Saturday, 12 May 2018

Logos for Children



Logos, was originally intended for serious adult bible students, seminary students, church and home bible study leaders.

What is serious?

I've come to realise that we take a very casual view of the bible and its study as Christians.  Jews and those who have been discovering the Hebrew roots of Christianity, this was not always the case.

Even in Constantinople in the 15th century, it was said that one commonly heard people discussing and debating theology in the markets of the city.

Small wonder then that we don't know what the bible has to say about how to deal with life's problems.  For example, during the recession, how many people heard sermons from the pulpit about how to solve it?

Does the bible have nothing to say about Collateralized Debt Obligations, Subprime Lending, Fiscal Expansion or Land Monopolies?  It's there.  If Christianity can't meaningfully contribute to a discussion about these kinds of topics, then this is a clue as to why Christianity's relevance to a modern society is in doubt today.

I want my children to have a deep knowledge of the bible, be confident to investigate the bible whenever they meet a life issue they haven't encountered before, be confident and respectful in discussing life and society's issues from a biblical perspective and be a part of society's attempts to solve life's problems.

By this, I hope they will be able to be guided by the bible so that they meaningfully contribute toward setting government policy, ethically conduct themselves within their families, jobs, businesses and voluntary organisations.

Giving them a 21st century tool to be able to study the bible is a big step forward.

Faithlife, the producers of Logos, have an eBook store.  These eBooks can be purchased and they are automatically included amongst the resources in a given Logos account.

These resources are then indexed and searchable from within Logos.  Material from them will then appear in Passage Guides, and Topic Guides.  Terrific.

Their eBook store has an abundance of material intended for children.  Just use keywords such as "Kids", "Children" and "Student" to get you started.

As a way of introducing my children (aged 7-14) to Logos, I signed them all up for the free version of Logos, Logos Basic, which they can all access from their respective user accounts in Windows 10.

My 12 year old daughter has already set up her own prayer list and a reading plan.

I have set them up with some prioritized resources: Lexham English Bible, Lexham Bible Dictionary

They are OK for the 12 and 14 year old but not so much for the 7 and 10 year old.  

Each have their own favorite bible translations so I'm gifting them (oldest to youngest) ESV, CEV and for the two youngest, GNB.  

To make Logos more usable, attractive for them and to reduce the chance they would be overwhelmed, I
  1. Changed all the fonts to san serif
  2. Zoomed the program so that everything was 20% bigger.
  3. Prioritized the Lexham Bible, Dictionary and Study Bibles
  4. Modified one of the standard layouts to have two panels with the bible on the left and the Lexham Resources together with a Notes tab on the RHS.  Saved the layout.
  5. Bought them suitable/preferred bibles
  6. Set these as their preferred bibles
  7. Cleaned up their home screens to reduce the stuff they wouldn't be interested in
  8. Started looking in the Faithlife eBook store for suitable resources to add.
If you're a parent, I hope this blog entry provokes you.

Discipleship, Parenthood and Children

Over on the Logos.com forum, there is a thread that started this week about Logos for Children.
It touches on a subject dear to my heart:  how to raise my children in the ways of God?
Where I started with, was the thought, what would I like my children to have in their figurative "spiritual kitbag" by the time they were at an age where they might leave home to study, start a job or just to go flatting?  I thought 16 was a good target age.  They might stay home for longer, but from the age of 16, the risk they will leave home starts to go markedly up.
My answers to the question:
  1. Be able to confidently find a church to join
  2. Be able to join in with the youth ministry in that church.  
  3. Know what a good church was from a bad one; and to reason that out
  4. Know how to deal with pain and disappointment
  5. Meeting God and talking to God through prayer, for themselves
  6. Know how to discuss confidently and respectfully their beliefs with people who live different lifestyles or follow a different religion; eg LGBT community members, atheists, or Muslims.
  7. Know his responsibilities as a parent to teach his children and his children's children to walk in the ways of God.
  8. Know what are healthy relationships from unhealthy ones; such as relationships with the opposite gender based on respect and engagement rather than objectification and personal gratification.  
The list goes on but hopefully this conveys the idea.  
Then I started working backwards from there to find age appropriate material for my children, different stuff depending on their age and tweaking it for things that pop up through the course of their lives. 
A routine seems to work best so we put aside an hour or two each Saturday.  
When my children says how come nobody else can read Hebrew or study Leviticus, I just say "that's what we do in our family."


Monday, 23 April 2018

Atheist Delusional: A short review

Atheist Delusional is a warm series of interviews of Atheists in which Ray Comfort exposes how Atheists aren't quite so "open-minded" as they say, and find it difficult to admit they might be wrong.

Comfort does well in positing their true motivations behind why they resist acknowledging "a higher power" creator when he leads them to acknowledging that they are morally deficient and resist the idea:  They realise to do so, would mean that they would be accountable to someone else for what they did.

I don't follow the Atheism v Christianity debate in great detail but I have heard of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins before.

It was therefore an eye-opener for me to watch the clip of Dawkins try to argue that life would come from nothing, realise that that was logically unsustainable, and then try to ridiculously argue that nothing was something after all.

He seemed genuinely surprised when the audience laughed at him.

The video is informative for both non-Christians and Christians alike, who are unfamiliar with the arguments within the debate and want a high-level summary of the issues that count.  The rest are red-herrings.

Living Waters, the organisation that produced the video have made it freely available in its entirety.  Here it is:

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Israel at 70: A miracle in disguise


A J Heschel
To mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel, here are some of Heschel's thoughts on its establishment.
Unprecedented.  A people despised, persecuted and scattered to all corners of the earth, has the audacity to dream of regaining authenticity, of being free in the Holy Land.

For nearly 2,000 years and many times a day in joy and sorrow we pray for you, Jerusalem, and our prayers never turned pale.  What is it we implore the Lord every Sabbath as we are about to open the Ark to take out the Torah?

Merciful father,
Deal kindly with Zion,
Rebuild the walls of jerusalem,
Truly, in thee alone we trust
High and exalted king and god, eternal god.

Despoiled and dispersed, abased and harassed, we knew we were not estranged forever.  We mourned you, we never wept you away.  Hope was hatched in the nests of agony.

The love of this land was due to an imperative, not to an instinct, not to a sentiment.  There is a covenant, an engagement of the people to the land.  We live by covenants.  We could not betray our pledge or discard the promise.

When Israel was driven into exile, the pledge became a prayer; the prayer a dream; the dream a passion, a duty, a dedication.

Intimate attachment to the land, waiting for the renewal of Jewish life in the land of Israel, as part of our integrity, an existential fact.  Unique, sui generis, it lives in our hopes, it abides in our hearts.

It is a commitment we must not betray.  3,000 years of faithfulness cannot be wiped off.

To abandon the land would make a mockery to all our longings, prayers and commitments.  To abandon the land would be to repudiate the Bible.

Israel reborn represents a breakthrough into whole new areas of experience and understanding stop it defies conventional conceptions, ordinary expectations.  Its essence is a proclamation.

This is why the return to Zion is a source of embarrassment to so many of us who depend for intellectual efficacy upon conformity with mental habits.  In our scientific investigations, we use conceptual models in order to characterise an empirical situation under investigation; we are guided by the principle of generalisation, seeking to fit a particular object to a universal model.  The relation between model and things modelled is a relation of analogy.

In other words, our mental habit is to think in terms of sameness and to assume that things under consideration are mere copies, repetitions, and to disregard the unprecedented, distinctness, uniqueness.  We operate with established forms, with rubrics.

This is indeed the modern religious predicament.  The mysterious events so central to Judaism and Christianity seem so strange because they are unprecedented.

The return to Zion is an unprecedented drama, an event sui generis for which there is no model, no analogy.

The State of Israel is a surprise, yet the modern mind hates to be surprised.  Never before has a nation been restored to its ancient hearth after a lapse of 1,897 years.  This extraordinary aspect is bound to carry some shock to the conventional mind, to be a scandal to the mediocre mind and a foolishness to the positivists.  It requires reordering of some notions.

Here lies a lesson of importance.  It is the homogenisation of history that often deprives us of understanding.

Genuine history is not mere repetition, moving in a circle.  It is a fresh attempt, a new arrival.  The Bible begins with the words “At the beginning…” To Greek mythology, for example, where the assumption is that the world has always been in existence, the concept of beginning was inconceivable.  Jewish understanding further implies that also in history there can be novelty, beginning.

Israel is a miracle in disguise.  Things look natural and conceal what is a radical surprise.  Zion rebuilt becomes a harbinger of a new understanding, of how history is intertwined with the mystery.

Israel is the opposite of a commonplace, it is an extraordinary place, and it is on the verge of the extraordinary that we may encounter the marvel Israel as a novelty is not an absolutely new beginning, but a resurrection in Ezekiel’s sense.  It is in accord of a divine promise and a human achievement.

Source: Heschel, A J (1967).  Israel: An Echo of Eternity. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  New York.  Pages 43-44; pages 49-51.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century. Heschel, a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, authored a number of widely read books on Jewish philosophy and was active in the American civil rights movement.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Israel at 70: The Promise

A J Heschel
To mark Israel's 70th anniversary of its establishment, here are some comments about Israel's establishment from Abraham Heschel:


The Bible is the book of anticipations.  The ground for the hope is in the promise.  The future has a face, and on its face to see the glory.

There is evil, there is anguish.  There is death, agony, exile.  But beyond all darkness as the dawn.

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast… And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, avail that is spread over all nations.  He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people who will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.  It will be said on that day, “low, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us stop this is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation”” (Isaiah 25:6-9).

The evil state of the world, with its ugliness and violence, will not endure for ever.  At the end of days, and a climax of days, there will be a new dawn of history.  Redemption all come, cleansing the world from war and hatred.  This is God’s pledge and Israel’s hope.  At the same time, biblical eschatology and all our hopes for the future are mysteriously centred in the Holy Land.

There is a unique association between the people and the land of Israel.  Even before Israel becomes a people, the land is preordained for Israel.

Even before there was a people, it was a promise.  The promise of the land.  The election of Abraham and the election of land came together.  The promise of the land to the patriarchs as the leit motif in the Five Books of Moses.  Israel’s claim upon Canaan goes back to the earliest period of its history and was thought of as having as origin in the will of God, since it was to the Lord that this land belonged and he alone could dispose of it.

Beyond the promise of the land and increasing prosperity, the promised Abraham was a blessing for all the families of the earth.  The gift of the land is in earnest of a greater promise.

The granting of the land of Canaan to Israel by the Lord is a scene reflected upon again and again.  “Then he brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26:9).  Thanksgiving for this grant remained alive and never-ending praise throughout Biblical history.

Pagans have idols, Israel has a promise.  We have no image, all we have is hope.

Israel reborn as a verification of the promise.

History goes on in time as well is in space, and according to biblical faith, the promise of redemption of all peoples involves the presence of this people in this land.[i]

For Christians, the idea of a promise should immediately bring to mind Paul’s words: “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.[ii]





[i] Source: Heschel, A J (1967).  Israel: An Echo of Eternity. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  New York.  Pages 43-44; pages 49-51.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians and Jewish philosophers of the 20th century. Heschel, a professor of Jewish mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, authored a number of widely read books on Jewish philosophy and was active in the American civil rights movement.

[ii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 3:6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Keeping religion completely private


Tim Keller
Just read this insightful piece by Tim Keller from his book "The Reason for God":
Another approach to the divisiveness of religion is to allow that people may privately believe their faith is the truth and may “evangelize” for their faith, but that religious beliefs should be kept out of the public sphere. Influential thinkers such as John Rawls and Robert Audi have argued that, in public political discussions, we may not argue for a moral position unless it has a secular, nonreligious grounding. Rawls is well known for insisting that what he calls “comprehensive” religious views be excluded from public discourse.[i] Recently a large array of scientists and philosophers signed “A Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism,” which called on the leaders of our government “not to permit legislation or executive action to be influenced by religious beliefs.”[ii] The signers included Peter Singer, E. O. Wilson, and Daniel C. Dennett. The philosopher Richard Rorty, for example, has argued that religious faith must remain a strictly private affair and must never be brought into discussions of public policy. To ever use an argument grounded in a religious belief is simply a “conversation stopper,” which the nonbeliever cannot engage.[iii]

To those who complain that this approach discriminates against religion, Rorty and others retort that this policy is simply pragmatic.[iv] They are not ideologically opposed to religion per se, nor are they seeking to control religious beliefs, so long as they are kept in the private sphere. However, in the public square it is divisive and time-consuming to argue constantly over religion. Religion-based positions are seen as sectarian and controversial, while secular reasoning for moral positions are seen as universal and available to all. Therefore, public discourse should be secular, never religious. Without reference to any divine revelation or confessional tradition, we should work together on the great problems of our time—such as AIDS, poverty, education, and so on. We should keep our religious views to ourselves and unite around policies that “work” best for the most people.

However, Stephen L. Carter of Yale responds that it is impossible to leave religious views behind when we do any kind of moral reasoning at all.

Efforts to craft a public square from which religious conversation is absent, no matter how thoughtfully worked out, will always in the end say to those of organized religion that they alone, unlike everybody else, must enter public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves that they may consider the most vital.[v]

How can Carter make such a claim? Let’s begin by asking what religion is. Some say it is a form of belief in God. But that would not fit Zen Buddhism, which does not really believe in God at all. Some say it is belief in the supernatural. But that does not fit Hinduism, which does not believe in a supernatural realm beyond the material world, but only a spiritual reality within the empirical. What is religion then? It is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing. For example, some think that this material world is all there is, that we are here by accident and when we die we just rot, and therefore the important thing is to choose to do what makes you happy and not let others impose their beliefs on you. Notice that though this is not an explicit, “organized” religion, it contains a master narrative, an account about the meaning of life along with a recommendation for how to live based on that account of things.

Some call this a “worldview” while others call it a “narrative identity.” In either case it is a set of faith-assumptions about the nature of things. It is an implicit religion. Broadly understood, faith in some view of the world and human nature informs everyone’s life. Everyone lives and operates out of some narrative identity, whether it is thought out and reflected upon or not. All who say “You ought to do this” or “You shouldn’t do that” reason out of such an implicit moral and religious position. Pragmatists say that we should leave our deeper worldviews behind and find consensus about “what works”—but our view of what works is determined by (to use a Wendell Berry title) what we think people are for. Any picture of happy human life that “works” is necessarily informed by deep-seated beliefs about the purpose of human life.[vi] Even the most secular pragmatists come to the table with deep commitments and narrative accounts of what it means to be human.

Rorty insists that religion-based beliefs are conversation stoppers. But all of our most fundamental convictions about things are beliefs that are nearly impossible to justify to those who don’t share them. Secular concepts such as “self-realization” and “autonomy” are impossible to prove and are “conversation stoppers” just as much as appeals to the Bible.[vii]

Statements that seem to be common sense to the speakers are nonetheless often profoundly religious in nature. Imagine that Ms. A argues that all the safety nets for the poor should be removed, in the name of “survival of the fittest.” Ms. B might respond, “The poor have the right to a decent standard of living—they are human beings like the rest of us!” Ms. A could then come back with the fact that many bioethicists today think the concept of “human” is artificial and impossible to define. She might continue that there is no possibility of treating all living organisms as ends rather than means and that some always have to die that others may live. That is simply the way nature works. If Ms. B counters with a pragmatic argument, that we should help the poor simply because it makes society work better, Ms. A could come up with many similar pragmatic arguments about why letting some of the poor just die would be even more efficient. Now Ms. B would be getting angry. She would respond heatedly that starving the poor is simply unethical, but Ms. A could retort, “Who says ethics must be the same for everyone?” Ms. B would finally exclaim: “I wouldn’t want to live in a society like the one you are describing!”

In this interchange Ms. B has tried to follow John Rawls and find universally accessible, “neutral and objective” arguments that would convince everyone that we must not starve the poor. She has failed because there are none. In the end Ms. B affirms the equality and dignity of human individuals simply because she believes it is true and right. She takes as an article of faith that people are more valuable than rocks or trees—though she can’t prove such a belief scientifically. Her public policy proposals are ultimately based on a religious stance.[viii]

This leads a legal theorist, Michael J. Perry, to conclude that it is “quixotic, in any event, to attempt to construct an airtight barrier between religiously grounded moral discourse … and [secular] discourse in public political argument.”[ix] Rorty and others argue that religious argument is too controversial, but Perry retorts in Under God? Religious Faith and Liberal Democracy that secular grounds for moral positions are no less controversial than religious grounds, and a very strong case can be made that all moral positions are at least implicitly religious. Ironically, insisting that religious reasoning be excluded from the public square is itself a controversial “sectarian” point of view.[x]

When you come out into the public square it is impossible to leave your convictions about ultimate values behind. Let’s take marriage and divorce laws as a case study. Is it possible to craft laws that we all agree “work” apart from particular worldview commitments? I don’t believe so. Your views of what is right will be based on what you think the purpose of marriage is. If you think marriage is mainly for the rearing of children to benefit the whole society, then you will make divorce very difficult. If you think the purpose of marriage is more primarily for the happiness and emotional fulfillment of the adults who enter it, you will make divorce much easier. The former view is grounded in a view of human flourishing and well-being in which the family is more important than the individual, as is seen in the moral traditions of Confucianism, Judaism, and Christianity. The latter approach is a more individualistic view of human nature based on the Enlightenment’s understanding of things. The divorce laws you think “work” will depend on prior beliefs about what it means to be happy and fully human.[xi] There is no objective, universal consensus about what that is. Although many continue to call for the exclusion of religious views from the public square, increasing numbers of thinkers, both religious and secular, are admitting that such a call is itself religious.[xii]



[i] Robert Audi, “The Separation of Church and State and the Obligations of Citizenship,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 18 (1989): 296; John Rawls, Political Liberalism (Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 212–254
[ii] On February 28, 2007, this document could be accessed at http://www.cfidc.org/declaration.html
[iii] Richard Rorty, “Religion as a Conversation-Stopper,” Philosophy and Social Hope (Penguin, 1999), pp. 168–169
[iv] See Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (University of Minnesota Press, 1982) pp. 166–67
[v] Stephen L. Carter, The Dissent of the Governed (Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 90.
[vi] For example, Linda Hirshman makes a case against women staying out of the marketplace to raise children at home. She insists that it is wrong for women to do that even if it is their free, voluntary choice. “The familywith its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasksis a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women.… Women assigning it to themselves is … unjust.” (“Homeward Bound,” in The American Prospect 16, no. 12 (December 2005). Notice her argument is based on an assessment of “human flourishing” that could never be empirically proven. It is rooted in views of human dignity and society that on the surface seem secular but are certainly unproveable, controversial, and ultimately based on worldview faith-assumptions. David Brooks takes issue with Hirshman: “[She asserts] that high-paying jobs lead to more human flourishing than parenthood. Look back over your life. Which memories do you cherish more, those with your family or those at the office?” See “The Year of Domesticity,” New York Times, January 1, 2006
[vii] Gary Rosen, “Narrowing the Religion Gap?” New York Times Sunday Magazine, February 18, 2007
[viii] This interchange is adapted from C. John Sommerville, “The Exhaustion of Secularism,” The Chronicle Review (June 9, 2006)
[ix] Michael J. Perry, Under God? Religious Faith and Liberal Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 44. Nevertheless, Perry rightly argues that religiously grounded public discourse in a liberal democracy must be “deliberative,” not just “dogmatic.” That is, speakers must be willing to be criticized, to answer criticism, to deliberate and debate and seek to make one’s case as plausible to the other side as possible.
[x] See Perry’s Chapter 3: “Why Political Reliance on Religiously Grounded Morality Is Not Illegitimate in a Liberal Democracy” in Under God? above.
[xi] See John Witte, Jr., “God’s Joust, God’s Justice: An Illustration from the History of Marriage Law,” in Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought, M. McConnell, R. Cochran, A. Carmella, eds. (Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 406–425.
[xii] Stanley Fish, “Our Faith in Letting It All Hang Out,” New York Times, February 12, 2006.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Preterism: Were most of Jesus' prophecies fulfilled in 70 AD?


An acquaintance introduced me to this theory over the weekend.  Here is the theory in a nutshell:
  1. The predictions Jesus made in Luke 21 were fulfilled through the events surrounding the fall of the temple in 70 AD.
  2. Jesus said, with evidence to support the Preterist view added:
    a. "A time of wars":  Jewish revolt 66 AD; British revolt led by Queen Boadicea; Germanic revolt; Roman Empire suffered a series of imperial assassinations and coups.
    b. A foreign army would attack and lay siege to Jerusalem.  See Josephus, Wars VI (512-513).
    c. Period of unprecedented suffering; many will die of famine and plague.  See Josephus, Wars VI (512-513).
    d. False prophets would mislead many to their doom.  See Josephus, Wars VI (283-287).
    e. There would be heavenly signs. See Josephus, Wars VI (289-295).
    f. Huge numbers killed and taken away in captivity. See Josephus, Wars VI (259, 271, 275-276, 404, and 420-421)
    g. The city, temple will be completely destroyed. See Josephus, Wars VII (1-4).
    h. The Son of Man will be seen in the clouds.  See Josephus, Wars VI (296-300). See Tacitus, Histories V (513):  "There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing."
    i. Before all this, JC's disciples would be hated and persecuted.
    j. When an army approaches Jerusalem, run for the hills, don't tarry. 
There are two forms of Preterism:
  1. Partial preterism:  Holds that the destruction of Jerusalem, the Anti-Christ, the Great Tribulation and the advent of the Day of the Lord as a judgement coming of Christ were fulfilled either in 70Ad or during the persecution of Christians under Nero.  
  2. Full preterism: Holds that the destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled all "end times" events, including the resurrection of the dead and Jesus' second coming and the final judgement.  
Intriguing.