earners and the middle-income earners.

In the tradition of the Opposing Viewpoint series, this book contains a variety of views on this controversial issue.

Some thoughts and observations:

A. There is debate in this book about whether the measurements of income inequality are reliable. There is a vast income gap between rich and poor, some argue, but that refers only to pre-tax income; after taxes, things are a little more equal. One problem with this argument is that those who believe income inequality is a problem also talk about after-tax income, showing that inequality is great even there. Also, vast income leads to more political influence, which means that wealthy people can shape the tax code to their advantage.

B. Robert Reich, of course, argues that labor unions can help ameliorate income inequality by enabling workers to bargain for a greater share of the economic pie. Ronald Bailey, by contrast, contends that states with the greatest economic freedom—-lower taxes, less government spending, fewer regulations, and right-to-work laws—-have lower rates of income inequality than states with less economic freedom. That may be because the states with less economic freedom, the liberal coastal states, attract companies and wealthy people (i.e., Amazon, tech companies).

C. One argument against income inequality being a problem is that even middle and lower classes have luxuries, such as cell-phones. That, in my opinion, does not mean that the American economic system lacks problems: people having to work multiple jobs just to get by, health care inflation, etc. There are other arguments made against income inequality being a problem: that income mobility is rather high in the U.S., and that income has risen even for lower and middle-income people. Here, I wonder what statistics to believe: theirs, or the statistics about income being stagnant for lower and middle-income people.

D. There was a section about income inequality as it relates to gender and race. Interestingly, almost every contribution about gender income inequality acknowledged that one reason women make less than men is that women have to take time off from work to take care of their children. This is a common right-wing argument. The contributors did not stop there and say “that’s just the way it is,” however, but advocated greater flexibility in work hours and paid family leave. The part on race did not have much of a debate, for both articles argued that income inequality along racial lines is a significant problem.

E. Sheldon Richman has an article, entitled in this book as “Only Political Inequality, Not Market Inequality, Should be Eliminated.” Initially, that struck me as naive, for it is market inequality that arguably contributes to political inequality, as the wealthy have more political influence. It reminds me of when I was watching a Citizens United lawyer on Bill Moyers’s PBS program a while back, and he was arguing that the government should not suppress speech but rather should try to break up the big companies so they are not big anymore. The problem is that, if these rich people are able to give large political donations with impunity, they will easily block attempts to break up their companies. Perhaps, though, we are not without hope. Lower and middle-income people who desire campaign finance reform still have a vote.

F. Some of the contributions struck me as rather idealistic. Robert Reich wants the poor and lower middle-income to be exempt from the payroll tax, while the rich shoulder even more of the tax burden. Meanwhile, there were the calls for paid family leave. Little effort was made to grapple with how these measures might impact businesses, how tax increases might discourage investment, how companies pass on higher taxes to their consumers, or how creating a new entitlement would cost the government vast amounts of money, which would have to be raised somehow.

G. Charles Murray has a thoughtful article, entitled in this book as “Cultural Inequality Is a Problem that Needs to be Addressed.” Charles Murray co-wrote the controversial Bell Curve and is a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Murray essentially argues that wealth inequality coincides with cultural separation: the upper-income live in their enclaves with other upper-income people, while the lower and middle-income live in their own areas. That differs from what de Tocqueville observed about the early United States: that the rich mingled with the lower-income. Others in this book made a similar observation to that of Murray: if the rich can provide for their own private schools and health care, they will not be as compassionate towards those whose kids are in public schools or who are crushed by high health care costs, and their votes will reflect that. Murray takes his insight in a bipartisan direction, saying that both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements reflect the alienation of lower and middle-income people from wealthy elites. Murray also seems to manifest a nostalgia for the 1950’s culture and hopes that can make a comeback: that society will encourage men in their 30s and 40s to work and women to have children after they are married, not apart from marriage. Perhaps society can use a little more of that, but I do not think it should go in the direction of judging people who cannot pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and enter the American middle-class.

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