Thursday, September 27, 2007

book review, part 2--velvet elvis

"What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proo that Jesus had a real, earthly biological father named Larry, and archaeologists find Larry's tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if as you study the origin of the word 'virgin', you discover that the word 'virgin' in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word 'virgin' could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being '"born of a virgin" also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse."

First, let's get one more statement of Bell's out of the way, concerning what he wrote here.

"I affirm the historic Christian faith, which includes the virgin and the Trinity and the inspiration of the Bible and much more. I'm a part of it, and I want to pass it on to the next generation. I believe that God created everything and that Jesus is Lord and that God has plans to restore everything."

So, at the least, Bell's questions in the first paragraph given here isn't leading to some kind of "The Gospels are a bunch of fabrications" claims.

But if not that, then what was his point?

"But if the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn't that strong in the first place, was it?"

I don't think I'm exaggerating if I say that Bell's statement has caused no small amount of controversy. The reason I've given some extra quotes to avoid one aspect of that controversy--the idea that he's calling into question the virgin birth. As I think that what he is saying is questionable enough, there is no use spending time on what he is not saying.

"What if that spring was seriously questioned?

"Could a person keep jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian?

"Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live

"Or does the whole thing fall apart?"

Could we still be Christians? What would being a Christian mean, if the very thing that made us Christian is in the end a lie? The word 'Christian' would be meaningless, a lie, a farce.

Could we still love God? What kind of God would there be left to love? A God of mythical lies and empty promises? A God who has told us Jesus is His Son, when in reality Jesus was only a human like any of the rest of us?

Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?

Let's look at it another way.

Suppose the Bible is only a bunch of man-made stories. Let's say that it was written by pretty good and intelligent people, who had what most people would consider a good sense of ethics and morality. Lets say the most peole generally considered right-thinking would largely agree with what those men wrote.

That would put it on the level of, say, the writings of every other major religious leader, and philosopher, and ethicist.

In other words, the Bible would become one more option among the many. We would have no reason to accept it's claims above any other.

So, the question would be, why would a man of great personal strengths accept the 'help the poor' ethics of the Bible, when he could accept the 'will to power' ethics of Neitzche? Why should a person who has worked hard to achieve competence not choose a Randian ethic which would glorify his achievements over a biblical one which makes him responsible for his neighbor? Why should the "lady's man" accept the biblical sexual mores when he could have much more fun with a looser view on such things.

If the Bible were simply some collection of mythical stories containing some ethical teachings and truisms, then to adhere to it would only make one the follower of a philosophical and ethical school of thought. One may as well be Socratic, or Kantian, or Buddhist, or fill in the blank _________.

It would, simply, take the compulsion out of Christianity. There would be no serious or eternal consequences to breaking biblical morality. There would be no Heaven waiting for believers or Hell for those who don't. Jesus' death would have little real meaning, as he was only a regular joe and not the sacrifice for our sins. In fact, our biblical concepts of sin and our need to be delivered from it has almost no meaning, because it's not about sin but about ethics.

To continue what seeems to be a trend, here is a bit of Chesterton from "What's Wrong with the World", to show what I think we are left with if the Bible is only another book of ethics.

"This is the arresting and dominant fact about modern
social discussion; that the quarrel is not merely about
the difficulties, but about the aim. We agree about the evil;
it is about the good that we should tear each other's eyes cut.
We all admit that a lazy aristocracy is a bad thing.
We should not by any means all admit that an active aristocracy would
be a good thing. We all feel angry with an irreligious priesthood;
but some of us would go mad with disgust at a really religious one.
Everyone is indignant if our army is weak, including the people
who would be even more indignant if it were strong.
The social case is exactly the opposite of the medical case.
We do not disagree, like doctors, about the precise nature
of the illness, while agreeing about the nature of health.
On the contrary, we all agree that England is unhealthy, but half
of us would not look at her in what the other half would call blooming
health . Public abuses are so prominent and pestilent that they
sweep all generous people into a sort of fictitious unanimity.
We forget that, while we agree about the abuses of things,
we should differ very much about the uses of them.
Mr. Cadbury and I would agree about the bad public house.
It would be precisely in front of the good public-house that our
painful personal fracas would occur."

Bell's appeal seems to be utilitarian--even if the Bible is only mythology, we would still follow it's teachings because they would be the ones that work best. It's an interesting claim, and perhaps not without merit. But as Chesterton points out, while many people would agree on the problems, not everyone would agree on the best solutions. And if all the Bible is is another option in a world filled with options, then while it be in some sense 'taken seriously', it wouldn't have the authority of divine command behind it.

So, perhaps the whole thing wouldn't so much 'fall apart' as much as would be gutted and become marginalized. We would have made, for example, the Ten Commandments into mere suggestions--maybe good suggestions, but without any authority behind them, people would have no compulsion to keep them.

I think this is one possibility Bell leaves open with his idea.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

book review, part 1--velvet elvis...springs

"This is where the springs on the trampoline come in. When we jump, we begin to see the need for springs. The springs help make sense of these deeper realities that drive how we live every day. The springs aren't god. The springs aren't Jesus. The springs are statements and beliefs about our faith that help give words to the depth that we are experienceing in our jumping. I would call these the doctrines of the Christian faith.

"They aren't the point."

It's an interesting idea he has here, relating Christian doctrines to the springs on a trampoline. A bit later, he contrasts this view with another view of doctrine.

"It hit me while I was watching that for him faith isn't a trampline; it's a wall of bricks. Each of the core doctrines for him is like an individual brick that stacks on top of the others. If you pull one out, the whole wall starts to crumble. It appears quite strong and rigid, but if you begin to rethink or discuss even one brick, the whole thing is in danger. Like he said, no six-day creation equals no cross. Remove one, and the whole wall wobbles."

Let us assume that he may be right in this--that some see Christian doctrine as something like a brick wall. Bell seems to think this view is inflexible, unlike the metaphor of the spring.

Let me ask another question--which metaphor is true, or at least closest to the truth?

Oddly, here is Bell's first comment about his family's trampoline.

"Several years ago my parents and in-laws gave our boys a trampoline. A fifteen-footer with netting around the outside so kids don't end up headfirst in the flowers."

I didn't immediate notice that when I read the above, but when I did, it reminded me of something I read in Chesterton's Orthodoxy.

"Those countries in Europe
which are still influenced by priests, are exactly the countries
where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art
in the open-air. Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls;
but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only
frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy
some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island
in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge
they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the
place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down,
leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over;
but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in
terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased."

I found it amusing that Bell's trampoline has a net around it, like Chesterton's island had a wall around it. Not only that, but the wall and the net serve the same purpose--to keep those inside from falling off in their play.

A metaphor is only a metaphor, and shouldn't be taken too far. To say "X is kind of like Y" is not to say "X is Y". Perhaps Bell's metaphor is not entirely pointless, but I'm not completely happy with it, either.

I prefer Chesterton's metaphor of the wall in regards to doctrine. These are the unchangeables, the essentials, the basics that must be accepted as true.

The springs, then, would be the nonessentials. For example, the types of music a church chooses to play, types of services, styles of preaching, buildings, meeting times, and so on.

It could be said that, if Bell makes the mistake of trying to makes parts of the wall into springs, another mistake with its own long history is making springs into parts of the wall. Very true, which is why for now I'm not really going far into what I consider essentials. I don't necessarily agree that just because someone points out a mistake, it is then incumbent upon them to give a solution. If someone stops me and asks how far it is to a certain city, and I know the road they are on will not take them there, saying so is of some practical use to them, and if the person asking gets in a huff because I cannot show them what roads will take them there, then so be it.

But while I do not want to deep, here are some things I've noticed in regards to what was said in those sermons recorded in Acts.

Acts 2 records Peter's sermon at Pentacost. It is very long. Peter is speaking to people who already had a good idea of who Christ was, the works He did, and how He died(vs. 22-23). Verse 24 may even mean that they had heard about His resurrection, thought I'm not sure of that. Verses 29-36 lay stress on the resurrection of Christ and its significance. When the people who heard it asked how to respond, Peters call was for them to repent and be baptized for the cleansing of their sins (v. 38-39).

Chapter 3 has another sermon of Peters, after he and John were involved in the healing of a lame man at the Temple. Here he tells the people to "repent and be converted" (v. 19).

The incident of Philip and the Ethiopian is recorded in chapter 8. We are not given what Philip spoke to him, only that he "preached Jesus to him" (v. 35). When the Ethipoian man asked about being baptized, his response to Philip's question about belief was "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (v. 37). This seemed to have satisfied Philip, and God.

Chapter 10 if Peter at Cornelius' house. Here Peter mentions Jesus' works, death, and resurrection, and that "whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (vs. 34-43).

In chapter 13 is a sermon by Paul in a city called Antioch in a place called Pisidia. He was in a synagogue, and speaking to Jewish people. He gives a small bit history, building up to Christ, and then speaks again of His death and resurrection. Paul gives this towards the end, "Therefore let it be know to you, brethren, that through this Man (Jesus) is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (vs. 38-39).

Paul at Athens is in chapter 17. In that sermon, there is this statement, "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywher to repent". He also makes mention of Jesus being raised from the dead.

Paul before Festus in chapter 26 is not really a sermon, I suppose. Here Paul says that his message has been "that the Christ would suffer, that He woujld be the first to rise form the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish peole and to the Gentiles" (v. 23).

There was also Paul and Silas at Philippi, saying to the jailer "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved..." (16:31).

The life, death, and resurrection of Christ is stressed in most of them, with the emphasis seeming to be that those events really happened and are important to trusting Christ. Repentence is another theme, with it being central to the forgiveness and remission of sins. Belief in Christ is another important part of the message.

So we have those things that seem to be central to true faith--a belief in Christ and in the reality of the things recorded of Him concerning His life, works, death, and resurrection; and repentence for sins so as to be made clean of them.

These seem to be the basic, nonnegotiable things for true Christian faith, or to put it another way, these are the beliefs that are at the walls of the Christian life. To not accept these seems to be to not accept what God requires.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"What's really bothering opponents of immigration?" article

What's really bothering opponents of immigration?

This is a publication I've discovered only recently, and while I haven't read many of it's articles or interviews, it's given some stuff for consideration. Although I'm pretty sure they aren't as conservative as I am, they're normally not looney libs either. They had a very interesting article about some things going on in the church nowadays that I though was very insightful, and not what I would expect from libs, and they give algore a bit of the works over his constant reinventing of himself (now if they will only do the same to Hillary...).

This article is probably the one I have any sort of serious disagreement with, and I don't want to take it too far here. It's sitll an interesting article, with some things to ponder. Mostly, I find some of the writer's thoughts to be a bit off.

It's about immigration, one to the current hot topics here in the US. Lawrence's take on it seems to be that one of the main issues about those who are against illegal immigration (I'll assume that, and not immigration as a whole, though I don't see where he makes the distinction) us that it's more about 'integration' then 'immigration'--it's about being more concerned about the illegals from another racial make-up (Mexicans) and not so concerned about those of similar race to most in America (Canadians).

"It is a subtle, but not insignificant, fact that to the casual ear the word "immigration" generates echoes of the word "integration." And it taps into the same kinds of fears about ethnic identity that have been a dominant force in the United States for most of our history."

I would be curious to know upon what basis he makes such a claim. No doubt the circles he runs in are very different from mine, but I have not noticed such a thing. Most conservative people like myself welcome immigrant, and even acknowledge that there are those, for example asylum seekers from oppressive nations, who cannot go through proper channels in order to escape their situations. The fact is, though the Mexican government has its problems, it's not an oppressive regime, and illegals are not asylum seekers.

Nor do I think the idea has to do with race. Perhaps some may say that such comes close when we would have immigrants learn one language, English, but the fact is English is the language of the US, and in order for a person to have any hope of succeeding here they must be able to some extend to speak the language. As someone who has lived in Russia for a few years, I know how hard life can be in a place where I know the language only marginally, and my experience was tempered by the fact that I was in missions and lived on support for that work. Had I needed to work there in order to live, I would have been in deep crap indeed.

"While National Guard troops are being amassed in those states that border Mexico, no such action is being taken along the far longer and more porous border with Canada."

Perhaps he makes a bit of a point here. I have heard concerned raised on the conservative talk radio shows I have listened to about the US/Canadian border, though I do grant that main focus has been on the southern one with Mexico. The perception seems to be the the southern border is the main concern for now.

I think his gripe, though, may be a bit shallow. If the main focus had been on the northern border, would such as Lawrence be trying to tell us that we should focus on the south?

But his main concern seems to be that we don't worry so much the Canadian border because the Canadians are like us. But we may not worry about it because we do not need to, because Canada is a more stable ally then Mexico, and because the number of illegals coming from Mexico is probably many times more then illegals from Canada.

"But there were no Canadian Mounties at the border in the 1960s when young Americans, seeking to escape the draft, illegally crossed into Saskatchewan."

As far as I'm concerned, if Canada wants to welcome our cowards, they are welcomed to welcome them. That was entirely Canada's concern, how they chose to handle their borders.

"The real issue is that American attitudes on almost every issue cannot be separated from American attitudes on race and ethnicity. White folks who speak only English tend to have more trouble feeling comfortable with dark-skinned Spanish speakers than with light-skinned French speakers. And that makes the matter of immigration—or integration—not a legal issue or a military issue or even a language issue, but a spiritual issue."

Earlier, I tried to assume that he was refering only to illegal immigration, but here that assumption starts to wear thin. When he talks about "the matter of immigration", as in the paragraph above, I start to think that he is refering to immigration as a whole, not illegal immigration.

It seems to be a common liberal ploy, to confuse the issue here about legal versus illegal immigration. The attempt is to make it seem that the people who speak out against illegal immigration are really speaking against immigration as a whole--in a word or two, to play the 'race card' against them, accusing them of racism.

This is, to use tame language, a disgusting lie and unworthy of anyone who wishes to take the issue seriously. No doubt he could find some fringe group who would completely close the borders, but for every conservative I can think of, the issue is about illegal immigration. As I said before, we conservative welcome immigrants to the US. They have blessed us a lot with their presence, and that gladly offer them the chance to a better life. What we ask is that they go about it by the rules, instead of sneaking across our borders.

So, I would contend that the real issue is not what Lawrence says, but about honoring and obeying the rules of our country.

"When Paul was writing his letters, being a citizen of the Roman Empire meant—as it did personally for him—having access to the protections of a legal system not available to noncitizens. Yet Paul wrote to the Philippians that one's earthly citizenship was irrelevant, "for our citizenship is in heaven."

I can think of at least two times recorded in Acts where Paul made use of his citizenship. Once was in Philippi, demanding a personal release from the authorities there, and once in Jerusalem to keep from being beaten. A third time may have been when he appealed to Caesar. I think those effectively refute any attempt to say that Paul didn't count his Roman citizenship as being of some importance.

"In America's past, there have been others who tried that. George Wallace tried to block a university doorway. Strom Thurmond tried to block a voter registration booth. William Jennings Bryan may have blocked his own entrance to the White House by failing to let immigrants feel integrated into his party's political process."

To try comparing those actions to protecting our borders is coming close to being looney, and I don't think I'm exaggerating a bit. There is no comparison. It's like calling a man who installs an alarm system in his house a racist.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

book review, part 3--your best life now

Probably the most frustrating thing about this book is that there actually is some good stuff in it, some good thoughts, but in the end it all comes almost to nothing. This guy isn't stupid, but right when he seems to come on the verge of something serious, he backs off, and it becomes all about 'prosperity, blessing, and the good life'.

Here's an example of something that actually is pretty good...

"Don't focus on your weaknesses, focus on your God."

...very well, no problem with that. In fact, one could look at where Paul said "in my weakness, God is made strong" and see how Paul came to rejoice in his weaknesses, and that could have given us some serious things to consider.

Osteen then does some rather unexpected--he tells the story of the three trees. I've heard variations on it, but the core story is like this; there are three trees in a forest, each has a wish of how they want to be used, and in the end they get their wish, though not as they would have hoped. One wanted to become a treasure chest, but was made into a manger that eventually held the child Christ. One wanted to be a part of a large boat carrying important people, but was made into a fishing boat that carried Jesus around. The third wanted to stand and point people to God, but was made into the cross on which Christ died.

It's an interesting story, but it seems that it runs contrary to much of Osteen's points. Simply put, none of those trees received their wish as they wanted it to be, in fact they became something else entirely. Even the author makes that point, "Your dreams may not have turned out exactly as you'd hoped, but the Bible says that God's ways are better and higher than our ways".

This is the frustration. If he weren't so wrapped up in the Word of Faith nonsense, he could have seen deeper into things. He could have seen that the man who wrote God has "blessed us with every spiritual blessing" was doing so from prison, and was probably writing to people who were not rich, some may even have been slaves, and they may have been subject to persecutions. He may have seen that the Bible tells us much about being content with what we have and cautions against pursuing wealth.

But, no, it doesn't go there. I'm almost afraid to speculate why, because I may be unfair to him. If I say something like "Well, he knows what sells, and what people want to hear", am I correct? I know I think that, but I'm not sure if it's true. It's too easy to say that those you disagree with have the worst of motives, even when it

Monday, September 17, 2007

LPO chess tournament--a bit of a disappointment

The past weekend was the Lipkin-Pfeffercorn Open in Winston-Salem, North carolina. Well, actually, for me it was only Saturday. It wasn't a good tourney.

The ride down here was ok, my Dad was with me. We ran into a few snarls, but got here in good time.

The first round could be played either Friday evening or Saturday morning. I chose Saturday. What I didn't notice on the on the tourney announcement was the the time controls would be different depending on if one played the first on Saturday--they would be a bit shorter. I don't think it would have made a difference.

The first was a tough game. I think that early on I had a good position, but misplayed it, and my opponent took control. I defended well, and right when I thought I had gotten even again, he played a very clever tactic that won him a pawn. The ending should still have been a draw, but for some reason I started trying to press for the win, and a justice would have it, he responded well and won.

The second was a bit cathartic. It was actually a pretty tense and complicated game, with both of us going after each other's kings. I had pinned one of his knights, and was trying to pile on to win it, and it resulted in his queen being pinned by my bishop, and so he resigned.

The third was a fight as well, though quieter and more of a maneuvering battle. I thought I had the edge on him, but he kept finding some tactics to keep me from gaining in real advantage, and I kept him from getting one on me, and in the end we drew.

So, three games, one and a half points. All of my opponents were in my same rating class, though a bit lower then I was. with that score, I was pretty effectively out of any chance of winning anything, so I withdrew and we'll head home in the morning (I'm writing this Saturday night).

There are reasons why I wanted to come here, and to try to win my section of the tournament. They are for the time being personal reasons, outside of course of sheer orneriness and wanting to compete and win.

Has my game gone backwards since a little over a month ago, when I tied for first in the Lexington tournament? None of the people I played here were a highly rated as those played that time, so it would safe to assume that my competition that time was tougher then it was here. Yet my results were worse here. Granting that I played stupidly in the first game, losing a drawn position, had I played like I did before, it may not have come to that.

It's a tough thing to know. If I have been remiss in my chess studies, it's not as if life hasn't had it's complications. Plus, what is it worth? Let's be honest, I'm not going to make any kind of master's level in chess. I take the game seriously, but not that seriously. I like the design work I do, and enjoy free time to read or watch movies when I can.

But as I said, chess at this point in time isn't just a hobby for me. It's a potential means to an end, or at least the next step to an end (or a beginning). One reason I pressed in that first game was because of that--a draw wouldn't have been disasterous, but it would have made things iffy. One time when I played here years ago, in a lower section, I had 4 1/2 out of 5 games, and wound up in a 4-way tie for first. Not bad, but splitting among so many did cut down on the funds.

Of course, it's still better then nothing. I should have been smart.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

book review, part 2--your best life now

Let me give a counter to what Osteen seems to be teaching.

Chesterton begins the second chapter of his book 'Orthodoxy' with the recounting of a conversation he had with a friend, in which the friend commented about some that he will do well, because "he believes in himself". Chesterton tells his friend that if he wishes to see the people who truly believe in themselves, he could tell him where they could be found--in the mental hospital. When the friend disagreed, Chester pointed out that yes there were those not in those institutes who did believe in themselves--they are the people who try to succeed at things they really have no business doing, and no one can tell them otherwise. "It would be much truer to say that man will certainly fail, because he believes in himself".

I returned to tournament chess last summer, at a small unofficial tournament at a library. I did not go into it with much confidence--my last tournament had been a blitz chess one in Perm, and I had had no success worth mentioning in it. I could console myself on 'holding my own' in a few games, but that was it. My expectation were not high, but I was determined to do the best I could in each game.

At the end of that tournament, I had 5 1/2 points out of 6 games, and was first overall. I've since learned that the competition wasn't of the highest, but I was and still am happy with that result.

Why do I mention this? Because, to put it simplest, I did not go into that tournament with some kind of 'believe in myself' pep talk running around in my head that I told myself over and over. If anything, I was nervous and on edge, taking nothing for granted. I played some good chess that day, made some good combinations, but I was 'playing scared', trying to make as certain as I could of every idea I tried.

But let's do an experiment. Let's say that instead of playing against players who were not very strong, I was playing against real Masters and Grandmasters. I could name, say, Kasparov, Kramnik, Shirov, Greev, Anand, and probably others who are among the world's best, so let's say that for whatever reason, they were in Lexington and decided to drop in on the lowly little library tournament to compete.

Do I win that tournament with them in it? Not even in a fantasy world as far out a Pratchett's Discworld. In the six games I play against them, in at least half I will be either lost or in a losing game in under 20 moves, and would be quite pleased if I could make an interesting game in at least two of them, and would be tickled to death if one actually ended in a draw.

Towards the end of my time in high school, and for about a year after that, I seriously believed I could make it as a golfer. I played several times that summer, hit the practice tees, putted and chipped on the practice greens.

Not without some success. I started the summer shooting in the 150s, and a few times made it down to around 100. For those not in the know, that's not even close to a professional score. And the course I played on wasn't as difficult as even the easiest of tour courses.

The thing is, I believed I could. I could see myself wearing a Master's green jacket, of going up against the top players of that time--Greg Norman, Curtis Strange, Nick Faldo--and winning (and considering Norman's fabled bad luck, it maybe wasn't that far out of a dream).

And I was wrong. Reasons for why I failed could perhaps be found on analysis (a really bad swing was perhaps a big reason), but not all of the positive thinking and self-belief in the world could have made more then 5 strokes of difference, and I needed about 30 there at the end.

And, really, I don't regret that failure. To quote a particularly moving country song, "There's no way to know what might have been", so if I had succeeded, my life would no doubt be much different then it has been, whether better or worse may be something else. The thing is, I like how my life has been--not easy, and I doubt I've made every decision correctly, and certainly there have been crazy and even painful times. Nor am I necessarily completely satisfied with my lot right now, but that may be problems in myself.

But it's been a good life, too, and I've done a few things that I don't regret. I've met people I can admire and respect, I've made good friends from all over the world, and I've found a type of work that I have skills at and that I enjoy doing.

So, I'll take my golfing failure, thank you very much, and no amount of nice-sounding words on Osteen's part will rob me of that. And if it seems negative of me, so be it, I've rarely felt the need to live up to some kind of 'positive only' mindset. Reality is quite often negative, and even God does not blind Himself from reality.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

book review, part 1--your best life now

Before proceeding further, I would like to point out that I am using a copy of this book that is borrowed from a library. I would hate to think that people might think that I spent good money on this.

Well, I did have to drive to the library, but along with this book, I checked out a DVD of the original "Gojira" (Godzilla) and an audiobook of stories by P.G. Wodehouse. Plus, I get to write for the blog again, so overall the time and gas money were not wasted.

But, enough less-then-subtle shots at what I'm reviewing, on with the show...

First, a note on how I'm going to try to do this. Unlike with McLaren's book, this one has shorter chapters but the book overall is divided into seven sections. So instead of doing it chapter by chapter, I'll focus more on the larger sections.

One could almost take the first page of Osteen's book, and come away with the whole of it. He begins by telling the story of a man look at a large house, and this man has a kind of mental conversation with himself about how his low expectation are what are keeping him from living in such a house, and so he decides to "start believing better of himself, and believing better of God". The rest of the section comes off more like a self-help session.

At the beginning of chapter two, he gives an example of his thinking. "The Bible says, 'Set your mind and keep it set on the higher things.' When you get up in the morning, the first thing you should do is set your mind in the right direction...Expect circumstances to change in your favor. Expect people to go out of their way to help you. Expect to be at the right place at the right time."

The first time I read that, I thought I had recognized the verse he refered to. I had to look it up to be certain, and giving some context provided an interesting take on it. Here it is, with a bit of what's around it. (To be fair to Osteen, he does give the reference as a footnote at the back of the book).

Colossians 3:1-4
If then you were reaised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Given this context, I think it's pretty clear the Paul's words had a very different meaning then what Osteen tries to make them say. When Paul says to 'set your mind on things above', he's not talking about job promotions or larger houses. I think we could relegate those things to "things on the earth", which Paul tells us to not set our minds on.

So, at best, Osteen's attempt to use that verse to refer to success on the job is a lousy job of interpretation.

Chapter 2 also has what seems to be Osteen's message...

"You must look through the 'eyes of faith' and start seeing yourself as happy, healthy, and whole."

In other words, it's the same old Word of Faith crap that we've been fed by get-rich-quick televangelist who have done more damage in recent years to the church then any other things I can think about.

Let me vent a bit--I honest expect more of the church then to throw out money for this tripe!! Haven't we learned!! Haven't we had enough examples of shysters who talk a big game but are phoneys underneath? How many more Tildens and Bakkers do we need to have thrown in our faces before we do even a modicum of thinking?

Where does Osteen's teachings fall apart? For me, it has to do with his emphases.

All of what he writes about so far is about us. One can be spiritual, even over-spiritual, and go in the opposite extreme saying that none of this is about us. I can agree with neither extreme. God does care for us, God does want to bless us, and God provides for us. It isn't a case of making Him out to be a great cosmic killjoy or miser, but not is it right to say that God only concern is for us and comfortable and prosperous our lives are.

Any outlook at would seem to even hint that Paul in prison was there for lack of faith is unacceptable. Any teachings that would tell us that those who suffered and died for the Gospel did not have enough faith or else they would have prospered cannot be taken seriously.

To say that we are successful only if our fleshly ambitions are slaked is a view of faith that is at best childish. To make promotions, wealth, and health the measures of ones faith in God simply cannot be done with any biblical support.

Osteen's views so far are extremely shallow. If all he can offer us are little Disney-esque bits like 'believe in yourself' and 'God wants you to be comfortable', then he gives us nothing, perhaps even less then nothing.

I called his view 'childish', and I mean that. It is the kind that measures a parent's love and approval one what one gets from them--if the parents gives you a toy that you want, then they must love you, while if they don't, then they must not love you. There is no room so far in his teachings for ideas such as that the parents have more in mind for their child then for it to be a parasite all it's life, but that it should learn to stand on it's own, that it should learn to not do things it is forbidden to do.

What we are dealing with here could described as priorities. If good parents punish their child, it is not because they do not love the child; quite the contrary, it is the uncaring and indifferent parents who don't care how their child behaves except insofar as they are inconvenienced by them. No, the loving parents punish the child, not because they don't care for it's happiness, but for many reasons--that the child's present happiness is at best a secondary concern to it's becoming a good and decent person, that they want it to be happy for the right reasons, that they warn and punish it now so that it will be less likely to harm itself more seriously in the future.

When the child is being punished--grounding, spanking, not seeing friends, whatever--it will likely not feel loved at that time. But the child's sight is limited, while the parent's should be broader and more far-seeing. The child sees only the now, while the parents should see how the child's behavior will effect it in the future, and so try to change it before more harm is done.

This has to do with God as disciplinarian--not a view we like to see Him as, but an important one anyway.

But there is more to it, I think. It was hinted at in the comments about he sufferings of the martyrs--that God at times allows bad things, even very bad and even more still death, to come to those who follow Him.

Obedience to God is not a one-way ticket to Candy-land. Jesus' obedience led Him to His death. The obedience of the Apostles led them to prisons, beatings, and martyrtoms.

The chapter in Hebrews about those who were faithful has a list of two different peoples--one list was of those who believed God and received what they asked for, and another list was of those who stayed faithful to God when they were oppressed and suffered and killed.

There must be both. We cannot say only those who are blessed with obvious success are the ones with faith in God. No greater injustice can be made against those whose lives have been marked with persecutions, sufferings, and martyrdoms.