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Monday, May 12, 2014

Not quite book review--Part 1: The Spiritual Man, by Watchman Nee (first 28 pages)

A few weeks ago, I went to an estate sale, and picked up a copy of Watchman Nee's The Spiritual Man. I had a copy back in the 1970's when I was in college. That was one published in three volumes, and one of the three got lost over the years. Probably more importantly, I was going to an institutional church* of one of the centuries old denominations, so, now looking back, I am not surprised that I really couldn't get into the book and follow along with much of what Nee was saying. Further, as I look back, I tend to lean toward the intellectualistic side, and this book is specifically not written in that direction. Anyway, a few days ago, I started in on it again. I know that, since I have started writing this blog, book reviews appear to be one of the types of writings that get the most views. At about 650 pages, given that I can only read a few pages at a time, I'm not sure if I'll ever get through this. So, I figure that it may be best to make some comments about it as I read along, now coming from the view of having been much of my life in a western institutional church, and a few years outside of it and in a church, in the sense of an informal group that meets without corporation or agenda, other that to encourage one another in Jesus. As the name implies so much that one might miss it, such as missing the forest for the trees, the idea behind the book is to explain about being a spiritual person, as opposed to one living either on one's emotions or intellect. As I grew up as a believer around intellectual ones, and around extremely few emotionalistic ones (I got a couple of decades of opportunity to do that between then and now), I'm not sure I could have even understood what a Spirit-led balance between the two was, although I am sure along the line I have gotten the chance to walk along, or at least cross paths, with such examples. I was thrown off the original time I read it by the use of a word unique to this book, “soulical”. Realizing now that this book was originally written in one of the Chinese languages and much later translated into English, I am guessing that that language had a word for the proper qualities of the soul (soulical) and one for man whose life is dominated by his soul (soulish). I may be wrong, but after, in the last few years learning of words in the Bible translated in such a way that it fits the western religious status quo, as opposed to expressing the proper word for the context of a passage, I would be surprised if I was wrong (and I'm sure I'll write a blog if I find such out). The very beginning deals with an explanation of the terms “body, soul, and spirit”. More later. * Institutional church: what is thought of as church here in the western world, which usually includes a building or buildings, a meeting on the weekend that follows somewhat to exactly the same pattern every or almost every time, being legally formed as a corporation with special tax benefits, and one specific person who is seen as being the head of the organization, and usually gives one or more speeches weekly, provides a guiding plan as to what the organization does and does not do, and oftentimes gets a salary to do this, and the organization regularly collecting money to do all these things. I grew up seeing this as normal; I now see all these, albeit not prohibited in scripture, not in any way directed in scripture.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Book Review: Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, by Kaiser

There was a time in the past (I say this in that the website I am about to refer to no longer exists, as far as I can find), that Campus Crusade had called “tough questions” (I no longer remember whether it was .com or .org). Given that their main concern is evangelism, it contained approximately 30 questions which they were guessing would be the most problematical for a person who was not a believer, but seriously considering the claims of Jesus and the hisotric Christian faith. For the most part, they weren't really difficult questions to answer.
Some phrases can be taken different ways. So, according to the book, Hard Sayings of the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser Jr. (InterVarsity Press, 1988), what is a “hard saying”? In some cases, it is a statement that apparently runs contrary to what we feel to be the character of God. In other places, there is a more subtle problem, oftentimes one a believer without extensive experience with the original language, cultural context, or the history of the church easily would not realize exist.
The author, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., was dean at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. IVP, the publisher, has a dedication towards teaching that the historic Christian faith and intellectual thought can go together, from a postition of not being expected to defend any given organization's position, other than historic Christian belief, directed to persons as early in the faith as college freshmen. Obviously, if you have read any of my previous blogs, I write on topics connected with the flavor of “simple, organic church,” and, for a book written by a person outside that flavor, has quite a few statements in this volume that run congruent with this positon.
This book has 254 pages, but 73 chapters! This is because Kaiser has chosen 73 Old Testament scriptures, explains the problem, and gives a basic answer that is reasonably understandable by a reasonably intellegent person that doesn't have any studies in Hebrew or any theological subjects, in two to six pages, with the possible exception of chapter 5. As such, much like reading Proverbs chapters 10 through 30, where each verse stands by itself, and not in a literary context which verses before and after, the 73 chapters stand disconnected from the previous and next, except that they are in order of where they appear in the Old Testament.
For instance, in my opinion, chapters 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 23, 32, 34, 40, 43, 44 46, 48, 51, 52, 53, 62, 63, 66, 68, and 69 deal with Hebrew idioms and words, their multiple meanings, and believers and/or unbelievers misconstruing or mistranslating a meaning, possibly unintentionally, possibly intentionally. Chapters 1, 4, 11, 16, 18, 25, 32, 37, 38, 39, 54, 60, 61 and 65 deal with what a word meant then verses its current meaning and modern attitudes around it. Chapters 3 and 45 deal with the role of women as leaders among God's people. Chapter 5, mentioned above, deals with variances in possible Hebrew pointing. Progressive revelation and prophecy, theophany, directive verses permissive will of God, God's character verses God doing something that appears to be the opposite of that character trait, proverbial statements versus promises, the Holy Spirit in the Old Covenant, anthropomorphisms, obedience verses received or progressive revelation are subjects examined in the context of these difficult verses.
Kaiser specifically deals with the theology in the verses, and not with how differences in meaning between then and now came to be, as Barna and Viola deal with in Pagan Christianity, which answers some of those occurances that appear here.
With the small size of the chapters, this book could be used as a devotional, something to build or accent interactive Bible study preparation, and as somewhat of a reference (in the back is an index of scriptures referenced, but nothing to refer one to scholarly sources).
In 2009, IVP replaced this book with and updated, “Hard Sayings of the Bible”, which is currently in print.