Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Community, Part 2

Fairbairn_02112015Donald Fairbairn.  2009.  Life in the Trinity:  An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The centrality of John 13-17 in Fairbairn’s picture of the scarlet thread running through the understanding of the early church fathers of our life in Christ is both obvious and mysterious.  It is obvious because these chapters contain some of Jesus’ last words before his crucifixion.  It is mysterious, in part, because John skips things highlighted in the other Gospels, like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden and the last supper, and includes things, like the washing of the disciple’s feet, not included elsewhere (13-16).  Jesus’ enigmatic discussion in the upper room about his relationship with the Father is probably the most mysterious narrative in the entire New Testament.

The complementary relationship between this upper room discourse and Jesus’ high priestly prayer suggests that John feels it important—a kind of Hebrew doublet. Fairbairn (28) writes:

“In the discourse, Jesus has laid out a picture of life as God intends it, and in the prayer, he asks his father to bring about the kind of life he has just described to the disciples.”

However, these are also some of Jesus’ last words making this a doublet that today would be written in red and underlined, so to speak.  For this reason, these chapters got the attention of early church fathers.  Summarizing, Fairbairn writes:  “our sharing the Father-Son relationship is at the center of what it means for us to participate in God.” (37) And: “the doctrine of the Trinity is the gateway to understanding Christian life.” (50)

If you accept Fairbairn’s conclusions, entering the deep end of the pool theologically is clearly not optional .  Fairbairn suggests that we were created to share in the life of the Trinity as evidenced by the early life of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and by our creation in the image of a Triune God.  Being created in the image of God sets humanity apart from plants, animals, and even angels (60) and sets humanity apart from them even after the fall.

But what does this life in the Trinity look like?  Fairbairn (65) sees 4 obvious benefits to having fellowship with the Trinity:

  1. Significance—our significance lies not in what we do, but to whom we belong (67);
  2. Peace—The peace of God is more than the absence of conflict, it shares a calmness even in the storms of life (69) and includes the tutorage of the Holy Spirit throughout (70);
  3. Work—our attitude towards work is transformed. The apostle Paul writes: “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor 15:10 ESV) To redeem work is to return to the Garden of Eden where our work began.
  4. Human relationships—If God loves humanity, then so should we and we see people differently (81).

Fairbairn (224) writes:

“We are called to reflect the Father’s love for the Son, and part of the way we do that is by serving the least of the believers—the neediest, the ones who are the loneliest, the ones who suffer the most in this fallen world.”

Perhaps the most important contribution Fairbairn makes, in my estimation, is to our understanding the depth that sin has broken our relationship with God and neighbor. Sin, he writes, “is what happens when have two children in the same room with one toy” (87).    This brokenness dominates who we are and how we relation to both God and neighbor. The curse of sin involves two parts:  physical death and spiritual death—separation from God (98).  We are twisted to the point that we do not even recognize our own depravity.  Adam and Eve had no reason to doubt God’s word in the garden and no reason to trust the serpent’s words:  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5 ESV)  The word, know, here in Hebrew (yada) means more than simply knowledge, it implies being able to decide (93).  In order words, Adam and Eve not only wanted to understand good and evil, they wanted to determine what is good and evil for themselves—to play god.

It is only by fully understanding the depth of our own depravity, we can appreciate the need for God’s promise, the incarnation of Christ, and the gift of redemption.  The lost sense of sin is accordingly at the heart of the modern and postmodern shamelessness and inattention to faith.

As is always the case with good books, it is not just the interesting details but how they hang together to make the text sing.  This is a text that clearly sings.

Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Community, Part 2

Also see:

Niebuhr Examines American Christian Roots, Part 1 

Friedman Brings Healing by Shifting Focus from Individuals to the Family 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

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Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Community, Part 1

Fairbairn_02112015Donald Fairbairn.  2009.  Life in the Trinity:  An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live in an age of disconnect. American society empowers the individual in the mistaken notion that individuals are autonomous beings. As Janis Jopelin sang, “Freedom means nothing left to loose”[1], we are disconnected from ourselves, from others, and from God himself.  It is indeed ironic that in this period of great  theological reflection—ancient manuscripts are more readily available today than at any point since the first century because of the internet—the church itself is increasingly cut off from its own traditions. Fortunately, the basis for those traditions is also increasingly being rediscovered by a new generation of church historians able and willing to take these ancient manuscripts seriously.

Contributing to this renaissance of interest in the early church in his book, Life in the Trinity, Donald Fairbairn takes as his theme (ix) “the forgotten heart of the Christian faith” or “scarlet thread” (10-11) running through much of the writing of the early church.  The early church fathers, writing during the period from 100 to 800 AD (ix), used the Greek word, theōsis, to refer to the process by which human beings become divine or are deified (76). The fathers most frequently cited Psalm 82:6-7[2] and 2 Peter 1:3-4[3] (8) which imply not that we become gods so much as take on a divine nature or attributes as Peter later writes:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV).

In this way, sharing in divine qualities and overcoming our mortality and corruption (8) by participating in the life of the Trinity (12). Weighty material.

Fairbairn explains this scarlet thread in the context of a theological overview seen through eyes of the early church fathers, especially Irenaeus (second century), Athanasius (fourth century), Augustine (fifth century), and Cyril of Alexandria (fifth century) (33) from whom he quotes extensively.  A key focus point of the early church and Fairbairn exposition are Jesus’ words on the night of his arrest recorded in John 13-17 which Fairbairn describes as the “heart of the faith” (13-14).  This is where Jesus describes his relationship to God the Father.  Fairbairn writes:  “our sharing in the Father-Son relationships is at the center of what it means for us to participate in God.” (37)  In other words, life in the Trinity is the model for our life in the church and life as Christians, as understood in the early church.

Fairbairn writes in 10 chapters, including:

  1. Introduction: Getting Started in Christian Theology,
  2. The Heart of Christianity: The Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  3. From the Father-Son Relationship to the Trinity and Back,
  4. Life as It Was Meant to Be: A Reflection on the Father-Son Relationship,
  5. What Went Wrong? Our Loss of the Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  6. The Promise: God’s Preparation of the World for His Son,
  7. The Incarnation: The Only Son Becomes the Firstborn Son,
  8. Redemption: God’s Gift of His Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  9. Becoming Christian: Entering the Son’s Relationship to the Father, and
  10. Being Christian: Another Look at Reflecting the Father-Son Relationship (vii-viii).

The front-matter includes a preface, acknowledgments and an explanation of Patristic citations.  The after-matter includes an appendix, index of names and subjects, and a scriptural index which highlight this book’s usefulness as a seminary text.

In this postmodern age, we are accustomed to the doctrine of the Trinity being ignored and even denigrated as abstract and politically incorrect.  In this context, it is rather shocking to hear that the Trinity is not only important, it is important to our understanding of daily Christian life.  This makes Fairbairn’s very accessible presentation important in framing a new understanding of all things biblical.  In part 2 of this review to post next week on Monday, I will look in more detail at Fairbairn’s key arguments.

Footnotes

[1]These words are taken from a song  written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster and recorded by Janis Joplin  (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) who died of a drug overdose before the song hit the top of the charts in 1971 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janis_Joplin; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Me_and_Bobby_McGee).

[2]“I said,You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” (Psalm 82:6-7 ESV)

[3]“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV).

Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Community, Part 1

Also see:

Niebuhr Examines American Christian Roots, Part 1 

Friedman Brings Healing by Shifting Focus from Individuals to the Family 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Re-examining Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture

Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture

Richard Niebuhr. 2001. Christ and Culture (Orig. pub. 1951). New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Niebuhr’s classic book, Christ and Culture, helped define the conversation around the sweeping changes in society that have occurred over the past generation. It is helpful to review Niebuhr’s writing before diving into the new world that we find ourselves in. Niebuhr lived from 1894 to 1962. He taught Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School during his career.

Ethics

The study of ethics concerns itself with how to apply basic principles to life’s problems. Schools of thought are important in studying ethics because decisions must be made against competing objectives and placing differing priorities on the basic principles. For example, in deciding how to spent our nights and weekends, we frequently must make a tradeoff between parental duties (a deontological criteria) and future income (a teleological criteria). The tradeoff over how to spend this time accordingly poses an ethical problem.

Classification of Relationships between Church and Culture

Niebuhr’s contribution to the debate over the relationship of the church to culture in the United States in the 1950s was to develop a classification schema (or typological framework) of 5 conceptually possible relationships. In his introduction, he reviews different alternatives on which to base a classification schema, including: Psychological, churches and sects, mystics, social-economic, and philosophical methods (xxxix-xl). He prefers a theological basis to classify divided into 5 types (xli-lv)

1. Christ against culture (new law);
2. Christ of culture (natural law);
3. Christ above culture (synthetic or architectonic);
4. Christi and culture in paradox (dualistic or oscillatory); and
5. Christ transforming culture (conversionist).

Defining Culture

In his first chapter, he retains this classification schema going on to discuss his definitions of Christ and culture. He starts out saying: “A Christian is ordinarily defined as ‘one who believes in Jesus Christ’ or as ‘a follower of Jesus Christ’” (11). He then goes on to reflect on the diversity within the Christian community . In defining culture, Niebuhr notes a parallel problem of diversity (that is, comparing two heterogeneous categories). He sees culture having 4 primary attributes:

1. It is social;
2. It includes human achievement;
3. It is a world of values; and
4. It is pluralistic (29-41).

Organization of Book

Niebuhr structures Christ and Culture into 7 chapters, including:

1. The Enduring Problem (1-44);
2. Christ Against Culture (45-83);
3. The Christ of Culture (83-115);
4. Christ Above Culture (116-148);
5. Christ and Culture in Paradox (149-189);
6. Christ the Transformer of Culture (190-229); and
7. A Concluding Unscientific Postscript (230-256).

These chapters are preceded by numerous front matter sections (notes, acknowledgments, Foreword, Preface, and Introduction) and followed by an index. Clearly the focus of the book is on applying Niebuhr’s classification schema, not its justification.

Review of the Possible Relationships

Let me turn then to review Niebuhr’s 5 classifications.

Christ Against Culture.

Niebuhr writes that this classification: “affirms the sole authority of Christ over the Christian and resolutely rejects culture’s claims to loyalty” (45). He then writes: “Every phase of culture falls under indictment. Through state, church, and property system are the citadels of evil, philosophy and science and arts also come under condemnation” (60). Niebuhr notes many advocates of this position. It is more normally today associated with the Anabaptists denominations, such as the Mennonites and some Pentecostals. God’s sovereignty is over both church and state.

The Christ of Culture.

Niebuhr writes that these groups: “understand Christ through culture, selecting from his teaching and action as well as from the Christian doctrine about him such points as seem to agree with what is best in civilization” (83). Christ is viewed as the great educator (84). Participation in the culture poses no particular problem (87). Liberal and fundamentalist can both join in this classification (91), but the offense of Christ to culture appears lost in the accommodation (108).

Christ Above Culture.

Niebuhr sees “the great majority in Christianity” who “refused to take either the position of the anti-cultural radicals [Christ Against Culture] or that the accommodation of Christ to culture [Christ of Culture]…For the fundamental issue does not lie between Christ and the world…but between God and man” (117). He further divides the great majority into “synthesists, dualists, and conversionists” (116). These make up his last 3 classes. The Christ Above Culture class is “the synthesis [who] affirms both Christ and culture” (120). Saint Thomas Aquinas is the arch-type for this class.

Christ and Culture in Paradox.

Niebuhr’s dualist “divides the world…into realms of light and darkness, of kingdoms of God and Satan” (149). Niebuhr sees the Apostle Paul as a dualist (166).

Christ the Transformer of Culture.

Niebuhr says “The conversionist…does not live so much in expectation of a final ending of the world of creation and culture as in awareness of the power of the Lord to transform all things by lifting them up to himself” (195). He sees Calvin falling into this category (217).

Apples and Oranges

Clearly, Niebuhr offered a starting point for discussing the relationship of Christ and culture. The economist in me is, however, confused by this classification schema not only because it compares apples and oranges (Christ as a kind of arch-type and culture largely undefined), but because it distinguishes attributes of every Christian’s journey of faith as separate classes. For example, while Niebuhr sees the Apostle Paul as a dualist, Paul is also the great articulator of conversion. How else could we classify the Paul of Romans 12:1-2? Is Paul to be thought theologically inconsistent or schizophrenic? My expectation (as an economist) is an apples-to-apples comparison of Christian and pagan culture.

Influences

Niebuhr implicitly presumes that both pagans outside the church and Christians inside the church are in some measure influenced by Christ. The ideas of competing religious influences or of cultural influences on Christ have relatively little influence on Niebuhr’s schema as he focuses on Christ’s influence on culture. While this emphasis may have been helpful in 1951, today it is clearly incomplete. The fastest growing religion in the United States is Islam. This is because of immigration, but how does that fit in Niebuhr’s classification? Our post-Christian culture is clearly no longer captive to Christian influence, if it ever was.

Church Syncretism

More to the point, the biggest challenge in the church today is syncretism. Syncretism is a cultural influence, not from Christ to the culture, but from an increasingly secular culture to the church. This challenge raises serious issues for Niebuhr’s classification. While Christ is not changed by syncretism, our interpretation of Christ may be. The church, which was established by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, clearly is also influenced. Appeals then to Niebuhr’s classification accordingly appear anachronistic—an appeal to glories no longer evident. Worse, the classifications invite Christians to define their journey of faith in a particular classification rather than live out the entire Gospel witness. Consequently, if we are to classify relationships, Christian and pagan cultures need to be more precisely defined.

Re-examining Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture

Also see:

Niebuhr Examines American Christian Roots, Part 1 

Friedman Brings Healing by Shifting Focus from Individuals to the Family 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

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Jepson: Spiritual Practices in Writing

Jenson_review_20210928Jill Jepson. 2008. Writing as a Sacred Path. Berkeley:  Celestial Arts.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The journey home requires travel in foreign lands.  The prodigal son could not love his father until he had left him; his older brother never came to love his father (Luke 15).  Much like contrast reveals the outlines of what we see, sometimes it is helpful to explore foreign lands in finding our way home.

In her book, Writing as a Sacred Path, Jill Jepson teaches writing through exercises in alternative, especially eastern, spiritual traditions.  She writes:

One of the writer’s highest goals is to express the inner workings of the human spirit in ways that evoke understanding and empathy. By making it possible for people of different regions, beliefs, and cultures to communicate, by allowing people to share each other’s experiences and views of the world, the writer acts as a warrior for peace (198-199).

Because many screen plays employ eastern spiritual practices and sometimes even eastern themes and settings, it is not surprising that this book would be published in California and writers there would find these exercises helpful.

Jepson writes in 10 chapters organized in 4 parts:

1. The Mystic Journey (Transcendent Awareness; Crazy Wisdom),
2. The Monastic Path (The Writer in Silence and Solitude; The Writer in Community)
3. The Way of the Shaman (Darkness and Healing in the Writer’s Path; Sacred Ground), and
4. The Warrior Road (Honor and Courage in the Writing Lift; Strategy and Skill for the Warrior Writer).

She describes these 4 parts as gateways to the sacred (9). The first two chapters (The Call and The Sacred Gift) function as an introduction. A conclusion (Walking the Sacred Path) follows chapter 10. The conclusion is followed by endnotes, a bibliography, an index, and a brief description of the author. Jepson describes herself as: a writer, traveler, linguistic anthropologist, and college professor (246). She knows her stuff.

Chapter 2, The Sacred Gift, bears special attention because it focuses on the critical role of stories in affecting personal and social change (21). The writer, as storyteller, plays a pivotal role in culture. Citing Buddhist and Hindu origins, she defines the idea of a mandala—a geometric depiction of the cosmos making our universe understandable—the opposite of a monkey mind—a chaotic, rapidly changing state of mind (21). A mathematical model or graph might, for example, function as a mandala. Jesus’ use of parables might form such mandalas and illustrate the transformational potential of stories.

Jepson applies her lessons through spiritual exercises which she annotates as: sacred tools. The book provides dozens of these tools. These exercises can have a couple steps or be rather lengthy. One tool, for example, is a visualization exercise:

1. Write your experience,
2. Imagine your opponent’s experience, and
3. Create a character (195-196).

Walking in someone’s shoes is certainly an old idea, but it is also a helpful writing exercise in any tradition.

Jepson has written an insightful writing manual. Writing as a Sacred Path is a fascinating book. The blend of Christian and pagan references, however, could easily lead to spiritual confusion. Christian spirituality begins with God, not with us. When we engage in spiritual practices designed to enhance our talents or power over ideas, we stray from Christian into pagan practice. This is a journey that writers need not and should not take lightly.  Nevertheless, the journey home requires travel in foreign lands and we are better for it.

Jepson: Spiritual Practices in Writing

Also see:

Friedman Brings Healing by Shifting Focus from Individuals to the Family 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Hamaker on Sibling Rivalry

Hamaker_review_10132014Sarah Hamaker. 2014.  Ending Sibling Rivalry:  Moving Your Kids from War to Peace.  Kansas City:  Beacon Hill Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Let’s be honest.  Most of us were not prepared to be parents. As someone wise once said: parenting is a job that is mostly learned by doing and when you get the hang of it, it’s over. Sibling rivalry is part of that mysterious process that is both frustrating and enigmatic.  When Sarah told me that she was writing a book on sibling rivalry, I was more than a bit curious.

Introduction

Why is sibling rivalry important?  Siblings are surprisingly important—our first and longest running relationships are with our siblings. Eighty percent of us have them (12).  How we relate with our siblings (or not) accordingly affects how we deal with just about everyone else.  If anger management and conflict resolutions skills are not learned in the family context, chances are good that they will not be learned at all.  If they are learned in the context of family, then chances are good that a lifetime of benefits will accrue (22).

Family civility cannot be assumed.  As Hamaker reminds us, the first stories in the bible of siblings, do not end well. Cain murders his brother, Abel; Jacob rips his brother, Esau, off; Joseph gets sold into slavery by his brothers (19-22).  Biblical failures need not be our failures!

Focus of Book

An experienced parent herself, Sarah focuses on moving beyond conflict.  She offers parents both things to think about and ideas to implement.  For example, she asks parents to develop a mission statement for their kids.  She says: if someone asked you to describe each of your children as age thirty, what would you say? (24)  She observes that most parents asked this question respond, not with a list of achievements (education, jobs, status symbols …), but with character traits (compassionate, Godly, hardworking…)  If this is what we want to see in our grown children, then how to do work to instill these qualities when they are young? (25).

Organization

Hamaker writes Ending Sibling Rivalry in 10 chapters, preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction and followed by conclusions and chapter notes.  The chapters are:

  1. The Importance of Getting Along;
  2. Thinking the Best, Not the Worst;
  3. Competition;
  4. Comparison/Favorites;
  5. Separate and Unequal (Fairness);
  6. The Blessings of Siblings;
  7. Conflict Resolution;
  8. One-on-One Time;
  9. Breathing Room; and
  10. Introducing New Siblings (7).

Sarah is not just an experienced parent; she is also a certified leadership parenting coach. She also blogs on parenting issues (www.ParentCoachNOVA.com).  I know her as a leader in the Capital Christian Writers club (www.CapitalChristianWriters.org).

My own kids are now all college graduates.  Yet, the scars of sibling rivalry are still obvious—if you know where to look.  When Sarah asks:  Have you ever looked at your kids fighting and seen an opportunity for personal growth? (105)  I can honestly say:  no, never.  But, I wish that I had.

Sarah’s discussion of Matthew 7:1-5[1], 18:15-16[2], and 7:12[3] points to my weakness as a teacher of biblical principles to my children.  Although I did, in fact, teach my kids the golden rule (Matthew 7:12), my own lack of focus in bible knowledge came across in my parenting.  I taught my kids to read from children’s bibles, but did not focus on the particular lessons that might have critically aided their development—like conflict resolution—the focus of these particular verses.

Assessment

Hamaker’s Ending Sibling Rivalry is readable and includes results of her own parent survey.  If you are a parent of young kids or even teens, it is definitely worth taking a look.

Footnotes

[1]“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)

[2]“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:15-16 ESV)

[3]“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12 ESV)

Hamaker on Sibling Rivalry

Also see:

Friedman Brings Healing by Shifting Focus from Individuals to the Family 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Younger: Judges and Ruth

judges_ruth_review_20210914
K. Lawson Younger, Jr. 2002. The NIV Application Commentary: Judges/Ruth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Commentaries are important to our faith.  Commentaries provide the lens through which we understand scripture either through personal study or the preaching that they are exposed to.  When I am not teaching, I read commentaries devotionally.

The author of the Book of Judges famously writes: In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6 ESV). Sound familiar?  Not coincidentally, the postmodern period is also characterized by this same characteristic—an extreme focus on equality. Other focuses are possible.  Tension between different groups in society over the rights of individuals and the rights of the community highlight, in part, change in the values held most dearly [1]. The focus on individual initiative in the Book of Judges speaks to the moral challenge of our own time [2]. By contrast, the Book of Ruth paints a picture of faithfulness and God’s providence in the midst of otherwise chaotic and desperate lives.

Younger describes the purpose of the Book of Judges as:  the consequences of disobedience to God with the resultant moral degeneration that characterized the history of this period (23). A judge was more of a tribal leader rather than a government official in charge of deciding legal matters as we might think of a judge (22). Leadership was less formal, more charismatic. The book ends on the period of the judges were the death of Joshua and the coronation of King Saul—a period of no more than 400 years (24). Ruth, being the great grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:17), also lived during this period.

The structure of the Book of Judges aids in observing the moral degeneration of both the judges and the people. Younger notes the following cycle being repeated throughout the accounts:

1. Israel does evil in the eyes of Yahweh;
2. Yahweh gives/sells them into the hands of oppressors;
3. Israel serves the oppressor for X years;
4. Israel cries out to Yahweh;
5. Yahweh raises up a deliverer (i.e. judge);
6. The spirit of Yahweh is upon the deliverer;
7. The oppressor is subdues;
8. The land has “rest” for X years (35).

In reviewing the particular judges, Younger notes that over time the judges were increasingly ignorant of God and his covenant, and increasingly prone to idolatry. The two most famous judges, Samson and Gideon, therefore exemplify this trend showing serious personal flaws.  The book speaks not of their suitability as role models, but of God’s forbearance and love.

Perhaps of most interest to a contemporary audience are the roles of Deborah and Jael, both women. In a male dominated society, both women assume roles normally reserved for men, in part, to highlight the degeneration of the men, in this case, Barak and Sisera (138-146). Younger makes the point that rather than setting Deborah and Jael up as role models, the author of Judges uses them as a foil to highlight the degeneration of the men. Elevation of the women does fill the gap created by responsibility-avoiding men, but it is not the author’s focus.

Much more could be said about the Book of Judges—especially in view of contrary opinions. However, in a short review it is more interesting to turn to the Book of Ruth.  Ruth is a stark contrast to the Book of Judges.

The key verse in the Book of Ruth highlights the transformative power of faith:

But Ruth said, Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16 ESV)

Through faith and fidelity to God’s law even an immigrant woman from Moab living in Israel finds protection under God’s providential care.  God later acts through her faithfulness to bring about both the Kingship of David and the redemption of Jesus himself. The Book of Ruth accordingly displays the faithful remnant in Israel that transforms the nation itself during a general period of decline and degeneracy.

The themes outlined in the Younger study deserve more attention. The usual treatment of the judges and of the characters in Ruth as heroes of the faith fails to capture the subtly of the actual stories. Younger paints a more realistic picture—one that informs our own times.

[1] Most professionals, for example, are trained to value objectivity most dearly—the dominant value held in the modern period. In the feudal period loyalty was the highest value. At any given point, the priority placed on these values may differ among social groups.

[2] The NIV Application Commentary has been my default commentary over the past decade because the series takes the narrative of scripture seriously. Once I am acquainted with an orthodox interpretation, I can judge a book from other dimensions. I have taught from the series the Books of Romans, Luke, Genesis, Revelations, John, Matthew, Galatians, and 1 & 2 Corinthians (I may have forgotten some books). The series takes seriously John Stott’s division of the homiletical task into 3 things: the author’s context (original meaning), the reader’s context (contemporary significance), and the need to bridge the two (bridging contexts).

References

John Stott. 1982. Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Younger: Judges and Ruth

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Rabbi Wolpe: Finding Meaning in Faith

Wolfe_review_08212014David J. Wolpe. 2008.  Why Faith Matters.  New York:  HarperOne.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Rabbi David J. Wolpe’s book, Why Faith Matters, came to my attention as I prepared to teach a class on Hebrews 11. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Wolpe is more philosophical and focuses on the quest for meaning. “Faith believes in the legitimacy of asking ‘why’–that the very question is an animating force in life” (193). While I am interested in the question and believe that faith is a journey, the truth of faith begins with its content. Wolpe provided me with snapshots of brilliance when what I searched for was direction in faith’s journey. Though we travel different paths at this point, I loved his book.

Wolpe’s strengths as a writer include his ability to dialog with the reader, his keen insight into the human condition, and his brilliant analytical mind. In his prelude, for example, he tells the story of a man using his sickness to teach his children and grandchildren how to die. He writes about his friend Isaac: “Here was a chance to teach his greatest lesson. They would remember much about him to be sure, but they would never forget how he died” (xiv).  As a pastor, I have used this lesson in hospital visits.

Wolpe is a master of the anecdote.  Pick a page; find a story.  One I liked was the man standing before God in heaven.  Wolpe writes:

“Dear God…Look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in Your world. Why don’t you send help?”..God responded:  “I did send help. I sent you” (38-39).

Those of us that go from point A to point B to point C can only stand and applaud.

After a brief prelude, Wolpe organizes his book into 8 chapters:

  1. From faith to doubt;
  2. Where does religion come from?
  3. Does religion cause violence?
  4. Does science disprove religion?
  5. What does religion really teach?
  6. Reading the Bible;
  7. Is religion good for you? And
  8. Why faith matters.

His introduction is written by Pastor Rick Warren.  Rabbi Wolpe was honored as the number 1 pulpit Rabbi in America.

Wolpe’s brilliance comes in getting to the heart of complex matters quickly. Why do atheists try to make science into a religion? They confuse puzzles (which can be figured out) with mysteries (which are unsolvable) (11). Why does Nietzsche dislike democracy and Christianity? He is a classicist who prefers the morality of masters (classical view) over that of slaves (Christian view) (48-49).

Wolpe’s writing is a joy because of these many insights and anecdotes.

Rabbi Wolpe: Finding Meaning in Faith

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Stanton: Creating Constructive Dialogue

Stanton_review_10262014Thomas H. Stanton.  2012.  Why Some Firms Thrive While Others Fail: Governance and Management Lessons from the Crisis.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When my kids were young, I taught them that there are 3 kinds of people in this world:

  • People who never learn;
  • People who learn from their own mistakes; and
  • People who learn from other people’s mistakes.

The point is to become someone capable of learning from other people’s mistakes.  Learning behavior determines personal success; it also determines the success of firms.

Introduction

Thomas Stanton’s book, Why Some Firms Thrive While Others Fail, examines firm learning behavior in the context of financial stress: the Great Recession. He is in a position to know a lot about this subject both because of his long tenure in financial law practice in Washington and because he served as a researcher on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2010-2011, a commission established by Congress.  As a researcher, he personally interviewed many of the major players in the financial crisis and the federal regulators.

Stanton is an attorney by trade with the mind of an economist.  He is well-known among Washington insiders, especially in finance, and his book, A State of Risk [1], led Congress to create a new federal agency, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO) [2], where I worked during my last 7 years of federal service until I retired at yearend 2010.  Tom and I have known each other since the 1980s when I worked on Farmer Mac legislation and supervision [3].  Tom graciously gave me a copy of this book knowing that I would eagerly read it and write about it.

Organization

Stanton writes Why Some Firms Thrive While Others Fail in 10 chapters, including:

  1. Repairing Our Public and Private Institutions: A National Imperative;
  2. Dynamics of the Financial Crisis;
  3. Coping with the Crisis;
  4. Company Governance and the Financial Crisis;
  5. Risk Management and the Financial Crisis;
  6. Company Organization, Business Models, and the Crisis;
  7. Supervision and Regulation of Financial Firms;
  8. Hyman Minsky: Will It Happen Again?
  9. Governance and Management: Lessons Learned; and
  10. Governance and Management: Beyond the Financial Crisis (v).

These chapters are preceded by a preface and acknowledgments and followed by a Table of Acronyms, Notes, References, and an Index.

Discussion

An important theme in the Great Recession, as reflected in the book, is the need to link and understand intimately highly technical knowledge of financial markets, financial instruments, firm operations, and modeling to firm risk management and business objectives.  The image of a Fortune-500 CEO who wanders the halls having substantive conversations with staff throughout the organization captures this dynamic. Stanton highlights this hands-on, engaging management style in his concept of constructive dialogue.

Stanton writes:

One of the critical distinctive factors between successful and unsuccessful firms in the crisis was their application of what this book calls “constructive dialogue.”  Successful firms managed to create productive and constructive tension between (1) those who wanted to do deals, or offer certain financial products and services, and (2) those in the firm who were responsible for limited risk exposure (10).

The importance of quality dialog within the firm or government agency arises from the simple observation that no single individual, no matter how bright or experienced, could understand the totality of the highly technical financial environment that now exists.  Having an open-minded executive is accordingly insufficient; the firm culture must embrace active learning and open communication.

Stanton’s has an interesting blend of wide scope and technical depth within its subject-matter: governance and management.  Four firms who succeeded received the majority of his attention:  JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and TD Bank.  Stanton makes the case that these firms survived because of operational competence and intelligent discipline (43).  In other words they maintained disciplined risk taking, combined good judgment with good information, and had good communication (54-55).  Failing firms (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear, Lehman, Merrill, Countrywide, WaMu, IndyMac…) failed for different reasons, including focus on short-term growth, ineffective data systems, weak capacity to answer simple questions, and lack of effective communication (57-66).

Assessment

Stanton’s Why Some Firms Thrive While Others Fail should be of keen interest to financial policy makers and bank supervisors who deal with large institutions.  Because the federal agencies have mostly shied away from writing studies of what went wrong in the Great Recession (unlike earlier crises [4]), this book functions as a quasi-official study of the Great Recession.  For the reader interested in enterprise risk management, his contribution consists of a series of case studies of important firms that both succeeded and failed.  For students of organizational behavior this book should be required reading.

Footnotes

[1] A State Of Risk: Will Government Sponsored Enterprises Be The Next Financial Crisis? (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1991)

[2] OFHEO was created by Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992 and folded into the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) in 2008 by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act.

[3] I studied and wrote about the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation (Farmer Mac) as a researcher in the Economic Research Service, USDA and later took a role in Farmer Mac supervision as a financial economist at the Farm Credit Administration (FCA) responsible for Farmer Mac regulation and supervision.

[4] See, for example, an exhaustive study of the banking crisis of the 1980s by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) at:  https://www.fdic.gov/bank/historical/history/vol1.html.

Stanton: Creating Constructive Dialogue

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Stanton Explains the GSE Risk 

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Penn Whispers to Speakers

Joanna Penn, Speaking

Joanna Penn.  2014.  Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives, and Other Introverts.  UK: Creative Penn Limited.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In analyzing the results of the launch of my first book last month, a surprising finding emerged.  While my online sales were frustratingly few, sales during personal appearances were stronger than for typical authors [1].  The question then came up:  should I be speaking more?  And what should such speaking look like?  When I stumbled across Joanna Penn’s book, Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives, and Other Introverts, I immediately ordered a copy.

Background as Speaker

Mind you, I have been speaking publicly for most of my professional life, both as an economist and as a pastor.  However, economists typically address audiences of other economists and pastors typically address a familiar congregation.  In neither case is the audience wholly unfamiliar; in both cases the audience response is fairly gracious of what is being presented [2].  Public speaking to unfamiliar audience to speak about a book is a bit more out there than I am accustomed to.

Organization of Book

Penn states her writing objective as follows:  In this book, I’ll share everything that I know as a professional speaker and introvert (11).  She breaks this objective down into 4 parts:

  1. The practicalities of speaking;
  2. The psychological aspects of speaking;
  3. The business side; and
  4. Interviews with professional speakers (11).

In other words, this book focuses on things that speakers do and worry about; it does not focus on how to write and deliver good speeches.

The Mix

An important point in my own choice of this book is that Penn straddles 2 worlds:  public speaking and book writing and publishing.  While there is a lot of overlap these days between these 2 worlds—speakers that write (politicians, for example) and writers that speak (best-selling authors that do appearances)—the mechanics of these 2 professional realms are filled with thousands of unwritten rules, details, and networking requirements.  If the subject matter were different, an entirely different set of observations would arise.  Think of the worlds of IT gurus or sports figures or film stars. Penn’s niche and expertise speaks specifically into my space as a writer/publisher.

Audience

Penn drills down into her audience a bit deeper by focusing on the fears and anxieties of “introverts” and “creatives”.  In some sense, she is carving out a niche here with not just authors, but authors focused on creative writing.  Perhaps even more specifically female, creative writers (17-19) [3].

Types of Speaking

Two sections of the book were of special interest to me.  The first focused on 6 types of speaking.  Penn lists those as:

  1. Keynote/Inspirational speaking;
  2. Content speaking;
  3. Workshop presenting/facilitating;
  4. Mc/Event chair;
  5. Chair of panel or panelist; and
  6. Reader/performer of your own work (24-25).

I suppose that an author presenting their own work might fit into most of these types, depending on the work.  One type of speaking on my mind as I read the book is not on the list:  radio interviewing.

Role for Video

The second section of special interest to me was her discussion of using video.  For example, Penn sees 6 uses for video:

  1. Self-improvement tool;
  2. Evidence of speaking ability;
  3. Bonus material for spicing up sessions;
  4. Testimonials;
  5. Marketing; and
  6. Premium product for customers (133-134)

Although I have produced a number of You-Tube videos for Leader and Media Guides [4] to promote my book, video remains a source of anxiety for me [5].  Seeing the scope of use for video helps to reduce anxiety by demonstrating the range and real value of their use.

AIDA Principle

Penn’s background in marketing broke through in her comments on social media.  She cites the AIDA principle:

  1. Attention.  Social media content lets people know you exist and what you do.  Hopefully, your content is interesting and informative
  2. Interest.  Once people know you exist, they have to know how to find you.
  3. Desire.  Once people know that you exist, they need to know that they can trust you.  Are you authentic or simply interested in attention?
  4. Action.  Once people know you, how to find you, and trust you, then when an appropriate occasion arises they may turn to you for advice and products (129-130).

AIDA makes sense not only in social media, pastors effectively use it by practicing a “ministry of presence”. It also works with animals, like horses [6].

Assessment

Joanna Penn’s Public Speaking for Authors, Creatives, and Other Introverts is a real gem.  Over the years I have read a number of books on public speaking—most on preaching—and this is the first book with real value added in terms of what speakers worry about most—the zillions of details where things go wrong or should be prepared for in advance.  Penn is obviously very readable.  Authors should take special note.

Footnotes

[1] Members of my book club reported that the industry average number of sales for a public book signing was 3 books.  My first two appearances resulted in sales of 8 and 10 books.

[2] Economists sometimes talk about the “prisoner’s dilemma”. Prisoners informally agree without consultation not to “rat each other out”, in part, because of the threat of retaliation in kind. Economists may seem to be a tough bunch to present in front of because of all the tough questions, but the informal agreement usually is to limit questions to the topic at hand—no ad hominem (personal) attacks.

[3] Penn lists her Myers Briggs type as INFJ (18).  This is surprising because her book abounds with details—a big selling point for readers and a classic flag for a sensate personality, not intuitive personality—more like an ISFJ.

[4] Check out T2Pneuma.com.

[5] To borrow a phrase from Garrison Keillor, I am particularly shy of video and Skype where my “face made for radio” might be a liability hard to control for.

[6] A film called The Horse Whisperer (1998) staring Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas, employed a ministry of presence to calm frightened horses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Horse_Whisperer_(film)).

Penn Whispers to Speakers

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Edgerton: Write in Your Own Voice

Voice_08252014Les Edgerton.  2003.  Finding Your Voice:  How to Put Personality in Your Writing.  Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Let me see.  If you did not know the subject of a book called—Finding Your Voice—what possibilities come to mind?  Perhaps, a doctor’s guide to throat surgery recovery? Or, maybe, lost in the opera house, confessions of a prima donna? Or, better, a citizen’s guide to responsive government…?  Clearly, a bit of context is helpful.

Confession time.  Although I am a writer myself, I read Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice:  How to Put Personality in Your Writing, in part, to learn about writing and, in part, to see what he would say about personality.  It is more than a bit ironic that a fiction writer would write about developing an authentic style (voice) in writing.  Much like actors have trouble figuring out who they are—which mask is the real me?—fiction writers must live into the characters they create if readers are going to take them seriously.  It is therefore not surprising that Edgerton finds tension between the authentic style of the writer and the requirements of the story (223).  A chameleon writer might alternatively be considered extremely versatile or simply inauthentic—depending on the amount of experience writing that we are talking about.

Edgerton does not so much promote a particular method as assist the reader in discovering their authentic voice.  This task could be daunting in an age of relativistic morality where the idea of personality—a surface attribute—has been substituted for the older notion of innate character [1].  In a sense, Edgerton deconstructs the wantabe writer like a cook peels an onion—underneath do we find a core personality or just another mask?  Strip away da rules of your English teacher (10); forget about the Critic Nag Dude and beige voice (11); abandon old writing books (15); take reviews (15); go easy on the synonyms (18).  Most interesting is his notion that we must also abandon the voices in our head, so to speak, of favorite writers, previous editors, and cultural stereotypes.  This writer’s exorcism goes on and on (48).  Still, we are encouraged to find a voice that at least conforms to the expectations of the genre that we are writing for.

It is interesting to watch the voice evolve in Edgerton’s own writing.  Early in the book, he assumes an edgy voice—the ex-con, insecurely trying to relate to the reader. By chapter 6 he assumes the more confident voice of a writing instructor.  Later in the book the insecure voice shows up again in the form of name-dropping of other writers and books that might be interesting.  Personally, I preferred the self-confident writing instructor who is not afraid to give me the advice that I need.

What advice did I seek?  Edgerton writes:

Make yourself your intended reader.  By writing to you as your reader, you get closer than at any other time to getting your real voice on the page.  You write naturally (78).

Yes.  Thanks.  That will do fine.

Footnotes

[1] I am borrowing a bit from David F. Wells. 1998.  Losing Our Virtue:  Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Edgerton: Write in Your Own Voice

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