Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Migraine Alert

It looks like I'm falling into the persistent migraine pattern again. The stopgap remedies aren't doing what they normally do and it's hitting very frequently. Thankfully next week is Spring Break at The Potter's School so I'll get to rest up a bit. Hopefully that can carry me through to the end of the school year all right.

It seems that when the tree pollen activity is high and my stress level is high everything becomes worse.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Academic Journey Revisited

I posted some time ago about the interactions I've begun with the AALC  ( ) and how I planned to start a course through their extension program.  I've started the reading for the course and do plan to post summaries of what I'm reading, as well as some comments about class meetings.

As things stand now, in late June I will have an interview with a group of denominational leaders who have the unenviable task of deciding if I seem to be someone they would like to have serving in pastoral ministry.  So between now and then I need to get to know the denomination as well as possible. I also need to be sure they know me as well as possible.  On a short time schedule like this we all need as much wisdom and discernment as we can find.

James 5.1 (ESV) comes to mind here.  "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spam hits the blog!

Okay, maybe we've arrived now.  I received, for the first time ever, a note to moderate which was clearly an advertisement.

I normally post all comments received since I think the blogosphere should be a place of discussion.  So here's the comment that I received and my on-blog response to it.

"Hi, there! Found your blog today and appreciated your summary of the book of Jonah. Thought you might be interested in a brand new pre-publication offer from Logos Bible Software on the book of Jonah! 

Sarah Wilson "

I've heard good things about Logos Bible Software.  I've looked into some of their packages and while they appear useful I have not wanted to shell out the money for something that would have to reside on my local computer and of which I would probably use very few of the features.  Yet many people do use their systems and I know they have a positive reputation.

Now comes the irony.  It would seem to me that a company interested in marketing materials to make the Scripture more accessible to people would want to hold to some clear biblical values, such as truthfulness.  Considering that the post on Jonah was posted quite some time ago and there were posts on all the other books of the Old Testament, one wonders how that post would be picked out.  In fact, it would seem that the message has all the marks of being an automatically generated spam post that would post to anything saying anything about Jonah.  This simply rubs me as deceit.  

I thought about contacting the Logos Bible Software customer service with this but their email contact is only for technical support issues.  Alas, it appears I have received an advert rather than a comment.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families

I actually managed to read a book I received for Christmas.  Okay, I have read two of them, but I don't think Patrick O'Brian's H.M.S. Surprise requires a review on this voyage.  It is a great book, though, if you like 19th century seafaring adventures and the Aubrey/Maturin series.

Here's my attempt at getting all the elements of this book down in a nice reference format.  Richman, Sheldon.  Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families.  Fairfax, VA: The Future of Freedom Foundation, 1994.

Richman's book is a brief diatribe against publicly funded education.  In his six chapters he discusses where publich schools came from, what is wrong with them, why they exist, who some of the primary opponents are, what life might be like without public schools, and some concluding idea.  I asked for the book because it frankly looked interesting.  However, Richman quickly spirals into a diatribe against any organization other than the family which may attempt to bring order to society.  While he makes some good observations and has some conclusions which are probably valid, he does not build an orderly argument for his point of view.  The book strikes me as being more a book of conclusions than a book of evidence leading to a conclusion.

This is unfortunate.  The place for conclusions without much evidence is not in a book like this.  That kind of rhetoric belongs somewhere like the blogosphere, where I am writing.  Of course, Richman was writing before people used the Internet.  

I found that many of the citations of sources Richman used in the book were secondary citations, a big no-no for an informed and fair writer.  He also seemed to pick and choose only what fit his argument, blithely leaving out the greater societal context.  For instance, he suggested that Luther was responsible for forming totalitarian government schools which would oppress citizens and make them be automatons for the state.  He suggested this because Luther went on record telling princes that they should care for their subjects by making sure they can learn to read and write and that they should be adequately catechized.  It is not clear what Richman's religious leanings are, but he seems hostile to the whole idea of a Church that trains up believers.  He also seems hostile to the idea of submitting to the authority God has placed over you.  This is a fatal flaw in his work.

One good note about the book.  My daughter got it for me on Paperback Swap, so it cost only a book in exchange.  I think that book may even have been one of my books.  Maybe I'll put this book back on Paperback Swap.  I wonder what I'll get next?

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Retooling References

AAARGH!  After years of following the APA style sheet, then trying very hard to switch to MLA references, I find the ATS courses require the Chicago style as exemplified in Turabian.  Okay, let's see if I can change my reference format yet again.  It looks like the biggest difference, at least in citations of books and chapters in books, is that there's a comma rather than a period before the date of publication.

comma, not period
comma, not period

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Malachi

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Malachi."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 437-442.

Malachi, the last of the writing minor prophets, looks forward directly to the New Testament, proclaiming the coming of Elijah who will usher in the Messiah.  The introduction may identify a prophet by name or may simply use the name, meaning "my messenger" as a pseudonym.  The texts seems clearly to refer to a time period after the rebuilding of the temple and long enoughafter that for discouragement to set in.  Most scholars suggest the book was written between 475 and 450 B.C.  Judah did not seem to be seeing the restoration and success people had expected in the enthusiasm of the return from the exile.  Malachi serves to point the people to their failings and proclaim that there is hope in God.

Malachi's striking style is that of a disputation between the people and God.  God issues an accusation against the people.  The people question how they are guilty.  God explains why they are guilty.  At the end of the text the people are called to believe the Lord and to look to the coming of the prophet Elijah.

The heart and center of Malachi's message is that God has made covenants with his people, covenants which they have broken.  While God loves his people, they do not love him.  Yet he will continue to bring them hope.  As we look to the New Testament we see that God has indeed brought hope to his people in the person of Jesus, the one who was heralded by John the Baptizer, the second Elijah.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Zechariah

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Zechariah."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 427-436.

Zechariah, the longest of the minor prophets, is also a very obscure and difficult book.  Its contents and style have led to doubt about the date and authorship.  Yet Zechariah 9-14 is frequently cited in the Passion narratives.  Its influence seems second only to Ezekiel in the composition of Revelation.

Zechariah seems to fit into the beginning of the return from the Babylonian exile, with visions dating to 520/519 B.C.  Zechariah is a contemporary of Haggai and speaks to the same kind of social strife and hesitancy to concentrate on restoration of temple worship.  The first eight chapters concentrate on these issues, while chapters 9-14 seem to have imagery pointing to a more distant eschatological future.

Biblical scholarship has fought about the authorship and dating of the book.  There's a very telling statement in the Dillard and Longman about this type of scholarship on p. 430.  "If a modern author carefully arranges his material into various groups by subject or literary form, we ordinarily consider this to be evidence of an orderly mind at work and do not feel compelled to suggest the material must be from different individuals.  In the same way, if an ancient author separates material by literary form (vision, oracle), subject (immediate issues vs. distant), or other criteria (e.g., dated versus undated), this would seem from our Western vantage the actions of a rational, orderly person.  These items scarcely in themselves provide an argument for multiple authorship unless one implicitly adheres to a rather foolish notion that any one author will write only one kind of literature."

Zechariah's visions focus on the power of God to come and judge sin.  We see people in need of repentance, people in need of atonement, people who are not caring for repentance and forgiveness themselves, and the coming of a God who will judge sin and make atonement on behalf of his people. The messianic king will make a humble appearance, riding on a donkey, serving as the shepherd king, the smitten shepherd, betrayed by sinful man.  Yet this is the King who arises victorious to rule among men.
Dave Spotts
blogging at and

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Haggai

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Haggai."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 421-426.

We know very little about Haggai.  He was apparently in Jerusalem at the time of Zechariah.  Being mentioned without a patronymic indicates he may have been well known.  Jerome identifies Haggai and Zechariah both as priests.

In the time after the exile a return to Jerusalem was a difficult task.  People had settled in Babylon, knowing that as their home.  The city of Jerusalem was in poor repair and the land had not been cared for.  Disputes between those returning and those who had remained during the exile were rife.  In their attempts to deal with these pressures people spent little effort rebuilding the temple.  Then in 520 B.C. Zechariah and Haggai exhorted the people to rebuild the temple, a project which was completed in 516.  Haggai's four oracles are dated, indicating a period of work lasting four months.  We have nothing else which indicates what Haggai might have done and said.

As we consider the New Testament, we see that Haggai's imagery of the glory of God coming back to Israel can readily be applied to Jesus, making God's glory evident and readily accessible.  In Jesus we have not only a restoration of a Davidic king, we have a whole new era ushering in the new temple, the new heavens, and the new earth.

Monday, March 15, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Zephaniah

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Zephaniah."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 415-420.

Zephaniah's lineage given in the introduction of the book of Zephaniah traces him back to Hezekiah, presumably the king by that name.  Zephaniah seems to have access to the court.  He is also apparently at the time of Josiah, the right time to have had the aforesaid relationship to Hezekiah.  We realize then that the prophet grew up during years of apostasy and Assyrian oppression.

Some of the references in Zephaniah to te apostasy may indicate that his ministry took place before Josiah's reforms of 621 B.C.  However, it's also entirely possible that the reference to the "remnant of Baal" in 1.4 indicates the reforms are already under way.  Another critical issue in the historical background is the identity of the invaders Zephaniah is concerned about.  At this time they could be Assyrians, they could be Scythians, or, for that matter, they could be Babylonians.  Again, we don't know with any clarity who the invaders are.  

We do know that Zephaniah is discussing the kind of guilt that Judah bears for its unfaithfulness.  He also attacks the surrounding nations for being no better than Judah, who stands condemned.  As he wraps up his prophecies, Zephaniah proclaims salvation and restoration.  The writing of Zephaniah divides clearly into themes of judgment and grace.  God's fury will be poured out on those who do not trust him.  Yet we see that his judgment is also used to gather people from all nations to worship the one true God.  This is a strong message which causes us to look straight at the New Testament and Jesus as the divine warrior and soon coming king.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Habakkuk

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Habakkuk."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 409-413.

Habakkuk is largely unknown.  His name is not mentioned elsewhere in Scripture.  He has been alternatively identified as a Levite, the sone of the Shunamite woman, and the watchman in Isaiah 21.  This inconclusivity does not in any way take away from the importance of the prophetic writing.  It simply indicates that we really have no idea who Habakkuk might have been.  

According to chapter 1 verse 6 the date of composition is in the late 7th or early 6th century B.C.  At this time Babylon is rising to power, overtaking the former great Assyrian empire.  As we would expect, scholars have assigned the book various different dates and have assigned different authors to the narrative text and the psalm in chapter 3.  As with the debates about the identity of Habakkuk, these other disputes are inconclusive.

We see the structure consists of a dialog between God and the prophet, a series of oracles against oppressors, and a psalm of submission.  As we consider the overall theological message of Habakkuk we see that God is apparently unconcerned with the struggles of his people.  Yet God has given promises to his people, promises which the faithful Habakkuk determines to trust.

As we consider this text in relation to the New Testament we see that God is the righteous one who will come and vindicate himself, though he may not do it according to our timing or our preferences.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Academic Journey - may become less academic

My academic journey may take a turn away from the academic.  Does this mean I've decided to chuck it all and go to welding school?  No, they don't trust me with extremely hot objects.  We often hear that real theology, like any kind of real scholarship, doesn't happen in the library.  It happens on the street.  It happens in the office.  It happens in the counseling room, or in the pulpit.

In the past week I've been talking with some people from the AALC.  This is a very small Lutheran denomination, formed some twenty-two years ago, as a reaction to creeping liberalism within Lutheranism in America.  They have a training program including courses which meet regularly via the Internet.  The courses appear to use good solid readings and require interaction and papers.  While participating in the training program, qualified participants may end up serving local churches as pastors under supervision from other area pastors.  

I don't know where this will lead.  It could lead the direction I thought I might end up going a couple of years ago.  Then again, it might not.  As I explore, I'll be participating in one of the courses, talking with various leaders to ascertain the denomination's values and goals, and will probably attend the annual conference in June.   In the meantime, since the course that starts the Monday after Easter is on Law and Gospel, I'll be digging up the books on the reading list and working through them over a period of about ten weeks.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Thursday, March 4, 2010

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Nahum

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Nahum."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 403-403-408.

Nahum gives us a very harsh, forceful message against Assyria dating to the seventh century B.C.  We know virtually nothing about the author.  He comes ffrom a town called Elkosh, which we cannot locate geographically.

By 664 B.C. Assyria had risen to preeminence in the Near East.  However, by 652 Babylon was rising up and beginning to assert its authority.  By 612 Babylon was sufficiently powerful to sack Nineveh, the former Assyrian capital.  Nahum proclaims that though Nineveh has been powerful it will fall as the Lord protects his people and routs his foes.  

As we approach the New Testament we see the picture of God as the warrior who brings deliverance for his people and destruction for his enemies.  Christ the King stands up against every foe and finally destroys death itself.

Agricola Urbanus - Loving your wife by planting peas

Way back when I was one of the elders in a local church one of the questions we would ask one another in the elder meetings was how we were doing at loving our wives.  It was usually a pretty uncomfortable time.  We all agreed that we could do better.  Normally we acknowledged that we were doing some things for our wives but we also realized we were doing our acts of kindness partly to please ourselves, to keep the peace.  We were quite self-interested in our service to our wives.  I guess that's how it is most of the time.  We do kind things for other people and in fact we are looking forward to the reward we might reap.

There's a little bit of that, okay, rather a lot of that, in my decision that we will raise peas.  Don't get me wrong.  I like peas. I love fresh peas with brown butter.  I love fresh raw peas too.  They are one of the best treats I know of.  But when I think of a garden the size of the one we currently have, I realize that peas are completely impractical.  Why is that?  Peas can yield about twenty pounds in a hundred foot row.  With plants spaced about six inches, in our current fourteen foot by four foot space, we could reasonably expect to harvest about twenty-one pounds of peas, and that is if we have a great crop.  Twenty-one pounds?  Bring it on!  That would give us quite a feast, several feasts of fresh peas, in fact.

What's the problem with this logic?  Primarily the problem is that the peas will bear their crop over a period of about six weeks, with two or three pickings a week.  So having a great crop year we might pick nearly a pound at a time.  That isn't really so bad.  It's more than we'd probably normally eat during that time period as a family.  But it isn't that much more.  For our family this would be about a ten week supply of peas.  Yes, they would be delicious.  But there's some severe trouble with the practicality.  

By comparison, pole beans (string beans) tend to produce about 150 pounds in a hundred foot row.  Carrots tend to produce about100 pounds in a hundred foot row.  That's about a year's supply of carrots for our family, a real abundance of string beans.

Here's the dilemma.  Peas are so tasty.  Are they worth planting in a confined space?  They may be.  Especially if your wife happens to love peas intensely, it's worth it.  This is one of the reasons I want to get moved to a place with a sunny yard.  Our garden space is a little shady for peas to produce well.  And if I can come up with, say, three garden plots which are four feet by eight feet, devoted to peas, putting in a spring and a fall crop, we can have those nice homegrown peas all year.  Granted I could have other vegetables with far superior yields in that space, but there's a time for deciding you grow something simply because it is good and your wife loves it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Academic Journey - so many books, so little time

Looking back over this blog I see that I've almost exclusively posted of late using summaries of chapters in the Old Testament book I've been reading.  I have wrapped up that book and hope to wrap up the summaries in the near future.  I'm moving on to listen to a recorded version of the Old Testament.  I'm enjoying getting someone else's pacing.  It also means I can listen on my .mp3 player and go for a walk, something I wouldn't particularly recommend doing while reading any book.

Where am I headed after this Old Testament survey?  I realize that there's no such thing as an over-educated laity.  I also realize that there's a lot of self-education I can do.  After all, I didn't get my degree as a classical philologist for nothing.  

Once I finish this survey, then, I hope to turn more of my attention to a course from The Teaching Company.  I'll plan to post summaries of the lectures and do some of the readings as well.  This course, taught by Phillip Cary of Eastern University, is called The History of Christian Theology.  Dr. Cary is an excellent speaker and scholar.  I first experienced him while listening to Issues, Etc. on Pirate Christian Radio.  In the thirty-six lectures of this course, Cary takes us from the New Testament through Vatican II and a bit beyond, exploring important themes of theology.  There's an excellent reading list, but, as I say in the header, there are so many books, so little time.

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Micah

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Micah."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 397-402.

Micah, though a brief and intricately structured prophet is one of the most powerful in his rhetoric.  Micah is apparently from Moresheth, a village about twenty-five miles from Jerusalem.  His ministry probably took place in Jerusalem in the period between 750 and 686 B.C.  He overlaps with Isaiah.  During this time period Assyria was overcoming Israel, though not Judah.  Micah, however, looks forward to the fall of Judah to the Babylonians, as well as to the restoration of Judah from captivity.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the scholarly community has largely rejected the unity of authorship of Micah.  Yet in all their attempts they are not able to reach a consensus as to the history or authenticity of the text.  It does appear clear that the oracles in Micah were not spoken at one time.  It also seems that the book is not structured chronologically.

Micah is famous for his difficult Hebrew usage and the world plays he makes, linking the names of cities to the type of destruction they will have.  As we might expect from what I've said above, Micah speaks extensively about God's judgment on sin.  Sin brings judgment, leaving us in need of restoration which will also come from God and God alone.

As we look to the New Testament we see that Micah refers to Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and to the future Davidic ruler.  Micah talks about a gathering of believers in the "last days."  We expect with Peter in Acts that we are now in the last days and that our Lord will bring the culmination of those last days as he describes in Revelation 21.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

An Introduction to the Old Testament - Jonah

Dillard, Raymond B. & Longman, Tremper III. "Jonah."  An Introduction to the Old Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1994. 391-395.

Jonah is one of the prohphets which is most familiar and memorable to readers.  It's also a book with considerable mystery involved.  Though we don't know anything about the date or author, the prophet Jonah "lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746)" (p. 391).  The most straightforward reading of the book would indicate that Jonah is a historical narrative.  There are, however, some features which could cast doubt on the historicity.

First, there's the debate over the time in the fish.  While there's argument either that it would be possible or that it would be impossible, the text clearly presents it as a miraculous event, thus leaving the argument for either point of view inadequate.

Second, there are descriptions of animals repenting and a comment on the size of Nineveh, both of which seem to be exaggerated.

There may be good reason to read the book primarily as a parable, though it is quite possible that we could also see the text as primarily an historical account, though one using a good deal of rhetorical invention.

Jonah contains a number of recurring themes and key words, including the idea of "rising up" and the idea of God "preparing" characters and events.  

Some commentary on the psalm of Jonah in the belly of the fish are in order.  We would possibly have expected Jonah to mourn and grieve at this time, but it does seem right to consider this as an act of God by which Jonah is preserved.  He may not know what the next step is, but the animal has certainly removed him from certain death in the water.

Jonah shows that God has compassion on all sorts of people, not just the people of Israel.  Jonah's lack of compassion toward those for whom God has great compassion is indicative of the way Israel did not appreciate God's desires.  As we look to the New Testament we see that Jesus is the one who proclaims God's deliverance.  He is the one who is greater than Jonah, who has given the sign of resurrection which he compared with Jonah's imprisonment in the fish.  Jesus is greater than Jonah especially in that while Jonah worked against his own will, Jesus gave his life freely.