Apologies Are Not Enough

I would like to begin with a statement from a recent news article about a developing story relating to an Oregon church:  “Apologies, like thoughts and prayers in mass shootings, are not enough when it comes to sexual abuse and assault of our youth.  Adults have an unwavering responsibility to protect our children and teens from the irreparable harm of sex abuse, and we should hold accountable those who abandon or ignore this obligation.”  I would assume that the readers of this blog are generally in agreement with the statement above, if perhaps a bit dubious about the author of this editorial tying a scandal relating to longstanding sexual abuse with the recent rash of school shootings by troubled teens.  It should be a debatable point that it is the responsibility of adults to protect children and teens from abuse or that the failure to uphold this responsibility can cause immense damage to young people [1].  Nor can it be denied that institutions regularly fail to protect the most vulnerable from abuse and exploitation.

The question remains as to what can be done about it.  There is little question that the problem of child abuse is a place where Colson’s law is definitely applicable.  For those who are unfamiliar with this law, those who battle for community and morality against chaos and moral evil have two resources that they can draw upon, cops and conscience, and where there is more of one there needs to be less of the other.  This being an Oregon editorial that we began with, it is little surprise that the person who wrote the editorial favors the “cops” over the “conscience” approach, calling upon ever more professions to be mandatory reporters so that everyone will be surrounded by a legion of spies who are bound on pain of severe penalty to report upon their actions when they are questionable or out of line.  Most of us [3] would prefer to avoid this state of higher surveillance if possible, especially given the low level of performance that we find among bureaucracies in the contemporary age as well as throughout human history.  I speak for myself and probably for the majority of my readers that we do not want to give government more opportunities to oversee our behavior, nor do we wish to become a part of mandatory regimes that punish us harshly if we do not become snitches on ourselves or those around us.

What is the alternative then?  If we do not wish to have more cops, we must have stronger consciences.  We must not only tell ourselves and others that children are to be protected from abuse, but we must mean what we say and it must be obvious that others recognize that we mean what we say.  There are, of course, forms of abuse that should not even be named among Christians.  Those of us who claim that God views the exploitation and abuse of little ones with the utmost horror can view such things with no less horror ourselves.  Those of us who believe that sex is immoral outside of marriage should be especially unwilling to coerce others into sexual relations to gratify our own immoral lusts.  Yet conscience needs to go far beyond this starting point.  There are many subtle ways in which young people can be made vulnerable to attitudes and comments that can leave them feeling unsafe.  On the other hand, it is hard for people to prove their own innocence, and avoiding a witch hunt atmosphere is as vital as preserving the well-being of children.  How to protect the well-being and reputation of all parties involved in life’s situations is a task that should exercise our thinking and pondering.

If we agree that apologies are not enough, then we are left with prevention.  How do we go about preventing evil, especially evil so horrible that we are generally not interested in dealing with its reality unless we have no choice but to stare into the darkness of the abyss?  How do we go about policing ourselves so that external control is unnecessary?  How do we build environments where people are safe and feel safe, which is a far more difficult task?  How do we handle alpha risk (false accusations) as well as beta risk (unreported abuse) to minimize both simultaneously?  After all, too many false positives increases the likelihood of false negatives as claims are subject to greater scrutiny, but too many false negatives discredits institutions for not screening or investigating or reporting enough.  In such a situation it is easy to have serious questions, but a far less obvious task to figure out what answers would best serve the complex interests of truth and well-being and the constraints that we are under as people.  And if questions are not enough, there are few obvious answers to the problems we face, because even when we know what we should do, we often lack the power and the will to accomplish what we wish.

[1] See, for example:





[2] See, for example:




[3] See, for example:




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A Defense Of Origen’s Orthodox Subordinationism

Although it has been a while since I commented on the topic of subordinationism as it relates to noted and well-regarded Hellenistic Christian writers and thinkers [1], it is worth remembering that this brief series of posts was begun by a sermon in which my pastor commented on subordinationist beliefs while I simultaneously was pondering on how that related to the checkered reputation of the Hellenistic Christian Origen.  Now, it should be noted that I do not think of myself as a Hellenistic Christian (although others may disagree given my fondness for philosophy and general intellectual approach).  I consider myself to think and write about this subject as an outsider, albeit a generally friendly outsider.  Be that as it may, Origen presents us with a situation that shows what the beginnings of orthodox views on subordinationism looked like and sounded like to early readers, and given the regard in which Thomas a Kempis and C.S. Lewis are held in, it is rather surprising that Origen gets any grief for his own subordinationist beliefs, which are clearly Orthodox by any fair standard.  Let us look, therefore, at how Origen presents his beliefs in a few scattered references in his Commentary on the Gospel of John.

Let us begin with this comment that Origen makes towards the beginning of his commentary:  “Consider, therefore, since “He that sanctifies and they that are sanctified are all of one,” whether the Father is the sanctification of Him who is our sanctification, as, Christ being our head, God is His head (39).”  Here we see a question of authority, something similar to what the author of Hebrews comments on when he says that the One who placed all things under the feet of Jesus is not placing Himself under Jesus’ feet.  What is seen here is subordination in terms of authority, showing that Jesus Christ accepts the authority of His Father just as we accept the authority of Jesus Christ as believers.  There ought to be nothing controversial in this.  Origen does not consider Jesus Christ as needing forgiveness, but he does see that there is a difference in authority among various members of God’s Family, which we would see if we looked at any of the discussions that the Bible provides about authority within God’s Family.

Likewise, there is nothing particularly controversial about Origen’s next distinction about the Father and the Son in his commentary, when he writes:  “No living being besides God [the Father] has life free from change and variation.  Why should we be in further doubt?  Even Christ did not share the Father’s immortality; for He “tasted death for every man (67).””  Here again we see an incontrovertible statement.  Jesus Christ could have claimed the same immorality possessed by the Father as had been His right from the beginning, but He chose to submit Himself to life as a human being full of change and variation and death on the stake/cross according to His Father’s will.  This again is not saying anything daring or shocking or controversial, but is rather something which must be openly acknowledged by any professed Christian.  So far we have seen nothing that should even raise the eyebrows of someone who has an Orthodox view of God and Jesus Christ.

When Origen returns to this subject again, we see nothing that should raise our eyebrows, even if Origen’s language is probably not as clear as it could have been regarding the subject at hand:  “For it was of Jesus’ benignity alone that He ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and suffered the penitent woman who was a sinner to was His feet with her tars, and went down even to death for the ungodly, counting it not robbery to be equal with God, and emptied Himself, assuming the form of a servant.  And in accomplishing all this He fulfills rather the will of the Father who gave Him up for sinners than His own (151).”  Here we see once again that Origen counts Jesus as equal to God as God but also shows that Jesus subordinated Himself to the will of God and thus became a human being and died for the sake of sinful, mortal man.  This is the sort of perspective that on sees, for example, in Paul’s epistle to the Philippians, not the sort of material that makes one a fit object for heresy hunters.

And in Origen’s final reference to the issue in his commentary the debate is settled in about as blunt a matter as possible:  “Now there are some who fall into confusion on this head of the Father and the Son, and we must devote a few words to them.  They quote the text, “Yea, and we are found false witnesses for God, because we testified against God that He raised up Christ, whom He raised not up,” and other similar texts which show the raiser-up to be another person than He who is raised up; and the text, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” as if it resulted from these that the Son did not differ in number from the Father, but that both were one, not only in point of substance but in point of subject, and that the Father and Son were said to be different in some of their aspects but not in their hypostases.  Against such vies we must in the first place adduce the leading texts which prove the Son to be another than the Father, and that the Son must of necessity be the son of a Father, and the Father the father of a Son (193).”  Although this is a deeply complicated passage and uses some highly technical language that is perhaps unnecessary, its point is pretty clear in that Origen considers the Father and the Son to be of the same substance, but that they are different and that there is a relationship of subordination between them.

Given the obviousness of Origen’s views and their correspondence with the Bible–particularly the Gospel of John–why did these views ever fall into disrepute in the first place?  We see that later Christian thinkers adopted the same language to discuss Jesus Christ’s obedience to the Father as a model of our own obedience to God without suffering in their own reputation except among a few pedants.  What happened with Origen, then?  It so happens that Origen’s reputation suffered because the subordination of Jesus Christ to God the Father became involved in a later dispute about Jesus Christ being a created being, a dispute we know as Arianism today.  Yet Origen was vehement in discussing the eternal nature of Jesus Christ as the Logos in ways that would be familiar to any Athanasian or Hellenistic Christian, and although he was steadfast in pointing out the inequality of Jesus Christ to God the Father, this was limited to questions of authority and was never taken as viewing Jesus Christ to have been of a lesser substance or to have been a first Creation of God the Father.

Perhaps the best lesson that can be taken from Origen’s view of subordinationism and how it has been viewed by later generations of religious thinkers is that it is hazardous to discuss matters of the Godhead/God’s Family when one wants to be viewed as a Church Father and preserve one’s reputation.  Contemporary views of God and the nature of God and the Family of God are just as muddled today as they were in the early centuries of Christianity, and many people do their best to explain what they believe in contradictory or muddled ways and then throw their hands up and exclaim that it is a mystery.  We may fault Origen for having been to bold to venture where angels fear to tread in discussing the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, but we must ask ourselves if most of us could come off any better when trying to deal with the tangle of concerns about what equality and inequality we mean between the two, seeking to avoid the threat of heresy at every turn.  Perhaps that is why other than serving as a perfunctory reference of one’s Orthodoxy, we see so little in depth discussions of the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, between both and the Holy Spirit that proceeds from them, and the future adoption of believers into the Godhead ourselves so that resurrected believers may be worshiped as we worship God and Jesus Christ.  It is far safer to avoid the whole thicket altogether.

[1] See, for example:






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Book Review: Blood River

Blood River:  A Journey To Africa’s Broken Heart, by Tim Butcher

While in general reading books about the Congo or its neighbors is pretty depressing business [1], this book manages to combine that obviously depressing reading with some searching questions.  Among the most poignant moments in this particular poignant book is when the author is talking to a Malaysian ship commander from the UN dealing with corrupt local crew and wondering why Malaysia was able to overcome its oppressive colonial past to be a nation where tourists go and that has at least some hope of advancement but that Congo has regressed terribly over the last half century or so.  The moment is one of many where the author sees the brutal truth of life in Congo, in the fact that so many deaths occur without being noticed or cared about by many, about the lack of historical memory within institutions or the population at large, and in the way that a total absence of law and order cripples the hopes and aspirations of people to live a better life free of periodic violence and crippling poverty and privation.  And it is this clear eyed view of Congo that makes this a worthwhile book even if it appears somewhat like a quixotic quest of immense risk and danger.

This book takes about 350 pages or so to cover the preparation and execution of a trip taken by the author in the mid 2000’s to follow the path of Stanley from Lake Tanganyika to the Atlantic Ocean along the course of the Congo River.  The author begins his discussion with an appropriate touch of despair, including the doomsaying and negativity he got from the people he talked to about the plan and also including the diverse array of contacts he made with the UN, aid agencies, and some shady businessmen involved in Congo’s various mineral industries who provided him with assistance during his trip.  The trip itself is a complicated one, full of gorgeous photos and harrowing discussions of dehydration, endemic corruption, a country whose infrastructure is in a state of near-total ruination without any prospects of improvement without an immense moral and cultural revival.  The author travels by bike, pirogue, helicopter, and UN riverboat, spends days or weeks stranded in cities along the way that are nearly cut off from the rest of the world, and sees the ruin of buildings, trains, railroads, and nearly every other sign of civilization.  He sees the efforts people make to earn meager livings and the hopelessness of many of the people and earns the grudging respect of those who thought his trip impossible, and finds that Congo’s ruling elites cease to be interested in talking to him once they know he has seen the broken heart of their fallen nation.

At the core of this book are questions of morality and history.  Congo’s state appears to have a great deal to do with the fact that there is no sense of law and order, no sense of sovereignty for the people, and no hope to escape from cycles of violence from various militia and government groups.  Without the establishment of a secure and just form of law and order that provides a chance for honest living and for development to benefit the great mass of the population of the country, there is little hope for progress in Congo.  Likewise, without a knowledge of history, there seems to be little way for people to put their lives into a greater context that allows for hope and development.  The author wonders in this book often about the lack of historical knowledge among many, while historical grudges seem to carry on, and wonders if history is a luxury that only the wealthy can afford.  This is a question we would do well to remember, because if it takes a knowledge of the past and a vision of the future to move beyond the struggles of the present, then one must have the resources and courage to wrestle with that past to overcome it.  The broken heart of Africa may be broken for a very long time.

[1] See, for example:





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Book Review: Eyes Of Africa

Eyes Of Africa:  In The Eyes Of Africa, by Victorine D. Ngangu

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Books Go Social.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

Although this book was printed in the United States, it appears to be the work of a Congolese author who is unknown to me but who has some trenchant observations about what Africa in general and the Democratic Republic of Congo (hereafter abbreviated as DRC) need to do in order to get their act together as nations.  As someone who is by no means unfamiliar with the problems of Africa [1], even if my own personal experience as an obruni in Ghana for a few weeks on a service project is not as extensive as that of many others, I found much to enjoy and appreciate in this short book.  Of particular importance is the way that the author seeks to mobilize Africans themselves to engage in the hard work of building glorious nations and the way that the author shows herself familiar with natural law and a firm belief in the power of Christianity to aid in this moral and societal renewal.  The book would have come off far less well without the author’s personal experience and her obvious concern for the well-being of her own people.

This book itself is written in both English and French sequentially, so what would already be a short book of under 100 pages is actually two essays of about 40 pages in length, one in English and one in French with identical material.  Since my English is far better than my French, I will focus my comments on the English-language material and note that it appears to be written at a high level both when one looks at language and vocabulary as well as its elevated rhetoric.  After an acknowledgements and beginning section the book contains a few chapters that deal with the wealth of Congo in particular and Africa in general in natural resources and fertile soil (1), and the sorry state of civil/natural rights in various African regimes (2).  After that the author gives a detailed look at what she thinks about African society (3), young Africans (4), and Africa’s future (5) before closing with a discussion about how greater African unity can be fostered for the common good of all Africans (6).  All in all, the essay was quite an excellent one although it appears to be more focused on Africans in general than on outsiders like myself.

What makes this book so worthwhile despite its brevity is the author’s critique of Africa and the statement that Africa’s most profound problems and solutions must come from within Africa and its people and not from being forced upon it from outside or from various autocratic regimes.  Some of the author’s comments include the poor enforcement of safety laws in mining, the collapse of traditional family and community bonds in the face of growing selfishness and greed, the lack of interest in reading among many African youth, and even the custom of students having to bribe their teachers in order to pass their classes.  The endemic corruption African nations face remains a crippling burden that prevents the nations of the continent from appreciating the full rewards of the bountiful natural resources that God has given them.  This book does contain some critical comments about Western approaches to aid and the resulting dependency and passivity on the part of Africans that has resulted from this misguided largess, but for the most part this book is aimed at encouraging Africans, especially younger ones, to be a part of the solution to Africa’s problems rather than a mere symptom of them.

[1] See, for example:






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The Puzzle Of The Lord’s Day In The Didache

Among the more notable texts in the Apostlic Fathers is the Didache, and this short text, an early manual on practice within Christian communities, presents the reader with a lot of puzzles.  Among those puzzles is section 14 of the text, which reads as follows:  “Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one.  Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice.  For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations. [1]'”

While it is often assumed by Hellenistic Christians that the Lord’s Day refers to Sunday [2], a careful reading of the Bible indicates that this is not the case.  The translator of the passage of the Didache put a heading about Sunday worship to demonstrate their own belief that the day of worship for the early Church discussed in that text worshiped on Sunday, but this need not be the case.  Not only that, but the biblical evidence that one could see indicates that any use of the Lord’s Day cannot be referring in a biblical sense to the first day of the week at all on at least two grounds.  It is worthwhile to discuss those grounds here today as we examine the role of the Didache in serving as a contested text about what Christianity looked like in its early centuries, a task not made easier by widespread hostility to the biblical Sabbath among those who profess to follow Jesus Christ.  As we shall shortly see, this hostility began very early on in Christianity.

The only biblical text that reads The Lord’s Day is not itself specifically referring to a day of the week at all:  Revelation 1:9-11, which reads:  “I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.  I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and, “What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”  Here the day that is being spoken of is the Day of the Lord, which is referred to often in the Hebrew prophets, for example, in Zechariah 14:1, which reads:  “Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst.”  Likewise, Isaiah 2:12 reads:  “For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, Upon everything lifted up— And it shall be brought low.”  Here we see that prophetic pronouncements about God’s judgment, material contained in spades in Revelation, is viewed as relating to the Day of the Lord, of which the Lord’s Day in Revelation 1:10 is simply an alternate form.

If there was any day, after all, that would be the Lord’s day, it is the biblical Sabbath.  This inconvenient biblical truth can be found in all three of the synoptic Gospels which all record Jesus Christ saying that He is the Lord of the Sabbath, and not of any other day of the week:  Matthew 8:12 reads:  “For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:28 tells us:  “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”  Luke 6:5 states:  “And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”  Even better for the reader, these three Gospels all agree on the same context, in that Jesus Christ is pointing out that eating grain that one picks to fill a hungry belly and healing those who are sick are appropriate ways to serve God on the Sabbath, since God does not wish for our suffering on these days.  This would have been a great time for Jesus Christ to clarify which day he was the Lord of, but he does no such thing, pointing out the proper practice of believers on the Sabbath and the concern we are to have for others that will prevent us from using this day as an excuse not to help others who are in need, as was the tendency of some over-scrupulous Sabbath keepers among the Jews.

Incidentally enough, it is quite possible that the Didache is seeking to claim the Sabbath for Christ rather than consider it the Sabbath of the Jews.  This desire to reclaim practices of the Jews as Christian practices in an environment of mutual hostility can be seen earlier in the Didache, in the beginning of section 8 of the text:  Do not keep the same fast-days as the hypocrites.  Mondays and Thursdays are their days for fasting, so yours should be Wednesdays and Fridays [3].”  We should be at pains to note that it was the plan of the earliest Christians during the time of the Apostles for Christians and Jews to share the same synagogues.  After all, the Council of Jerusalem expected new believers to learn about God’s laws while worshiping on the Sabbath and attending synagogue.  As it is written in Acts 15:  “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”  Unfortunately, the relationship between Judaism and Christianity became greatly tense and eventually there was a parting of the ways, though how early that happened is up to debate [4].  What is clear is that the Didache serves in some points as a polemical text that is hostile to Judaism and that may not be urging worship on Sunday but rather claiming the Sabbath as being owned by Christianity and not Judaism, which would be in line with the competitive attitude between these two diverging faiths.

[1] Staniforth, Maxwell, trans.  Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (London, Penguin Books, 1987) 197.

[2] See, for example:



[3] Staniforth, Maxwell, trans.  Early Christian Writings:  The Apostolic Fathers (London, Penguin Books, 1987) 194.

[4] See, for example:


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Book Review: Life In Community

Life In Community:  Joining Together To Display The Gospel, by Dustin Willis

Having read another book by the author which I happened to enjoy, I was struck by the way that this book resembled the writings of Bonhoeffer and Nouwen, who were both deeply interested in the way that believers lived in community [1], or at least should.  I must admit this is not something I do very well.  The author speaks a lot in this book about the isolation that many Christians feel and this is definitely something that I am familiar with, but I must admit that I do not feel that I do community very well.  The author’s fondness for telling personal stories about himself and his own life struck me as a bit awkward as well, especially as the author had a lot of things to say about such issues as his own struggles to be a good husband and a miscarriage his wife had.  Hopefully his family is okay with his candor, because even as a fairly candid writer about my own life, I found much in the author’s approach that struck me as uncomfortable, and given that the author was encouraging believers to live in community with other believers who encourage them, this may not have been the best way to go about it.

Like the author’s previous book, this one is about 180 pages and also ends with a leader’s guide for a six week discussion course on the book’s material that includes questions for readers to talk about with others in a group.  The first part of the book contains three chapters on forming a community with a discussion of the need for community (1), the common ground that believers have in their faith if not their personal interests (2), and the way that a relationship with God and others should help us be continuously transformed into the image of God and Christ (3).  After this the author talks about some of the necessary values for living in godly community, like bringing our best to the table of fellowship (4), refusing to wear masks to hide our true selves (5), hating the right things like evil and injustice (6), being stuck like glue to what is good (7), behaving with kindness, affection, and honor towards other believers (8), persevering together and providing encouragement (9), meeting the needs of our brethren when we become aware of them (10), and pursuing hospitality even it means exposing our imperfections (11).  The third section urges the reader to do something and start now to building a strong community (12) before the closing leader’s guide.

One thing that can be praised about the author’s approach is his acknowledgement that life in community with other believers is messy.  We have to be comfortable in showing ourselves to others for who we are and others have to be comfortable in showing themselves to us.  This is not an easy task even if we are the sort of people who work hard on our honesty.  Yet if we are to avoid being isolated, we have to find community and feel as if we are part of a larger world that cares about us even if it often places unwanted demands on us and is nosy and intrusive.  Yet when we enter into a relationship with God at baptism and have the Holy Spirit placed inside of us by God, we are called to be one with our fellow brethren as God and Jesus Christ are one, and that intimacy is a scary and messy thing.  It is little wonder in an age as terrified as intimacy as our own is–and I certainly speak for myself here–that we would be terrified of genuine community, but that is what we signed up for when we became a part of God’s Family at baptism.  Living up to that call is by no means an easy one.

[1] See, for example:





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Book Review: Life On Mission

Life On Mission:  Joining The Everyday Mission of God, by Dustin Willis & Aaron Coe

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

In reading this book and its approach on involving the whole mass of believers to be discipled and serve as models of Christianity to the outside world at large, I was struck by its similarity to my church’s recent regional leadership conference in which I took part [1].  In other words, the message that this book provided was a topical one that dealt with concerns that have been on my mind and the mind of other people I happen to know recently.  I was struck by the way that the author seemed to indicate that the only Christian population that mattered was those who said themselves to be “born again” or, equivalently, who identified as evangelicals, which amount to only a small amount of those who identify as Christians overall or who espouse a belief in Jesus Christ.  While the author and I clearly have some differences, I was struck by the sensible nature of much that I heard and the call to do more than I read within it, even if that seems to be a fairly common call these days.

This book takes up a bit less than 200 pages with its full contents.  The book is divided into five parts.  After a foreword and introduction the first four chapters look at the big picture of living on mission, looking at the life of a believer as an everyday missionary wherever they happen to be (1), the current reality of Evangelical Christianity in North America (2), the mission of God to reproduce Himself in believers (3), and the need to realign our perspective with the Kingdom of God (4).  After that the author looks at the foundations of belief in the proclamation of the Gospel (5), the development of spiritual maturity (6), life in a Christian community (7, the topic of the next book I read by the author), and the process of intentional discipleship by those who are further along in the Christian journey (8).  At this point the authors turn to some easy to remember goals for the Church, namely the identification of people to serve (9), investing time and energy and resources in their development as believers (10), the invitation of people to enter into a relationship with Christ and with the body of the Church (11), and the increase of obedience and worship of God on the earth thanks to God working through our efforts (12).  The fourth part of the book consists of a single chapter on ministry steps and the pitfalls and plans involved in living on mission (13) and the book as a whole closes with a six week study guide that asks questions about the chapters and is designed to prompt discussion in a reading group from this book.

In reading this book I am struck by the fact that personal example has always been a compelling approach to evangelism, whether or not it has been in favor with church authorities at different times when it was thought better to leave evangelism to the professionals.  In addition, in reading this book I put it into an overall context by which institutions in general (including governments) are facing a large degree of difficulty in doing the jobs that they sought to do themselves and are devolving those tasks back to ordinary people and thus increasing the burdens faced by those ordinary people.  Whether or not the burdens are just–and in this case I think they are–I am struck by the pendulum swing of institutions seeking responsibilities and the power to fill those and then abdicating those responsibilities back to the people when their own performance is not up to snuff.  This book can be taken as increasing evidence on the limitations of institutions to proclaim God’s word and their desire for ordinary believers to be full partners in that task.  Whether that is something to mourn or celebrate depends on your own perspective, I suppose.

[1] See, for example:




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Mysteries Of The Bible: How Does The Eternal Create Evil?

Recently, I received a question from a loyal reader about the meaning of Isaiah 45:7, which reads:  “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.’”  Of course, that is what I read when I read it in my usual translation, but the person asking me was reading it like this:  “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”  Immediately, we see that we have a textual question here.  So, let us examine this verse and point out how God creates evil/calamity, and what this means in the context of the passage as well as the Bible as a whole.  As we might imagine, the question of God creating evil is one that has a lot of implications, especially since the word used for evil, “rah” is the common word for evil or misfortune, meaning that it can be understood a variety of ways based on the interpretation of the reader.  This textual ambiguity makes it a worthwhile mystery of the Bible [1].

Let us first, in looking at this verse, expand the context a little and see if that shines a bit of light on what the verse in question means.  The immediate context is Isaiah 45:1-13, which reads:  ““Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—To subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut:  ‘I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron.  I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the Lord, who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.  For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me.  I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me.  I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me.  I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.’  “Rain down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together.  I, the Lord, have created it.  “Woe to him who strives with his Maker!  Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth!  Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’  Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?  Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What are you begetting?’  Or to the woman, ‘What have you brought forth?’”  Thus says the Lord, The Holy One of Israel, and his Maker:  “Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons; and concerning the work of My hands, you command Me.  I have made the earth, and created man on it.  I—My hands—stretched out the heavens, and all their host I have commanded.  I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; he shall build My city and let My exiles go free, not for price nor reward,” says the Lord of hosts.”

When we look at this passage, which specifically deals with Cyrus, the Persian king whose conquest of the Chaldean Empire led to the freedom of the Jews from captivity, which some of them took advantage of over the next few generations to return to Judea to rebuild Jerusalem and its surrounding communities as a small remnant while many Jews remained in Babylonia, Media, and Persia and lived often prosperous lives in the diaspora, we see something deeply profound.  For one, we must recognize that the immediate context of Isaiah 45:7, which is so easily taken out of context, is dealing with the power that God claims over the workings of divine providence in the world.  This particular verse is not so much about the creation of evil as in moral evil, but rather it shows God taking responsibility for the workings of history according to His will.  This is no less profound an issue than the responsibility for moral evil, which we will get to shortly.

It is, after all, the “problem of evil” that is used so often as an argument over whether God is or whether God is good.  There are various ways that people try to defend God in theodicies, justifying God’s ways before mankind.  In the contemporary era, much of this task involves limiting the power of God so as to absolve Him from responsibility for the evils that are so widely abhorred.  Yet God will have none of this.  God’s answer to those who would question why He allows what He allows, or to those who would shorten His hand–responsibility and power–in order to defend His reputation is a simple one:  “Who are you to question me?  I am the Creator.”  This is an uncomfortable answer for many people.  We look at the world around us, or we reflect on the evils that we have ourselves answered, and we want to know why these things have happened, and why God is perfect but the world which He created is so obviously fallen and wicked.  Isaiah gives no answer why, which is consistent with the Bible’s general silence about this question.  God says it is His purpose to create, and in a passage that is striking for its positive look at the salvation of God’s people from captivity, it is striking that the most negative verse in the passage is the one that gets so much attention as to its meaning.

Yet God regularly takes responsibility for what others do in scripture, something that is remarkably notable when the other being involved is Satan the devil.  When we read the book of Job, for example, the book begins with a series of cosmic wagers between God and the devil about Job’s righteousness, in which Satan bets God that Job will curse Him if Satan is given freedom to make Job suffer.  God wins the challenge handily, yet when God is speaking to Job at the end of the book, Satan is never brought up by God in response to the question as to why Job had to suffer as he did.  God simply tells Job that He is in charge and it is not Job’s place to question Him or accuse Him of injustice, even though it was Satan’s idea to torment Job in the first place.  God could have thrown Satan under the bus and blamed him for the calamities that Job suffered, but He did not, taking responsibility for what He allowed Satan to do.  The reader is left with a knowledge of the wager between God and Satan, but Job is not told during the course of the story, and the fact that we as the reader know that Satan was the accuser of Job and that Job was undeserving of his suffering, at least as much as people are undeserving of suffering has not stopped many readers from taking a page out of Job’s friends’ scripts and accusing Job of self-righteousness or something else of that nature.

Nor is this an isolated example.  We see the same phenomenon when it comes to David taking the census.  1 Chronicles 21:1-2 tells us:  “Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.  So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it.””  On the other hand, 2 Samuel 24:1-2 tells us:  “Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”  So the king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Now go throughout all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and count the people, that I may know the number of the people.””  So, what is going on here?  1 Chronicles 21 tells us that Satan stood up against Israel to accuse Israel, and apparently the accusation hit home because it led God to rise up in anger against Israel and punish them with a plague that killed some 75,000 people.  We are not told about the nature of their sin that led Satan to accuse them, only that the accusation was one that God agreed with, and as we can read in 2 Samuel, ultimately took responsibility for.  It may not have been God’s idea to punish Israel but he accepted the accusation of Satan and took responsibility for having stirred up David to commit a sin that would lead to His divine judgment against an ungodly people.  And in taking responsibility for what He allows, God is consistent in owning up to all that happens in the universe because all that happens is something that God has allowed for His purposes, whether or not He wishes to explain the reasoning to us or not.

[1] See, for example:









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Book Review: Sleep Smarter

Sleep Smarter:  21 Essential Strategies To Sleep Your Way To A Better Body, Better Health, And Bigger Success, by Shawn Stevenson

I have mixed feelings about this book and the approach of the author.  Reading this book is akin to attempting to buy a good quality used car and having to listen to a somewhat unethical used car salesman talk about it.  You know there is a good product in here somewhere but one does not know exactly how much to discount because of the dubious nature of the person making the claims.  Since sleep is a subject I know I personally struggle with to a great degree [1], I was at least amenable to some of the suggestions for better sleep and adopted some of them pretty quickly, including a handy piece of software that reduces the blue from screens at night to avoid overstimulating the eyes and making it hard to sleep.  I was struck, though, by how many of the suggestions for better sleep were quite frankly unattainable by a large amount of the population because they require a certain amount of income.  It is clear that this book is being marketed to those who can afford to buy products on a whim and are not struggling paycheck to paycheck, which makes it of limited use to most of those who suffer from poor sleep.

At about 250 pages, this book is divided into two unequal parts, the first of which are 21 tips for sleeping better and the second of which is a fourteen day self-administered sleep study to put those tips, or at least some of them, into practice.  The tips themselves run the gamut from obviously sound to possibly practical to extremely odd.  The author begins by trying to encourage the reader to know the value of sleep (1) and then get more sunlight during the day (2) while avoiding screens at least an hour and a half before sleeping (3).  The author encourages readers to have a caffeine curfew from at least 2PM onward or so (4) while keeping one’s body cool (5) and getting to bed at the right time (pretty early) (6).  The author encourages eating right to help fix sleep (7), creating a sleep sanctuary (8) and enjoying sex as a way of making one sleep better (9).  The author talks about the need to sleep in total darkness (10) as well as exercise early in the day to allow the body to heal at night (11) while avoiding social media in one’s room (12).  The author tells the reader to lose weight (13), go easy on alcohol (14), experiment with different sleep positions with a partner (15), and calm the inner chatter that keeps people awake (16).  The author urges some smart supplements (17), including some really odd recommendations for topical magnesium, along with an encouragement to rise early (18), get frequent massages (19), dress up (20), and get grounded through grounding pads that are supposed to eliminate excess free radicals that encourage inflammation (21).

Again, as might be imagined, some of this advice is obviously sound if somewhat difficult to put into practice.  Some of the advice is easy enough to put into practice or to try out if one has a lot of money–like buying grounding pads for one’s bed, replacing one’s mattress frequently, buying new alarm clocks, buying topical magnesium or only buying organic food to improve one’s diet.  Other advice, like practicing different sleep positions with a partner or enjoying frequent and intense sexual intercourse, is rather impractical for people who are #foreveralone.  And that balance of advice gives what is best and worse about the author’s approaches.  To undertake all of what the author suggests is quite expensive and possibly impractical.  To undertake at least some of what the author suggests is so trivial that one wonders whether this book needed to be this long to provide only a few tips that can be easily put into practice, as well as some advice that seems quite frankly insulting.  So, at the end of reading this book, one is led to wonder exactly who this book is aimed at, and how much of it he really intends on the reader putting into practice, and whether he really considers himself as much of a sleep guru as he seems to act like in this book.

[1] See, for example:









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Book Review: I Could Use A Nap And A Million Dollars

I Could Use A Nap And A Million Dollars: Biblical Alternatives To Stressed-Out Living, by Jessie Clemence

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Blog Tours.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

In reading this book I had a familiar problem that I have often documented before, in that the book was written by a woman, largely about women, and for women.  Unlike some books where this problem is the case [1], the author outright states that she knows little about the way that men deal with stress aside from hitting things and so she does not aim this book at them, and at points in this she expresses surprise that men would be reading this book at all.  It is likely that the author wished to show herself an expert on an aspect of stress, namely how it deals with her, rather than take the time to learn if there are any different approaches that would be beneficial in writing to and about men, although it is lamentable that she chose to set herself up as a partial expert rather than to seek to understand men.  This world would have a lot fewer books, and be the better for it, if authors refused to write about a subject unless they could do it justice and do their audience justice.

This book is a set of short chapters that take up about 200 pages divided into three parts.  The first part of the book looks at the stresses relating to adulthood, such as housework, finances, health, aging, romance, responsibilities, change, and politics.  The second part of the book looks at the stress that other people cause us, like arguing and conflict, chaos and noise, misunderstanding, drama, competition, entitlement, family dynamics, and possessions.  The third part of the book looks at the stress we cause ourselves through procrastination, micromanagement, perfectionism, mistakes, overscheduling, sin, discontentment, material possessions, personal plans, and pride.  Each chapter ends with questions that make the subject matter personal, a focus on scripture, and a personal prayer.  Overall, the author blends a great deal of humor along with an attempt at scriptural points for most of the chapters, although she claims that clutter was not an issue in the ancient world so she attempts no scriptural discussion of this particular point, leaving it to the reader to determine to what extent our possessions are owning us rather than the other way around.

There is a great deal to enjoy about this book.  The author is witty and humorous and tells a lot of funny stories about herself.  She also appears to be at least generally familiar with the Bible as it relates to issues of stress and anxiety and trusting in God even though it is difficult for us to do so.  It is hard, though, not to see this book as a bit of a wasted opportunity.  As is often the case in books, this author wants to portray herself both as an expert in the application of scripture as well as someone who struggles as well, and when this tension is combined with the author’s seeming ignorance about how men deal with stress, the author comes off not only as more clueless than is desirable for a would-be expert guide to spiritual matters but also as someone who should be more focused on learning than sharing her supposed expertise with others.  This is an author whose flaws and shortcomings are worthy of reflection and repentance, but the author seems to treat it as one big joke.  Unfortunately, this lack of seriousness makes this book less effective than it could have been had the author been more focused on understanding than presenting herself as a nearly blind guide to the blind.

[1] See, for example:









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