Wright-Caleb, Edom, and the Exile


Jacob L. Wright spent the first ten chapters of his David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory exploring what he sees as the literary construction of the David narrative.  He especially emphasized that many of the stories were war commemoration literature, constructed to negotiate disputes about belonging and status in Judah hundreds of years after the supposed time of King David.

In three additional chapters he deals with the Bible’s stories about Caleb in a similar way.  The Calebite’s place in Judah was somehow problematic, so they constructed war memories to include tales of the Calebite’s ancestor “performing indispensable deeds of valor on behalf of Judah and all Israel” (p. 167) during the exodus and conquest.

He says there is evidence that Judah as a tribe emerged very late and even then was “loosely consolidated”.  So we shouldn’t think of the Calebites joining an already existing tribe.  The…

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Church Write-Up: Unity, For Me and Against Me, and Prayer vs. Protest

For church this morning, I attended an African-American Baptist church.

The pastor was preaching about unity among believers, as well as Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23 that whoever is not for him is against him.

The pastor was saying that those who are not for Jesus—-in that they believe that Jesus is the Son of God and follow him—-will not go to heaven after they die.  They are actually against Jesus, even if they may think that Jesus is a nice guy or an insightful religious teacher.  According to the pastor, we should be rooting for Jesus.  We should not be like we’re watching a ball game and we do not care who wins.

Regarding unity, the pastor seemed to be treating unity among believers as a criterion for salvation.  He said that there will be unity in heaven, so how will Christians fit in when they go to heaven if they are not united on earth?  The pastor did not explicitly try to reconcile this position with justification by grace through faith alone, but perhaps there are ways to harmonize the two.  There is, of course, the usual way that a number of Christians smuggle works into salvation, namely, to say that the works and attitudes of love that are conducive towards Christian unity are an inevitable outgrowth of authentic saving faith.  Another way is to say that the believers are unified around faith in Christ: in heaven, they will be united in being “for” or “with” Jesus (to refer back to the pastor’s point about Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23), as they acknowledge that Jesus is the Supreme Son of God and praise and worship him accordingly.

The pastor shared that the council of elders’ meetings, even though they have minor disagreements, have always ended in enthusiastic unity.

The pastor was also commenting on the current political scene.  He criticized the protests in the streets, saying that believers should pray instead.

The pastor also spoke in favor of unity in the home, encouraging people to seek therapy if they struggle with issues in their family.  He admitted that he himself has sought therapy in the past and was helped immensely by it.

Here are some points:

A.  I struggle with Christian exclusivism, and I cannot picture a way out of that for me.  I wondered why exactly Jesus put things in such stark terms: why is a person who is not for him against him?  I looked at some commentaries: the Word Biblical Commentary and a Hermeneia commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.  Most of the comments focused on Jesus’ exorcisms and his gathering of the people of Israel, since the context of the passages is Jesus’ exorcisms, and Jesus in the passages contrasts gathering with scattering.  The Israelites who are not repenting in response to Jesus’ message are not contributing to Jesus’ gathering of Israel unto God; they are, in effect, contributing to the scattering of Israel, since they are creating a situation in which some are gathered, and some (namely, they) are not.

B.  On the current political scene, I remember watching a documentary on the Bible, hosted by Christiane Amanpour.  The last segment of the documentary was about IHOP, the International House of Prayer.  I do not recall if I learned this from the documentary, or from online reading, but I heard that there were people who left Ivy League programs in political science so they could devote time to prayer at IHOP.  They figured that prayer would improve the political and international situation more effectively than any contribution they could make as advisors and experts.  I initially thought, “What a waste!”  Since then, my response has been ambivalent.  Maybe prayer has worked: prayer can soften leaders’ hearts, or God can place roadblocks in the path of certain disastrous plans.  Could these Republican health care plans have been stalled because some Christians have prayed for that?  On the other hand, do we not need moral advisors and experts?  Daniel and Joseph were political advisors.  And do we not need peaceful protest to express to leaders what we support and oppose?  I would say that the Civil Rights movement was good, to cite an example.

I’ll stop here.


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Graceful Evangelism, book review

Enough Light

P1070618Graceful Evangelism, Christian Witness in a Complex World by Frances S. Adeney. Baker Academic, 2010.

I won this book in a book giveaway from The Baker Deep End Blog in…2014! Finally, I read it this year! This informal blog, associated with Baker Book House, has giveaways of Christian non-fiction books – mostly academic or of a more thoughtful nature. I won another book recently, and hope to read it before 2020 (haha).

First off, this is an academic book. It is not a practical “how to” book about sharing Christ with your co-worker or neighbor. Rather it is about the theology that underlies evangelism and the history of evangelism over the last 2,000 years – with the ultimate focus on approaches to evangelism today. I think its primary use would be as a textbook in classes on evangelism, outreach, and missions. If I was teaching such a class, I would…

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Book Write-Up: The Wisdom of God, by A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer.  The Wisdom of God: Letting His Truth and Goodness Direct Your Steps.  Compiled and edited by James L. Snyder.  Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

This book is a collection of A.W. Tozer’s reflections on the wisdom of God: God’s wisdom, Christ as the wisdom of God, and how people are saved so that they can walk in God’s wisdom.  The cover of the book says “never before published.”

Here are some reactions:

A.  Tozer stresses that the divine Logos of John 1 is based, not on Greek philosophy, but rather on Hebrew thought.  As examples of Hebrew thought, Tozer refers to the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Ben Sira.  What Tozer neglects is that these works themselves drew from or engaged Greek thought.  Tozer also discusses Heraclitus, acting as if Heraclitus’ insights on the Logos resembled that of John 1, on some level.  Tozer’s argument on John 1 was not particularly convincing, but he does well to ask if the Logos of John 1 is similar to the Logos of Greek philosophy.

B.  As examples of the benefits of possessing divine wisdom, Tozer talks about believers knowing when God is disciplining them (as opposed to their misfortunes being caused by the devil), and believers being able to identify the hand of God in everything.  These are indeed desirable gifts to have: as Tozer says, being able to identify what God is doing will save one a lot of struggle and trouble.  But how many believers truly have these gifts?  I do not.  And I question whether people should be overly dogmatic about what God is doing.

C.  I identified with something that Tozer said on page 105: “Personally, I have always been afraid of souring down and hardening up into a self-assured, clever man who has seen all kinds of religion.  I know just where to put it, classify it, and what to do with every flash of fire that I see and every gust of heavenly wind, and every shining countenance.  I have always been afraid that I would get into that place and find myself, unknown to me, sitting in the seat of the scornful.”  I do not think that I know everything, or even most things, about religion.  But I do think that I have been around the block, and that new strands of thought that I hear can probably be categorized into what I already know.  It is easy for this attitude to lead me to a clinical view of religion, and that kind of view appeals to me because it can allow me to protect myself from religious tyranny.  But can such an approach insulate me, also, from spiritual wisdom?

D.  At times, Tozer came across as anti-intellectual, but Tozer went out of his way to say that this was not his intention.  Tozer believes that spiritual wisdom is accessible to everyone, whatever his or her level of education.  I hope so.  Would not one want and expect a loving God to act that way?  But what can check the tendency of some Christians to go overboard with their claims of spiritual revelation: to dogmatically claim that God is speaking to them, even though their supposed “revelation” goes against the Greek and the Hebrew, or what science demonstrates (not that science is infallible)?  Perhaps spiritual revelation is appropriate for certain areas, such as living the spiritual and moral life.  (And people can nitpick that claim, but I am not intending the claim to be the final word.  I’m just thinking here.)

E.  Throughout the book, Tozer contends against the misconception that Christianity is solely about escaping hell and going to heaven.  According to Tozer, it is about much more than that, and it includes walking in wisdom under God’s guidance.  Tozer is not for cheap grace, for he states that any Gospel that lacks repentance is a false Gospel.  As one who spiritually struggles, I tend to gravitate towards “grace” Gospels, yet Tozer does make a compelling point that faith should influence our lives.  Tozer presents scenarios of people who hear the Gospel, accept it, then forget about it, and people who are double-minded in the faith.  While the book could have used more grace, Tozer occasionally spoke to people who struggle.  He said that there is hope for seemingly impossible cases, that those who want to hear from God should take a spiritual retreat, and, quoting Thomas Aquinas, that “If thou lackest strength to take high flights to spirituality, then hide thee in the wounds of Jesus.”

F.  Appealing to John 20:29, Tozer highlights the importance of believing in God without proof.  Tozer argues that those who believe will then get the proof (or evidence) that they need, as they experience God.  What is the value of believing without proof, though?  Why does God value that, or want that?  Tozer should have addressed such questions.

G.  Tozer employs allegorical approaches, at times.  For example, in discussing Lady Folly in the Book of Proverbs, he talked about Queen Jezebel.  This added color and a stream-of-consciousness texture to the book, which enhanced it.

I am giving this book five stars.  It is thoughtful, and it comes across as concrete rather than vague, even though there are questions that I wish Tozer had addressed.  Tozer comes across as someone who has experienced the wisdom of God.

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

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Wright-the place of Chronicles


I continue to read and write about Jacob L. Wright’s David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory.

Some of Wright’s assumptions about the composition of the Bible become more explicit in later chapters.  He sees the great tradition that has come down in Genesis-Joshua as a “People’s History”.  It tells the story of all Israel who are the people of God because they all derive from Jacob and all have the same promise from God.  The Samuel and Kings books are different.  They are a “Monarchic History” and deal with the political and religious superiority of Judah over Samaria.

Late editors joined these two stories in a “Primary History” of Israel so that the emphasis on national unity from the People’s History came first and the kingdom was just a late addendum.

Then there came 1 and 2 Chronicles, which retold the story of the kingdom so that…

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Book Write-Up: Let There Be Light

Mark Leonard.  Let There Be Light.  WestBow Press, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

Let There Be Light is a young-earth creationist science fiction novel.  It focuses on two scientist friends: Bill, an atheist with a Jewish upbringing, and Michael, who presents Bill with creationist arguments and arguments that are skeptical of human-caused climate change.  Bill invents a time machine and ends up shortly before the time of the Flood.  He observes that dinosaurs and humans co-existed, meets Egyptians and learns how and why the pyramids were built, and gets trapped in the Flood.  How will he get out of this?

Let’s start with the positives.  The book was enjoyable.  Bill and Michael were likeable characters, and they were given a back story, which allowed them to appear real and developed.  The book also advances arguments: that the atmosphere was different prior to the time of the Flood, allowing people to live longer and throwing off conventional dating methods;  that fossils of supposedly different time periods have been found together; and that mountains were lower in the time of the Flood, meaning that the Flood was not exactly covering Mount Everest.  In presenting these arguments (however incorrect), the book at least was giving readers something to consider.  The military is upset by Bill’s time machine, and a crusty colonel gives legitimate reasons to fear time travel.  There were vivid scenes in the book, as when Bill looked outside his time machine and saw waves depositing fossil layer on top of fossil layer.  Even after Bill becomes a creationist, he believes in some form of natural selection.  And, notwithstanding the book’s climate-change denialism, Bill makes a robust case for taking care of the environment.

Now for the negatives.  The book would have been better with footnotes, particularly for the claim that fossils from supposedly different time periods have been found together.  There could have been a greater spiritual element.  Bill’s conversion was somewhat rushed, and there were very few references to why Noah was building the Ark and what that said about the character of God; the book lightly touched on whether God wants the truth to be overly evident to people, and how some will not want to believe the truth even when they know it is the truth, but the spiritual element of the book could have been developed more.  There was a materialistic character who thought Noah’s construction of the Ark was a waste of time, and he was an asset to the story, yet (except perhaps for the king of Egypt) the characters were not particularly wicked, as Genesis 6 depicts the antediluvian age as being.  And Bill’s defense of environmentalism was somewhat spoiled by his claim that Christ will come back when things get too bad.

As far as the book’s arguments go, responses to them are out there.  Talk Origins has an “Index to Creationist Claims” that succinctly responds to several of those arguments. The book also presents everyone speaking Hebrew prior to the Flood, which is likely unrealistic.

In terms of whether there were contradictions in the book, the book alleges that conventional dating methods are unreliable, yet they were only a few millennia off when Michael used them to locate Bill in time; one would expect greater discrepancy, the way some creationists talk!  The book claimed that there are cases in which fossils from supposedly different time periods are found together, yet it also held that, generally-speaking, less developed animals are found in the lower layers and more developed animals in the upper layers.  This may not be a contradiction, however, since the book presented different fossils being juxtaposed together as an exception.  The book maintains that the animals in the lower and upper layers were contemporaneous, as the developed animals were able to rush to higher ground.  A response to this creationist argument is that there are fossils of developed animals that are rather deep in the ground and fossils of marine animals that are higher up, and that one can observe development in marine animals from one strata to another.

This book is entertaining, with a compelling story.  In terms of prose, the book is clear, well-organized, and well-written.

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

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My theory about the David story


If the narratives about David in 2 Samuel are based on royal records, why hasn’t the story been sanitized.  Why does it tell stories that show David as an adulterer and murderer?  Why does it show him fleeing Jerusalem with little dignity in response to Absalom’s revolt.  Why doesn’t it show more respect when telling of David’s old age and death? In 1 and 2 Chronicles we do have an example of such a cleaning up of the story.  We do not know if some of the sources used by the Chroniclers had also been more David-positive than Samuel and Kings.

One answer to why David’s dirty laundry got aired would be that the 2 Samuel stories were constructed after the dynasty of David was ended by Babylon and  upholding his virtue and dignity no longer mattered.  But Chronicles, which does come from that period, is the one story that…

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