Pursuit of Percipience

the blog that nobody reads which I write to silence the voices in my head

Tag: book review

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Book Review)

James Jordan, in his book Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future, writes…

The gospel as presented in Acts and by the early Church took this form: “You are living in isolation, lowliness, despair, chaos, and bondage. But there is a New World! There is a New Creation! There is a New Kingdom! You can leave behind your old horrible life and come into the warmth of the Church. You can join us at the table and sing psalms with us. You can come under the oversight of our elders, and be part of a new family.” (Page 44)

The medieval Church taught our civilization what God’s law is. Faced with social anarchy on all sides, early European rulers heard the gospel this way: “You are living in hell. But God has given His law! God has shown the way to live! Christ is King! You can submit to His High-Kingship and lead your people into a new way of life!” (Page 45)

The medieval Church fell into sin when the law ceased to be a wonderful guide to life and became an oppressive threat demanding good works as a way of “meriting the merits of Christ.” … Thus, the Protestant Church taught our civilization what God’s freedom is. Faced with bondage to law, the Reformers preached the free conscience under Christ: justification by faith alone. We are familiar with this doctrine, but notice that it is only really “heard” by people who have some knowledge of God and of the law. Once that prior knowledge has drained out of society, the Protestant message no longer has the power it once had.” (Page 45-46)

The famous Protestant sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God written by Jonathan Edwards was very effective in its day; a day when most of the American people were quite knowledgable of God, Christianity, and the bible; a day when the people should have known better than to turn away from God. But that day has obviously passed in the west, and a different presentation of the gospel is needed. James Jordan suggests looking back to the early Church and how they presented the gospel to people who were somewhat in the same situation as non-believers today: “You’re alone. You’re miserable. Come into the family of Jesus.” This message is what they’ll hear and understand.

zahndBrian Zahnd also understands this need for a fresh gospel presentation, and offers one with his book Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. But, is he offering a truthful presentation? I would say no. Zahnd is, what I like to call, a “Postmodern Jesusist“. Another term I could use is “Neo-Marcionist”. According to his narrative in the video above, I think Zahnd has always been a Marcionist, although ignorantly so (listen from 1:00 – 1:25). And his solution now is not to dismiss Marcionism altogether, but to worsen it by creating a kind of “Postmodern Marcionism”. Zahnd writes on page 60, “I’m a million miles from the second-century heresy of Marcion … My approach to the Old Testament is nothing like Marcion’s. I call the Old testament sacred scripture.” That may be, but that’s why I will say Zahnd’s approach to the O.T. is a really just a new twist on the Marcion heresy.

In the first chapter, he mostly expands on what you see in the book trailer. But as he does so, he also builds up to the idea that the authors of the Old Testament simply did not have a full revelation of God. They had an inferior revelation and therefore not a true one. He quotes the apostle John: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” So, since they didn’t have Jesus, they didn’t have a complete revelation. I can agree with Zahnd that their revelation of God was incomplete in the O.T., but I disagree with the idea that an incomplete revelation is necessarily false. There are some things that don’t change in their nature with an increase or decrease in size. Like truth. Truth is truth, whether known fully or not. When you take your kid to a restaurant, and order something for him from the kid’s menu, the food is the same food the adults eat, it just comes in a smaller portion. Truth’s nature is the same in large portions as it is in small portions. The revelation of God given to Israel was not in the fullness that would later be given in Christ, but it was still true.

In the second chapter, Zahnd constructs a couple of straw men for you to attack, or to identify with, depending on your agreement with him. For example, if you agree that God commanded the genocide of the Canaanites under Joshua, then you are open to Christians today committing genocide. In regards to the genocide, and other stories like it in the O.T., Zahnd gives three options on how to deal with the problem: 1) Question God’s morality; 2) Question God’s immutability; 3) Question how we read scripture. He rightly rejects options 1 & 2, but then goes on to give a method of reading scripture which is entirely based on postmodern philosophy: The O.T. authors wrote what they wrote not because they had a true revelation from God, but because of their biases and their warrior tribalistic worldview.

Zahnd seems to have little to no understanding of holiness, justice (apart from “social justice”), and covenant. He writes: If you’re going to imagine divinely endorsed genocide, you should not imagine yourself as Joshua but as the unfortunate Canaanite whose entire family and village have just been murdered. Instead of always seeing yourself as the cowboy, try being the Indian* sometime. (Page 44) First of all, was a holy God unjust in destroying the Canaanites?† Thankfully because of the person and work of Jesus, I don’t have to be destroyed like the Canaanite. I can be saved and created new. I can also enter into a covenant with God, just like Joshua was in covenant with God. Joshua wasn’t a blameless man, but he was in covenant, and that makes all the difference. I will imagine myself as Joshua.

(Note: If you read Jonathan Merritt’s article about this book, then you can skip the first two chapters. And before reading this book myself, I wrote a blog article about Merritt’s article, which I think is a good answer to the first two chapters as well.)

As I mention above, Zahnd is correct in writing that the O.T. Israelites did not have the fullness of revelation that would come with Jesus, but truth is truth, and we don’t read the bible like a Muslim reads the Quran; we don’t apply Naskh to the bible.‡ Before Jesus completed His work on the cross, God operated in the world a certain way, and after Jesus, God operated in a different way… and the O.T. is still a true account of who God is. Zahnd even applies Naskh to the sacrificial system — a system which is integral to Christianity. True, we don’t sacrifice animals anymore, but that’s because those sacrifices ended with Christ. But according to Zahnd, because of verses like Psalm 40:6 and Hosea 6:6, God never wanted the sacrificial system at all — so you can now ignore most of the Pentateuch.

As I read the third chapter, I found myself agreeing with most of what Zahnd says of Jesus being the greater revelation of the Word of God, but I kept asking, “But is the O.T. true? Does it truly portray God?” Zahnd says no, and for no good reason. He just doesn’t want it to be true — the O.T. doesn’t line up with his postmodern narrative. While he does believe that Jesus taught a new way to live, he doesn’t seem to believe that the world radically changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus — indeed, he doesn’t know the old world of the O.T. doesn’t exist anymore. Zahnd’s view of Jesus isn’t scandalous or radical; it isn’t radical enough!

In later chapters, Zahnd writes about hell and eschatology. I don’t have an issue with his take on hell, which is similar to C.S. Lewis and what you’d find in The Brothers Karamazov: Hell is an inability to love and be loved, and the gates are locked from within, not without. His view of eschatology and the book of Revelation is what you’d expect; something I think would be similar to what Rob Bell would teach — and I don’t have a huge issue with that either. But for the most part, these later chapters are more of the same of what I described above.

I find myself wondering: Why not just accept the O.T. at face value? What is the real reason Zahnd would reject so much of it? Is it because of years of theological study? No. Most people’s theology (if not all people’s theology) is not based on biblical study. It is based on personality and worldview. In order for Zahnd to believe what he wants to believe about Jesus, he has to reject the O.T. portrayal of God. He is offended at the O.T., and this is his way of dealing with it. Is he correct though? No, I don’t think so. He takes too much liberty in deciding which parts of the bible are true, and which are not, and he bases his exegesis on unreliable ground. For two thousand years Christians have understood that Jesus’ death on the cross was an atoning work satisfying God’s wrath towards sin and sinners. Why must we change that belief now? Because of postmodern philosophy?

I do agree that there is more to the cross than just Jesus dying for sin. N.T. Wright has written a lot of good stuff on the whole idea of the righteousness of God. I am happy that someone like Zahnd can write the book he’s written and this conversation can continue. I agree with Zahnd that the goal of Jesus is to restore the world (and not destroy it). And I do agree that the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God approach to sharing the gospel doesn’t work these days, and something fresh is needed. But Zahnd compromises too much.

I’m going to give the book 3/5 stars.

A book I recommend people read instead of Zahnd’s is the above mentioned Crisis, Opportunity, and the Christian Future by James B. Jordan. James B. Jordan is an excellent Old Testament scholar and he explains much of the issues people might have about the difficult sections of the Old Testament. You can listen to his lectures by clicking here.

* I wonder if he’s referring to the Comanche Indians.
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. (Deuteronomy 18:9-12 ESV)
‡ See the Quran 2:106

Related Reading…

In the Fullness of Time

Postmodern Jesusism

Jesus and Covenantal Righteousness

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The Art of the Argument (Brief Book Review)

The Argument favours the intelligent, the prepared, the resourceful, the courageous, and the well-trained. The Argument rewards intellectual and moral virtues of every kind. The Argument promotes the most civil to the highest reaches of influence in society, and demotes fools and bullies to the basement of irrelevance.
~Stefan Molyneux

aoa

The Art of the Argument, written by Stefan Molyneux, is a primer on logic, reason, and debate. The book is primarily written for today’s younger generation — those who belong to the “snowflake” generation — but it is good for all ages and all who do not know how to argue without relying on emotion and subjectivism.

So, if you’ve ever heard someone say, “Hate speech is not free speech,” or you have said that yourself, allow Stefan to explain to you why free speech is essential for any civilized world, because without the ability to openly discuss our differences and problems, we can only resort to violence.

Molyneux gives many examples of how to present a logical and objective argument — not in order to defeat an opponent, but rather to discover the truth. “The Argument is beholden to a third party – the truth.” (Location 1530 on Kindle)

I can recommend this book if you enjoy debate and see a need to speak out against the attack on free speech rising in the west today.

I gave it 4/5 stars.

Propaganda (Brief Book Review)

propaganda

“Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group”
~Edward Bernays

I recently finished reading Propaganda by Edward Bernays. It’s a short book written in the late 1920s describing the methods used by anyone who wishes to push their ideas and agenda onto a large group of people. The methods described in the book are still in use today.

Propaganda is a neutral term; it is neither good nor evil in and of itself. It can be used for good and used for evil, but mostly it is a vessel used to push an idea.

If I were a newsman who recently read a report done by some major university on the annual financial earnings of men and women and wanted to do a story on it, I could choose a couple of different ways to present the report. If I have no agenda but to present the report to the public for their own scrutiny, my headline would look something like: New Report on the Financial Income of Men and Women Released by U of T. However, if I’m a feminist, and do have a strong agenda, and I see in the report that men, due to more frequently working full time, putting in more overtime, and taking jobs in higher paying fields, are earning more money on an annual basis than women, I can use that information to push my agenda, and my headline would look more like this: Women Only Make Seventy Cents for Every Dollar a Man Makes New Study Shows. And that headline would be propaganda. It’s not an outright lie; it’s just that I am presenting the information to the reader so as to sway his or her opinion toward my agenda (which, for the feminist, is to convince the public that women are oppressed by men).

propSo, even though propaganda is neutral (and should not be mistaken with opinion writing), I would argue that it will most often lean towards dishonesty as the presenter of the propaganda is most likely not being sincere in his or her propagation of the information, even when the cause behind the propaganda is a good one.

I gave the book 3/5 stars.

The Day the Revolution Began (Book Review) Part Two

Revolution
Part One of this review can be found by clicking here.

In the next section of the book, Wright focuses on three elements which are “found within the varied pre-Christian expressions of Jewish hope. Each then played a large part in the early Christian understanding of what actually happened on the cross.” (Page 116) They are: 1) The Messiah would be a king; 2) The final redemption might come about not only in the context of extreme suffering, but by the means of it; 3) The “forgiveness of sins” and the “end of exile” would be the dramatic expression of the covenant of love.

In the King/Kingdom section, Wright writes a bit about the gospel (the proclamation of the good news that the righteous king is now in power), and a new exodus. He uses Daniel chapters 2, 7, and 9 to show how the Messiah would overcome the world empires and reign as king forever. Chapters 2 and 7 show how the world empires are destroyed by the Messiah King, and chapter 9 shows that Israel would have to endure a prolonged exile (70 x 7 years), but then the Messiah would come and save the people. This section is a short one and one could read Wright’s Simply Good News to get a better idea of how he presents the gospel.*

In the next section on suffering, Wright writes: “It is important … to detach the pre-Christian Jewish notion of a coming Messiah from the notion of suffering.” (Page 122) He points out that the notion of one man coming to suffer on behalf of the group is not necessarily a Jewish idea, but rather a pagan one.

“[F]rom quite early on in … Israel’s scriptures, some prophets and psalmists seemed to come back regularly to this idea of great suffering as the prelude to the coming deliverance. This suffering would, however, only be ‘messianic’ in the loose sense that it might immediately precede the ‘messianic age.’ Sometimes Israel’s scriptures refer to the suffering that results from Israel’s idolatry and sin. Sometimes, however, as in many of the psalms, it is suffering inflicted on God’s people, or perhaps an individual, despite their innocence. The night gets darker, the pain still more intense, and then a new day will dawn.” (Page 122)

Wright then focuses on the story of the Maccabean revolt. Wright says earlier in the book: “To understand any event in history, you must put it firmly into that history and not rest content with what later generations have said about it.” (Page 51) So, I guess he is trying to figure out why the early Christians viewed passages like Psalm 22, Isaiah 50 and 53 as describing the suffering Messiah (Jesus) as one who came to suffer for all the people when pre-Christian Jewish thought did not follow that narrative. It’s a bit of a confusing section, and I don’t think Wright gets his point across clearly enough here to the reader. He assumes you know (or hopes you don’t know) the Maccabean story well enough to follow his reasoning. Whereas Wright is very clear in other sections, repeating his main points over and over, here he is quite vague.

Well, the Maccabees were a Jewish family who rebelled against the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes IV ca 160 BC. Antiochus had greatly oppressed the Jews, prevented them from temple worship, and pushed them out of Jerusalem. The Maccabees fought back, won the day, and ruled Israel as kings and priests for the next 100 years or so. Antiochus had removed the rightful Zadokite high-priest, but the Maccabees did not reinstate him (or his descendant), but rather made themselves high-priests as well as kings.

The story as told in 1-4 Maccabees** is a story of Jewish covenant renewal (Antiochus’s oppression was the result of Jewish unfaithfulness), but it also emphasizes the suffering of the few, or the one, for the many, and so Wright suggests that it is here where the pagan idea of one suffering for many is combined with the narrative of Jewish covenant renewal. No doubt the Jews at this time were heavily influenced by Greek culture.

“Suffice it to note that at precisely the point where a Jewish writer [the author of Maccabees] is drawing explicitly on pagan philosophical traditions and doing his best to present a story of Jewish martyrdom as a story of human virtue [a pagan theme], especially courage and nobility, these themes come suddenly into prominence. Was that the reason, one might wonder, why some of the early Christians said some things about Jesus’s death that strike us, at least at first glance, as very similar? Or were they following a subtly different interpretive line?

“In any case, the point is clear. Within the larger Jewish hope, there are signs that some people at least, under pressure of intense suffering and persecution, reached for ways of interpreting that experience not only as something through which God’s people might pass to deliverance, but as something because of which that deliverance would come about… The point … is that the idea of redemptive suffering, though certainly not associated with messianic expectation, was clearly available in the Jewish world of Jesus’s day.” (Page 131)

The third element is titled Divine Faithfulness and Covenant Love. One theme that is absent from the Maccabean writings, but is clear in passages like Isaiah 40-66, is that God’s redemptive work is the result of His faithful love. A new exodus would occur with God taking the initiative to save, and not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.

The redemptive work would come through a royal servant. “There is a well-known fluidity between the nation and its royal representative: the king holds the key to the destiny of the people.” (Page 139) The king, through the love for his people, takes on himself the consequences of his people’s sins.

Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him
That there was no justice.
He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.
~Isaiah 59:15-16 (NKJV)

I looked, but there was no one to help,
And I wondered
That there was no one to uphold;
Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me;
And My own fury, it sustained Me….
In all their affliction He was afflicted,
And the Angel of His Presence saved them;
In His love and in His pity He redeemed them;
And He bore them and carried them
All the days of old.
~Isaiah 63:5 & 9 (NKJV)

To be continued in Part Three….

*An excellent and illuminating commentary on the book of Daniel was written by James B. Jordan. I took a whole bunch of notes on that book which you can read here.

**A history of the Maccabees (and other events surrounding the life of Jesus) that I recommend is Emil Schürer’s A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ.

The Day the Revolution Began (Book Review) Part One

Revolution

You could rename this book Christianity 101. If I were to recommend just two books by N.T. Wright, they would be Simply Good News, and this one, The Day the Revolution Began.

N.T. Wright’s main push in a lot of his books is that the traditional definition of Christianity (Jesus died for your sins so that you don’t have to go to hell) is only one slice of a much larger pie, and the problem of Western Christianity is that it made that slice the whole pie.

The Reformation really centred on one main issue: How does the individual get saved? It was necessary to focus on that issue at that time as the Catholic Church had really messed it up. But, over the last 500 years, the Church has never gotten away from focusing on that one issue. N.T. Wright criticizes that problem. The early Christians didn’t focus on that issue, and neither did the pre-Christian Jews.

This is how many, if not most, Christians view their faith:

“God told his human creatures to keep a moral code; their continuing life in the Garden of Eden depended on their keeping that code perfectly. Failure would incur the punishment of death… Humans were therefore heading for hell rather than heaven. Finally, however, Jesus obeyed this moral law perfectly and in his death paid the penalty on behalf of the rest of the human race… Those who avail themselves of this achievement by believing in him and so benefiting from his accomplishment go to heaven… those who don’t, don’t.” (Page 75)

Wright does not deny the truth of that description of Christianity; he just argues that there is much more to the faith that only that. Wright says our biggest problem as humans is not that we are sinners who broke some law, but rather that we are idolators. “The human problem is not so much ‘sin’ seen as the breaking of moral codes–though that, to be sure, is a part of it…– but rather idolatry and the distortion of genuine humanness it produces.” (Page 74)

The result of putting anything before God, refusing to worship Him, and refusing to live out our created purpose leads to sin, and sin leads to death, which is separation from God. The Israelites of the Old Testament saw their exile as a form of death. It was when Israel stopped worshipping God and refused to fulfill their role as a kingdom of priests to the nations that God desolated the temple and sent His people into exile.

For Israel, the term “forgiveness of sins” was directly related to being allowed to return from exile. Wright argues that we too need to see that term in the same light as the Jews. Exile for humanity is the being cut off from proper human life: peace, unity, love, being proper image bearers and worshippers of God.

“[L]awbreaking is a symptom of a much more serious disease… [idolatry]… The result is slavery and finally death. It isn’t that humans do wrong things and so incur punishment. This is one element of the larger problem, which isn’t so much about a punishment that might seem almost arbitrary, perhaps even draconian; it is, rather, about direct consequences.” (Page 77)

N.T. Wright suggests “that in the Bible humans are created in order to live as worshipping stewards within God’s heaven-and-earth reality, rather than as beings who, by moral perfection, qualify to leave ‘earth’ and go to ‘heaven’ instead.” (Page 77-78)

Wright uses the term vocational covenant. Our vocation as humans is to image God to creation as caring stewards, and to image creation back to God as thankful worshippers. If we abandon that vocation we corrupt ourselves and creation too. Sin is simply the result of breaking that vocational covenant, which then leads to death and separation from God.

So, notice how Wright’s emphasis is not You broke God’s law and now He’s angry at you and you are going to hell, but rather it’s, We abandoned our vocational covenant by refusing to worship God and refusing to steward creation, and because of that we have corrupted ourselves and are separated from God.

The question then is: How is this problem of us breaking our vocational covenant, and the consequences thereof, fixed?

Wright spends some time writing about the purpose of the nation of Israel. As I mentioned above, Israel was a kingdom of priests to the nations. That means that they were acting as the image bearing mediators between God and the world. They were priests, and as priests they were to work to reconcile creation with God. That of course included being a light to the Gentile nations. This was, as Wright puts it, their vocation.

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
~Exodus 19:4-6

It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth….
Kings shall see and arise,
Princes also shall worship,
Because of the Lord who is faithful,
The Holy One of Israel;
And He has chosen You.
~Isaiah 49:6-7

Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
~Isaiah 60:1-3

When Israel was faithful to that vocation they were at peace with the nations and the nations would come to them to worship God. But, when they abandoned that covenant, they would be in conflict with God, and thus the nations as well. Continual non-repentance led to exile, when the Israelite people were pushed out of their promised land, their temple was abandoned by God, and they spent a time in “death” separated from the true life that they were supposed to have.

“[H]umans were made for a purpose [and] Israel was made for a purpose, and … humans and Israel alike have turned aside from that purpose, distorted the vision, and abused their vocation.” (Page 99)

The Greek word for sin, hamartia, means “missing the mark”. Wright points out that sin then is not so much a result of failing to keep a “do/don’t do” list of rules, but rather failing to be proper image bearers, and failing “to reflect the praises of creation back to the Creator and [failing] to reflect the Creator’s wise and loving stewardship into the world.” (Page 99)

If Israel was supposed to reconcile the creation back to the Creator, what would happen if Israel itself was in need of reconciliation? How could they fulfill their vocation if they themselves were just as corrupt as those they were called to help? What could be done if those who had the authority to reconcile had forfeited that authority over to powers which worked for evil and death? Others, or One, would have to come and take back that authority and fulfill the vocation of reconciliation.

When the tabernacle was first complete, the glorious presence of God came down to cover it (Exodus 40:34ff), and again when Solomon’s temple was complete, the glory cloud of God came again (1 Kings 8:10-11). However, after the exile, when the Jews went back to Jerusalem and completed the rebuilding of the temple, there is no mention of God’s glory coming down then (Ezra 6:13ff). What you do see is the presence of God leaving the temple (what would have been Solomon’s temple) in Ezekiel 10 & 11.

In Malachi, a prophet sent to Israel after Ezra’s temple had been built (the second temple), we see that the Jews were neglecting their covenantal responsibilities again. They were doing so because they were disappointed at what the second temple era was: no renewed kingdom of Israel (they were still in a form of exile) and a perception that God’s glory never did return from exile with them to once again fill the temple. But Malachi told the people: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming.” (Malachi 3:1) Now, that messenger sent to prepare the way was John the Baptist (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:27), so, “the Lord who will suddenly come to His temple” was Jesus.

“In Jesus’s day, the hope was alive that the Glory would return at last. But nobody knew exactly what that would mean, how it would happen, or what it would look like.” (Page 112) The Jews’ great hope after the exile was not to make it to heaven when they died, but to be restored within the present world, to be forgiven of their sins, and to be a part of the new covenant promised to them by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This new covenant, we know today, would also include the Gentile nations.

Jesus is the One who took the vocational covenant of Israel onto Himself and fulfilled it once and for all in His life, death, and resurrection. But how does that work? What did Jesus really do on the cross?

To be continued in Part Two…..

Further reading….

N. T. Wright: The Church Continues the Revolution Jesus Started

N. T. Wright Reconsiders the Meaning of Jesus’s Death