What I read in 2016, the short list

I have always been a big reader, but never anything close to my list for 2016. That’s when I began to use the wonderful online group, Goodreads.com, to log the books that I have read, am reading, and want to read. I am up over 1900 books that I have logged as “read” in my lifetime, so far, but I know there are hundreds I cannot remember; I imagine the number should be more like 2500.

“Do you want that reading list Super-Sized?”

Over Christmas break 2015 I decided to join their Reading Challenge for 2016, and set a (as it turns out, too ambitious!) personal goal of 150 books/plays this year, including the complete works of Shakespeare, the Koran, and others, let alone material for class prep. Typically I am reading eight books at a clip; some short documents, some long tomes, some Audible recorded books from Amazon.

Overall, I read a lot more non-fiction this year than I usually do, although I also read some marvelous fiction.

Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:

Russian themed. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (1862) was excellent. I am about a third of the way through the fictionalized biography of Trotsky by Leonardo Padura, The Man who Loved Dogs. Dostoyevsky, The Idiot (1868-69) is a Christ-allegory. All are available on Kindle.

George Orwell beyond 1984 and Animal Farm. I have read 1984 a dozen times since Junior High, and decided I should branch out. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is a novel (more…)

The Golden Rule and Political Discussion

This has been the most difficult election season, at least since 1948, perhaps since 1860.

For that reason, may I request that, when someone didn’t vote the way you or I did, that we not automatically respond:

  • “Oh, that means you don’t care at all about ____.”
  • “Oh, you’re ignoring the sins of your candidate, and damning the sins of mine.”
  • “Oh, you’re deluded by your choice of news outlet.”
  • “Oh, you only look at information that backs your candidate.”
  • “Oh, only imbeciles and morons vote for ____ (not my terms, I’m quoting).”
  • “Oh, only people with zero education vote for____.” When I tell people I have a college education, some reply, “Well, there are plenty of stupid people with degrees, they don’t mean anything!”
  • “Oh, you must be brainwashed or a ‘useful idiot’ or politically-correct or anti-politically-correct.”
  • “Oh, you must be a lemming (or some other slow-witted mammal).”
  • “Oh, why would you vote for the devil” or “the antichrist?”
  • “Oh, you must be morally corrupt.”
  • “Oh, you have an agenda! (And I sure don’t).”
  • “Oh, you can’t possible be a Christian if you voted like that!”
  • “Oh, God told me how to vote, so if you voted differently, you must not love the Lord!”
  • “Oh, prayed about my vote, and if you did not vote the same, you must not have prayed.”
  • “Oh, that means you are a (communist, fascist, Nazi, etc.).”
  • “Oh, you just threw your vote away (maybe on a Third-Party Candidate).”

These are all more or less quotes from things I’ve seen the last few days. From Christians and non-Christians.

Personally, I can’t think of anyone I know who found this election easy. Maybe you didn’t have to think hard about whom to choose, I certainly did. This isn’t a math problem, where 2 + 2 = 4 every time, there are hundreds of variables, and I know thoughtful people who have come up with different answers. That’s not “moral relativism,” it’s a nod to the difficulty of the problem we are trying to solve.

The Golden Rule would suggest that I should do unto others (I should assume they had wrestle through this) as I would have them do unto me (I want people to assume that I had to wrestle through this).

May we please – for the nation’s sake – assume until we hear otherwise, that perhaps, just perhaps, the person who voted for the other team really does care, really did look into things, and really did have to struggle about how to vote.

Yes, it works in politics, too

Yes, it works in politics, too

“The Golden Rule and Political Discussion,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

My Time with the Koran, April 2016

Read the whole file here shogren_my-time-with-the-koran or download it on your phone. my-time-with-the-koran

My reading the Koran is like a rock-and-roller trying to figure out what in the world that jazz trio is up to. Still, if I will opine that the Koran is right, wrong, or indifferent, I feel I should have at least a basic, first-hand awareness of what it actually says. This, even though people all the time comment on books they haven’t yet gotten around to; the Bible in particular, unread by many Bible-believers.[i]

I bring this up because, like you, I have seen certain Facebook memes and books that “prove” that all Muslims are “really” in a jihad against the West; and that when some (apparently very nice) Muslims claim they are not planning to blow stuff up, well, they are lying, since everyone knows that in Islam it’s cool to lie about not being involved in jihad in order to be more effective in jihad. See my dilemma?

We live in a world where from all directions, especially in the social media, we see quotations taken out of context. I love the new usage of “cherry-picked,” a term that is often applied during election years. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is “When only select evidence is presented in order to persuade the audience to accept a position, and evidence that would go against the position is withheld. The stronger the withheld evidence, the more fallacious the argument.”

Jefferson’s well-known statement that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing” is usually taken out of context; when Lincoln “said” that he was not concerned about slavery, but maintaining the Union, that’s cherry-picking; and when the Lincoln meme tells us “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet,” that’s just a fake. We run into supposed quotes from George Washington, Albert Einstein, Gandhi, Joe Stalin, even George Carlin. A snatch of a phrase from Alexis de Tocqueville or Gibbon’s Rise and Fall, also practically useless unless read in context.

At any rate, I have had on my reading list for some time to go ad fontes (Latin, “back to the sources”) and read books of other faiths, not objectively—which is unattainable for anybody—but directly and unmediated. I have a copy of the Book of Mormon waiting in the wings; a dear Hindu friend gave me a beautiful edition of the Bhagavad-Gita, also on my list; Confucius’s Analects I read long ago, also the Mishnah and the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gnostic literature. On the wackier side, I have read the prophetic quatrains of Nostradamus (meh) and looked over some of the “exposés” of the Catholic Church by Charles Chiniquy (yow!). I read Pope Francis’s Laudato Sii on environmental issues and later on his Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee: the latter in part because I heard somewhere that it promised to send Protestants to the guillotine in a 21st-century Inquisition; turns out, it did not mention decapitation or any bloodshed; who knew?

I also wanted to read the Koran because of a phenomenon that is very obvious from a Google search, that there are Muslims apologists who carefully read the Bible—in order to refute it.[ii]

So, this was my first time through the Koran, and I went cover to cover. I looked up some points to clarify what I was looking at, but tried to avoid the Hadith interpretations or other viewpoints, except for the ones I read afterward about jihad. It was “Back to the Koran” time.

s-l1000

Let me give some broad observations, from a Christian for Christians, and then address specific topics. (more…)

The Emperor Constantine the Great – a villain or a hero, or something in-between?

Download the article as a pdf: Shogren_The Emperor Constantine the Great – a villain or a hero, or something in-between

To many, the Emperor Constantine was a saint: in the Orthodox church he is one of the “Equal-to-Apostles” (isapóstolos) a title given to people (such as Patrick, Cyril the evangelist of Russia and others) who were especially effective in establishing the gospel.

constantine

To others, Constantine is Great was a tool of evil, a corrupter of the church.

The attacks against Constantine come from several quarters. Some Messianic believers imagine that he turned the church into a Gentile movement. Others charge him with introducing pagan practices into the church. Seventh-Day Adventists credit him (or some pope) with changing the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.[1] Jehovah’s Witnesses think he turned Jesus into God, made the cross a symbol of Christianity, and established Easter and Christmas. All of these parties tend to gang up and use the same materials as the basis for their attacks – for example, many anti-Constantine groups hale back to Babylon Mystery Religion – Ancient and Modern, by Ralph Woodrow (1966). And they and Woodrow borrow much of their “information” from Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons (1858), another sketchy attempt to connect Catholicism with Babylonian religion.[2] More on this later.

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Who was Constantine? (more…)

How do God’s servants handle unforeseen questions?

I was as fresh in ministry as could be, still a bit amazed that grown-ups had actually voted me to be their full-time pastor. And it was my first Sunday, my first sermon, with us still fuzzy from memorizing all the names of all the members even as we unpacked our boxes: “Who is the man with the mustache? His job? His wife’s name? How many kids?”

As a pastor I was rolling right off the factory floor: I had just mailed my doctoral thesis back to Scotland and was waiting for the oral exam. So I was primed and filled with data about Pauline eschatology. I’m ready, folks, ask me anything!

The first question I fielded was not about Greek, theology, church history, anything that I had ever read about.

It was: “So Gary, tell me….Ford or Chevy?”

Pardon?

“Ford or Chevy?”

For you non-Americans, Ford trucks versus Chevrolet is one of our long-lived debates (think of “Apple or Microsoft?”). It runs deeper than politics. Google it if you don’t believe me.

I was opinion-free on the Ford/Chevy debate; I had no dog in that fight. And I didn’t want to spend my first Sunday afternoon of my ministry, alienating someone because I chose the wrong darn pickup.

However the thought occurred to me (Is that you, Spirit of God?) that I plickneeded to respond differently than I normally would. Not deceitfully, but along a different tack. So: I had once owned a Ford, a 1971 Maverick. A real dog, too; many of the miles I put on it were driving to the mechanic and back. But definitely a Ford.

The Spirit works quickly. Within a second or two after hearing the question, I snorted and said, “FORD!! Of course!” (In New England, one pronounces Ford and course deeply in the throat, and I said them with the proper intonation).

“Good answer,” my new friend nodded sagely. “Good answer.”

You see, the only really wrong answer I could have given was indifference: I don’t care. I don’t know. They’re both okay. Does it really matter? Why are we bothering about this while all the starving children, etc.? I don’t even remember if he thought Ford was better than Chevy. But he did think it mattered, and he was pleased that I understood that.

Jesus didn’t tell people their questions were frivolous. He answered them, but he then turned the discussion around to deeper things. John 4 is a fine example, with the Samaritan woman’s implied question: “So, Jesus – Samaritan Temple or Jerusalem?” “Jerusalem, of course,” said Jesus, because it was true to a point, and because it really mattered to her. But his interest in the question was limited. It was already too late in history to be debating such matters – the Father was really interested in people worshiping him in the Spirit and in truth, that is, each believer is a temple (John 4:21-24).

When people ask us questions, they might be looking for information, or an opinion. Or they might just be wanting to hear that they matter, both to us and to God. And we who follow the way of love will understand that and act accordingly.

“No, but wait…MY pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote!”

“My pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote! What he does is give out a score card that describes what the issues are [remember that phrase!] and then shows what each candidate stands for. But then he tells us to make up our own minds!”

Anyway, that’s the word on the street.

The election is coming up in November [2012]; let’s look at two preachers in Anytown, USA, and put this method to the test:

Pastor Smith is guiding his congregation with a list of political issues that he has compiled. He puts in the left column: high taxes, the Second Amendment, American military superiority, gay marriage, the minimum wage, capital punishment, Common Core curriculum, and other issues. In the 2nd and 3d column he has put a sentence or two on where the candidates stand on each issue.

So, says Pastor Smith: “Who stands for God’s truth, Candidate Anderson or Candidate Benchley? I’m not telling you how to vote, I’m just giving you the facts!”

Across town, Pastor Jones designs questions about the environment, the Innocence Project, high military spending, worker rights, the Fourth Amendment, concluding: “I wouldn’t tell you how to vote, but who is closer to the Bible: Candidate Anderson or Candidate Benchley?”

I have an agenda, you have, he she or it has, we have, they have

I [Gary] have an agenda, you have, he, she, or it has, we have, they have an agenda

Both can claim “I’m not using the pulpit to tell anyone how to vote!” Both might be faithful to the letter of political neutrality, but both would be violating its spirit. And two congregations will go away believing that they know who is God’s candidate for the office – only they will be backing different candidates!

Even when Pastors Jones and Smith don’t give you a political ANSWER SHEET, he or she is arranging a VOTER GUIDE or SCORECARD so that they lead to a specific end and communicate a particular agenda. Whoever lays the tracks has already determined which way the train will go!

In fact, Pastors Jones and Smith might both put, oh, let’s say school lunch programs, voter registration laws, Iraq, the minimum wage on their charts (more…)

Did a NASA supercomputer prove the Bible?

download

NASA proved the Lost Day of Joshua, using a supercomputer! This story surfaces once in a while, and the internet only serves to give it more “credibility” by making it come at the reader from a hundred directions:

So, what happened is, NASA scientists fed all the data of history into a big computer program, and it turned out that there was a day missing. It turns out that NASA proved that the earth stood still for Joshua, and also that a sundial went backwards during the reign of Hezekiah, as recounted in Isaiah 38.

Although the story was long ago discredited, it has arisen again on Facebook. This blogger states it as a fact (click HERE). He implies that NASA covered it up, but provides no evidence. My friend Robert Newman – who has a PhD in astrophysics from Cornell – has a full, detailed study on this rumor and many other articles on the Bible and science (click HERE). He shows that the tale has been circulating since 1890. To repeat, this is not some random idea that I heard from a friend of a friend, you can contact Dr. Newman and ask him for yourself.

DO YOU WANT TO READ ABOUT OTHER CIRCULATING MYTHS? click HERE.

FOR SOME EXCELLENT, WELL-FOUNDED STUDIES
OF THE BIBLE AND SCIENCE, go to http://www.ibri.org

I love God’s Word (and believe in the book of Joshua!), and therefore react when I read long-discredited stories. In fact Stephen Jay Gould, an atheist opponent of our faith, uses the NASA story as an example of how Christians will believe anything we’re told. Let’s look sharp when we hear rumors, and look them up before passing them along! The easiest way to do so is to google something like “Joshua missing day hoax” – if it’s a hoax, you will soon find out.

“Did a NASA supercomputer prove the Bible?” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

“From Jerusalem to the Uttermost Parts of the Earth” – Have we Misunderstood Acts 1:8?

map-of-samaria

A missionary comes to your church to speak, and you absentmindedly turn to Matt 28:18 or Acts 1:8. Sure enough, this time he will speak about the Great Commission from Acts:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

His sermon touches upon familiar points:

Jerusalem was their home town, and they were supposed to evangelize there first. Judea was their home area. Now, Samaria was like but not identical with Judea, but next in line since it was a nearby mission field. And of course “the end of the earth” means any foreign country. [1]

In conclusion, the preacher adds:

  • We are all called to be missionaries (I take objection to that, by the way, see below).
  • What is your Jerusalem and Judea?
  • What is your Samaria?
  • What is the uttermost part of your earth? Does God want you to preach his gospel in a foreign land? (more…)

The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: icy relations among God’s people

The signs of the End Times, you say? Sure, I can list a few! Earthquakes, wars, famines, pestilence! Persecution, false Messiahs, false prophets!

Indeed, and they are right there in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24-25).[1]

What’s more, beyond the actual teaching of the New Testament, there exists an entire industry of people working double shifts, vainly calculating the identity of the Antichrist, the role the USA plays in prophecy, where are they hiding that giant computer in Belgium, Obamacare microchips and so forth. But even these prophecy experts go blank over one “sign”: for among Jesus’ words, hiding in plain sight, is a characteristic of the End that seems to be consistently missed or minimized, that during tribulation

…many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another…the love of many will grow cold (Matt 24:10, 12 ESV).

"The End is Nigh!"

“The End is Nigh!”

“Fall away” indicates that these are professing believers. Persecution comes, and Christians, feeling the pressure, turn on each other. As I have argued elsewhere (click HERE),  against conventional wisdom, tribulation as such does not make Christians more caring or more unified – when human nature has its way, people will betray each other in order to survive. As one commentator says about these verses: “What only outsiders had done previously is now said of members of the church: they too will ‘deliver up’ Christian brothers and sisters. Hate, the way the world relates to the church, will also surface in the church.”[2] This Love Recession will not grab the headlines that a war or an earthquake would (more…)

Why I left party politics…and never looked back

Picture1One of my infrequent thoughts on politics, written before the 2013 government shutdown

It was March 20, 2003. I took a deep breath to steady my nerves. Then I walked out on my political party. I did so principally in protest against President Bush’s attack on Iraq, the culmination of months of public arguments that we must rout out their weapons of mass destruction. With many others, I saw no evidence that there were WMDs. I also had to conclude that two Americans whom I greatly admired, Colin Powell and Condi Rice, had been co-opted to make the case for war when there was no case to be made. I withdrew in my heart that evening, and made it official the next time I renewed my Pennsylvania driver’s license.

I only wish now that I had done it years before. (more…)