Sunday, April 25, 2021

Book Write-Up: The Great Deformation, by David A. Stockman

David A. Stockman. The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America. PublicAffairs, 2013. See here to purchase the book.

David Stockman has served as a congressman, President Ronald Reagan’s budget director, and a private equity investor.

While people with a solid grounding in economics are the ones who will understand this book, Stockman is pretty clear about what he supports and what he opposes. He favors a sound and tight currency (i.e., gold standard) rather than the Federal Reserve printing out lots of money. He is critical of debt, both government debt but also people borrowing lots of money (due to low interest rates) that they will not pay back. He is against deficits, so he favors cuts in government spending and is critical of tax cuts; he favors a VAT. His belief in fiscal responsibility encompasses both domestic programs and also the military. He wants federal welfare programs to be stricter and more means-tested, and he opposes regime-changing wars. He is highly critical of crony capitalism and favors rigorous campaign finance reform. He supports a stronger Glass-Steagall. While he supports free markets, he is not anti-regulation; he does, however, want to abolish the minimum wage.

On the issue of trade, his position is unclear. He does not seem to like jobs going overseas, and he laments that the U.S. has increases in health care and education jobs but not in jobs in the productive sphere. Yet, he argues that high tariffs contributed to the Great Depression and appears critical of the U.S. ceasing its reliance on cheap imported oil to focus on domestic energy.

The book is particularly interesting and informative in its revisionist history, on a number of fronts. Some examples:

—-The U.S. economy was gradually improving until Franklin Roosevelt became President, so the New Deal did not get the U.S. out of the Depression.

—-The severe economic downturn in 1936-1937 was not due to the government cutting its spending and raising taxes. Rather, it was due to people not spending money after their stimulus cash ran out.

—-World War II does not demonstrate the success of Keynesianism, uplifting the economy through intense deficit spending. The U.S. actually fought World War II in a fiscally responsible, pay-as-you-go manner.

—-The energy crisis of the 1970’s was not due to anything OPEC did, for what OPEC did was brief. Rather, it was part of the general inflation of the period, due to increasing government spending (Great Society, Vietnam), tax cuts, and the undermining of the gold standard.

—-Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts did not improve the economy. The Reagan prosperity was fueled by debt and assisted by Paul Volker’s drastic squeezing out of inflation. Statistics indicate that supply and production did not boom during the Reagan years but only increased slightly. The increase in government revenue that eventually occurred under Reagan was due to his tax increases.

—-Reagan’s defense buildup was unnecessary and largely relied on conventional warfare, when, for Stockman, nuclear weapons were a cheaper way to deter the Soviets.

—-The Wall Street bailout in the late 2000’s was unnecessary to save Main Street, for Main Street largely did not use those Wall Street banks.

While Stockman does not cite many sources in the course of the book, he gives his sources in the appendix. His economics numbers are largely based on Federal Reserve statistics. He also prefers many sources prior to the 1950’s, since they are not as Keynesian and do not blame tight money for the bank panics in the nineteenth-early twentieth centuries.

The book has its heroes, villains, and those in between. Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Milton Friedman get criticism for undermining the gold standard. Ronald Reagan is criticized for federal deficits and debt. Dwight Eisenhower, however, receives praise for supporting balanced budgets, and Gerald Ford, at least in the early stage of his Presidency, for being a deficit hawk.

This book is advanced and often went over my head, but the prose is still breezy. Stockman also intersperses his narrative with pop culture analogies, such as Lucy taking away the football from Charlie Brown.

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

Book Write-Up: In the Footsteps of Faith, by John F. MacArthur

John F. MacArthur. In the Footsteps of Faith: Lessons from the Lives of Great Men and Women of the Bible. Crossway, 1998. See here to buy the book.

In this book, John MacArthur talks about fourteen biblical figures. They include Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Hannah, Jonah, Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Lydia, Timothy, Epaphroditus, and Jesus Christ.

Here are some thoughts and observations:

A. MacArthur never explicitly says this, but his approach to Scripture in this book can be called a “moral exemplar” approach. The “moral exemplar” approach treats biblical figures as moral and spiritual examples of how people are to behave. Such an approach has been criticized, particularly in Lutheran circles, but also in evangelical circles. The reason for their criticism is that they believe that Scripture’s purpose is not to offer us moral examples, for many of the biblical characters fall short morally; rather, the purpose of Scripture is to show us that we are sinners so that we see our need for forgiveness and go to Christ for salvation. The focus here is on Christ as savior, not morality. MacArthur does acknowledge the need to focus on Christ, for he refers to Hebrews 12:2’s exhortation that Christians look to Jesus, the author and finisher of their faith. But he largely treats the biblical characters he profiles as moral and spiritual examples: Noah, Abraham, and Rahab have faith, Mary humbly and enthusiastically exalts God’s and God’s purposes, John the Baptist is unflinching in preaching God’s word, and Epaphroditus sincerely cares about the Philippian church and wants it to know he is all right. What do I think about the “moral exemplar” approach? I think that a Scriptural case can be made for it, for Hebrews 11 showcases heroes of the faith to encourage the demoralized Hebrew believers to persevere in their faith. Moreover, the “moral exemplar” approach can be interesting because it focuses on the biblical text and its distinct dimensions rather than subordinating all of it to a doctrine of penal substitution. But what if I fall short of the morality of these exemplars? What if I cannot muster up genuine, enthusiastic, God-focused worship, or sincere concern for other people? Can these things even be commanded? The way that I read and enjoy MacArthur without going crazy is that I embrace a Lutheran law/Gospel approach: the law is good and edifying, but it breaks us because we do not keep it, and that is why we need Christ as savior. Reading MacArthur is a way for me to feed on the banquet of God’s beautiful and orderly standards, but I cannot stop there, for I would be discouraged by how much I fall short. What may have made MacArthur’s book better is if he had focused more on God, not just the humility and the morality of the biblical characters. What is it about God that inspires the biblical characters to act this way? More acknowledgment of biblical characters’ flaws may have enhanced the book, too.

B. I did not like this book as much as other MacArthur books that I have read. It did not have as much depth or meat as his other books. MacArthur, to his credit, did address puzzles or questions, but I was unsatisfied by many of his answers. For instance, Jesus said that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). MacArthur interprets this to mean that, while John the Baptist is the greatest in the earthly realm, he is equal to all believers in the spiritual realm. But the text does not say that John the Baptist is equal to believers, but rather that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. MacArthur has a problem with Rahab lying to protect the Israelite spies in Jericho, but how else could she have hidden them? MacArthur thinks she should have just told the truth, and God would have protected the spies somehow. MacArthur tries to harmonize I Samuel 1’s apparent statement that Elkanah and his family went to the central sanctuary every year, with the prescription in the Torah that the Israelites appear before God three times each year (Exodus 34:23; Deuteronomy 16:16); his explanation was a bit of a stretch, for why would I Samuel 1 focus on years, if Elkanah went multiple times a year? In some cases, MacArthur engages questions rather adeptly, yet his engagement is very terse and could have used more meat. This was evident, to me, in his attempts to explain how Abraham’s apparent wavering in the faith in Genesis is consistent with Romans 4:20’s statement that Abraham never wavered in the faith, and his various explanations for how Moses in Hebrews 11:26 suffered for the sake of Christ. At times, MacArthur explains verses I have wondered about, as when he explains Luke 3:5’s statement that John the Baptist will lift up valleys and bring down mountains. What does that mean? MacArthur argues that it means that John’s ministry will encourage people to live moral, rather than crooked, lives. That makes some sense, but there may be other possibilities: John the Baptist brings down the religious and civil rulers while uplifting the lowly and downcast by bringing them God, or John clears the way for Jesus to come by spiritually preparing people with a message of repentance and eschatological anticipation. Occasionally, MacArthur refers to an interesting historical detail, as when he states that Lydia’s name may not have been “Lydia” but rather referred to her home city being in the Roman province of Lydia. At one point, MacArthur, echoing James Montgomery Boice, reads Reformed soteriology into Scripture, as when he contends that Noah’s finding grace in the eyes of the LORD in Genesis 6:8 was the prerequisite for Noah’s righteousness, blamelessness, and walk of faith in v. 9. That could be, but another way to read the passage is that Noah was favored by God because he was more righteous than others in his corrupt generation. There were times when MacArthur illustrated the story, as when he narrates that the Israelite spies had to cross the Jordan to get to Jericho, but the book could have used more of that. It also could have used more explanations of specific texts: why do Hannah and Mary, for instance, say that God will bring down the mighty and lift up the lowly? In what sense do they believe God does this? How does their situation relate to that?

C. MacArthur presents the Christian life as one of agony, self-discipline, and perseverance. He referred to a race that he ran when he was young, in which he was exhausted at the end! MacArthur offers biblical texts in favor of his view, and perhaps I am wrong to see salvation as a passive process in which I rest and let God transform me. But is the Christian life supposed to be one of unending, uphill toil, until death? What about Jesus’s statement that his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30), or peace and joy being parts of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Defiant Tucker Defends His Discussion Of Demographic Change, Exposes ADL Hypocrisy

 “Tucker’s bravest moment of the segment was challenging the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL called for his firing for criticizing demographic replacement. The Fox News host read on air an ADL post that criticized demographic replacement… in Israel. ‘It is unrealistic and unacceptable to expect the state of Israel to voluntarily subvert its own sovereign existence and nationalist identity and become a vulnerable minority within what was once its own territory,’ the blog stated.”

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Book Write-Up: The Problem of the Old Testament, by Duane A. Garrett

Duane A. Garrett. The Problem of the Old Testament: Hermeneutical, Schematic and Theological Approaches. IVP Academic, 2020. Go here to purchase the book.

Duane A. Garrett is professor of Old Testament interpretation and biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Garrett observes that the Old Testament poses a problem for Christians. Garrett describes the problem with three propositions: the Old Testament is hard to define, to read, and to reconcile with the New.

Isaiah 7:14 plays a key role in this book. Matthew 1:23 applies the text to the virgin birth of Jesus, but, within its immediate context, the passage appears to relate to Isaiah’s own time. Was Matthew misinterpreting the verse? A similar problem occurs with Hosea 11:1: Matthew 2:15 relates it to Jesus coming out of Egypt when he was a child, when the passage obviously speaks about Israel’s exodus from Egypt.

Garrett addresses other problems as well. What are Christians to do with Old Testament laws? Which ones should they obey, and which are they under no obligation to obey? Since the Old Testament was for Jews, how exactly does it pertain to Gentiles? Garrett also discusses the scholarly attempts, many of them unsatisfying, to seek some common religious or theological theme that pervades the books of the Old Testament. Things are not that neat, as Garrett observes.

Garrett dismantles attempts by Christians, ancient and modern, to resolve these issues. Alexandrian allegorism, Antiochian literalism, sensus plenior, dispensationalism, covenant theology, reader response, Sailhamer, canonical criticism—-none of them receives Garrett’s mercy! Garrett proceeds, with some trepidation, to offer his own model. He admits that not everyone will find his model satisfactory, and he acknowledges in a few places that this book may need a few sequels.

What are some of Garrett’s solutions? Let’s start with the Old Testament law. Garrett finds wanting the Reformed distinction among moral, ceremonial, and civil laws, with the moral laws alone being obligatory for Christians. The New Testament knows nothing of such distinctions, Garrett argues, and the Old Testament itself does not divide them up neatly. Garrett also struggles, somewhat, with the question of who is under the Old Testament law: Paul seems to think only Israel was, yet his model of salvation appears to presume that everyone is subject to the law’s authority and condemnation. Rather than distinguishing among the laws, Garrett proposes identifying different functions of the law.

Another point that Garrett makes is that the Old Testament leaves some threads unresolved, whereas the New Testament resolves them. God promises Abram that all nations shall be blessed through Abram’s seed (Genesis 12:3; 22:18), but the Old Testament fails to specify how. The New does so by identifying the seed as Christ, who brings spiritual blessing to the Gentiles.

According to Garrett, the Old Testament law lacks provision for divine forgiveness. The sin and guilt offerings relate to ceremonial impurity and to unintentional transgressions, not intentional ones. God could still show mercy in the Old Testament, but that was unrelated to the law. Ultimately, forgiveness of sins comes through Christ.

Analogy and recapitulation are prominent in Garrett’s attempt to explain the New Testament’s usage of Old Testament passages. When I Peter 2:10 relates Hosea 1:10 to Gentile Christians, the author of I Peter is not suggesting that Hosea had the Gentile Christians in mind. Rather, I Peter 2:10 is drawing an analogy: just as God made the paganistic, immoral Israelites his people, so God did for the paganistic, immoral Gentiles who became believers.

Regarding recapitulation, Garrett contends that Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew recapitulates Old Testament Israel. Like Israel, Jesus in Matthew comes out of Egypt, is tempted in the wilderness, and enters the Jordan. Matthew’s application of Hosea 11:1 to Jesus fits this. What is more, Hosea himself vacillates between the people and the king of Israel, so Matthew continues that trajectory.

In discussing Joel, Garrett maintains that the “day of the LORD” in Joel can have multiple applications. It relates to Joel’s time, as the term “day of the LORD” throughout the Old Testament prophets pertains to a number of historical manifestations of God’s judgment, yet it also has eschatological significance. The notion that history can repeat itself occurs in the prophets, as they apply events of Israel’s history to new situations.

Another problem Garrett addresses is how Christians should interpret Old Testament eschatological expectations of Israel’s exaltation and paradise. His conclusion is that the Old Testament prophets portray “the new earth using terms an ancient Israelite could identify with, giving a vivid but not a literal portrayal of a real future” (page 165).

Garrett also identifies allusions within the Old Testament, as well as allusions that the New Testament makes to the Old. Within the Old Testament, Jacob’s headstone recurs, as does the Sinai theophany. Garrett’s point here may be that the Old Testament is not a collection of disconnected writings but presents a larger and coherent narrative. Regarding the New Testament, Garrett argues that the transfiguration, and Peter’s proposal to build booths, relates to Jonah’s dwelling in a booth as he awaited God’s judgment on Nineveh.

This book certainly is informative, especially as Garrett surveys the historic Christian attempts to argue that Isaiah 7:14 was actually a prophecy about Jesus, even in its original context. Garrett’s exegetical moves are also interesting, as when he distinguishes the worm that shall not die in Isaiah 66:24 from Jesus’s teaching on hell.

Garrett’s treatment of the law is helpful, as it addresses questions that I and other Christians and scholars (especially of the New Perspective) have: how can Paul treat the Torah as the opposite of grace and forgiveness, when the Torah itself has pathways to divine forgiveness? And what did Jesus bring that was not already present in the Torah? Garrett’s answer, as noted above, is that the Torah lacks pathways to divine forgiveness. There may be something to that, but I have some nagging reservations. Garrett says that the sacrifices only forgave unintentional sins, not intentional ones, whereas Jesus brings forgiveness for intentional ones. The Epistle to the Hebrews, however, seems to draw an analogy between Jesus and the sin offering and to assert that Jesus died for unintentional sins, whereas the ultimate intentional sin (leaving the faith) receives no forgiveness.

On some occasions, I thought that Garrett, with all his knowledge, should know better. He says that Mesopotamian courts may have used the Code of Hammurabi, when it has been argued that there is no indication in their records that they did so.

Whether or not one finds Garrett’s solutions to be satisfying, they are a serious attempt to grapple with the problem of the Old Testament. Garrett is honest about what he finds unconvincing in other approaches. He wrestles with problems, even if some of his solutions fail to resolve all of their loose ends. And he attempts to support his positions with the biblical text.

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

Asia Times: Life After Death for the Neoconservatives

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