Category Archives: Non-Fiction
Some Personal Thoughts on Tim Keller’s Exposition of Matthew Chapter 11
My Journey to Timothy Keller
I realized during the waning months of the Covid-19 pandemic lock-downs, that I had lost two significant Bible teachers who in the past had greatly influenced my thinking. Since I missed their teaching and influence very much, I prayed to find someone whose teaching could fill this void in my life. I came across Timothy Keller’s podcasts and they have gone a long way to filling my lack.
Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 11
I had not realized before these messages by Keller (the Spotify links are at the end) how detailed and rich is Matthew Chapter 11 in which Jesus describes who he is, and where he calls for people to come to him individually and unreservedly.
Chapter 11 begins with the imprisoned John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus asking:
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”Matthew 11:2-3 (ESV)
But this is the very question (whether Jesus is the promised Messiah, the anointed one) Jesus’ audience was discussing and debating among themselves. However, they believed the Messiah would rescue them from the Romans, so Jesus answered the question, not by saying a misleading “yes” but rather by citing facts and data about his ministry. In essence he was saying “Yes, I am the Messiah, but not in the way you think.”
4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers[a] are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.Matthew 11:4-5 (ESV)
But Jesus is This Curious Mixture of Attractiveness and Offensiveness
What could be more attractive to Galilean culture than someone who could heal diseases, raise the dead, and give good news to the poor? So Jesus’ next statement is unexpected (or at least it was to me). Indeed, in the next whole section Jesus says things that will offend Galilean ears. Jesus warns them what he will say next is offensive, but urges them to listen and to think about what he’s about to say, and not take offense,
6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.Matthew 11:6 (ESV)
As Keller points out, in Galilean society everyone had to work hard to survive, but there were two seminal events in community life: marriages (where celebrations lasted a week) and funerals (where the mourning and wailing lasted a day). So it’s perfectly natural that children would use these very happy and sad occasions in their play. Jesus uses this childish metaphor to underline the complaining and muttering that accompanies the crowd’s adoration for him and John the Baptist.
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
And Now Comes the Offense
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”[a]Matthew 11:18-19
Finally, he says something that would be deeply offensive to the Hebrew mind:
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[a]27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.Matthew 11:25-27
When Jesus says extraordinary things about God the Father such as: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” it seems he’s saying to me:
“Peter, you can’t just make me into a good teacher, an encourager of the poor, or a doctor. I am, of course, all those things too. For us to have a working relationship, a true friendship Peter, you have to remember who’s God in our relationship and its not you. To think of me in any other way, to forget that I am of the triune God, is to make me into a partial or imaginary Jesus.”
Now We come to the Culmination of the Whole Chapter–What Does Jesus Want of His Audience
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I imagine Jesus calls me to himself individually, not as a member of a crowd. I stagger up carrying an impossible burden. He places my load into a cart and the two of us, side-by-side pull it using a yoke. All the time he speaks gently and humbly to me and teaches me how to pull the cart, doing more than his fair share. In that companionship I have his full attention, and he has mine and he teaches me how to walk and work.
Links to Dr. Keller’s Spotify Messages
On Tim Keller’s Essay THE FADING OF FORGIVENESS
Tim Keller, is a writer, speaker, and a minister at a New York city Presbyterian church. He is also very ill. Yet, despite his challenges he wrote a profound essay on forgiveness on Comment.org [https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/].
In the introduction entitled OFFENDED BY FORGIVENESS, Keller cites many examples where the younger generation has moved from forgiveness to retribution. Indeed forgiveness is seen as an enabler of injustice.
“the emphasis on guilt and justice is ever more on the rise and the concept of forgiveness seems, especially to the younger generation, increasingly problematic“Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
Keller then goes on to show, in a segment entitled OUR THERAPEUTIC CULTURE, that even when “forgiveness” is tolerated, it is only tolerated in a therapeutic sense … if forgiveness is of positive benefit to the victim of the injustice.
“forgiveness is either discouraged as imposing a moral burden on the person or, at best, it is offered as a way of helping yourself acquire more peaceful inner feelings, of “healing ourselves of our hate.” “Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
The Amish of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania
As a counterpoint to our culture’s intolerance toward forgiveness, Keller cited the example of the Amish families whose children were shot and killed by a gunman in October, 2006. The gunman then committed suicide. The families of the wounded and dead children immediately reached out to the family of the deceased gunman, as Keller put it, “expressing sympathy for their loss.”
“Within hours members of the Amish community visited both the killer’s immediate family and his parents, each time expressing sympathy for their loss. The Amish uniformly expressed forgiveness of the murderer and his family.”Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
The Bottom Line for Me
The sacrifice of forgiveness is not optional for me. It may not always work right away, or ever, but it is the only route to healing and reconciliation. The primary purpose of forgiveness is not a way to make me feel better or to combat hate I may feel toward those who have wronged me (although it may well do that as a by-product), it is my minor participation in Christ’s reconciling work on the cross. His forgiveness is offered to all–but not all accept it. Yet the sacrifice and offer has been made regardless of the acceptance.
In Keller’s words …
“Christians in community are to never give up on one another, never give up on a relationship, never “write off” another believer and have nothing to do with them. We must never tire of forgiving (and/or repenting!) and seeking to repair our relationships.“Tim Keller https://comment.org/the-fading-of-forgiveness/
I Urge You to Read Keller’s Essay
In my personal reflection on Tim Keller’s essay, I only spoke to the high points that caught my attention. There is much I did not talk about. For example, Keller has very practical actions around forgiveness and unpacks our cancel culture in an incisive and thoughtful analysis. I urge you to read his essay in detail.
My Review of THE END, THE WAYFARER’S GUIDE TO THE APOLCALYPSE
The End, The Wayfarer’s Guide To The Apocalypse by Joanne Rolston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Joanne Rolston, in her book THE END: A WAYFARER’S GUIDE TO THE APOCALYPSE, wrote in the Epilogue, “I hope I’ve given you a different view of the enigmatic end-times book of Revelation.” She has certainly done that!
In the personal, storytelling style reminiscent of PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, Wayfarer is a traveler looking for the house of wisdom after hearing Wisdom speak in a town square. When she finally comes to Wisdom’s house she meets the sisters, Wisdom and Prudence, their father Abba, and Miles who is in charge of the house library.
What follows is a detailed journey through the book of Revelation mostly guided by Abba, but also with input from Miles and his resources in the library. Rolston has worked meticulously to make contact with modern-day events as she expounds on the various passages in Revelation. These modern-day touch points of Rolston’s narrative make this book of special interest to me since I like to check things out. For example, I did not know that the Greek word for the pale rider is transliterated chloros (green), the root word for chlorine, a green-colored elemental gas. I also looked up the UNESCO World Heritage site for the birthplace of Gautama Buddha (the site number is 666 which a significant numeral in Revelation). Finally, I looked up the Halloween asteroid of 2015 on the Near Earth Object database. These are only a few of the significant observations that are open for further investigation and verification by the reader.
In summary, if you have an interest in the book of Revelation and would like a new, easy-to-read perspective that touches on many recent events, this book would be of great value to you. I highly recommend it.
My Review of Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s book THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND
The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
To my thinking, THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND is really two books which I would rate very differently and as such the average overall rating (three stars) is misleading. The first three chapters are excellent and I would rate that portion of the book as four or five stars. They delineate the root causes behind many of the disturbing trends one sees in the thinking and conduct of undergraduates today and analyzes these causes in terms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). They distill their observations and recommendations into three lies and about nine pit falls in thinking CBT attempts to counteract. I found these ideas very helpful and continue to use them to analyze my own thinking. I will read these chapters over and over again.
I am much less sanguine about the second part of the book which provides anecdotes, supposedly in support of the early chapters. Reiterating the events at Evergreen State College was useful, but for most of the anecdotes and discussion, I found that the authors broke their own rules. They used labeling extensively without clearly defining their labels. Many of the labels were highly pejorative, yet as far as I could see the authors did not explain why the labels were appropriate. They seemed to engage in mind reading (another of the pitfalls) in that they seemed confident they knew what motivated the various non-university groups which they also seemed to blame for the anxiety-ridden undergraduate mindset.
When I finished and thought about what I had read, it seemed to me they were aiming for an “equality of blame” in their analysis of the anecdotes. This made no sense to me. The university administrations establish codes of conduct, enforce them, hire faculty, permit or exclude external speakers, and ultimately decide if they will support or not support teachers and students that are under attack for their views. Similarly the reading lists, course work, examinations, and grading are carried out by the faculty. Furthermore professors, by their own conduct and the way they approach questions provide examples to the students on how one should behave as one purses truth in an unbiased and objective manner.
It seems ludicrous to me to argue that outside forces or groups that have trouble even getting an invited speaker onto campus can share equal culpability for how students are turning out.
In summary, the early chapter are excellent and deserve a rating of four or five stars. The rest of the book, to my mind deserves only one or two stars. The average or overall rating, is perhaps, 2.5 to 3 stars.
Insights from Jordan Peterson on the Old and New Testament
My book club is reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life; An Antidote to Chaos. As part of this reading program I have been listening to various interviews of Peterson and a recent one, taken from a talk and interview at Lafayette College , caught my particular interest.
After a lengthy and colorful introduction by the moderator, Peterson posed a question to the audience. I am going to tell you what I heard in my own words, but I highly recommend you listen to his comments for yourself.
In my paraphrase and summary, his preamble and question went like this:
So called “right wing thinking” is concerned about establishing hierarchies (which are necessary for survival and for society to function), while “left wing thinking” focuses on equality and fights for the bottom tier of the hierarchies that have been established (which is also necessary).
He went on to say that we know where “right wing thinking” crosses the line into extremism: when they claim one group (usually their own) is intrinsically superior to other groups. Peterson then asked the question: Where is the line for extremism on the left?
He went on to answer his own question. The line is crossed on the left when their zeal for equality for the lowest tier in a hierarchy causes them:
- To focus on equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity
- To compel a certain kind of speech and thinking because it’s the only way to get people to comply with their demand for equality of outcome.
What Has This to Do With the Old and the New Testament?
Note: I’m not especially interested into entering into political discourse, important as that may be, but I am interested in how Peterson’s comments affect my thinking about the history of Judaism and Christianity described in the Old and New Testaments. I will confine my remarks to that subject.
I thought about the points Peterson made, and it struck me how this analysis parallels what I see in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, when primarily describing God’s dealing with His chosen people Israel, he clearly sets up hierarchies: indeed he set up a political one and a religious one each of which acted as a balances to the another. This structure enabled the Israelites to survive despite encountering many enemies and suffering under the afflictions they caused whether it be slavery in Egypt or captivity by Babylon. Even under the heel of the Roman Empire, their identity and cohesion as a people was preserved. When I look at it, the hierarchies in their culture and in their relationship to outsiders contributed positively to their survival and cultural cohesion. However, there was potentially the possibility of crossing the hierarchical line that Peterson articulated.
When Jesus came, he seemed to turn everything on its head. He came in at the lowest tier—as many thought—the illegitimate son of a Galilean carpenter. Yet Christ, while not destroying the Jewish hierarchy, taught that to be a leader in His Kingdom, the leader has to be servant of all. This seems very much like fighting for the lowest tier.
Given Peterson’s analysis, it’s striking to me how Christ came to restore a sense of balance to the hierarchies and keep the Jewish people (and hopefully Christians as well) from crossing the line into extremism where “chosen people” comes to mean “as a people we are superior.” This has been helpful to me because it shows a natural progression in the Old and New Testaments and shows how hierarchies and fighting for the lowest tier are both essential for balance.
Disclaimer: I know Professor Peterson has delivered some lectures on biblical topics. I have not listened to any of them.
©Peter Kazmaier 2018
My Review of D. S. Martin`s CONSPIRACY OF LIGHT
Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis by D.S. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I share D. S. Martin`s love for the writings of C. S. Lewis. For that reason, reading Conspiracy of Light was for me a double pleasure.
On the one hand, I can enjoy D. S. Martin`s poems on their own merit. For example I can picture a lion standing between two mountain ashes in What Lucy Saw and be carried on to plumb the depths of what it means to follow Christ even when the path is unclear and uncertain.
On the other hand, when I re-read one of Lewis`s books, I can also read a poem associated with it from this collection. D. S. Martin has a helpful Notes & Acknowledgements section in the back which makes it easy to read the poems associated with a particular Lewis book or essay. Reading “Conspiracy of Light“ in conjunction with Lewis adds a dimension to my enjoyment. The beauty and logic of Lewis`s writings is amplified by the pictures and emotions that D. S. Martin`s poems evoke.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading Lewis.
A Comment on Sara Flower Kjeldsen’s Excellent Blog: READING AN ENTIRE BLOG BEFORE COMMENTING
Posted by Peter Kazmaier
Link to Sara Flower Kjeldsen’s blog: https://saraflower.ca/2023/02/05/reading-a-persons-entire-post-before-commenting/
Link to a cited reference in Sara’s blog: https://www.sciencealert.com/people-who-read-the-facebook-newsfeed-think-they-know-more-than-they-actually-do
I wholeheartedly agree, that as a blog commenter, I ought first to thoroughly read and understand the thesis of any blog before I respond either in support or in disagreement. For me that is a discipline that I ought to practice in my reading.
However, having conceded that point, I also believe as a blog writer I ought to structure my blog argument in such a way, that the modern reader with all the attention deficits they bring to the written word. cannot help but capture my central argument even if they skim that last few paragraphs of my missive. Note, to be perfectly clear, I am not at all saying that any Sara’s blog posts suffer from this deficiency. I am merely stating that as a complement to thorough reading, I always want to practice best writing practices in my blog posts.
Why the complementary focus on blog structure? In 2011, I read William Powers’ book, Hamlet’s Blackberry. It was either while reading the book itself, or hearing some excellent lectures on Powers’ book by Pastor Bruxy Cavey, that I realized that the age of emails had modified both my own and many other people’s reading habits.
In my case, feeling the pressure of reading and responding to many, many emails a day, I found, as Powers predicted, that I would read the title and first paragraph and then, without thinking, skim the rest of the text. This modern proclivity of skimming, does not at all excuse the blog commenter from reading the blog carefully before responding, but it did signal to me as a blog writer that I should do what I can to mitigate this reading defect. In essence, I resolved to use the title and first paragraph, as much as I am able, to communicate a succinct version of my thesis, so that even those who read no further can grasp my argument.
At least one commenter attributed inappropriate responses to Sara’s blog to trolls who presumably are deliberately misunderstanding her argument since they write using uncharitable criticism to inflame passions and provoke heated responses. No urging for them to “read the whole blog” nor any effort on my part to make the thesis apparent in the first paragraph will curtain their activity, since the whole mechanism of trolling is to miss the point.
However, there are likely many readers who miss the point inadvertently because of time pressure. True they should not comment without a thorough reading, but I think it would be of value to structure my blog in such a way that they get the general idea of my thesis or point despite their rushed perusal.
Posted in Essay, For Authors, Independent (Indie) Authors, Non-Fiction, Personal Reflection, Writing
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Tags: Blog Posts, Commenting, Straw Man Argument, Trolls