Apocrypha: Bel and the Dragon

January 22, 2020

Another writing associated with the Biblical Daniel’s life, but deemed non-canonical by Jews as well as modern Protestants.  It does not exist in Hebrew and was most likely composed in Greek.  It is considered canonical by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.  It sometimes appears as Chapter 14 in the book of Daniel, though does not make sense there in terms of the overall flow of the book of Daniel.

The story itself involves Daniel’s interactions with the Persian King Cyrus over the matter of two revered idols – the first a statue named Bel and the second what was probably a very large snake.  The King inquires why Daniel does not worship Bel, and Daniel responds that Bel is simply a statue, not a god.  The King protests that Bel devours a great deal of food every single day – 12 bushels of wheat, 40 sheep and six measures of wine.  Daniel counters that it is the priests who attend to Bel along with their wives and children who are eating the provisions – the  statue does not eat them.

When interrogated the priests of Bel swear the statue is the only one consuming the provisions and offer for the King himself to set up the provisions and then lock and seal the temple with the priests outside of it.  Daniel agrees with this but secretly also has the king strew the temple floor with ash.  In the morning the food is gone as usual, despite the temple still being sealed.  However there are footprints everywhere from the priests and their children, proving they had a secret way into the temple and were themselves consuming the provisions.

The second event is very similar but apparently involves a large snake.  Daniel feeds this snake cakes made out of boiled fat, hair, and pitch.  These apparently clog the snake to the  point that it bursts open and dies.  This angers the people and the King, so Daniel is placed into a lion’s den with seven lions for six days.  At the end of that time, sustained in part by a visit from the prophet Habakkuk, Daniel is alive and vindicated.

This seems to best fit as a work of religious fiction.  It doesn’t necessarily contradict anything Scriptural but doesn’t  fit  well with the canonical accounts of Daniel.  Rather, it seems to exaggerate the existing account of Daniel in the lion’s den, something that certainly could be true but doesn’t seem to serve any great purpose.

 

Apocrypha: Susanna

January 21, 2020

This is a brief work intended as part of the canonical Hebrew book of Daniel, but it appears in none of the Hebrew copies of Daniel and is presumed to have been authored much later and in Greek.   It was contained in both the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) as well as the Latin translation of the Old and New Testaments (the Vulgate).  In some traditions this apocryphal  work is included as the last chapter of Daniel (Chapter 13), although in others it appears before the canonical material as Chapter 1.  It deals with themes of justice, righteousness, and the figure of a young Daniel emerging as wise beyond his years.

Susanna is relegated to apocryphal writings because it contradicts certain aspects of the canonical work of Daniel (such as portraying an already well-established Jewish community in exile, whereas the canonical Daniel begins with Babylon’s conquering of Jerusalem and taking people into exile, including Daniel) and because there are no examples  of it in any Hebrew Old Testament copies.

The story briefly is that a virtuous young wife is wrongly accused of adultery by two Jewish elders who are angry she rebuffed their demands that she sleep with them.  In a he-said-she-said situation, Susanna gets the worst of it and is sentenced to death based on the accusations of the elders. Enter young Daniel who suspects foul play and exposes the lies of the elders, leading to Susanna’s exoneration and their execution.

It would primarily seem to serve as a story introducing or further elaborating on the life of Daniel.  It demonstrates the very real dangers of misuse of power as well as God’s attention to his people.  It elevates the use of wisdom and our intellects in being able to discern truth, rather than relying exclusively or unhealthily on spiritual insight.

Apocrypha: Old Greek Esther

January 20, 2020

Likely compiled in the 2nd century BC, this is an expanded version of the Hebrew book of Esther found  in the Old Testament.  A total of 107 verses were added to the Hebrew version, most likely in an attempt to make it more theologically acceptable.  It  isn’t that the Hebrew Esther is not acceptable, but it  is curious with it’s lack of any direct mention of God.  Events are described almost entirely in terms of human efforts, though of course the clear understanding and context is that these efforts are carried out within an overall creation sustained and governed by God himself.  But Old Greek Esther attempts to make these links explicit, sprinkling prayers and other references directly to God throughout the work.

This work is understood by most  to  not be authentic nor appropriately referred to as canonical.  The King James Bible included the Greek additions as an appendix to the nine canonical Hebrew chapters of  the book of Esther.  These additions were never originally written in Hebrew, occasionally contradict the details of the canonical chapters.  In actuality, there are several versions of these Greek additions to the book of Esther, falling into two major categories.  Historians are unsure of the relationship – if any  – to these varying versions of the Greek additions.  Finally, references to Macedonians in the Greek additions reflect a later date of composition than the original Hebrew chapters,  reflecting a historical period in which Macedonians played  a larger role in Persian affairs.

The additions don’t add anything beneficial, in my estimation, but rather bog down a rather tightly wound story with unnecessary elaboration and  lengthy prayers.  I have no doubt there were many prayers offered by Mordecai and Esther which the author  of the Hebrew book either was unaware of or felt unnecessary to include.  Trying to make explicit the theology in which these people lived and breathed more often than not makes the overall work clumsier.

Reading Ramblings – January 26, 2020

January 19, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday after the Epiphany – January 26, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-25

Context: The season of Ordinary Time begins this year with the start of Jesus’ public ministry and the calling of his first disciples. In these simple acts, Jesus continues to fulfill Old Testament prophecies. The location of his birth, the virgin birth, his sojourn as a toddler in Egypt, and now where He begins his ministry, in the regions of the original tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali, now known as Galilee – Matthew sees it all as fulfiling words spoken centuries earlier.

Isaiah 9:1-4 – The end of Isaiah 8 pictures God’s unfaithful people wandering in the wilderness, blinded by the spiritual darkness they walk in. They seek out wisdom and insights from mediums and conjurers – forbidden to God’s people but now his people are desperate for guidance. They do not turn to God, but to those He has forbidden them. They find nothing. They hunger and receive nothing, and as they hunger they curse God and look everywhere while seeing nothing. Powerful words in light of the Gospel reading that follows Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Zebulun and Naphtali were tribes, descendants of the sons of Jacob, and this region stretched to the west and north of the Sea of Galilee. These regions ceased to be known by their tribal names in the days of Solomon. Now the area is known as Galilee. Once this area was cursed, destroyed by the Assyrians with the rest of the northern kingdom of Israel. But this ignomy will be done away with, and this region will again be called blessed. Those who struggled in darkness will receive a light, the light of God. Jesus is the light, as John’s gospel testified. Jesus who hungered in the wilderness after his baptism did not despise God and did not grow angry and bitter but remained obedient, so that He might start his formal ministry and be the light in the darkness of our sinful world.

Psalm 27:1-9 – The light imagery continues in the psalm selection. The Lord is the source of light; no one can extinguish this light nor can any other light eclipse it or displace it. The Lord’s light is steadfast and constant and reliable, the only true light to trust in. Satan lines up his forces against God’s faithful, but Satan has no power over us. He can kill and destroy but God can make alive again! He can afflict our lives for a limited span of time but God will summon us forth from death to life for eternity! The work of the enemy against us will fail. God alone can be trusted in all situations – not necessarily to do what we want him to do, but to save us from our sins and eternal separation from him. Jesus chose obedience even after 40 days without food. Jesus continued his faithful obedience in calling disciples to listen to his teaching and bear witness to what He would do during his short three years of public ministry. In all things, Jesus trusted the light of God rather than the boasts and temptations of Satan.

1 Corinthians 1:10-18 – We continue from the thanksgiving portion of the letter into Paul’s broad summary of the problems plaguing the church in Corinth. The root problem is division. That division takes a lot of forms – disagreements about food, about what to wear to church or what is appropriate sexual behavior or whether believers in Jesus should divorce their unbelieving spouse, or even disagreements about whose teaching is best or most authoritative or impressive. Paul, having moved on from Corinth, is given report of dissension. Paul may have founded the congregation but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone there prefers his teaching. Some may have heard other preachers and teachers and now elevate them to a preferred status to Paul. Paul is not interested in arguing to defend his preeminence. Only Jesus matters – a theme he stressed in the opening of his letter as we read last week. Jesus must be the focus or else we inevitably will begin to fight amongst ourselves for that priority and importance. Instead of divisiveness Paul stresses unity – a unity that comes not simply from the exercise of our will (though that of course is involved) but from God the Holy Spirit’s presence and work. The word of Christ crucified, resurrected, ascending and coming again is the centralizing message of the Christian faith, and all Christians should consider ourselves and one another in the light of this message. Why worry about elegance or personal prestige? Jesus alone is worthy of our consideration. Our unity derives from Jesus only!

Matthew 4:12-25 – Continuing to be led by the Holy Spirit, Jesus moves from the waters of the Jordan to the wilderness and now back to his home turf of Galilee. Ah yes, here He is calling the disciples, like Andrew-wait a minute – John said in his Gospel last week that Andrew began following Jesus in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, not Galilee! What’s going on here?!?

The scene in John 1 is indeed by the Jordan River, far from Galilee. Likely at the end of a major festival in Jerusalem, when all of these natives of Galilee – far to the north of Jerusalem – would have been in the area. It’s possible they came specifically – and separately – to see John the Baptist and hear what he was saying but that seems more problematic for working men to take additional time off for such an excursion. Then again, the fact they are willing to follow John the Baptist and then Jesus may indicate an extreme personal interest in God and theology that would make such a sacrifice of time and money understandable.

In any event, it is here, far to the south of Galilee, where Andrew and Peter and James and John first meet Jesus and express a desire and willingness to become his disciples. This would be understood to mean giving up their current vocations (fishermen) and dedicating themselves to formal study with Jesus. This rather unexpected change in their life work would necessitate some level of coordination with family back home. The disciples and Jesus return to Galilee shortly after the account in John 1. John 1 details four days – the day of John the Baptists’ initial interrogation by religious leaders from Jerusalem (1:19-28), the following day when John begins to proclaim Jesus as the Lamb of God(1:29-34), the next day when John proclaims Jesus as such a second time (1:35-42) and a final day when Jesus begins the return trip to Galilee (1:43-51). By this point Jesus has at least six disciples – Peter, Andrew, Philip and Nathanel, and by tradition, James and John (John not bothering to name himself in 1:37-40, as is his habit in his gospel). The return trek to Galilee likely could have taken six days or more, or might have been accomplished in one or two long days of travel depending on the starting and ending points. Whenever Jesus returned, He and his disciples on the third day (2:1) attended a wedding in Cana which is about a half-day journey from Nazareth, presuming this is where Jesus returns to. John’s gospel could mean that three days after returning to Galilee, Jesus now has his disciples and they head to Cana.

Jesus may have returned to Galilee separately from his disciples (likely with his brothers and mother), and so once Jesus has concluded his personal affairs in Nazareth He sets out in search of the men who committed themselves to be his disciples. They likely told him where they worked as fishermen so He could find them. Upon finding them He calls them, indicating it is time to follow. Having already made their own arrangements, they now do so. John and Matthew’s accounts are not contradictory, but together describe a reasonable transition for at least some of Jesus’ disciples from other vocations to that of being rabbinical students.

Apocrypha: 2 Maccabees

January 18, 2020

This is a much shorter historical document than 1 Maccabees, and by most accounts a less reliable one.  It was likely authored in the late second century BC.  It covers details not found in 1 Maccabees and contradicts some details provided in 1 Maccabees.  It only covers material up through Judas Maccabee and his exploits – roughly chapter 7 of 1 Maccabees,  so may have been composed earlier than 1 Maccabees.  The author of  this document himself describes his work as a compilation of a much larger work by a relatively unknown 2nd century BCE Jewish historian by the name of Jason of Cyrene.  The original 5-volume work has been lost to history and would  otherwise be unknown save for the reference in 2 Maccabees 2:23.

Whoever (whether one author or several) composed 2 Maccabees, their language and style differs markedly from 1 Maccabees.  The author freely offers judgmental statements regarding the events he is relating, and overall works to include a far more theological tone to his writing.   There is a far more supernatural tone to this book, with several angelic visitations and visions reported.  It seems to me  a level of creative license has been employed to render the events more exciting and personal to the reader.

On a problematic  note, chapter 14 describes  in honorable terms death by suicide, something forbidden to God’s people (Exodus 20:13).   There is also a passage in chapter 12 promoting prayers for the dead as atonement for likely idolatry on the part of the deceased.  On the positive side, throughout there is a strong emphasis on the resurrection of the dead as a theological reality to be anticipated.

The usefulness of this book seems to lie in careful parsing and evaluation of the historical data presented.  I don’t have a problem with the supernatural elements in this book but also find them far less than compelling, feeling more like an afterthought  than a relating of actual events.

Need and Demand

January 15, 2020

This is an inspiring article talking about changes in the way restaurants handle excess food.  Instead of just throwing it away, there are a variety of organizations created to help them repurpose it without excess cost (man hours, etc.) to themselves.

But I found the most interesting – and least explored – aspect of the article occurred in the first two paragraphs.  A baker wanting to donate excess bread to a homeless woman’s shelter or even directly to homeless people in Los Angeles’ Skid Row discovered nobody wanted it.  Which to my mind says that hunger may not be the major issue for some of these people.

I’m all for repurposing food and helping to ensure it doesn’t go to waste.  And I believe there are hungry people who need it.   But what if that’s not the case?  At least not on the scale we imagine it to be?  In a patchwork of city, state, and national programs to assist in providing money for food, and in addition to countless non-profits and churches that also seek to help the hungry, is the nature of the problem changing?  Is hunger less of an issue for some people – like the homeless – than we imagine it to be?  Does this indicate a change in the homeless culture itself?

A local school district is facing financial challenges (of course).  One of the proposed solutions is to scale back the free breakfasts the schools offer to any student who wants one, to just those students who are verified as needing it.  I’m sure the breakfasts were made available to every student in order to eliminate the stigma of a breakfast only available to the verifiably destitute.  When I was growing up it was a stigma to not be fed at school, because the school lunches cost money and my family could only afford to send me with a packed  lunch.  Now the situation seems to be reversed?

I’m curious about why the shelter said no to the bread, and why the homeless themselves weren’t interested.  I’m sure the shelter can only use so much bread on a daily basis, but again, if people are dealing with hunger at the levels often touted in our media, it’s hard to imagine them passing up free food.

Unless they’ve discovered a better option.  In which case, we should be paying attention to that shift to make sure that unused food gets to those who actually need it.

Cheap Peace

January 14, 2020

A great little read here on a critic of how the mindfulness movement has been co-opted by corporate interests.  I find it interesting how mindfulness is always introduced as an alternative.  But an alternative for what?  I’m sure drugs and other chemical therapies are here meant, but I’d also argue prayer and Christian faith being displaced as other means for dealing with difficult things in life.

This article also helps highlight a confusion many  Christians (and non-Christians) likely have – which is that meditation and mindfulness are essentially Christian ideals and practices as well.  I maintain they aren’t.  There are similarities  of course, but the practice of meditation and mindfulness comes from Buddhism, which has a very different understanding of the individual in the context of larger reality than Christianity.

Christians pray.  Meditation in the Christian faith is not understood (historically) as an emptying of the self but rather as focused on some specific thing – Scripture, for instance.  And of course Buddhism centers around a non-personal ultimate power or force as opposed to Christianity’s very, very personal Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Mindfulness and meditation is not neutral, as the article makes clear.  In order to try and present it as such it was necessary to try and blur, obscure, or remove these connections, but at that point it begins to become something very different, something which can be manipulated by large interests.

The article points to mindfulness’ entry into therapeutic treatment at the end of the 70’s and early 80’s, but it entered our cultural awareness almost 20 years earlier through the missionary work of celebrities and artists like the Beatles.  It took time to erase or hide those explicit, religious, Eastern connections for adoption by doctors and therapists and educators, but that was always the goal.

The reality is that what we believe about ourselves and reality matters.  After 30+ years of therapeutic mindfulness, studies as a whole continue to show us ever more increasingly woefully unable to deal with reality.  Moments of silence in schools are not a sense of one’s place in the cosmos as the creation of a loving God with not just a past and a present but a very long and bright future.

As a therapy, mindfulness seems to be failing.  And until our culture is able to see this and accept it and look further back for a reason why things are so different today than they were 70 years ago, we aren’t going to start healing.  If we are indeed creatures – creations rather than accidents of chance – we need a proper grounding in a relationship with our Creator, and nothing short of this can provide the healing our culture is so desperately crying out for.

Jesus & Me – or Me & Jesus?

January 13, 2020

Here’s a short article referring to a new book by a French photographer chronicling unusual expressions of Christianity in America  (Be warned, if you scroll through the photos associated with this article #7 contains nudity).  The premise is these are all examples of niche-marketing the Christian faith to the increasing number of  self-described unaffiliated Christians – those without attachment to any particular Christian denomination, group or sect but who still describe themselves as Christian.

I’d argue that including the Ark Encounter seems misplaced here, but perhaps from someone outside of our culture the distinction is harder to recognize (or perhaps it’s a distinction less pronounced than I think it is or should be?).  The other examples seem to be another demonstration of personal lifestyle preferences driving theology, rather than the other way around.  Rather than being conformed to Christ, we are instead encouraged to conform to nobody other than ourselves, and Christ, we are assured, will be happy to conform to us.

Problematic, to say the least.  But hardly surprising.  Traditional denominations and Christian groups have fostered this for some time, emphasizing services or programs for various different population segments or demographics rather than teaching that we are all together the body of Christ and warning against narrow association with only people like yourself.  With attendance levels falling across the country (and world) and across the Christian spectrum, an aura of desperation begins to settle in some places.  Why not try clever advertising gimmicks?  After all, the important thing is people hear the Gospel, right?

Yes, as long as they’re hearing the Gospel in the proper context, which is first hearing the Law and receiving a proper assessment of their current condition.  If that condition is happy in their nudity or comfortable in their cars, there’s a distinct possibility they won’t hear the Gospel fully, or the Law at all.  If you aren’t willing to leave your car, chances are you probably aren’t really all that worried about the problem of sin and evil in your heart.

I’m all for taking the Gospel to people, but skeptical of these sorts of gimmicks that easily  confuse the Gospel with other things.

 

Reading Ramblings – January 19, 2020

January 12, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after the Epiphany – January 19, 2020

Texts: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42a

Context: Although designated as the Sundays after Epiphany, we begin Ordinary Time this week, similarly to how we are in Ordinary Time during those Sundays also designated as being after Pentecost. As such, today the Epistle lesson departs thematically from the Old Testament and Gospel readings. Those readings (along with the psalm) continue to highlight to divine nature of Jesus, as is fitting to the season of Epiphany, drawing on various witnesses to this divine nature. The Epistle lesson continues the lectio selecta route by starting with 1 Corinthians. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to get very far into this book this year, which is tragic considering how crucial Paul’s words to the church in Corinth are for the church in America today.

Isaiah 49:1-7 – Who is this anointed Messiah, this servant of God, and what will this person do? Isaiah’s words (inspired by the Holy Spirit) are beautifully descriptive, making it clear this is no ordinary leader or prophet. The relationship of this servant to God begins before his birth (v.1) with particular intent to his purpose. Everything about him – including the details of his entry to this world – are coordinated by God according to his perfect plan, concealing him until the perfect moment. Yet he remains human, not above emotions and feelings of failure. Yet these won’t consume or derail him, rather he will continue to trust in God (v.4). In response to these struggles, God the Father affirms his purpose in his servant, a purpose that far exceeds human expectations, extending to the salvation of all peoples rather than just God’s chosen people Israel. All of creation, including those most powerful, will eventually bow in acknowledgment that the servant of God is the expression of God the Father’s willl and plan.

Psalm 40:1-11 – We can read this as a psalm of David, who authored it. We can think back on his turbulent life and how God indeed was his rock and salvation through many difficult and trying times. But it’s also interesting to imagine the opening verses of this psalm ultimately not just being about David or you and I, but something Jesus himself would say. God delivers his suffering servant and Son from the very grip of death, raising him to life so that many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord (v.3). Jesus himself knows full well the blessedness of obedience. Not the ease of obedience, but the blessedness of it. He knows full well that obedience to God is always best because He lives this perfect obedience himself and can speak from firsthand knowledge. Jesus is the fullest expression of human obedience to God, and He calls us to participate in this through him. While our obedience will be imperfect, we are still blessed as we follow God’s will and Word in our lives because it leads us ultimately to eternal life and freedom not just from sin but from the death that sin brings.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9 – What strikes me first about these opening verses is what I know about the rest of 1 Corinthians. Paul is writing to a congregation he founded, but a congregation with some serious problems. Most of this letter to them will be spent in trying to correct errors in doctrine and practice. Yet Paul asserts here that despite their many and major problems, they are still the church, they are still the sanctified, and they are still saints. Their sins are many, but the grace of God in Jesus Christ is greater still. We can be recalled from our sins to repentance, and so our sins themselves are never adequate evidence we are not saints in Christ! Despite their sins, Paul can assert they still have received enrichment by God in every way regarding speech and knowledge. Those are strong things to affirm, knowing what he’s going to have to chastise them for shortly!

Sosthenes is mentioned in Acts 18, which has to do with Paul’s time in Corinth. When Paul first comes to Corinth the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, converts to Christianity along with his entire family. Paul stayed for 18 months there teaching and preaching. After his departure, Crispus is replaced with Sosthenes as the ruler of the synagogue. Whether this was a political move by the Jews because of Crispus’ conversion isn’t stated in the text, but Sosthenes apparently also becomes a believer and a fellow-traveler with Paul as he is named here. He is held by some to be an early Christian Bishop, though others are uncertain whether these traditions can be trusted.

John 1:29-42a – I’m not sure why John’s gospel is brought in at this point, though it follows on the theme of last Sunday (the Baptism of our Lord). And it certainly fits the Epiphany theme of the revelation of the divinity of Jesus, with John the Baptist as the last of the Old Testament-style prophets pointing directly at Jesus and proclaiming him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John is apparently the first prophet or other person to use this term. But of course the first time a sacrificial lamb is mentioned is in Genesis 22 and the account of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac to God as a test. Abraham assures Isaac that God will provide the necessary lamb for the sacrifice. God does in that case, and God does through Jesus as well. Likewise, the passover lamb is the next type of lamb specifically described for sacrifice in Exodus 12, and it has to be a young lamb but perfect and without blemish. This sacrificial lamb saves the household from the angel of death, but Jesus offers his life on behalf of the ends of the earth (Isiaah 49:6).

John the Baptist thus begins his ministry as the last Old Testament-style prophet, telling people about the coming Messiah (John 1:26-27), and ends his ministry as the first evangelist, the first one to point others to Jesus as the source of salvation.

Book Review: The Price of Neglect

January 11, 2020

The Price of Neglect by A.W. Tozer

I was lent this book by a friend the other day.  It’s a quick and easy read, a compilation of various editorials written by A.W. Tozer as editor of Alliance Life.  Each editorial is almost uniformly between 2-4 pages in length.  His style is easy and straightforward, and his flow of thought is easy to track with.

I’m familiar with Tozer by name but have never read anything of his.  In reading this anthology, it’s important to remember they were editorials for a magazine and as such, short, to the point, and light on detailed support or explanation.  I would hope that the themes laid out briefly in these editorials were delved into in more depth in the publication as a whole, saving Tozer the time and space of elaborating and fleshing out his ideas more fully in these short pieces.

Overall, I appreciate his general view.  He was skeptical of modern theological trends and movements.  Skeptical of the revival associated with post-World War II America, viewing it as shallow and commercial in nature, something which definitely seems to have played itself out as true in the subsequent decades.

My biggest criticism – and this in light of  the strong characterizations of Tozer as a modern prophet on the back of the book  – is that he is light on specifics.  Again, I trust this is  in part due to the fact that these are editorials rather than full-fledged theological writings.  But he offers criticisms without supporting examples most of the time.  He is critical of American Christianity, exhorts American Christians to a truer Christianity, but provides few examples of what he means.

This is very un-prophetlike.

Read through Isaiah, and you’ll see he offers very specific criticisms and examples to demonstrate what he’s talking about.  Rather than just criticizing shallow faith and a greater concentration on worldly riches, he calls out vanity in specific terms, like tinkling jewelry (3:16).  In criticizing reliance on foreign policy and alliances rather trust in God, Isaiah  points to specific issues, like alliances with Egypt (31:1).

Tozer provides few specifics in his laments of American  Christianity,  but is always exhorting people to something better and truer and more authentic.  As such, his words will indeed be timeless, as there’s never a time or situation when the faithful could not be better – more faithful, more trusting, more fervent.  But therein lies the problem as well.  Tozer clearly has ideas in mind about how the modern Christian should look and act, but doesn’t specify what he means.  As such, his criticisms can never be vetted, and his criticisms will always stand valid.  And under his criticisms it’s pretty clear he doesn’t consider many people who call themselves Christian to actually be Christian.  And this is where it gets tricky.

You can call out specific sins, but to question the faith of someone who doesn’t meet your undefined standard of what a Christian ought to be is unfair.  I’m struck in contrast by Paul’s first letter to the congregation in Corinth.  As he greets them at the start of his letter, he unhesitatingly calls them sanctified and saints, giving thanks for the outpouring of God’s blessings on them.  This despite the fact he’s going to have to criticize them for some very specific things in this letter.  Sexual misconduct and an acceptance or resignation to this reality.  Uncharitableness and false faith and understanding concerning the Lord’s Supper.  Some pretty major issues that would undoubtedly lead Tozer to claim the Corinthians are not true Christians – but St. Paul doesn’t make that move!

In other places Tozer’s theology is questionable.  Fair enough, as all of us fall short in that department in one place or another!  For example  he claims that Satan was not able to stir Jesus to  sin during his temptation in the wilderness because there was no evil in Jesus to respond to the temptation.  Tozer’s overall point is that when people react poorly in situations it is because their true character is being revealed.  The problem is that God the Father declared Adam and Eve to be good – free from evil – and yet they succumbed to temptation.   Is this because there was evil in them before the Fall?  I’m pretty sure most traditional theologians would not take this stance.  Further, if Jesus was not capable of sinning, then his temptations were not really temptations at all.  He was just going through the motions, as it were, which is a problem with Christology in making it sound as though Jesus wasn’t truly and fully human as well as divine, as though his human will didn’t exist, that it was replaced with the divine will of the Second Person of the Trinity.  Problematic on multiple levels.

Finally, for all his talk about the primacy of the Gospel, he spends an awful lot  of his time and effort talking about the Law, asserting that Christians are not living up to their name and therefore are not really Christians.  Rarely does he spend any appreciable time elaborating grace and forgiveness and mercy.  This might be part of the nature of the publication he edited and the purpose he saw for it, but as a conglomeration his editorials are decidedly Law-oriented while criticizing Christians for not living up to their potential in accepting the grace of God in Jesus Christ!

Again, I agree with much of what Tozer asserts, I just wish  he was more specific.  Again, I try to  remember what these writings represent, and assume they are only one part of a larger publication that could better elaborate on his themes.  God uses many different voices to communicate his Word, each voice at times focusing more on one issue than another.  But it’s a good reminder to me to be more specific and to make sure I’m not just critical but also acknowledge the grace of God at work in even the worst of repentant sinners.

Including myself.