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Archive for April, 2014

Folly of NYT Coverage of Chris Plaskon Connecticut School Stabbing

One shocking news from last week was of a junior in high school name Chris Plaskon who stabbed a fellow student name Maren Sanchez.  It happened on Friday morning in a hallway at Jonathan Law High School in the state of Connecticut.  Apparently Plaskon had a crush on the girl and he stabbed her since she did not want to go to prom with him.

I do not want to focus my post on this story as much as a piece over at the New York Times about this unfortunate event.  The article can be accessed by clicking HERE.  Its title is quite indicative of what I’m trying to critique: “Suspect in Stabbing at Connecticut School Is Described as Popular.”

From a Christian worldview one can’t help it at times to see the folly of what the media spew out which reflect their inability to grasp a deeper understanding of what is going on or what’s really the issue (see for instance my post ““).  Theology does matter:  A wrong view of morality and ethics (depending on whether it’s source is from God or not) along with a wrong view of man (is he basically good or sinful) will shape how interpret the new story at hand.  I think this NY Times piece is a good case in point.

With pun intended, the writers and editors for this news article aren’t very sharp.

Let us begin with the title: “Suspect in Stabbing at Connecticut School Is Described as Popular.” So a guy stabs a girl to death for not going to prom and the headlines for national news is that this guy is popular?  I’m surprise the two journalists in the article didn’t gives us the friends count of Plaskon’s Facebook account or the stats of how many people followed him on twitter.  I think it is unfortunate that the title for the article  concentrated on something superficial.  As the maxim goes,  one ought not to major on the minors and minor on the majors.

In the writers’ defense, I acknowledge that sometimes its the editors who can manipulate a news article’s title in order to get attention for people to read the news piece.  It’s unfortunate today that people in the media who aren’t witty compensate by being sleazy.  We may fault the editors, but is it justified that I fault the writers?  To answer that, we must look at the content of the article itself.

The article reported an ignorant coach saying the following:

But a day after authorities say Mr. Plaskon, 16 and a junior, fatally stabbed a classmate in a school hallway, teachers and students were struggling to make sense of the incomprehensible: how a student whom many described as funny and popular could suddenly be accused of killing Maren Sanchez, 16, a well-liked honor student and his longtime friend.
“They’re looking for the kid in the black cape and the fangs and the black fingernails, but there was no sign,” said Mark Robinson, 38, who was Mr. Plaskon’s football coach before retiring last season. “He wasn’t a kid who was in the shadows. He was a well-liked kid. He was funnier than hell. That’s what makes it really strange.”

Note how this coach was quoted as saying they expected the suspect to fit a certain mold: it must be someone who enjoy wearing black apparel.  “In the Shadows.”  Not liked.  Of all the people interviewed and all the things people say, one have to wonder why these two writers have to put into the news article an unhelpful stereotype?  Now don’t get me wrong I’m not “emo,” but just because someone’s gothic or anti-social or an awkward weirdo don’t mean they are the suspect you know.  Seriously how low (superficial) can the mainstream media go?  Black fingernails doesn’t determine guilt.

Lastly I want to note what this coach Mark Robinson said in the end of his quote: “He wasn’t a kid who was in the shadows. He was a well-liked kid. He was funnier than hell. That’s what makes it really strange.”  This is a good example of how Christian theology is relevant.  Note that Robinson assumes that because a kid is not in the shadows, he’s not going to be one who commit such an atrocious sin.    He says the same thing for the “well-liked kid.”  And the kid who is funnier than Hades.  What makes it strange for Robinson is that Plaskon were all these things and yet he turned out to be the suspect.  But should a Christian be surprised that a well-liked funny kid is able to commit such heinous acts?

A Christian wouldn’t be totally caught surprised if he or she believes in the sinfulness of man as it is taught in the Bible.

This sinfulness of man began at birth.  Note the words of the Psalmist David: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

Biblically, the sinfulness of man is universal in scope.  That is, the state of man’s sinfulness is is true of everyone as Romans 3:23 states: “for all [a]have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Psalms 14:2-3 also testify:

The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who [a]understand,
Who seek after God.
They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.

The Bible also teaches that man’s sinfulness ultimately is not the result of his environment or outward appearances but the inward self, what the Bible calls the heart.  Note Jesus’ words: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, [a]fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” (Matthew 15:19).  Jeremiah even cried:  ““The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” ( Jeremiah 17:9)  Apparently Jeremiah tells us that our sinfulness in our hearts tells us constant lies.  Fortunately God understands this and tells us in His Word.

The above is bad news to an already bad news.

But the Good News is that God has a plan to save us from our sinfulness and the eternal consequences of our sins.  To play on what the coach Robinson joked about earlier, you can’t “be funnier than hell” as a well of escape.  Instead our guilt before God is dealt with through the person and work of Jesus Christ:  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  This is indeed a free gift to those who trust in Him as their Lord and Savior.  It is not something earned but given by God as Ephesians 2:8-9 testify:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and [a]that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The Bible helps lay the foundation for us to properly assess the human condition and therefore what’s important and what’s trivial when it comes to current events.  But ultimately it is for us to properly assess ourselves and therefore come to understand and trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

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I have been looking forward to this book for several weeks now.  The author Kevin DeYoung addresses the important topic of the doctrines of Scripture and he writes in an accessible way that’s friendly toward those who might be new in the faith.  DeYoung will be one of the speakers for next year’s Shepherd’s Conference (2015) that is on the topic of inerrancy and I look forward to what he has to say beyond this book.

There are many books out there on the Bible.  How is this one different?  In the beginning of the book DeYoung makes it clear what this work is not:  It is not a book on personal Bible study, interpretation, apologetics per se or even an academic book with lots of footnotes covering philosophical, theological and methodological issues.  That is, DeYoung explicitly says that this work is neither a systematic or historical theology nor is it an attack piece against some of the recent works from certain quarters of Evangelicals that question the authority of the Bible.  Instead DeYoung’s goal for the book is a lot more modest:  He wants to unpack what the Bible has to say about itself as the Word of God (hence the title).  This is done out of the conviction that the Bible as God’s Word often bring people to faith concerning itself when one allows the Bible to speak.

We do need a simple and direct book that calls this current generation of Christ followers to be faithful to God’s Word and not compromise.  It seems this is what the publishers and author wants to do with this book.  The strength of this book is its straightforward simplicity of truths that are biblical.  Younger Christians need will benefit from reading this and it is perfect for discipleship.  Older seasoned saints can benefit from this book by being reminded of what God’s Word is and its characteristics.  For those who are involved with much academic reading on bibliology, I believe they will find it refreshing as a summary of the doctrines of the Word of God.

There are eight chapters in the book plus an appendix.  All the chapters are expositions of passages that talks about the Word of God.  The bulk of the book covers the characteristics of God’s Word.  I appreciate DeYoung’s intent for application here with even the way he titled the chapters.  For instance, rather than merely say God’s Word is sufficient DeYoung titled chapter three as “God’s Word is Enough.”  Rather than say the authority of Scripture we see chapter five is titled “God’s Word is Final,” etc.  I appreciate the book drawing out implications for the Christian life from a solid bibliology.  My favorite chapter is chapter four’s topic of how God’s Word is clear.  There is so much discussion today about how to interpret the Bible with various new tools that one may start believing one has to graduate with advance degree before we can interpret the Bible for ourselves.  DeYoung notes that this is an issue of one’s view of God, of whether God can reveal Himself or whether He is gagged (to borrow the title of Carson’s book).  This chapter is a great encouragement for believers to know that God’s Word is “knowable” contrary to the problematic claims of some critic.

I also appreciated the appendix as well with its list of thirty significant books on the Bible.  DeYoung even labeled each work as either beginner, intermediate and advanced.  I do disagree with DeYoung calling John Frame’s Doctrine of the Word of God as “beginner.”

I give this book a four out of five since I wished he could have interacted with some of the recent critics more nevertheless I recommend it for believers as a good summary.

Go here for 35% discount.

Or you can also order this book on Amazon

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Crossway and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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James White

Christian apologist James White has produce a lot of good resources over the last few decades equipping believers to defending the faith and to evangelize with those who disagree with the Christian worldview.  These resources in the form of books, articles, blog entries, his Dividing Line Radio Show and his many debates.  We have blogged about some of those resources here in the past in our blog for those who are interested.

Here is a seminar over twenty years ago on Witnessing to Mormons that he presented in Arizona.  He looks so much younger but it’s the same voice and personality.

 

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Have a Good Lord’s Day, may our service be about Him.

Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely...

Quick thought here.

I was listening to some music tonight as I was working on something when I could help but hear something and laugh.

laugh

I’ll admit it.  I was listening to Planetshakers and I was even enjoying them. If you ignore the fact that they think they’re a “worship band” from a prosperity gospel church, their stuff is really catchy and clean and fun.  The music is done really welland the lyrics are shallow enough to easily see through; their lyrics have as much to do with Christianity as your average song from Megadeth…

Here’s a live video of a song called “you are good” and see if you can notice something between around 2:00 and 4:00 that seems rather strange for a band who is doing a “worship” set:

That drummer and bass player are certainly skilled players and I have nothing but respect for their musical ability. …

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For Exposition of Jonah Part 1 click HERE

Jonah and the Whale Carlo Antonio Tavella

Jonah 1:3-17

Establishing the need: Are you running away from God or opportunities from God to be obedient in sharing the gospel?

 We can see symptoms in our lives of disobedience or running away from the LORD when we are not praying, not honoring and not having our lives filed with the things of God.

 

There is an irony in Jonah chapter one, in that Jonah is suppose to be a prophet who speaks the Word of God and point out other’s sin, yet here those who did not know the God of the Bible speaks more than the prophet did and point out the prophet’s own sin.

Purpose: This morning we will see three questions that nonbelievers asks of Jonah when he ran away from God, so that it will also challenge us as believers to be obedient and not runaway from the command to share the gospel.

Outline:

How can you not pray to God when He is pursuing you (v.4-6)?

How can you not honor Him when He is a part of your identity (v.7-9)?

How can you not turn back to God when your disobedience affects others (v.10-15)?

 

I. How can you not pray to God when He is pursuing you (v.4-6)?

  1. Point: God is in control of all things, and He is more than capable of bringing about events to make you realize your need for Him.  If you realize God is pursuing you, will you turn to God in prayer?
  2. Passage:The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to [a]break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the [b]cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it [c]for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep. So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.
  3. Proof:

i.      Verse 2 and 3 have already established that Jonah was running away from God on a ship to Tarshish.  Jonah did not want to preach to those in Nineveh.

ii.      Now verse 4 indicates that there was a great storm.

iii.      Who caused the Storm?—“The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea” (v.4a)

The Hebrew form for “hurled:

In the Hebrew, the form communicates a causative idea, with the LORD as the one who causes the hurling of the great wind.

It calls to mind the throwing of a spear such as in 1 Samuel 18:11, 20:33 (Youngblood, Location 1015).

This is the first of four times the verb “hurl” or “throw” is mentioned in this passage.

The effect of the great wind is a great storm.

iv.      How bad was the storm?  Four descriptions (v.4b-5a):

1. “so that the ship was about to [a]break up” (v.4b)

…the ship was about to break up” literally is “…the ship thought to break up.

Thought” here is the only instance in the Hebrew of using it with an inanimate subject, to personify the ship thinking itself will break and thus showing how dramatic the storm is (Limburg, 48-49).

2. “Then the sailors became afraid (v.5a)

Traveling to Tarshish from Israel would have been a long journey, and these sailors would have no doubt been experienced, yet they were afraid.

First time fear is mentioned in this passage but won’t be the only time.

In the beginning of this passage, we see that the sailors were only afraid of the situation.  But their fear is only going to intensify.

3. “and every man cried to his god,(v.5a)

The sailors’ ethnicity were likely Phoenicians, and they would have pleaded to Baal or Melqart, their god of rain and thunder (Kohlenberger, 33).

Down to a man, they prayed to their own god in vain.

4. “and they threw the [b]cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it [c]for them.” (v.5a)

Second time the word “throw” or “hurl” appears.

The throwing was an attempt to save the ship.

Those on the ship was really afraid, since ships of the Mediterranean would have carried precious cargoes such as metals, ivory, animals and other products (Limburg, 49).

                v.      Jonah’s response (v.5b)

      1. More appropriately, is his lack of response.
      2. It is rather surprising for us as readers to find where Jonah was.
      3. In contrast to the rest of the shipmates, “But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship,”
      4. In contrast to the rest of the shipmates’ desperation, Jonah “lain down and fallen sound asleep.
      5. The rest of those on bard are struggling to stay alive, Jonah resign himself to death (Youngblood, Location 1210).

vi.      The Captain’s question and rebuke

Question: “ So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping?” (v.6)

Command: “Get up, call on your god.”

Irony that someone who is not a follower of the true living God is exhorting a true believer to pray (Kohlenberger, 34).

Jonah must have heard echoes of God’s original command since the captain’s first command “Get up,” was originally the first command God had for Jonah in 1:2 (Kohlenberger, 34).

Reason: “Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.

4. Practice:

i.      Let the questions that the captain asks also be questions that’s asked to us:

1. “ So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping?” (v.6)

There is incredible irony that Christians who know best what is going on in the world, can act like we are asleep while the world tremble in ignorance but know enough to realize there is a problem in the world.

2. “Get up, call on your god.”

In one word: Pray!

ii.      If nonbelievers ask you to pray for them, pray for them and pray that God will use those circumstances to draw them to Himself.

 

II. How can you not honor Him when He is a part of your identity (v.7-9)?

  1. Point: The Bible teaches that when God has saved you and given you eternal life, your whole identity has changed: You are a new creation!  Your desire has also changed:  In light of this, how can you not want to honor Him when He is a part of your identity?
  2. Passage:Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots so we may [d]learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “ Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”
  3. Proof:

i.      The shipmates wonders about the cause of the storm (v.7)

1. Jonah’s silence and disobedience?

a. Since Jonah was a prophet, one would have expected that Jonah would have prayed or preached to the sailors after the captain’s command in verse 6, but this is not what we find.  Instead the sailors were speaking.

b. Perhaps Jonah first disobedience to preach to Nineveh also led him to have a callous heart not to preach

2. READ Jonah 1:7.

ii.      The shipmates’ volley of five questions (v.8)

1. “On whose account has this calamity struck us?”

a. This is their main question since “calamity” is repeated from verse 7 with the reasons why they cast lot in the first place.

b. Yet the most important question is one that Jonah will not immediately answer (Kohlenberger, 35)!

2. “What is your occupation?

Jonah does not tell them he is a prophet, which is his very identity!

3. “And where do you come from?

4. “What is your country?

5. ‘From what people are you?

iii.      Jonah’s answer focuses on his identity (v.9)

– Jonah the prophet finally speaks for the first time in this book!

– Turning point of the chapter!

      1. National identity: “I am a Hebrew,
        1. This answers the last three questions the sailors had.
        2. It also helped narrow down which God Jonah has offended.
      2. Believer of the God of the Bible: “and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”
        1. Some of your version might say “I worship the LORD,” but literally in the Hebrew is “I fear the LORD.
        2. His identity is tied in with fearing the true living God, which of course at that moment he was disobedient towards.
        3. Fear is an important theme throughout this chapter!

4. Picture: Evangelism is something I don’t always feel comfortable doing either, especially when others might be hostile to what I have to say.  I remember working one time, and I overheard some Christians trying to witness and defend the Bible is true.  They beckoned me to join them and I finally can’t help it but I had to join in the conversation because so much of who I am is defined by my relationship and identity in God and Christ Jesus.  I have to share the Word of God because it’s in my identity.

5. Practice:

i.      We need to have the questions asked to Jonah be asked of us:

      1. And where do you come from?
      2. What is your country?
      3. From what people are you?

When you answer these questions, does your relationship with God enter into the picture of your identity?

ii.      Our identity in Christ and God is important when we share the gospel:  We don’t evangelize to become a Christian or to get saved, but rather we are saved and going to heaven and therefore knowing the goodness of God in our lives that define who we are, we evangelize.

 

III. How can you not turn back to God when your disobedience affects others (v.10-15)?

1. Point: You need to realize that when you are disobedient to God, the consequences of it affect others.  This should discourage us from being disobedient to God and make us consider more carefully when we choose the route of disobedience.

2. Passage:10 Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “[e]How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. 11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm [f]for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm [g]for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” 13 However, the men [h]rowed desperately to return to land but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. 14 Then they called on the Lord and said, “We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased.”  15 So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.

3. Proof:

i.      After realizing what Jonah said, the sailors fear increased: “Then the men became extremely frightened” (v.10a)

Literally in the Hebrew, “the men feared a great fear” to emphasize the intensity of their fear.  It is greater than the fear first mentioned in verse 5 of the storm.

Now their fear is not in ignorance: “For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them” (v.10b)

The sea is frightening, the storm is too, but there is nothing like fearing the God behind the storm and sea—God Himself!

ii.      The people’s two questions to Jonah (v.10-11)

A question expressing amazement: “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them” (v.10)

Be reminded these are people who did not believe in the God of the Bible, who have more sense than Jonah, and asked him pointedly how can he runaway from God.

A question seeking for rescue: “11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm [f]for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. (v.11)

iii.      Jonah’s proposed solution (v.12)

      1. Jonah’s radical proposal: ““Pick me up and throw me into the sea.
        1. For the third time, the verb “throw” is stated.
        2. It’s ironic to note how the whole time, the crew and Jonah think that the solution to escape what God is doing is to throw something down!
      2. Reason why: “Then the sea will become calm [g]for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.

iv.      Unlike Jonah, the people’s wanted to do what is right (v.13-15)

      1. At first they did not listen at first to Jonah’s advice: “13 However, the men [h]rowed desperately to return to land …” (v.13a)
      2.  But they were unsuccessful: “but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them” (v.13b)
      3. Finally they did as Jonah wanted (v.14-15)

a. The men’s prayer: “14 Then they called on the Lord and said, “We earnestly pray, O Lord, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O Lord, have done as You have pleased.”

i.      It’s a prayer of fear and desperation of being trapped because they happened to be with disobedient Jonah.

ii.      Yet incredible irony:

          1. Unlike before, they did not pray to their own gods but to the true living God!
          2. Unlike Jonah, they did pray to God.
          3. Unlike Jonah, they wanted to do what is right: “and do not put innocent blood on us;  

b. The men’s action (v.15)

i.      Word for word fulfillment here with Jonah’s command in verse 12: So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea,”

ii.      Result: “and the sea stopped its raging.

4. Picture: If you really understand that not evangelizing will affect people’s eternity, how can you not be obedient to return to God and share your faith?  Hear the words of an atheist comedian, Penn Jillette who as a non-Christian say these telling words:

I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? “I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.” (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/11/17/how-much-do-you-have-to-hate-somebody-to-not-proselytize/)

5. Practice:

i.      Before the Lord, are the questions Jonah asked relevant to you: “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them” (v.10)

ii.      Study the doctrine of sin, hell and grace—the more you know the effect of sins, the more you would want to evangelize.

iii.      If you struggle with a cold heart that does not evangelize, try sitting down at a Chinese supermarket, sit down in the curb and watch people coming and going; try eating at midnight at a Yoshinoya or a restaurant in the middle of the week, and see what kind of people who are older and probably have no wife and kids that would eat alone after a long night of work; before you know it, your heart will melt, your ability to have tears just flow and you say, to yourself, how can you not evangelize?

 

CONCLUSION

There is a structure in Hebrew call Chiasm, which is a literary device to show what is important; in Jonah 1, the climax of the chapter is in verse 9: “and I fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.”

Notice what happen when Jonah or you talk about the fear of God:

16 Then the men feared the Lord greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. 

Ironically, Jonah the one who did not want to preach, say this one important climatic line, and God does the rest to bring them to a true faith.

We are to preach the truth to all people no matter where you are at and what circumstances.

There was a man name John Harper who was suppose to come over from Britain to pastor the famous Moody Bible Church.  The ship he was on, was the Titanic:

 When the Titanic was struck by the iceberg that drove in her sides and sent the ship to the bottom, John Harper was leaning against the railing, pleading with a young man to come to Christ. Four years after the Titanic went down, a young Scotsman rose in a meeting in Hamilton, Canada, and said, ‘I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a piece of wood that awful night, the tide brought Mr. John Harper of Glasgow on a piece of wreckage near me. He said to me, ‘Man, are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m not.’ He replied, ‘Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and you’ll be saved.’ And the waves bore him away, but strange to say, brought him back a little later, and again he said, ‘Are you saved now?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I can’t honestly say that I am.’ He said again, ‘Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.’ And shortly after, he went down beneath the water. And there alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed, and I am John Harper’s last convert.'”

(SOURCE)

NEXT: Exposition of Jonah Part 3

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Why Study History Fea

NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Baker Academic and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

You can also order this book on Amazon by clicking HERE.

This is a helpful work arguing for the importance of studying history.  It is written by John Fea who is a professor that specializes in early American history.  Although the book is written by a Christian for a Christian audience, non-Christians can benefit from reading this book.  The author’s passion in the book is contagious.  Hopefully if you have not thought about why history is important this book will ignite an interest.  In this review I will cover the strengths of the book follow by some constructive criticism.  While I do have some lengthy criticism of the book I hope that it would not be misconstrued that I did not enjoy the book nor do I want anyone to get the impression that its weakness outweigh its strength.  Even where I disagree with Fea, it nevertheless helped clarified my own thoughts concerning a Christian philosophy of history.

STRENGTHS

The beginning of the book distinguished between the past and history something that people can easily confuse as being synonymous.  History is the study of the past.  Fea also talks about the “five Cs” of history:  It is the study of the past that takes into account (1) change over time, (2) context, (3) causality, (4) contingency and (5) complexity.  The author acknowledges how some people can think of history as being boring but he also observed the ironic popularity of history; for instance the New York Times’ best seller lists often include “narrative historical” works and also how a significant factor for the tourism industry is generated by people’s interests in the past.

I appreciated the book’s reasons for why one should study history.  The author noted that history should inspire and warn us.  Yet he also acknowledge the danger of “Presentism,” when one assume “unwarranted continuities between the past” (Location 596).  The past is a different time than today as the author likes to point out.  I was particularly struck with the point that history should humble us when we look into the past and that the study of history makes us more compassionate and slower to jump to premature conclusion concerning those who are different than us.

Readers will also appreciate the chapter on what you can do as a history major outside the immediate field of being a historian and being a teacher of history.  As a pastor I also appreciate the epilogue on history and the church.

WEAKNESS

There is a full chapter devoted to the discussion of whether or not God’s providence should be invoked in discussing history.  I believe the book has some unresolved tensions about the role of providence in history.  He does not find the discussion of providence to be helpful for the historian.  One example given is that appealing to providence does not “help us better understand what happened” with Washington crossing the East river in 1776.  I submit that while we cannot scrutinize fully and certainly the Divine purpose of Washington crossing the river in 1176, nevertheless the doctrine of providence ensure that the event was not “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing,” to borrow a line from MacBeth.  Elsewhere Fea gives us examples of how poor history has been committed by those who have written providential history in the past.  In most instances I agree with his examples but I don’t think it rule out categorically that one can never see the providence of God in historical instances.  I believe the doctrine of providence is important since it is what makes history intelligible and significant though we can admit much of God’s way is a mystery.

Another example of his objection towards invoking providence in studying history is his stance against the claim “that the Reformation was an example of God’s providential intervention in the affairs of humankind” since this would “suggest that God was not overseeing human history before he had to ‘intervene at Wittenberg in October 1517” (Location 1294ff).  But this argument does not follow, since believing that the Reformation was an act of God’s providence does not necessitate that God’s providence was not operating before 1517.  We can see instances in Scripture where God’s providence is clearly identified and yet we see God working leading up to His “intervention” even though His involvement with human affairs might not be what we expect.  Think of the Egyptian exodus, the Babylonian captivity, the Incarnation, etc.

More problematic is the book’s tension with history and ethics.  The author is critical of the relationship of history and ethics such as using history to draw moral lessons.  Nor should history condemn the past.  Yet throughout the book he constantly presupposes how history ought to teach us moral lessons.  How can one look to history for inspiration and warning without realizing that moral categories are involved?  The author stated in the book that history “reminds us of the inherent weakness in the human condition” such as “slavery, violence, scientific backwardness, injustice, genocide, racism, and other dark episodes” (Location 1027ff.) which presupposes moral judgment are being made when one engages in historical studies.

This discussion about providence and ethics touches on a larger discussion of the role of faith and history.  It is interesting to note that he sees providence as a tool of the theologian but not that of the historian (Location 1143ff.).  This presupposes a dichotomy of history/theology that makes the author’s project difficult if he wishes to present a Christian perspective of history.  Such an endeavor itself is a theological/religious act, being involved with one’s faith and relation to God, etc.  Moreover, where do we draw the line between what a historian can and cannot use from the Bible?  The author is silent on a clear methodology.  This leads to the following tension: On the one hand providence is not a legitimate tool for the historian but on the other hand “it is very difficult to understand historical figures like Nero, Caligula, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Pol Pot without a robust understanding of sin” (Location 1481ff.).  We need a robust understanding of sin in evaluating wicked men like Hitler but then on other hand Fea thinks the doctrine of providence in the Bible shouldn’t be used.  Yet even his statement that the Bible’s doctrine of sin is helpful for the historian goes against what he also wants us to believe that “history demands we set aside our moral condemnation about a person, idea, or event from the past in order to understand it” (Location 1874ff.).  Of course we don’t want a knee jerk condemnation done prematurely without a full understanding of the historical contexts of such men but at the same time we should make some kind of moral evaluation and have our theology of sin inform us what’s going on to enrich our historical reflection.  Contrary to certain claims made throughout the book, history should acknowledge wicked past actions as wicked.

It is also strange to see Fea say that because mankind is made in the image of God this must mean “there are no villains in history” (Location 1393ff.).  This train of thought does not matches up to the way the Bible present historical narratives since the very Bible that teaches us that we are made in the image of God also gives account of those who were enemies of God and God’s people.

I was genuinely surprise at Fea quoting Wineburg and Walter McDougall approvingly when they advance a view of history that makes history accomplish things only God can bring about (around Location 2017ff.).  Wineburg and McDougall call history “the religion of the modern curriculum” that “must do the work of theology” such that it would humble us and leave us with a sense of awe and worship directed towards the past; history here for all intent and purpose has taken the role of God.  It is idolatrous.  Space does not permit me to develop a full critique but this is where the role of theology, philosophy and apologetics intersect with history.  It is interesting that the author wishes to protect the field of history from encroachment from theology but does not notice the encroachment of history in the sphere of theology.  Theology tells us that any idol that is above God will disappoint us and does not please Him.  This of course would be against the grain of a Christian desire to pursue history.  Philosophically, if we could borrow the insight of the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, to make any sphere absolute in the place of religion will end up having rational problem under scrutiny because it is reductionistic while the sphere itself can be further reduced as being dependent upon other spheres thus indicating how it really can’t be the fountain head for everything else.  In terms of Reformed apologetics we can make the observation that even Wineburg and Walter has to borrow capitals outside of history itself in order to talk about things like humility as a virtue (which is from the sphere of ethics and religion).  Again space does not permit us to develop this point but a Reformed apologist would further argue that to even talk about history as a source of inducing awe (which is appropriate so long as it does not take the place of God or become itself a secularized “religion” or “theology”) presupposes the Christian worldview.  Again to get to the point at hand it is a shame that in encouraging a Christian perspective of history the author does not notice the idolatrous language his sources use to describe history.

I would say in summary that the author is weak in theology.  We see this weakness in some of the problems noted earlier but it is also evident in how Fea assumes certain individuals to be Christians in the book.  Though the book’s argues creatively of how history can serve Christians and the church, there is no discussion about the field of historical theology.  I think it is reasonable to expect at least a passing remark about the role of historical theology for the life of the believer.  He also attacks the “belief that human history has already been ‘scripted’ by God” inevitably “teaches us that this world is not as important as the next one, so we do not need to invest in it with any degree of seriousness” (Location 2033ff.).  But such a conclusion that does not logically follow.

As a minor point the book argues persuasively that history should make us more conscious of understanding others who are different than us and that has implication for how we relate to others whom we disagree today.  Fea laments on the culture war and how much it is driven by ignorance but one can’t help but to notice his own misrepresentation of the Tea party movement when he writes “The Tea Party movement and other libertarians have convinced millions of Americans that they have to answer to no authority but themselves” (Location 1811ff.).

CONCLUSION

Again, all this does not take away from the fact that I enjoyed this book.  I give this book a five out of five for stimulating one to think as a Christian concerning the subject of history.

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Francis_Schaeffer

Although I don’t agree with him in everything nevertheless I do appreciate the apologist and evangelist Francis Schaeffer.

This is a rare clip of Francis Schaeffer teaching.  This was recently loaded online on Youtube courtesy of the Francis Schaeffer Study Center on the occasion of Resurrection Sunday.

Here’s the video’s description:

This video is from the 1983 L’Abri Conference in Atlanta. The full lecture with Q&A time has been included. The lecture was also previously given on May 11, 1983 in Minneapolis at the Evangelical Press Association Convention. A transcript of this lecture is available here: http://edmontonbpc.org/wp/2012/02/names-and-issues-by-francis-schaeffer/

Enjoy!

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