Sunday, January 30, 2011

book report: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2009)

A new friend this year, a Muslim international student, bought me Zeitoun for my birthday, and I am very grateful. The last time I read about post-Katrina New Orleans was Douglas Brinkley's book, The Great Deluge in 2006, book report here. But this story did not start with equally destructive force called FEMA. Instead, the book starts with the young boy Abdulraham Zeitoun fishing off the coast of Syria. With frequent flashbacks we learn of his amazing life, his adventures around the world, and his settling down with his wife Kathy in New Orleans and the successful contracting business he founded there. Incidentally, they are Muslim, she an adult convert before meeting him. I appreciate so much how normally Eggers treats their faith. If only everyone's faith could be treated so respectfully, yet causally. Faith pervades so many Americans' lives, yet typically seems ignored or exagerrated, read the Get Religion journalism blog to see what I'm talking about.

I really enjoy biographies. No fiction author can come up with the crazy twists and turns of real life, by our ultimate author. Zeitoun's oldest brother was a world champion open-water distance swimmer who made Syria proud, but died young and has a statue memorializing him in his hometown. Kathy is one of nine children, Zeitoun one of 10 or so. The incident that finally compelled her conversion to Islam, of embarassment by a pastor in front of a large congregation for investigating Islam is tragic. Why would a presumed representative of God think public humiliation would help someone who was honest as she struggled with her understanding of God? That does make me so mad, but that injustice is smaller to what Zeitoun faced as a consequence of riding out the storm and staying in his neighborhood which resulted in his ability to protect his properties, his tenants, his clients' properties, his elderly neighbors and some abandoned pets. A week after the storm, Zeitoun, a Muslim friend, a tenant, and a new friend were all picked up by a heavily armed police team, assumed to be looters, (we learn that even a lady in her 70's was arrested for the same charge, as well as contractors hired to do clean up), and treated like animals, under the auspices of FEMA. Why does this organization still exist? His story is just one of many whose constitutional rights as well as human rights were violated in the name of order. At some points, I couldn't tell the difference between Zeitoun's experience and Victor Herman's in Communist Russia in his book, Coming Out of the Ice. These things are not supposed to happen in the USA, but they do, all too often. It was worse than the hurricane, according to his wife Kathy.
Doctors have asked Kathy what she thinks the most traumatic part of the Katrina experience was. She surprised herself and the doctors when she realized that it was after she knew Zeitoun was alive, and had been told he was at Hunt Correctional Center, but wasn't allowed to see him or even know where a court hearing might be held. It was that moment, being told by the woman on the phone that the hearing's location was "private information," that did the most damage.
"I felt cracked open," she says.
That this woman, a stranger, could know her despair and desperation, and simply deny her. That there could be trials without witnesses that her government could make people disappear.
"It broke me." p.319
It breaks me too. For all the political clamoring about the Constitution in the news these days, it only matters when people with power care about it. That Bill of Rights is intended to protect us from the absolute power of those with better weapons and training, intended for out protection, that we employ through our taxes. All I can say is I am glad my hope is not in this world. One unnamed hero in the story is an anonymous prison minister who passed on word from Zeitoun to his wife that he had not died, but was not communicating with her due to incarceration. Mercy changes everything.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

book report: Free of Charge by Miroslav Volf (2005)

The deepest understanding of unconditional forgiveness can only come from

Cover of Cover via Amazon
experiencing the most grievous offenses. Miroslav Volf has made hard choices, and chose the unworldly option of following Christ's exhortations. He draws on his own experiences, those of victims in Yugoslavia's civil, Jesus, the apostle Paul, and Martin Luther's works, to present his conviction about the prominence of generosity in Christianity.

The full title of the book reveals its broad outline, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. The first half of the book is about the act of giving. Regarding our need to give he writes, "The self will lose itself it it simply lives in and for itself. It will seek only its own benefits, and the more it seeks its own benefits, the less satisfied it will become. That's the paradox of self-love: The more you fill the self, the more it echoes with the emptiness of unfulfillment." p.52 He contends we emulate God when we give. "Why? Because you are giving. Every gift breaks the barrier between the sacred and the mundane and floods the mundane with the sacred. When a gift is given, life become extraordinary because God's own gift giving flows through the giver." p.54 "Instead, we give because we are givers, because Christ living in us is a giver." p.66 His practical theology is swollen with the understanding of God's inhabitation of us. If God is in us, then we are freed to follow a new human script. It is powerfully encouraging to read and ponder. Volf has also been profoundly affected by trinitarian theology. As Fred Sanders pointed out in his book, the Trinity changes everything. It even models gift giving. "Because the Godhead is a perfect communion of love, divine persons exchange gifts - the gift of themselves and the gift of the others' glory." p.85

In such a short book, Volf is surprisingly thorough. He looks at giving and the many concerns others might have, of giving too much, of giving wrongly, of giving proudly. But giving "through" God solves a multitude of issues. "The only way to ensure that we will not lose our very selves if we give ourselves to others is if our love for the other passes first through God, if we, as Augustine put it succinctly and profoundly, love and enjoy others in God. Those who serve the poor often express such a stance by saying that they serve Jesus in the one they help. The same is true of all Christian giving." p.103 He also addresses the "give to get" theology that contaminates all of us to one degree or another. "So God doesn't pay givers; God gives to givers... True, we often treat God's gifts as payment for services rendered. But when we do, we fundamentally misconstrue God's relationship to us and mistreat God's gifts. God is not an employer, not even a very generous employer. God is a giver." p.105

After half a book on the generosity of God, a clever set-up on Volf's part, he then turns to, in my opinion, the most important part of the book, forgiveness. "We give when we delight in others or others are in need; by giving, we enhance their joy or make up for their lack. We forgive when others have wronged us; by forgiving, we release them from the burden of their wrongdoing. The difference lies in the violation suffered, in the burden of wrongdoing, offense, transgression, debt. And that's what makes it more difficult to forgive than to give." p.130 He does not shy away from God's justice and wrath. Without those characteristics, his forgiveness would be unnecessary. "You can summ up where we've landed in four simple sentences. The world is sinful. That's why God doesn't affirm it indiscriminately. God loves the world. That's why God doesn't punish it in justice... What Does God do with this double bind? God forgives." p.140 To which I reply, Hallelujah! "Finally, in addition to faith and repentance, we respond to God's forgiveness by 'passing on' forgiveness to others." p.154 But where does justice and revenge belong in our world? "Revenge corresponds to illicit taking, the demand for justice corresponds to legitimate acquiring, and forgiving roughly corresponds to generous giving." p.158 "But why is forgiveness, rather than retributive justice, a Christian duty?..I suggested on reason: Consistent enforcement of justice would wreak havoc in a world shot through with transgression. It may rid the world of evil, but at the cost of the world's destruction." p.160 Forgiveness is hard because, among other reasons, it is complicated. "To forgive is to blame, not to punish...Those who forgive will have a system of discipline, but retribution will not be part of it. They ought to forgive rather than punish because God in Christ forgave. Christ is the end of retribution." p.170 Volf is not a caricatured liberal. He is not denying the utility of prisons. But he is exhorting us to let the life of Christ flow out of us. "We make God's sending of the"forgiveness package" our own. That's all we can do. And that's what we have the power to do. Whether the package will be received depends on the recipients, on whether they admit to the wrongdoing and repent." p.197 In case you weren't challenged enough he reiterates, "But the forgiveness is unconditional...It's predicated on nothing the perpetrators do or fail to do. forgiveness is not a reaction to something else. It is the beginning of something new." p.209

His book concludes with a conversation with an unnamed skeptic, not too hard to find at Yale, where Volf teaches. If a skeptic finds this book in their hands, perhaps he should start here, at the end. Is there really a community of giving and forgiving? Is it worth it? Is it possible?

I've quoted Volf liberally so that your appetite is not only whetted, but also convinced that the writing is excellent and compelling. It also drew me into worship. What a great God we have.

Zondervan provided this book to me free in exchange for a review.
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Monday, January 24, 2011

Miroslav Volf on forgiveness

I'm reading Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a culture stripped of grace by Miroslav Volf. I'm not done yet, but his chapter on "How should we forgive?" is magnificent. I am challenged and blessed by his understanding of the relationship of repentance to forgiveness. He sets us up,Cover of Cover via Amazon "Those who argue that we should repent before God forgives us usually also argue that offenders should repent before we grant them forgiveness." p. 180 I want to disagree with everything in this sentence. Doesn't Peter tell the crowd in Jerusalem to repent, Acts 2:38. On the other hand, I also understand our Lord's Prayer instructs us to forgive, regardless of the response of the offender.

But Volf does not contradict Peter. Later he writes, "Without faith and repentance we are not forgiven - God having done the forgiving notwithstanding. God has given, but we haven't received. Forgiveness is stuck in the middle between the God who forgives and humans who don't receive." pp.182-183 At this point, this Lutheran sounds more like Arminius. But then comes his his great insight. "Instead of being a condition of forgiveness, however, repentance is its necessary consequence." p.183 There is so much freedom in that thesis.

He continues in unpacking this wild thought, "If they imitate the forgiving God, forgivers will keep forgiving, whether the offenders repent of not. Forgivers' forgiving is not conditioned by repentance. The offenders' being forgiven, however, is conditioned by repentance... Without repentance, the forgivers will keep forgiving but the offenders will remain unforgiven, in that they are untouched by that forgiveness. Why? Because they refuse to be forgiven." p. 183

He reaches back to Luther as he often does, "By refusing to acknowledge the wrongdoing, Luther rightly claimed that a transgressor himself 'has changed a forgivable sin into an unforgivable one.' So repentance is essential." p. 183

Volf makes me so uncomfortable by pointing out my means of refusing forgiveness. "We usually not only refuse to admit the wrongdoing and to accept guilt, but seem neither to detest the sin committed nor feel very sorry about it. Instead, we hide our sin behind multiple walls of denial, cover-up, mitigating explanations, and claims to comparative innocence." pp. 184-185 I am guilty as charged. I do all those things, yet I hate it so much when others do it to me. What a gracious God I worship with Volf.

I want to let Volf have the last word. "Forgiveness does not cause repentance, but it does help make repentance possible." p.186

But I have to let the Bible have the last word. Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
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Sunday, January 23, 2011

a one sided theological conversation

With a theologically liberal friend on my Facebook page. You only get my side. It's a discussion about the exclusive way to God through Jesus Christ alone. Stuff gets lost forever if it's on Facebook, so I wanted to save it here. Here it is.

Jesus taught "repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:17. He also taught that unless people repent they will perish, Luke 13:3. More on repentance here. He also taught us to believe in him, the one God sent, Luke 6:29. Jesus makes many exclusive claims about himself, and John's gospel really focuses on these, John 5:24"I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life." A little later on he says 40"Yet you refuse to come to me so that I can give you this eternal life." So my goal is to persuade as many people as I can that Jesus alone will give them eternal life if they will repent and believe in him. Read John 6, Jesus makes very important claims.


Jesus did say others must come to him only, that's why I'm passionate about this. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me." John 14:6

No one can be more compassionate than Jesus, but his compassion has limits. anyone can go to heaven, but only through him. Earlier in John's gospel Jesus says, "Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green pastures." John 10:9

Jesus's words are controversial. They were controversial then. Read the rest of John 10. The crowd who heard this sermon thought Jesus was crazy. Either Jesus is crazy, a pathological liar, or who he says he is, the Son of God and the only way to heaven.


I want you to know I have no argument with you. I think you might have an argument with Jesus though. If you look at the verse I posted for today, Jesus says that is not a good idea.

Matthew 7:26-27 But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will fall with a mighty crash."

I prefer to treat Jesus the way I want to be treated. If he says something, I trust that he means it.

I don't want to paste all of John 10 in the comments, so here is the link.

Jesus says he is the only gate. He said everyone else who inserts themselves in that role are thieves and liars.

That's harsh, but understandable. Since the only way to drive to A. Farms is by S. Road, how would you feel if someone offered alternative directions?

Jesus says in that chapter, John 10:9-17
9 Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green pastures.
10 The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
14"I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me,
15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice; and there will be one flock with one shepherd.
17 "The Father loves me because I lay down my life that I may have it back again.

Jesus is still the only way now, because no one else has laid down their life and taken it back up. he is unique because only he is God, which makes him uniquely able to restore our relationship with the Father. We all bear God's image, but distorted by sin. Only Jesus can correct it.

You are right, heaven is more than a place. It is a relationship. But there is only one method that God accepts, according to Jesus, as the correct means of restoring that relationship, through the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son.


Why did we leave the Father? Every time I acted selfishly, without love for God or neighbor, I separated myself from the Father. Jesus makes this point in a conversation with a religious man named Nicodemus, as recorded in John 3.

1 After dark one evening, a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus, a Pharisee,
2 came to speak with Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are proof enough that God is with you."
3 Jesus replied, "I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the Kingdom of God."

Jesus tells him, a new life is needed to become part of his Father's kingdom.

Jesus continues,
16"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.
18 "There is no judgment awaiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God.
19 Their judgment is based on this fact: The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.
20 They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished.

in Verse 18 he again indicates our default status with God is "condemned" unless we believe in Jesus (and him alone as I tried to show earlier). Jesus confirms what our consciences tell us, we are sinners, we love to sin and we need forgiveness.

At the end of the chapter, John the Baptist, not the author of this gospel says of his cousin, Jesus,
31 "He has come from above and is greater than anyone else. I am of the earth, and my understanding is limited to the things of earth, but he has come from heaven.
32 He tells what he has seen and heard, but how few believe what he tells them!
33 Those who believe him discover that God is true.
34 For he is sent by God. He speaks God's words, for God's Spirit is upon him without measure or limit.
35 The Father loves his Son, and he has given him authority over everything.
36 And all who believe in God's Son have eternal life. Those who don't obey the Son will never experience eternal life, but the wrath of God remains upon them."

We all need salvation, and only Jesus provides it. So back to the original post, I am celebrating a guy, Raymond of Penafort, who was able to point thousands of Muslims to Jesus who can give them eternal life, from someone, Mohammed, who cannot. Nor can the Buddha. Nor can Doaism. Nor can Confuscious. All spiritual paths apart from Jesus are dead ends, and do not lead to hell, meaning they only lead to hell.

My sincere desire is for you to read John's writings and see for yourself what Jesus has to say. It's written to answer the same type of religious objections you have.


as Jesus says, we need a rebirth to be connected to the Father, which is only possible through the self-sacrifice of Jesus.


Our words do not have the power of God's. Verse 12 below talks about it's vitality. No one gets as worked up over the words of Shakespeare or even Mohammed. No one's words upset our souls like God's. There are 4 biographers of Jesus with the same message. V. 15 talks about how much he loves us, and his empathy for us. v. 16 tells us we need to come to God's throne to receive mercy, so we can enter God's rest of v. 11. God's words are life to me, not cruel dictations.

Hebrews 4:11 Let us do our best to enter that place of rest. For anyone who disobeys God, as the people of Israel did, will fall.
12 For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are.
13 Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done.
14 That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him.
15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.
16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.


The Bible tells us "the heavens declare the glory of the Lord." But they don't tell us how to rightly relate to our Father. But he wrote us a love letter, and gave us his Son to show the world exactly what He is like. The Bible tells us what Jesus said and did and taught so we can know what the Father is like and how to become part of his kingdom/family. That's why we need the good book.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I'm giving away a prize!!!!

Last month, I announced that Tyndale had a Bible giveaway called Win a Bible, Give a Bible. Happily, I won an NLT Study Bible. I don't think it overlaps much at all with the other study Bibles I have in my library: my good old NIV, my more recent NET, and my newer ESV. I also received a coupon to give away for a free NLT Life Application Bible. So, I'm looking to give this coupon to someone who comments on this post. Leave a comment telling us your favorite book of the Bible. I'll pick a winner next week. I can only give the prize to those I can contact. So make sure I can contact you, either by email addy, phone number, or I know you because you live nearby.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gabion House for Haiti - Project R (The Rubble House)

World Buildings Directory - Project R (The Rubble House) This page has a great idea for a place like Haiti, which is filled with concrete rubble since the earthquake last year. The only thing I'm not quite sure about is the availability of wire to make strong cages. But this picture is beautiful. I know of at least one house being done in Haiti like this, as described in the comments at the Earth Bag building blog. Owen Geiger is also proposing to use rubble but in bags. Anyway, this house in Lebanon is gorgeous.

Update: Good news. Oxfam is indeed doing this in Haiti. They are planning 100 houses and are using chicken wire and rebar to hold the rubble together.

Another update: More gabion houses have been built in Grand Guave. Discussion and picture here. Website, Haiti Replacement Homes.

Monday, January 17, 2011

book report: The Quotable Chesterton, ed. Belmonte (2010)

If you are like me, and know little to nothing about Chesterton, then don't do what I did and start in the middle of the book. However, if you are a fan then go right ahead. I was lost trying to bumble my way through an alphabetical list of topics, until I read the first of 10 essays spread throughout the book. As I learned more and more about Chesterton as Christian apologist, mystery writer, essayist, friends with great artists, man of letters, journalist, literary critic, novelist, philosopher and poet, I became more and more appreciative of the quotes Belmonte selected. I now have many pages dog eared for quotes to share on Facebook. Here is an example of one I liked.
It has often been said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.
p.225, from his critical study of Charles Dickens. If you have a friend who already likes G. K. Chesterton, then this would make a terrific gift. Likewise, if you are already a fan and want to make someone else a fan, this is a terrific gift.
I received a complimentary copy for review from Booksneeze, and in return I promised my honest review.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

book report: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (2010)

Even the full title of this book jazzes me, The Deep Things of God: how the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders. This book was one of my favorite Christmas presents. I like it so much I want to share it with everybody who wants a little more philosophical depth to their understanding of the gospel. I've been reading Sanders for years now at the blog, The Scriptorium. He writes well and loves God.

I love that this book is a celebration of evangelicals and their trinitarian theology, but he does not need the filoque clause to distinguish the Holy Spirit, so even an Orthodox Christian can enjoy this book. Sanders is not ashamed of his evangelicalism, and he wants evangelicals to not be ashamed. He wants us to know our trinitarian credibility is real, so he limits himself to (almost) only reference Protestants, from Tyndale to Calvin to Wesley to Edwards to Watts and Warfield and a bunch of people I never heard of. I'm really glad to meet some of these people in my religious heritage, like F.B. Meyer.
One of the typical ways evangelicals introduce the gospel is with the statement "Jesus loves you." But when the time comes to take the full measure of that love, we have to look further than mere human sympathies. F.B. Meyer, preaching on John 15:9 ... said:
Do you want to know how much Jesus loves you? Ah! soul, before thou canst master that arithmetic thou must learn another mode of computation. Tell me first the love of God the Father to His Son, and I will tell thee the love of the Son to thee. p.122

Although Sanders quotes the Bible too, this is not the book for your debates with Jehovah Witnesses and Unitarians. He refers us to works oriented that way, such as R.A. Torrey's book, What the Bible Teaches, especially about the deity of the Holy Spirit. This is more of a philosophical defense. But the church needs more than the three states of water analogy to help us understand the concept of the Trinity and it's implications. A correct understanding of the Trinity keeps our gospel from being too small.
A gospel which is only about the moment of conversion but does not extend to every moment of live in Christ is too small. A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for transformation is too small. A gospel that isolates one of the benefits of union with Christ and ignores all the others is too small. A gospel that must be measured by your own moral conduct, social conscience, or religious experience is too small. A gospel that rearranges the components of your life but does not put you personally in the presence of God is too small. p. 106
To that, I say, Amen.

Sanders does not care which side of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate one falls on when he quotes them. He cares that his sources get the Trinity. From John Owen, Sanders tells us we learn, The Father gives the Son "for us," that is, as a sacrifice for propitiation. But the same Father gives the Spirit "to us," that is, as an indwelling presence. p.147

Sanders wants us to know, that the Trinity is the gospel. More expansively said:
the good news of salvation is that God, who in himself is eternally the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, has become for us the adoptive Father, the incarnate Son, and the outpoured Holy Spirit. God the Father sent the Son to do something for us and the Spirit to be something in us, to bring us into the family life of God. God, who is eternally triune in himself in the happy land of the Trinity, gives himself to us to be our salvation, giving the economy of salvation a triune shape that reveals who he is, and making the Father, Son, and Spirit present in our own lives. p.165
Sanders also does not mind those voices who have an experience with God.
Oswald Chambers ... warned, "As Christians workers we must never forget that salvation is God's thought, not man's; therefore it is an unfathomable abyss. Salvation is not an experience; experience is only a gateway by which salvation comes into our conscious lives. We have to preach the great thought of God behind the experience." p.186
And this is where this book is so useful. After we encounter God, we need to learn about Him, and grow in maturity of our knowledge of Him. Towards the end of the book Sanders writes,
Many evangelical Christians, assured by their pastors and teachers that the Trinity is a biblical doctrine, expect to find it explicitly formulated on the pages of Scripture. They are often disappointed and sometimes scandalized to learn that the Trinity is latent, but not blatant, in the Bible. p. 232
Sanders had to end the book someplace. There is so much more to be said. It doesn't feel finished, just stopped. Sanders tells us in a recent blog post, that he knows there is more to understand and apply and he is writing on those things. I'd be more than happy if he only wrote books on the Trinity from here on out. Get the book and think on these things.
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Sunday, January 09, 2011

a brief note on Fasting from a Vineyard pastor

Vineyard Christian Fellowship-West :: Feasting Through Fasting has a brief, but great introduction to fasting. I'm planning on doing some more this week. And this note is very encouraging.

  • Fasting isn’t about pain, but perspective.
  • Fasting isn’t about renouncing the goodness of food, but recognizing the spiritual sustenance in God.
  • Fasting will be a battle because my spiritual nature is having to press through my physical nature.

Friday, January 07, 2011

the best understanding of Joshua's conquests

I've struggled a long time with language of Joshua's genocidal conquest of the promised land. This explanation is the best I've come across, hyperbolic language.

Here is a snip.
If one takes these passages literally they record the divinely-authorised commission of genocide. But genocide surely is morally wrong. In the light of this, critics of Christian theism often ask a rhetorical question; how could a good and loving God command the extermination of the Canaanites?

One response which goes back to the patristic era is to suggest that the strict, literal reading on which this rhetorical question is based is mistaken. Recently, several, protestant scholars have suggested a hyperbolic reading of the relevant passages.

Part 2 is now published online. Here is a clear example of the hyperbolic language.
In addition, both Kitchen and Younger note that such hyperbolic language is used in several places within the book of Joshua itself. In Joshua 10:20, for example, it states Joshua and the sons of Israel had “finished destroying” and “completely destroyed” their enemies. Immediately, however, the text, affirms that the “survivors went to fortified cities.” In this context, the language of total destruction is clearly hyperbolic. Similarly, the account of the battle of Ai is clearly hyperbolic. After Joshua’s troops feign a retreat the text states that “all the men of Ai” are pressed to chase them. “Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel.” Joshua lures the pursuers into a trap “so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives” Then it immediately goes on to assert “When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the desert where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword” they went to the city of Ai and killed all the men in it. Apparently all the men of Ai were killed three times in the battle and in each case they appear alive again. A final example is suggested by Goldingay, in the first chapter of Judges he notes that after Judah puts Jerusalem to the sword, its occupants are still living there ‘to this day’.

Part 3 is now available as well.
Some object that a hyperbolic interpretation does not fit the context, which draws a contrast between sparing “the women, the children, the livestock” in verse 14 and totally destroying them in verse 16 “do not leave alive anything that breathes”. This is mistaken; first the emphasis in verse 14 is not on sparing non-combatants but rather on the permissibility of marrying the women of conquered enemies, adopting their children and using their cattle. Second, the contrast is not between verses 14 and 16, but between verse 16 and the whole set of instructions regarding nations that are far away in verses 10-15. These verses command Israel to seek to make peace treaties first and if they go to war and kill combatants they can marry the women, adopt children and keep the live stock. In other words, as much as possible they are to seek peaceful co-existence with these nations. A command to go to war and drive them out expressed hyperbolically as ‘totally destroy them, leave nothing alive that breathes’ would stand in contrast to this. A final point on this is that the crucial issue is whether the hyperbolic interpretation is more plausible than a literal one, even if a literal interpretation fits Deuteronomy 20 better. Above I have argued that a literal interpretation puts Joshua 6-11 at odds with Judges and the later chapters of Joshua. It would be odd to reject a hyperbolic interpretation because one passage in Deuteronomy 20 does not cohere with it and instead embrace a literal interpretation which creates an even greater incoherence in the text.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Christianity's foundation

Paul tells the crowd in Athens,
God overlooked people's former ignorance about these things, but now he commands everyone everywhere to turn away from idols and turn to him.
For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.
Acts 17:30-31.

Paul talks elsewhere about the resurrection as essential to the faith he was teaching.
13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.
14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.
15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.
16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.
17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.
19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15

As far as Paul is concerned, this is the important stuff. Like most believers in Jesus, someone I have never met physically, or heard, or seen, or touched, I have periods of doubt. I agree with Paul's words, am I among the most pitied? Do I believe in a fairy tale? But I cannot shake the experience of those eyewitnesses of Jesus's resurrection. With the exception of John, they all died horrible deaths for their eyewitness accounts which they wouldn't recant. Paul says later in 1 Corinthians 15,
30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour?
31 I die every day--I mean that, brothers--just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord.
32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
If the resurrection did indeed really occur then so many other things are possible.
  • The other crazy stuff in the Bible might have really happened too
  • The message in the Bible might really be from God
  • God might be real
  • The Creator might actually love me
  • My life could be part of something greater and more significant than anything in history
  • Death is not an end, but a transfer station
But how do I know all these things are true? I can only rely on eyewitnesses. There is no time machine to see things myself. I rely on the testimony of others all the time for so many things. National Geographic has pictures to document things around the world, of places I will never go to. It's possible those pictures are fakes. Movies fake places all the time. Sometimes even NG gets duped, like the Chinese feathered dinosaur fiasco. But the fraud eventually comes to light. No one ever produced Jesus' body from a grave to shut the early Christians up. There is no evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus was a fraud.

Jesus's mother and friend John watched him die on the cross, but they were also early witnesses of his empty tomb. They also encountered him again, alive, with scars from his crucifixion, eating with them, talking with them, walking with them, instructing them as he had before.

And this small group from a small ethnic group in the center of an empire changed it with this message, despite the violent reprisals of that empire. If they only recanted, their lives would not have ended so tragically. They did not trade their message for wealth or sensual pleasures, as many other prophets (so-called) have done repeatedly in history.

John the Beloved was almost killed in boiling oil. At that point, he would have welcomed death. But he lived and did not change his testimony.

There is no other explanation that that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. Going back to the verse at the top, this proves who he is, the Savior and the Judge of the world, and the world will only be saved by him if they repent and turn to him.

In Paul's letter to the Romans, he makes the acceptance of the fact of the resurrection essential in the process of conversion
9 For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.
11 As the Scriptures tell us, "Anyone who believes in him will not be disappointed. "
Romans 10

The resurrection changed everything. I know this is the Christmas season still, but the advent was only so the death and resurrection could happen. We don't believe the baby Jesus saves us. No, we believe we are saved by the risen Lord.

update: I think this level of response from multiple eyewitnesses addresses this atheistic critique of eyewitness testimony.