Thursday, October 17, 2019

What's going in with Agag?

Saul brings up the capturing of Agag, but offers no explanation for this curious omission from the ban. The reader is thus left guessing as to what the reasons are for this sparing of the Amalekite king. On the one hand, Saul is not at all ashamed or sorrowful because of this act, prompting one to wonder whether Agag also was intended to be sacrificed before YHWH at Gilgal. On the other hand, if anybody was most responsible for the behavior of Amalek, it was presumably their king, and thus one would expect him to be the prime candidate for the implementation of the ban. It is curious that in the previous chapter Saul was ready to kill his own son, yet here he is not willing to kill the Amalekite king, the head of the “sinners, the Amalekites.”—The Unfavored, page 165

Around the links

A quick glance at what I've found interesting in the last few days:

First, what is the proper use of Thucydides? Is the "Thucydides trap" a real thing? A Classics professor says no.

While parallels between now and then abound, lessons are less plentiful. In the end, Thucydides’ history does not instruct us on how to exploit or avoid certain situations, instead instilling the simple truth that given our nature, there will always be situations that we cannot avoid and, if we try to exploit, will have unintended consequences.

Why bother studying the past, then, if it cannot help us navigating the present? One might as well ask why bother reading Aeschylus or Sophocles if they have no useful advice on how to live our lives. Thucydides’ claim that he wrote his history not to win “the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time” is based on his tragic conception of life. Far from our being able to master events or even our own desires, events and desires will sooner or later master us. While this is not a rousing call for action, it is a call for modesty and lucidity. Especially in our own age, these virtues might still have earned the applause of Thucydides.

Stephen McAlpine looks at forgiveness, well really, he looks at unforgiveness, in our culture:
Our culture has a problem with forgiveness. We live in a post-forgiveness world. And it’s going to get brutal and cold if the trend continues. And it is trending. That’s the precise word for it, because all of the tools are available to unforgiveness to ensure it does. . . .

It was only when the gospel of Jesus Christ gave forgiveness to an astounded world, still locked into revenge and grovelling, that something did change. Until this vicious cycle was swept away by the gospel of forgiveness, nothing could change And we’ve more or less taken it for granted. Until now.

Now? The old order is back. And meaner and hungrier in light of its long absence. Its primary tool is not the actual arena, but the virtual arena, where the boos, scorns and “thumbs downs” assail those who would challenge the laws of the post-Christian Sexular Age.

Michael Gorman writes a letter that Paul probably would write to Christians in the United States:
Let me cut to the chase, brothers and sisters. Is this what your in-Christ community looks like? Is this how you decide your priorities? Your budget? Your mission activity? If you truly believe that Christ crucified is the power of God, and if you want the power of God to be at work in and through your Christian community, you will seek to become a community shaped by my master story—which is really God’s master story.

You see, the crucified Jesus was a Christophany—revealing what the Messiah is like. But it is also a theophany—revealing what God is like. And it is also an ecclesiophany—revealing what the church is supposed to be like. And ultimately it is also an anthrophany—revealing what human beings are meant to be like.

Michael Frost, while rejoicing that the "Jesus is my boyfriend" songs are gone (Praise God!), the succeeding ones still need a bit more revolutionary attitude to them:
It seems we’ve gone from Jesus-is-my-boyfriend to Jesus-is-my-savior, but we’re missing Jesus-is-our-Lord.

Christian worship should express our collective hope in Christ of a rescued, renewed and restored world, a world in which injustice, racism, hatred and violence have ended, once and for all.

Back to my book Exiles, my suggested alternative to romantic worship songs was that we ought to sing revolutionary worship songs. We need lyrics that call us into a revolution of love and justice. In fact, there hasn’t been a single revolution in history that wasn’t sung into existence.

Social change has a soundtrack.

The revolutionaries of the French, American and Bolshevik uprisings all sang about the new nation they were forging, a song they were willing to die for.

The Civil Rights movement sang Christian spirituals.

The German democratic movement that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall began with singing and prayers for freedom in a church in Leipzig in 1980.

The anti-Marcos movement in the Philippines, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the anti-Russian movement in Ukraine – they all wrote songs to inspire their followers.

Even today on the streets of Hong Kong, millions of protesters resisting the controls imposed by Communist China have found the Christian hymn, “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” as their anthem of freedom. The song has even been banned from Chinese streaming platforms.

And to underscore the point, today, across scores of cities in the US and around the world, secular Justice Choirs are being launched, where ordinary citizens can come together to sing for social justice.

And so on. . . He could have added that the Wesleyan revival was a singing revival, as were many of the other revivals in history. And who can forget the Salvation Army with its bands? Christians should be a singing people—not an entertained people where a "worship" band gets up in front and performs! Sing together; sing alone. Sing! Read the psalms; better yet, SING the psalms!

And, a long read, but well worth your time, on Amazon and it's quest for world dominion in The New Yorker.

Grace and peace until the next round. And we do need both of them in this topsy-turvy world!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

A couple of interesting things

OK, maybe a few, not a couple. Over at Jesus Creed, Mike Glen talks about prayer. Deep prayer. Prayer so deep that it is wordless. Spirit-led, Spirit-carried prayer. Read it.

Ron Sider has a word or so on immigration. Here's a taste, but read the whole thing and think about it.

We are a nation of immigrants. At our best, we have told the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your struggling masses yearning to be free.”

But in the last two years plus, our president has labeled would-be immigrants as rapists and druglords. He has separated children from their parents. He has made it difficult for people to use their legal right to apply for refugee status.

The number of refugees allowed into the US by Pres. Obama in his last year in office was 110,000. But by last year, Pres. Trump had cut the number to 30,000. And for next year the number is a mere 18,000.

Does the Bible have any wisdom on this situation?

And an Aussie blogger has a series on bullying in the church. Here's the link to the first one and the second one. He's promised at least a third one. Here's a taste:
In other words the success of the organisation is dependent on the self-focus of that leader to get what THEY want for themselves. If they can get what they want for themselves, the happy byproduct is that the brand can live on, indeed outwardly thrive, in the afterglow. And we run the risk of transplanting that perspective on to church in these desperate times. Actually we don’t run that risk, that’s what we have done.

The fact is people know – leaders knew – that Mark Driscoll was bullying people constantly, but they did nothing about it. Why? Because the brand was kicking goals. And boy do we need a few evangelical brands that kick a few goals. And if that is so then then a few eggs can be broken in the process. . . .

What did it take to get the leaders to listen? Sadly, the same thing it takes for secular leaders to listen; the risk to the brand. Mars Hill not only started not to kick goals because of Driscoll, but the press coverage was making it kick own-goals. Once that happened, but only once that happened, was Driscoll in trouble.

Driscoll and Hybels were unimpeachable, until the brand started to suffer. Then everyone who had enabled them for so long, and suppressed the bleating of the sheep, suddenly found voice, chucked them out; before ironically, and with no level of insight, offering themselves as the solution to the problem that they had exacerbated in the first place.

The other thing I’ve noticed too is that, depending on our theological framework, we give more leeway to our own, than to others. So Driscoll was always the enfant terrible to the progressive crowd, what with his commitment to complementarianism and substitutionary atonement and all. So it was obvious wasn’t it? Well, not to many in the Young, Restless, Reformed crowd, who were all too often “Yeah, I don’t like his style, but…”

Yet many within that same crowd gave no leeway to Hybels ever, and when he fell, pointed to the business leadership structures that he had in place, and his unfortunate tendency to surround himself with women leaders in senior pastoral roles. There was equal shock by many egalitarians that the man who most championed these women, was abusing his power over them! When should either side be surprised? When they don’t take sin seriously enough, especially in relationships that involve power disparities. . . .

You’ll notice too, that the two “whales” I mentioned started and led their own churches that turned into mini-denominations. They were the supreme leader of the church and the brand. And that is a phenomenon of the can-do attitude of the 21st century, late capitalist West. You can be your own mini-Pope, yet, ironically, with far more direct power than the actual Pope, who has all sorts of historical caveats restraining him. And for good reason. The Pope is not sitting around thinking of a new vision statement for the Church every three to five years, and then hiring and firing those around him to make it happen.

Finally, Roger Olson talks about Paul's description of a church gathering in I Corinthians and the currently popular version of a "worship" service. I might add, it isn't just evangelical churches that are falling prey to this. I've been in mainline churches that have the same approach—singing the same popular songs (well, the leaders sing them; as he says, they aren't singable by real people) with at best a pop sermon with virtually no scripture being read. No wonder the church is anemic. It's eating the equivalent of junk food.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The importance of showing hospitality

He lays wait in the valley, close to the city of Amalek, and approaches the Kenites, urging them—by the sequence of three consecutive imperatives, “Go! Leave! Withdraw!”—to depart, so that they would not be destroyed together with the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:5–6). The reason given is again related to the Israelite journey out of Egypt, where the Kenites acted towards the Israelites with kindness (ḥesed Judg 1:16), which is implicitly contrasted with the disrespectful behavior of the Amalekites. Whereas the Amalekites will perish, the Kenites are spared for their kindness and Saul makes sure that they have a chance to escape, which they use. Saul thus brings out to the open what may be implicitly part of the biblical portrayal of ḥerem: one’s ḥesed has a potential to deliver a person or a group of people from the ban.—The Unfavored, page 160

<idle musing>
And I ask, where does that put the United States, as it slams the doors and builds walls and turns away the sojourner? That is clearly, not displaying ḥesed!

I ran across a good definition of gar, the Hebrew word for a resident alien, the other day. Basically, it's the undocumented aliens in our midst. According to scripture (you do still read that, right?), we are to be hospitable to them. The consequences aren't pretty if you don't. Read the prophets and universalize it based on books in the NT like Revelation.

Turn off Fox News, CNN, etc. and read scripture. It might bring a bit of balance into your life.
</idle musing>

Some Interesting stuff

A few things I've found interesting in the last couple of days:

From Catalyst, "There Are No 'Better' People":

Reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Trumpism is ignorant of the heart of Christianity, even as it waves the flag to garner votes. The left is allergic to Christianity, as one would be if one were convinced it is not only poison, but the source of all other poisons. René Breuel is right. The problem is not just that our gospel is discredited by its association with all these isms. The gospel is God’s repair to our ruin of the world. We must respond with seriousness to the charge that the gospel is simply ruining it further. We are in a similar position then to Paul, who is convinced God is remaking the world into the creation God wants through the church. Only think of his churches! Little, bedraggled, occasionally persecuted communities scattered across the Mediterranean with few resources. Think of their misbehavior! Not just petty church peccadilloes like gossip and lust (though those are bad enough), but a man sleeping with his father’s wife, believers in the one true God playing footsie with idols, theft and lying and violence—God has wiped out whole civilizations for less. Are these the people through whom God is renewing the cosmos?

Um, yes. There are no “better” people available. The only good one is Jesus Christ, the poor Jew raised from the dead who is God’s own Son, and King, and self, all over again. God’s determination to have the creation God wants will not be thwarted by our pension for using even Christian faith as a cudgel against our enemies. God takes that cudgel from our hands and remakes it into a cross, on which God dies for us. And for our worst enemies.

Read the whole; it's well-worth your time.

The Nation asks, "Has Capitalism Become Our Religion?" You know the answer, don't you?

o be honest, I’m not sure that economics even is a science, however “dismal,” as Thomas Carlyle once dubbed it. Indeed, I think that John Ruskin was closer to the mark in Unto This Last (1862) when he compared what was then called “political economy” to “alchemy, astrology, [and] witchcraft.” As a Christian, I reject the two assumptions found in conventional economics: scarcity (to the contrary, God has created a world of abundance) and rational, self-seeking, utility-maximizing humanism (a competitive conception of human nature that I believe traduces our creation in the image and likeness of God). I think that one of the most important intellectual missions of our time is the construction of an economics with very different assumptions about the nature of humanity and the world.
Wade Burleson reflects on pride in "Pride Stains Us All and Is Erased By a Painful Fall":
Humility by deferring to others is the mark of genuine Christianity.

We don't expect non-Christians to defer to others. Pride puts self first. Humility puts others first. People by nature are proud. God's grace breaks the proud and makes them humble. Those who desire membership at Emmanuel must show evidence of a willingness to put others first for humility is the key trait of Christianity.

Emmanuel has some well-dressed adulterers, addicts, and abusers who also attend our corporate worship services too. We welcome them all. Many of them cover their selfish actions and have never been humbled. But every now and then one of them lands on the front page of the local newspaper. The scandalized in Enid are welcome at Emmanuel. We let them know that we accept them where they are, but we also know God's grace will never leave them where they currently are. It's God's business to take them to that place where they haven't yet arrived.

God gives His grace to humble the proud. And he uses His people to convey that grace which humbles.

We have homosexual couples and lesbian couples who attend Emmanuel just like we have well-dressed adulterers and sexually immoral heterosexuals who attend Emmanuel. We can't change anybody.


It's not within our capabilities to make a person not proud of behaviors that the Bible calls wicked, selfish, or ungodly.

That's God's business.

We just love people where they are and pray for the grace that humbles. People may get angry that Christians who believe the Bible refuse to celebrate with pride those behaviors the Bible calls immoral.

Read the whole to see how radical humility mixed with love can be.

And Randall Rauser takes a fresh look at Looney Tunes:

Today, the Disney classic Song of the South is recognized as racist and has been rightly consigned to the cultural hinterland. Increasingly, Looney Tunes are facing a similar exile, first for the ubiquitous violence and gun violence, in particular. I would argue that the sexual violence and aggression of the Pepe cartoons has earned them a similar ignominious fate. While I used to roll my eyes at the critics of these old cartoons as the pc police, I now realize that the critics are right: Pepe Le Pew stinks.
I hadn't watched a cartoon in years, and sometime in the last year I sat down to watch one. I was appalled at the violence. I couldn't even enjoy the humor because of the violence and also the cruelty. And I used to love cartoons.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Is there forgiveness?

It seems not—at least not in our culture. A hidden sin from when you were an unruly teenage can jump up at any time and bite, thanks to social media. Where is forgiveness then? Now, that's assuming you have repented of that hidden sin. If not, then it is chasing you deservedly. But, is our society willing to forgive at all? Seems not. I don't usually agree with First Things, but they have a piece I can definitely get behind: Cancelling Debts in Cancel Culture. Here's the opening paragraph:
In a culture that has given itself over almost entirely to extreme moral accountability, mercy often appears dangerous and reckless.
And the closing paragraphs (although you should read everything in between, too.
Jesus knew that his followers would not be able to say “Our Father” with one another unless they also said “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.” He was reflecting ancient Jewish wisdom when he taught them to pray this way: Moses taught Israel to cancel all debts in the Jubilee Year so that the community might be preserved. Creditors and debtors will never be brothers.

Barzun noted that Western culture sowed the seeds of its own decline, as the impulses and commitments that led to its rise would ultimately lead to its own demise. Certainly, bourgeois moral accountability threatens to turn society into a fearful place of unending animosity, where no man is a brother and everyone fears the retribution that will inevitably come to him. Food that might strengthen a sick man is often rejected because the illness makes it unpalatable to him. America has been shown healing nourishment in the mercy of Jean and Kemp, and our society will become stronger if it learns, marks, and inwardly digests it. I suspect that Jean and Kemp have won a sister, and I am certain that their example has inspired many Christians to strengthen bonds with others through the cancelling of debts, a grace and mercy that will never cease to be a scandal.

Monday, October 07, 2019

And some good news

I'm starting to link to the posts of others again. So, here's a post by Ted Gossard about lacking nothing:
In the topsy-turvy existence in which we live, we hardly ever see ourselves not in need of something. Or what the world tells us we need through advertising, or even what the state requires by law. On top of that, we have our own expectations for ourselves, our wishes, even dreams.

Then there’s this psalm telling us that with the Lord as our shepherd, we indeed lack nothing. . . <more>

Do yourself a favor today; read the rest.

Read this. And weep.

I don't care which side of the political mess you are in, you need to read this:

Sure, it's long, but read it without taking your presuppositions in (either side) and then make a decision.

Of course, I doubt that any will change their minds. Why do I think that? Because I started reading Ezekiel today, and I suspect that it pretty much describes the "court evangelicals" and the remaining 82% of white evangelicals who voted for the current ruler.

Read the first couple of chapters of Ezekiel, and maybe throw in a bit of Jeremiah, and then read this in Romans 2:24:

As it is written: The name of God is discredited by the Gentiles because of you. (quoting from Isa 52:5 LXX)
Revival? More like deep delusion. Remember, judgment begins in the house of God and the first step in revival is always repentance...

Those of you who are Dispensationalists, take a look at the current ruler and ask yourselves if maybe he doesn't fit the role you've given to far too many others. Then ask yourself why you are following him.

And while you're thinking, maybe take a look at a few of those scripture verses that talk about caring for others and dying to self. You don't need to become a "progressive" (whatever that's supposed to mean) to care for the downtrodden. On the contrary, the longest running revival that I'm aware of was the Wesleyan revival in the 18th century, which was all about caring for the physical as well as spiritual needs of the poor and downcast. It wasn't popular among the upper class—real Christianity rarely is, after all, who wants to die to self? Especially when that means giving up what you hold dear to you? Not without reason did Jesus say it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom!

Friday, October 04, 2019

Reading the text as is

I regard this discrepancy between what YHWH would do and what Israel should do a typical characteristic of the mutuality of their relationship. Even though these differences may be explained by pointing to different textual sources, I see theological value in trying to understand them as saying something complementary about the relationship between God and his people.—The Unfavored, page 158 n. 40

<idle musing>
I like that. The whole "canonical approach" can be an excuse to not look at the back-history of the text, but so also the historical-critical approach can miss the theological nuggets hiding in plain sight in the received text. One or the other? No, both and.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Read this!

Read the latest post by Roger Olson. You owe it to yourself and those you know. And if it doesn't scare you, as he says, you aren't paying attention.

Sound like anyone you know?

Furthermore, because Amalek assaulted the weakest of Israel, he is labeled in Deut 25:18 as one who “does not fear God.” According to Moberly, the phrase “fear of God” in the Old Testament signifies “moral restraint out of respect for God, a moral restraint specifically that refuses to take advantage of a weaker party when it would be possible to do so with apparent impunity.” This fundamental respect for life the Amalekites, at least according to Deut 25:17–19, did not embody. Moberly’s conclusion describes the logic of the ban well: “Its logic appears to be that the attack on defenseless people constitutes such a fundamental denial of God that those who do such things thereby deny their own humanity and so lay themselves open to a treatment not otherwise given to other human beings.” It was the malicious attack upon the most vulnerable of Israel that was behind Israel’s animosity towards Amalek and YHWH’s order of the ban in 1 Sam 15:32 They respected neither human conventions nor God, and therefore became liable to be subjected to this horrifying ordeal.—The Unfavored, page 156

<idle musing>
That sounds amazingly like the current policies of the United States, doesn't it?
</idle musing>