Thursday, February 16, 2017

Handing Lutheran, Episcopal and Presbyterian women a cup of poison

It’s as ancient as the sin of our mother Eve and our father Adam, the desire to establish our own identity—minus the purpose of God. We would be our own gods and goddesses; deciding what is good and evil.

The publishing house of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), using  Theology of the People, a division of Augsburg/Fortress Press, published a book entitled, Fierce: Women of the Bible and Their Stories of Violence, Mercy, Bravery, Wisdom, Sex, and Salvation. The author, Alice Connor, is an “Episcopal priest and a chaplain on a college campus.” An ad with a free reading guide, introduction, content, first chapter and a video was sent to me this morning, via e-mail, by the Presbyterian Women of the PC (U.S.A.).

At the bottom of the ad, PW stated, “Presbyterian Women will occasionally send an email on behalf of organizations that may be of interest to our constituency. These paid advertisements help fund Presbyterian Women's publishing work and other ministries. Thank you for supporting organizations that support PW.”

I have ordered the book with the thought of reviewing it, but so much information was sent, including a link to Augsburg/Fortress and Amazon, (which offers some pages to read), so I am setting out several warnings—about apostasy. I am certain that many women received the same information that I received.  And it seems that this book will touch women in at least three mainline denominations.

Probably the worst chapter, “So God Had a Wife, Maybe? Probably,” is on the ancient pagan goddess Asherah. It begins, “She was erased.” And continues to suggest that the Israelites worshiped not only a male god but also his wife, Asherah. The author, Alice Connor, writes:

“Like math sums done wrong, or a letter phrased poorly, bits of her were scraped away and wiped off the page, as carelessly as if she did not exist. And in a way, I suppose she doesn’t anymore. Her presence has been denied for generations. She was Asherah. She was Mother of the Gods, she was the Lion Lady, and she it was who subdued the sea. She was the wife of Yahweh, She was the embodiment of nourishment; her breast fed multitudes.  She represented not only survival but plenty. Her hips birthed gods; her presence created abundant harvests. The people made sacrifices to her—grain and animals, even their children from time to time. …”   

Connor continues, stating that Asherah was worshiped alongside of Yahweh. Continuing with her story she suggests that eventually Asherah was erased when the Israelites were searching for a reason for their defeat and exile. But now, allegedly, she has been discovered again:

“Now thousands of years after those holy books were written, scholars have rediscovered her and the bare-breasted clay totems buried for centuries. They speak her names and write of her totems, her sacred trees, her high places with their rough and beautiful altars, and they don’t know which name to call her: Asherah, Astarte, Anat, Qudshu, Queen of Heaven. …”

Connor speculates about her existence and referring to the Hebrew Scriptures writes, “She’s between the lines of Hebrew, like the feeling you get when you try to push the positive ends of two magnets together. You can feel the energy pushing between them, even though the space looks empty. Between the lines of Hebrew where her sacred poles were torn down and she isn’t even named, there is energy pushing back.”

Connor still speculates on the historical reality of Asherah but eventually equates Asherah with others who have been erased from their historical context. The tragedy here is Connor’s denial of the utter unfaithfulness of God’s people. It is also her own unfaithfulness that she could so easily, as priest, deny the truthfulness of God and his word.

The questions on the reading guide are sometimes helpful but too often inane, “What difference would it make to you if Rahab’s occupation as   a prostitute were somehow definitively proven or disproven? Not just historically, but to this story and to your understanding of sin and redemption. Do you think the Israelite spies slept with Rahab? What difference would it make to their story and that of Israel’s conquest of Canaan?”

The exercises at the end of each chapter entail meditation on icons of the biblical characters including Asherah. And the chapter on the Song of Songs entails feeling your body which, I admit, made me both laugh and appalled me. Not because the body is evil but because it seemed to me to be the ultimate self-worship.

And that, self-worship as well as self-guidance, rather than listening to God’s word and obedient discipleship, is the framework of Connor’s book.

Just recently, I sorted out my library, removing most of the radical feminist books I have used for research. I started to toss them, and did toss some, but decided to save a core of them downstairs on some unused shelves in a pantry. (My old house has so many unexpected nooks and crannies.) The books are all the same!

Until the coming of Christ I suppose that all kinds of heretical movements, such as radical ‘Christian’ feminism, will continue to form, change and die. The books will multiple and move from circle to circle with praise from those who should know better. But the ugly systems are boringly the same: denying God’s word, denying Christ’s redemptive gift of life because of his shed blood, denying our sanctification through the Holy Spirit—the list is too long and too often the same.

Lift up the cross of Christ, the word of God and the righteousness that is God’s gift.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The 2016-17 Horizons Bible Study "Who is Jesus? - a continuing review- According to the Other Abrahamic Faiths

Judy Yates Siker, author of the Presbyterian Women’s Bible study, Who is Jesus? : What a Difference a Lens Makes., in the eighth lesson focuses on Islam and Judaism and their views about Jesus’ identity. Siker’s focuses is meant as a means of understanding and dialogue with the two other Abrahamic faiths. She writes:

“It may seem at first to be an unusual excursion for a Christian Bible study, but as Christian women of faith, we should be informed about how these two traditions view Jesus and be willing to engage in dialogue with our sisters and brothers of other faiths.”

At the end of the lesson, Siker also lifts up the importance of not only understanding other faiths but of also not misrepresenting them. She writes:

“… We are painfully aware of the possibilities for tragedy that arise when we abuse our Bibles at the expense of another group. We are also painfully aware of how much misinformation is spread when we do not take the time to learn anything about others who may have more in common with us then we are willing to recognize. In this ever shrinking world of ours, we encounter many people whose faith traditions are not our own, so we have the opportunity, privilege, and responsibility to learn from one another. …”

Siker is right, Christians should have knowledge of these two religions and they should be in dialogue with their adherents, but there is a greater reason why Christians should have such knowledge. And there is a dimension to that knowledge which Siker does not address.

Jesus’ commandment to go and make disciples of all nations is the greatest reason for knowing about the beliefs of other faiths.[1] And the dimension that is missing in Siker’s lesson is how differing faiths, in one way or another, contradict the biblical understanding of sin, repentance and redemption, thereby eliminating the need for a suffering savior—a God whose compassion takes on humanity and makes the ultimate sacrifice.  The good news of the gospel is the ultimate good news. There is no other.

In a way, Siker has emphasized the ultimate good news with a quote from the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides—“Even if he should tarry, I shall wait for him.” After quoting this saying of Maimonides, Siker writes, “Throughout history, there has been an expectation that the messiah would come, that God’s plan for the world will be complete someday. This belief has kept many Jews from giving up hope, even in the dark times of persecution.”

I read the Maimonides quote and thought that is surely Scripture. The text is in Habakkuk 2:3. In most texts it is stated with an impersonal “it.” For instance in my NASV it states:

For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.”

But looking at the various translations at Gateway led me to the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin 97b which states, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though he tarry, wait for him; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Italics mine) And of course the author of Hebrews picks up the messianic prophecy understanding it to be referring to Jesus our Lord. He adds Habakkuk 2:4 reminding the reader that “the righteous shall live by faith.” At least the Rabbis and the New Testament writer agree, this is the messiah.

But the Messiah has come, Jesus. And because of that Christians have an obligation, but of the heart, to be both friends and witnesses to their Jewish sisters and brothers.

A side note, because Siker is focusing only on the two faiths’ views about Jesus she lumps all of Judaism into one viewpoint which is not consistent with the various branches of Judaism. Not all Jews believe in a personal coming Messiah. Some simply believe in a coming messianic kingdom or a utopian age. Reformed Jews are more inclined to see humanity progressing toward a golden age. Orthodox Jews are those who look for a personal Messiah. Beyond this is Reconstruction Judaism which even denies a personal God.[2]

Siker’s information about Islam and its view of Jesus is good as far as it goes. There is so much more that needs to be said, and there is a subtle use of the Islamic view of Jesus and the cross by means of “Suggestions to leaders” and a reference to the art used for this lesson. It is a miniature of “the ascension of Jesus.” The instruction simply suggests looking at the picture, reading the small blurb about it and finding all of the things going on in the picture. But the story of the picture is about God causing Jesus’ executer to appear to be Jesus. The executer is killed and Jesus ascends to heaven without dying.

It is important to note that there is no need for the cross in Islam. The eternal Son does not take on human flesh and die in the Muslim faith. As Timothy George writes in his book, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?:

“The cross (or death) of Jesus is mentioned in most of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Its reality and meaning permeate all of them. Yet Muslims deny that Jesus ever suffered and died on the cross. There can be no Christianity without this event. There can be no Islam with it. As the distinguished Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr has said, the noncrucifixion of Jesus is ‘the one irreducible fact separating Christianity and Islam, a fact which is in reality placed there providentially to prevent a mingling of the two religions”

To those in the Muslim faith, must also bring friendship and witness of a dying but living savior.

Because there is a real need for information about what Islam and Judaism believe and how to witness in a winsome, careful and effective way I will, with this review, add some books and links for the reader.


The book I have mentioned above:

Timothy George. Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? Understanding the Differences Between Christianity and Islam. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2002).

The next book is by a black Reformed Baptist pastor who was once a Muslim by choice. He in the past has participated in respectful and informative debates with Islamic scholars of the Middle East.

Thabiti Anyabwile. The Gospel for Muslims: An encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence. (Chicago: Moody Publishers 2010).

Judaism & Islam:

The next book covers most world religions with good chapters on both Judaism and Islam.

Dean Halverson, General Editor. The Illustrated Guide to World Religions. (Bethany House 2003).

This book explains very carefully what each religion believes, what their communities are like, and effective ways of witnessing to the adherents. There is advice such as, “Don’t argue with your Muslim friend. Understand that a Muslim cannot lose an argument, because he or she would then lose face. Try to sensitively stimulate your friend’s thinking instead.”

And dos, “Handle the Bible with respect. The custom in Islamic countries is to not lower the Qur’an below the waist. Muslims also keep the Qur’an on the highest shelf in the house, for nothing should be placed upon the Qur’an. Also they consider it a sign of disrespect to write in the Qur’an or the Bible.

For Judaism there is a long list that has an importance far beyond witnessing. For instance:

“Jewish” is a word that should be used only to describe people, land, religion, or language. If you refer to ‘Jewish money’ or Jewish control of the media,” you may well be harboring anti-Semitic attitudes.”


“’The cross’ symbolizes persecution for many Jews. It is better to speak about ‘the death of Jesus.”


I am ending this posting by putting a video of Thabiti Anyabwile debating with a Muslim scholar at The Muslim - Christian dialogue in 2009 in Dubai, UAE sponsored “by the Christian Fellowship Club of the University of Wollongong in Dubai with corporate sponsor GDS Knowledge Consultants. This is just a small part that begins with the Islamic scholar Bassam Zawadi while most of the video is of Anyabwile. If you click on YouTube on the video you can find the other videos of the debate.


[1] (See Matthew 28: 18-20, as well as John 4: 34-38; Luke 15; Acts; Romans 10.)
[2] Two often leadership and organizations within the PC (U.S.A.) when they align on issues with those of the Jewish faith do so only with Reformed Judaism or Reconstruction Judaism. While this lesson seems to be on the side of and tolerant of those Jews who are orthodox, that is, believing in a coming messiah, in reality progressive Presbyterians view orthodox Jew’s views on several issues such as homosexuality as intolerant.   

Monday, February 6, 2017

The ad that wasn't finished! Up-date

A commercial  played during the Super bowl--but Fox did not allow the ending. Now complete on You Tube.

For a great explanation go to:

UP-Date: From Kelly Minter's Bible Study on refugees: "3 Things Boaz Teaches Us About A Gospel Heart For Refugees"
"When Ruth entered the Israelite town of Bethlehem as a Moabitess she could only hope to meet a landowner who’d have enough pity on her to permit her to glean in his fields. (It’s worth mentioning that Moab’s beliefs and practices stood directly opposed to those of Israel’s.) But Boaz, a wealthy Israelite landowner, did far more than turn a blind eye and permit Ruth on his fields; He prized her. He invited her to sit at his table, offered her a place among his workers, protec...ted her from men who might take advantage of her, allowed her to freely drink from the water the servant’s had drawn. So overwhelmed by Boaz’s kindness, Ruth fell on her face exclaiming, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you would notice me, a foreigner?”

A heart left to its natural inclinations might hope that the refugee crisis just goes away, or that other countries will deal with the problem. Or maybe our attitude is that we’re okay if refugees are allowed into our country as long as they keep to themselves. But permitting refugees and prizing them are two different things. Boaz continually showed me that a Gospel heart goes beyond cultural norms, beyond meeting basic needs, beyond what would be considered “enough”. It crosses over into lavish."