Sunday, October 25, 2020

Martha, the Light, and Exodus Old and New

 Some items from church, followed by a book write-up.

A. On Wednesday, my church had its last session on Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing. We talked about the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. People in the group were rejecting the idea that Jesus’s main lesson in the story is “Don’t be a Martha.” There was nothing wrong with Martha serving. The problem was her focus. Instead of rejoicing that she had the honor to serve Jesus and to bring happiness to her guests, she focused on the immensity and stress of her tasks, and she resented that her sister, Mary, was sitting listening to Jesus rather than helping her out. Jesus sought to reorient Martha’s focus to what is valuable: him.

B. At the service this morning, teens were talking about their favorite Bible verses and what they mean to them. They had just gone through confirmation. One person shared that Matthew 5:16 was her favorite verse: let your light shine before men. She talked about Jesus’s death and how his disciples wondered if Jesus’s teachings would continue or if they died with Jesus. But Jesus rose again and empowered his disciples with the Holy Spirit, so Jesus’s message went on. She testified that she has helped people with their problems, sharing her faith with them, and that helps her, perhaps more than it helps the people. The reason that I liked this testimony was that it offered a practical reason for Matthew 5:16: we let our light shine because that brings Jesus’s teachings to the world around us. What Jesus started in the first century did not die with him but lives on in him and in us.

C. L. Michael Morales. Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption. IVP Academic, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

L. Michael Morales teaches biblical studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. This book offers a Christian interpretation of the biblical exodus, focusing in the last section on the Gospel of John.

A lot of what Morales says would not be new to Christians. Either they have heard it, or they would not be surprised to hear it. Morales talks about how the exodus is about deliverance from God’s wrath through the blood of a lamb, the slaying of sinful chaos, reconciliation with God, and deliverance from an oppressive ruler. All of these themes are taken up in the Christian Gospel, which is about forgiveness through the blood of the Lamb (Christ), Christ’s ultimate defeat of sin and death, and Christ’s deliverance of people from this sinful world system. Morales documents that the Old Testament prophetic writings predict a second exodus, and he maintains that this finds its fulfillment in Christ.

Where I struggle with this book is that the Old Testament’s prophetic writings discuss the second exodus in terms of God’s actions on behalf of the nation of Israel. It includes Israel’s return to her land, the reestablishment of her political and religious institutions, and her physical prosperity as a nation. What does Morales do with these themes? The logical answer would be that he treats them as symbolic of spiritual realities, but, as far as I recall, he fails to engage them or to discuss his hermeneutic with respect to them.

The first two parts of the book were rather plodding, with an interesting detail here and there. One such detail is about how Reuben’s sleeping with his father’s concubine in Genesis 35 was an attempt on his part to gain authority over his brothers then and there. According to Morales, Reuben appreciated but misapplied his responsibility as the firstborn.

The third part of the book is riveting. Morales interprets pieces of John’s Gospel in reference to Old Testament themes, such as Eden. Maybe there is something to his interpretation, and maybe in some cases he is reaching, but the picture is fascinating. Morales also pulls together the themes of his book.

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

Sunday, October 18, 2020

True Unbelief, Romans 11, Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation, the Real Anita Hill

 Some items from church and books that I recently read.

A. Last Wednesday, I attended, via Zoom, my church’s group on Max Lucado’s Anxious for Nothing. Two ideas stood out to me:

—-One of the people there shared about her father. Her father, according to her characterization, has long been a selfish man who desires glory, recognition, and adulation for himself. He is sick, and she is unsure if he is a Christian. He says that he is, but his life gives little indication of love for God. Her mother was the one who took her family to church, whereas her father did not go. The pastor encouraged her with Isaiah 42:3, which affirms that the Suffering Servant shall not put out a smoldering wick. If there is any faith there, God is eager to fan that flame.

—-Someone in the group shared that the atheists and agnostics he knows hate God because life did not turn out as they wanted. The pastor responded with: “If there is no God, whom do you hate?” The pastor talked about the movie Signs, in which Mel Gibson plays an ex-priest who walked away from God due to the death of his wife. The pastor used to ask his confirmation class: “When did the priest get his faith back?” The students usually replied, “When he became a priest again,” or “When he acknowledged that his trials had a purpose.” But the pastor thought the priest regained his faith when he told God, “I hate you,” because, at least there, he was acknowledging that God exists. I have wondered what I believe in times when I hate God. When I hate God for, say, requiring me to love and forgive others and withholding his love and grace from me when I do not, do I really believe that God is like that? I fear that he might be, since a biblical case can be made for that. But there is another part of me, perhaps deeper down, that believes that God is merciful to me, anyway, and that God has never written me off.

B. Bible study this morning covered Romans 11. Ever since I gave a presentation on Romans 9-11 as a senior in college, which was twenty-one years ago, my interpretation of Romans 11 has gone like this. God is faithful to Israel in that God has preserved a remnant of Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah. But God has hardened most Jews’ heart, such that they do not believe, and the purpose is so that the Gospel will then go to the Gentiles, who do believe. Paul hopes that the conversion of the Gentiles will stir the unbelieving Jews to jealousy and influence them to believe, but, ultimately, he leaves their belief to God. God, at or soon before the second coming of Christ, will soften the unbelieving Jews’ heart such that they believe. All Israel will be saved, and that will be like a national resurrection from the dead.

The pastor, a Lutheran, offered a different interpretation, one that focuses on free will, the law/Gospel dichotomy, and God’s mercy to sinners. Romans 11 begins with Elijah’s disappointment with God. Elijah was focusing on his own good works, as if they made him valuable to God, neglecting that it is God’s mercy and love that makes Elijah valuable in God’s sight. Meanwhile, whatever Elijah’s success or lack thereof, God reserved for himself a remnant that rejected the worship of Baal. God is using most Jews’ rejection of the Gospel for good: to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. But the Gentile Christians must take heed not to think that they are better than others due to any worth on their part. They are in the olive tree, Israel, through God’s mercy. Whereas conventional horticulture entails grafting quality fruit onto a tree, making the tree healthier, God has unconventionally grafted wild branches, the Gentiles, into the olive tree. The pastor disputed the premillennial view that there will be a mass conversion of the Jews in the last days; rather, according to the pastor, Paul invites the non-believing Jews now to believe. If they do so, they will be defined in terms of resurrection rather than unbelief and reliance on their works. Paul then seeks to resolve the conflict between Gentile Christians in Rome and Jewish Christians who returned after absence from Rome by focusing on God’s mercy: we all have been consigned to sin, so we all need a savior.

There are some tensions in what the pastor was saying. For one, the pastor said that God hardened the Jews by sealing the unbelief that they willfully chose. The pastor rejects double predestination, that God somehow caused the Jews’ unbelief. Rather, they chose to reject the Gospel, and God sealed that unbelief. Yet, the pastor also seemed to deny that the unbelieving Jews were totally sealed in their unbelief, for Paul still had hope that they could embrace the Gospel. Second, the pastor talked about Isaiah 40, which Paul quotes in Romans 11. Isaiah 40 closes by affirming that God lifts up the weak and the weary. The pastor referred to Luther’s statement that we cannot believe due to our own weakness and weariness, but God prefers to show mercy. That seemed to contradict the pastor’s emphasis on human free will in his interpretation of Romans 11: that people can simply choose to accept or reject God.

Another point that the pastor made was that Paul’s image of the olive tree is a midrash on Jeremiah 11:16-19. There, God plants an olive tree, Israel, but its branches are burned off due to God’s judgment of it.

C. Gavin Ortlund. Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation: Ancient Wisdom for Current Controversy. IVP Academic, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

Gavin Ortlund has a Ph.D. from Fuller and serves as pastor of First Baptist Church of Ojai in California. This book, as the title indicates, is about how Augustine can illuminate current religious controversies about human origins.

Ortlund convincingly demonstrates that Augustine was unlike today’s Young Earth Creationists (YECs): one who believes that God created the cosmos six thousand years ago, that animal suffering and death came as a result of the Fall, and that God created humans and animals by fiat rather than by using evolution. Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis 1-3 was not entirely literal. Augustine was humble when the science of his day appeared to contradict Genesis 1-3. Augustine was open to the idea that God could create through development rather than fiat: Adam, for example, may have been created as an infant who grew rather than being created as an adult. And, far from seeing animal suffering and death as a result of the Fall, Augustine regarded them as a part of God’s original creation and as part of a beautiful tapestry. These insights are at least consistent with what modern science says about origins and cosmic history. Ortlund also highlights how Augustine regards creation as ongoing, as opposed to believing that everything was perfect six thousand years ago until the Fall. Creation continues to long for God, a la Romans 8, and God will renew it and bring it to Godself.

At the same time, Ortlund’s Augustine is far from being a theistic evolutionist of the Biologos variety. Augustine’s struggle with Genesis 1 was not about trying to harmonize Genesis 1 with an ancient earth; rather, Augustine believed that God created everything simultaneously and sought to explain Genesis 1’s picture of God creating sequentially. In some areas, Augustine rejects the science of his day in favor of faith. Augustine also thought that Genesis 2-3 was historical, on some level, even though he also held that parts of it are figurative and allegorical of a spiritual reality. Near the end of the book, Ortlund goes into later (nineteenth-twentieth century) Christian attempts to harmonize a historical Adam and Eve with evolution.

The book could have been stronger in a couple of areas. First, it could have gone into more depth about how the science of Augustine’s day challenged a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. The book opens with a compelling passage about how Augustine, like many evangelicals today, had been convinced “that the Genesis account is inconsistent with the most sophisticated intellectual trends of the day.” Seeing the parallel is rather difficult, though. The challenges today appear immense. Science says that the earth is old, that humanity did not descend from one human couple thousands of years ago, and that animal death has been with us for millions of years, forming an integral part of earth’s ecology; a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 seems to say something different, and, what is more, what that literal interpretation says appears to form a crucial part of Christian doctrine. Augustine, on the other hand, simply rejects the idea that the cosmos is eternal and Manichean dualism. Maybe I see those things as obviously wrong and as easier to reject than today’s scientific challenges, so I fail to appreciate the gravity of Augustine’s struggle. Still, the book could have been clearer about where Augustine’s struggle was.

Second, there is the question of whether Augustine is authoritative for Christians. A lot of Christians will simply say: “Why should I accept Augustine? I just go with the Bible!” Ortlund did well to refute the YECs who treat Augustine as an exemplar of their position, and who act as if a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 is solely a recent phenomenon. Ortlund also did well to highlight theological possibilities: that perhaps God did create the earth as imperfect and as growing, rather than as totally perfect at the outset. But Augustine’s authority was not sufficiently defended.

Still, the book effectively discusses how Christians might want to harmonize Genesis 1-3 with modern science.

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

D. David Brock. The Real Anita Hill: The Untold Story. The Free Press, 1993.

In this book, David Brock argues that Anita Hill was lying whereas Clarence Thomas was telling the truth. Brock, of course, later repudiated this book. But I was curious about this book’s case.

Often, I read that Brock characterized Hill as a bit nutty and a bit slutty. That may have been in his American Spectator article, which formed the basis for this book, but such a claim is absent from this book itself. Hill is actually said to be inexperienced in dating.

Another claim was that Brock relied on anonymous sources. Indeed, some of his sources are anonymous. But many are not. What is more, Brock alludes frequently to the official testimonies of Hill, Thomas, and other witnesses. Brock shows where Hill’s testimony is contradictory, both with what she said and also with what others testified. Brock also quotes female employees of Thomas, who testified that he was morally strict in his oversight of the EEOC. These employees were not seeking to ingratiate themselves with Thomas or to avoid professional backlash from him, for some of them had been fired by Thomas.

Another claim was that Brock ignored other female victims of Thomas and Thomas’s penchant for pornography. But Brock actually talks about another woman’s allegation against Thomas, saying that it could have been rooted in her animosity at Thomas having fired her. Brock also says that, when Hill came forward, it would be logical to anticipate copycats coming forward with stories copying what Hill said. Regarding pornography, Brock acknowledges that Thomas saw pornographic movies at Yale Law School, but so did a lot of students. And the things that Hill said Thomas talked with her about in the 1980’s were absent from pornographic movies at the time. Brock also says that, even if Thomas still viewed pornography, that does not mean that he harassed Anita Hill.

Yet another claim was that the book was a right-wing hit-job. Brock, at least in the book, seeks to avoid this charge. He presents himself as neutral before he began his investigation. He criticizes Republican scandals, like Iran-Contra, not only Democratic misdeeds. He portrays Thomas, not as a typical right-winger, but as an independent thinker with nuanced beliefs. Maybe his book is one-sided, since a more balanced book would probably interview Democratic Senators and more people who liked Hill. But it is still well-researched.

Who is the “Real Anita Hill,” according to Brock in this book? Hill was a successful student in both high school and also law school. But she professionally struggled after she graduated. She left a law firm and claimed her departure was about sexual harassment. She then went to work for Thomas at the Department of Education, and she enjoyed her professional relationship with him, as they debated and socialized. When Thomas moved to the EEOC, she followed him there, even though she had job security at the Department of Education. She became disenchanted with her EEOC job, however. She lacked the access to Thomas that she had at Education, which disappointed her professionally and perhaps even romantically. She was in over her head when it came to the work at EEOC. She was becoming disappointed with Thomas’s increasing move to the right, thinking that Thomas was betraying his roots. What is more, she may actually have been sexually harassed, albeit by another supervisor at EEOC, who had a reputation. She left EEOC and taught at Oral Roberts University, but she did not fit in there and moved to the University of Oklahoma, where she fit in better due to the faculty being more liberal. She was not a very good professor but was disorganized and blamed her problems on racism. She had an obsession with sexual harassment, racism, and even, on some level, pornography: she talked to people about “Long Dong Silver” and placed what appeared to be pubic hairs on students’ exams. Hill may have blamed Thomas for the sexual harassment by the other EEOC supervisor, since Thomas was the ultimate authority at EEOC, and, as a liberal, she also may have wanted to stop his appointment to the Supreme Court, but she sought to make her charges against Thomas anonymously. When the liberal “shadow Senate”—-the lobbies and Senators who opposed Thomas—-got her to go public, she built up her initially meager story to save face.

As it reads, and based on what I currently know, the book is judicious. Were I to read Strange Justice, which is anti-Thomas, that might alter my impression.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Sign of Cain, Romans 10, Dagger in the Heart

 Some items from church, followed by a book write-up:

A. The church service was about peace. The pastor opened his sermon with a story about how anger begets anger. A boss yells at his worker, the worker goes home and yells at his kid, and the kid goes out and kicks the poor dog. The pastor then talked about a blog post by Chad Bird. Bird in his post discusses the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. God rejects Cain’s sacrifice and, when Cain’s anger actually should be directed at God, Cain takes his anger out at his brother Abel, who had done him no wrong. The pastor then said that many define peace in terms of what is absent rather than what is present: peace as the absence of strife, or as five minutes of rest from the demands of one’s family. But the Christian idea of peace includes what is present: Christ and his love and forgiveness. Returning to Chad Bird’s post, the pastor mentioned the protective sign that God placed on Cain, who feared that people would try to kill him. The Hebrew word translated in Genesis 4:15 as “mark” is ot, which, elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, often refers to an affirmative sign. God placed a protective sign on Cain, which demonstrated God’s forgiveness of him.

B. The Bible study was about Romans 10. Some points that were made in that:

—-The pastor talked about a perspective of Christian positions: antinomianism, universalism, and legalism. One Lutheran theologian in the 1940’s, Boener Oehler (sp.?), maintained that the role of the law in convicting people of sin has been fulfilled in Christ, meaning the law no longer serves to convict Christians of sin. Christians are under no condemnation, period. Someone commented that he could somewhat understand how a Christian could arrive at antinomianism and universalism, as erroneous as these positions are; what he could not understand is how a Christian could arrive at legalism, since Paul in Romans 10 emphatically denies that people have to earn their salvation through their own righteousness. For Christians, he continued, there are no eternal consequences that relate to the law, but the law is still relevant to how Christians live here and now. The pastor said that the correct position is that Christians observe the law, not because they have to, but because they want to, in thanksgiving for what God has done for them. In Romans 10, Paul affirms that God’s word is in Christians’ heart and mind, so they want to do it; this is descriptive, not prescriptive. I have two responses. First, what if I do not want to do it? What if I do not want to forgive others, love others, serve others, not have a sex drive, etc.? Second, I am the opposite to that one student. I can understand how a Christian can arrive at legalism from the Bible, for the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, has a lot of “do this,” “don’t do that,” and “if you do such-and-such, you will be condemned.” I have difficulty seeing antinomianism and universalism in the Bible.

—-The pastor referred to another view: if God rejected Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, God would not require the death of God’s own son for atonement. The pastor, of course, rejects this view.

—-Now for Romans 10. Paul, quoting Deuteronomy 30:13-14, affirms that God’s word is right here. In Deuteronomy 30:13-14, that word is the Torah. In Romans 10, God’s word is the incarnate Torah, Christ, the end and goal of the Torah. The word of God changes the unbelieving heart to one that is believing. The pastor referred to people who heard Billy Graham: the word that Billy Graham preached changed their hearts as they heard God’s message of conviction and forgiveness; they went from unbelieving to believing, from hopelessness to hope. The Gentiles came to believe because they heard God’s word. The unbelieving Jews had the same opportunity, for they, too, heard the Gospel, but they desired to make salvation about themselves and their own righteousness rather than about Christ. Paul is responding to a Jewish argument that, if Paul is correct, then God is a liar, for God in the Hebrew Bible is faithful to Israel and upholds the law; Paul, in unbelieving Jews’ mind, disputes these things. Paul’s response is that God has always made righteousness by faith, not works. Here, the pastor effectively explained the Lutheran view that the word of God is powerful in transforming hearts. The content of that word itself transforms heart. But does it always do so? Of course, there are people who reject it. But could it be the case that the word even transforms their hearts, in a sense, such that, when they reject it, they turn their back on something that they know is true and good? I am just thinking out loud here.

C. Mario Lazo. Dagger in the Heart: American Policy Failures in Cuba. Funk & Wagnalls, 1968.

Mario Lazo was an attorney in Cuba. In his position, he personally interacted with key players in the drama that he tells, including Batista, Che Guevera, and American diplomats to Cuba.

The Foreword to the book provides a brief history of Cuba, contrasting the culture of South America with that of North America. The body of the book covers Cuba during the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations. This includes such events such as the Presidency of Batista, the Castro revolution, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the political oppression and economic incompetence under the Castro regime, and Castro’s role in fomenting revolution throughout Latin America.

As the title indicates, Lazo argues that Cuba fell to Communism due to American policy failures. Herbert Matthews of the New York Times wrote influential articles portraying Castro as a hero, one who was standing against dictatorship and poverty in favor of justice for the Cuban people. Liberals in the Eisenhower Administration influenced the U.S. Government to cut off military aid to Batista and to turn a blind eye to the Cubans in the U.S. who were sending supplies to Castro’s revolution. Cuba, as a result, fell to Communism. President John F. Kennedy resumed the Eisenhower Administration’s secret plan to overthrow Castro through anti-Castro Cubans, but Kennedy was not fully committed to the plan. He feared that other countries would conclude that the U.S. was interfering in Cuba, so he failed to implement the plan’s final stage: to provide air cover for the anti-Castro forces. The result was their slaughter. Meanwhile, the U.S. press publicized the location of anti-Castro training centers (i.e., in Guatemala), giving Castro a strategic advantage. Later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy displayed tepidity. He initiated a blockade against the Soviets to prevent them from getting more missiles to Cuba, but that did not solve the problem of the missiles that were already there. Kennedy decided not to bomb Cuba and made an agreement with Khrushchev that effectively barred the U.S. from ever trying to overthrow Castro. The U.S. also withdrew its missiles from Turkey, allowing the Soviets to strengthen their foothold in the eastern hemisphere.

Lazo attempts to refute what he considers to be myths. He does not think that Batista was perfect, for Batista suspended the Cuban constitution whenever it suited him, and graft thrived under Batista. But it was not as if the choice were only between Batista and Castro, for there were other leaders, some quite progressive, waiting in the wings to lead Cuba. While Batista has been portrayed as a bloodthirsty tyrant, Lazo argues that Herbert Matthews dramatically overstated the casualties, which amounted to hundreds (on both sides) rather than tens of thousands. Lazo also thinks that Batista was more of a softy than a hard-liner, for Batista abolished the death penalty and freed Castro from prison. Liberals have presented pre-Castro Cuba as a lackey for American business interests, consigning most Cubans to poverty for the profit of American companies. According to Lazo, the truth is quite different. Cuba had one of the highest standards of living for South America, and the wealth was broadly distributed. Most companies in Cuba were Cuban owned and run. It was not the case that the vast majority of the land belonged to a few wealthy landowners, for small farms were the mainstay. As far as American companies were concerned, they employed mostly Cubans and respected Cuba’s labor laws. The casinos, of the sort portrayed in Godfather II, were largely frequented by Americans and were limited to the big cities, meaning they were not on the radar of many Cubans. The U.S. purchased sugarcane from Cuba at an above-market price, resulting in prosperity for Cubans. Overall, except for the liberals he criticizes, Lazo has a positive view of the United States. He says more than once that the U.S. years before assisted Cuba against Spanish oppression then refused to make Cuba a colony of the United States.

Against the charge that Castro was popularly supported, Lazo contends that many educated Cubans desired regime change because that would give them a greater chance of receiving a government job, which was one of the few options available to educated Cubans. Against the charge that Castro only turned against the U.S. after the U.S. rejected him, Lazo notes that Castro was cold towards the U.S. immediately after he came to power. Against the charge that the Bay of Pigs would have failed, anyway, Lazo argues that it had a decent chance of succeeding, had Kennedy followed through. Against the argument that Kennedy had to proceed delicately in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lazo contends that the Soviets would not have bombed the U.S. had the U.S. knocked out the weapons in Cuba, for the U.S.S.R. lacked the capacity to attack the U.S.

On some issues, Lazo examines the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of controversial issues. There is the question of whether Castro was a Communist at the outset, and Lazo presents arguments for and against.

Lazo provides biographical profiles of the various figures involved (i.e., Castro), seeking to understand and to explain their motives. He somewhat falls short, however, in explaining why American liberals behaved as they did. He makes an attempt, but the picture that emerges is that the only thing on which they were consistent was in their commitment to leftism. Pacifism, democracy, etc. are all negotiable or dispensable to them, provided that leftism triumphs. What did they think was at stake, though? Did they want to end poverty in Cuba? But Lazo argues that pre-Castro Cuba had a high standard of living, and he observes that Communism was usually stronger in well-off countries than in poor countries, for the Communists desired lots of wealth. Perhaps the liberals were fooled by Matthews’s propaganda: Lazo says this was the case with Eleanor Roosevelt.

On some issues, Lazo was slightly inconsistent. Lazo criticizes the liberal tendency to demand that Batista become more of a democrat, claiming that Cubans gravitated towards strong leaders and lacked a robust democratic tradition. Yet, he also talks about the progressive nature of Cuba’s constitution and discusses Batista’s openness to internationally-supervised elections, even at his own expense. Lazo contends that Castro had few followers, yet he acknowledged that he gained more and more followers over the course of time. Lazo argues that wealth was broadly distributed in Cuba, and he presents compelling statistics to that effect, yet he notes that Castro made ineffectual “reforms” that were designed to give Cubans more wealth and power. Would Castro try to ameliorate a problem that did not exist?

Some notable details in Lazo’s book: Dean Acheson’s journey from being a Communist appeaser to becoming an anti-Communist hawk; Russia’s apprehension about arming Eastern Europe, since the Eastern European countries might use the weapons against Russia; how intermarriage in South America led to better race relations than exist in the United States; how guerilla warfare (both pro- and anti-Castro) burns things that the country needs (sugarcane fields); and the horrid conditions in Castro’s prisons.

I got this book when I was a teen and am glad to have finally read it.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Lutheran View on Romans 9, Chrysostom’s Devil, Paved with Good Intentions

 A. In the sermon, the pastor talked about a professor he had in seminary. He had to meet with him but was reluctant to do so. The professor was an erudite intellect, and the pastor feared looking like a fool in his presence. But the professor sought the pastor out. That is how God is with us, the pastor said: God seeks us out.

B. The Bible study was about Romans 9. Last week and this week, the pastor speculated that Paul may have been responding to a particular argument. This argument was that, if Paul is right, then the Jews, and thereby God, are liars. Last week, the pastor said there is a second century witness to this argument at what became Constantinople, whereas, this week, he attributed it to Constantius in the fourth century. Paul addresses this argument by engaging the question of whether God is faithful to Israel, even though most of Israel has rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

The pastor was offering a Lutheran alternative to the Calvinist view that Romans 9 promotes double predestination. According to the pastor, Paul in Romans 9 argues that God chose Israel, and more narrowly Judah, as the line from which the Messiah would come and bless the earth. God rejected other children of Abraham for that task. Israel is for God’s sacred use, whereas the other nations are common. God neither damns nor withdraws his care and provision from those other children of Abraham or nations, but God chose Israel to be children of the promise: the line of the Messiah. That promise is God’s objective—-not human effort, obedience, or physical rites. God chose Jacob to be the line of the Messiah before Esau and Jacob did good or bad, and even though Jacob was far from a saint. Circumcision is neither proof of membership in God’s covenant community, nor does it earn Jews the promise, but rather it is an affirmation of God’s promise to bless the earth through Abraham’s seed, who ultimately is the Messiah.

The hardening of Pharaoh is referenced by Paul as a warning to the Jews, that they might cease their rejection of Christ and avoid God hardening them in their unbelief, which leaves them as vessels to destruction. God offered Pharaoh opportunities to repent, but Pharaoh refused and placed himself outside of God’s grace. God thus sealed Pharaoh in his rebellion and made him a means by which God would display God’s power to the nations.

I leave that here as a record of what the pastor said. I am not entirely convinced, for Romans 9 still sounds to me like double predestination. But, like a lot of things, there is probably truth in the pastor’s comments somewhere. Romans 9, like much of Romans, emphasized God’s grace through Christ above the things on which humans wrongly rely for salvation: law, obedience, circumcision, or physical descent.

C. Samantha L. Miller. Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology. IVP Academic, 2020. See here to purchase the book.

Samantha L. Miller is associate professor of Christian history at Anderson University. John Chrysostom was a fourth century church father.

Miller documents that, according to Chrysostom, the devil and demons tempt people to sin. The devil does not make people sin but tempts them, and people are responsible for their own sins. Christians must continually resist and overcome sin to receive ultimate salvation. Chrysostom focused on the spiritual activity of the devil and demons, whereas people in his historical and cultural context tended to worry about physical problems that demons allegedly caused: attacks on health and wealth. Miller relates Chrysostom’s teachings on the devil to contemporary Christian debates about the prosperity Gospel.

The book is informative in its discussion of the historical origins of the Christian conception of the devil as God’s archenemy, as well as the different Christian ideas as to when exactly Lucifer became the devil (i.e., at creation, or before creation?). Where the book falls short is that it fails to rigorously explain what Chrysostom believed about fallen human nature. From what Miller occasionally presents, Chrysostom seemed to believe that the Fall led to some moral corruption of human nature. Yet, Chrysostom also appears to embrace libertarian free will: that humans can choose virtue and vice. But would not corrupt human nature undermine that libertarian free will? And, if humans can freely choose virtue and vice, why do humans need the Holy Spirit, the new nature, or the new heart to become virtuous? This is what Augustine and Pelagius debated.

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

D. Jared Taylor. Paved with Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America. 1992, 2014.

Jared Taylor publishes American Renaissance. He is considered to be a white nationalist, albeit without the anti-Jewish sentiments. In Paved with Good Intentions, Taylor disputes the idea that African-Americans’ problems are due to racial discrimination. Not only have some blacks and racial minorities succeeded, belying the notion that discrimination holds minorities back, but American society has also bent over backward, often unfairly and unfeasably, to provide African-Americans with opportunities. African-Americans’ problems are largely due to personal failing, particularly crime, promiscuity, and poor financial management. The welfare system also discourages them from working. Such measures as the Community Reinvestment Act, racial quotas in employment and voting, and welfare have resulted in disaster. According to Taylor, American society also has a double standard, as it tolerates black solidarity and prejudice against whites, while demonizing white solidarity. White guilt influences the media to present a distorted picture of reality: to amplify the rare white misdeeds against blacks while ignoring black misdeeds, and, even in docudramas, to change the race of heroes and villains to accord with politically-correct orthodoxy. The solution, for Taylor, is for society to encourage African-Americans to take responsibility for their lives and to incentivize welfare mothers to take birth control, and for whites to unite in solidarity against reverse discrimination and cancel culture.

Some items:

—-This passage on pages 105-106 gives a taste of Taylor’s thesis:

“But what are the facts? Differences in income between black and white men are said to prove racism, but the fact that black women earn just as much as white women is deliberately ignored. The preference of American blacks for white dolls is said to prove racism, but the same preference by blacks in Trinidad goes unexplained. The fact that killers of whites are more likely to get the death penalty proves racism, but the fact that white killers are more likely than black killers to get the death penalty is ignored. The South has the reputation of being more racist than the North, but no one seems to notice that Minnesota jails blacks at seven times the rate that Mississippi does. A researcher can find no evidence that white judges hand out longer sentences to black convicts, but concludes that sentencing is racist anyway. When blacks are denied mortgages more often than whites are, it is proof of racism; when whites are denied mortgages more often than Asians, there must be some reason other than race. The Bensonhurst killing proves that white people are racist, but the fact that blacks are far more likely to kill whites than vice versa means nothing. If black men committed suicide twice as often as white men, it would surely be attributed to despair over racism. In fact, white men commit suicide twice as often as black men, but scarcely anyone stops to wonder why. Sifting through the charges of racism may be a wearying task, but it is a necessary first step in understanding the assumptions that govern conventional thinking about race.”

—-Where does Taylor stand on black separatism? In some of his podcasts that I have heard, he has spoken in favor of it. He thinks that both communities can do better separately and lauds African-American schools that teach African-Americans to be good, upstanding people. In this book, Taylor is more critical of black separatism. Admittedly, his references in this book to black separatism serve to highlight white liberal hypocrisy: why does American society, under white liberal influence, champion or tolerate black separatism while demonizing white separatism? Yet, Taylor appears to have problems with black separatism itself. He is critical of black congressional districts because he applauds the black candidates who succeed by appealing to the broader population, whites included. African-American schools teach Afro-centrism, a distorted understanding of science and history. Black solidarity had led to ridiculous results, such as defending obviously guilty people like Marion Barry.

—-Is Taylor a racist, one who believes that whites are inherently and genetically superior to blacks in intelligence and disposition? This book makes the standard non-racist sorts of points that conservatives have made: that some blacks have succeeded through hard work and responsible living, that black immigrants from the West Indies do well, and that African-Americans prior to the Great Society had lower crime rates, solid families, and higher wages than African-Americans after the Great Society. At the same time, Taylor seems to argue that a lot of African-American economic success is due to racial quotas: African-Americans are even paid more than whites, in some cases, because the government pressures companies to hire them, and there are only so many qualified African-Americans to go around. When racial quotas and set-asides are removed and African-American companies have to compete on their own merits, Taylor maintains, they fail. Even when affirmative action lowers standards, and third-parties expunge any trace of bias from tests, there are many African-Americans who still fail.

—-The overall tone of the book, of course, is that institutional racism in America does not exist and is not holding minorities back. At the same time, Taylor briefly acknowledges that there are limited employment prospects in the inner city. Taylor speaks critically of enterprise zones, saying that they cost a lot. In terms of solutions, this book could have done better. What Taylor recommends is important: people should take personal responsibility, grab job and educational opportunities that are available to them, and refrain from making matters worse through criminal and promiscuous behavior. But is there a way for society to help disadvantaged people with limited economic prospects to better their situations? Taylor is critical of black solidarity, implying that it is as bad as white racism. But, in my mind, blacks helping blacks to succeed is something positive.

—-What is the purpose of white solidarity, according to Taylor? Taylor is a little thin on that in this book, but he has written another book on this topic entitled White Identity. In Paved, the role of white solidarity seems to be to challenge reverse discrimination and cancel culture. On reverse discrimination, I agree with Taylor that companies are wrong to lower standards, and I can see his point that racial quotas can become unrealistic: there are only so many African-Americans to go around, so to require all companies to meet a certain percentage is unfeasible. At the same time, where I have little sympathy with Taylor’s argument is that, even with racial quotas, whites still are predominant, since there are more of them. What is wrong with giving more to other racial groups? On cancel culture, Taylor asserts that, if whites can present a united front, they can prevent people like Paula Deen from being cancelled. If white CEOs will simply stop listening to African-American activists, then African-American activists will lack power. Here, white nationalists who believe in the Jewish Question would probably dismiss Taylor as naive. They would say that many of the CEOs are not simply white but are Jewish, with their own group solidarity and interest in amplifying their power and influence, using racial diversity as a means to that end. Taylor briefly dismisses that idea, and this highlights tension that exists within the white nationalist community.


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