Knowing the Father Better
* I just had to let you know that your October 26 issue was your best ever. I refer in particular to your multisided exposition of the Prodigal Son/Loving Father. I have a greater understanding of my Father because of your work.
J. Kent and Sherri Patterson
San Antonio, Tex.
* I've already marked Luke 15 in my favorite commentary with a note to always reread this issue before ever preaching on this parable again.
* Between the interpretations of Kenneth Bailey and Christopher Hall, I am with Hall. While Bailey's Middle Eastern viewpoint was interesting, I cannot agree with his attempt to separate any aspect of the returning prodigal's decision from the fact of his redemption. The returning prodigal may have been nave, but it is not correct to conclude that he was not repentant. As Hall implies, to believe otherwise causes many real life (sin) problems. (If even repentance were not involved, then how much worse would the reaction of the older brother have been?)
The Bible makes clear that the decisions by us sinners and saints do matter. I disagree with those theologians who, in effect, say mankind has no free will in the face of God's sovereignty.
Stephen R. Schulze
* I greatly appreciate Kenneth Bailey's fresh look at the Prodigal. More than anything, his study shined because it placed the story in its cultural and Old Testament context. It is often easy for us to read the Gospels (especially parables) as if they were written for late twentieth-century Westerners, but I was reminded that Scripture is something we come to in a posture of learning: we don't read our world-view into it, it reads us.
The shock of the outrageous (loving!) behavior of the father coupled with the manipulative, self-serving behavior of the younger son made me relate all the more with the older brother (as I think Jesus was intending his first audience do). Yes, this story takes a richer meaning when we remember it was first written for biblically literate Palestinian Jews. Better knowing the parable's original meaning makes it more meaningful today. Thank you for the reminder.
Rev. Kent Clayton
Sandia Presbyterian Church
*Bailey's paper is very revealing. It comes from original study, not just a rehash of seminary classes.
Miller's interview of Miroslav Volf is most helpful in an age when so many seem to want "togetherness" at any price.
* When I noticed that this issue centered on the Prodigal, I knew I needed to read it immediately because we have been dealing with that very situation. When I saw the article "The Missing Mother," I knew God was speaking to me, and I turned to it straightway.
What a blessing to my aching heart! I could identify with the author on practically every point: ministerial wife, early profession of faith for the prodigal, and the constant reminder of God to really entrust our son to Christ. To read an article written by a mother who has done everything she knows to do to safeguard the spiritual well-being of her child, and yet still sees rebellion, was very meaningful to me.
I have been struggling with casting off the mantle of false guilt the Enemy would direct against me, and Wendy Zoba's article has taken me further along in this process.
Saying "The Older Brother Had a Point" (Barbara Brown Taylor) is tantamount to saying the Pharisees and scribes had a point when they carped at Jesus because he received sinners and ate with them. The triple parable Jesus then told was his answer to their unjust and ungodly criticism. The Pharisees and scribes are not pictured in the story of the shepherd and his straying sheep or in that of the woman and her lost coin, but they are unmistakably pictured in the elder son in the final part of the parable.
This young man's tone was bitter and sarcastic, demonstrating that he had not the spirit of a son, but that of a slave. I believe Jesus hoped the Pharisees and scribes would get the point of his story. That is why he left it unfinished. The last we see of the elder son, he stands moping in the shadows, and his father stands at his side, pleading with him to enter the house and join in the family's feasting and joy. Did he relent and heed the pleading of his father? Did the Pharisees and scribes heed the pleading of Jesus?
Paul C. Clarke
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Clinton's Spirit of Remorse
Regarding the editorial "The President's Small Group" [Oct. 26], as with other apologists for the President, the writer uses a greater level of immorality in the example of Henry Lyons in order to minimize Clinton's sin. He closes by saying, "But when leaders take responsiblity for their sins, not only by expressing remorse but by engaging in accountablity, restitution, and retreat, we must, like the angels in heaven, rejoice."
It would appear the spirit of remorse was only squeezed out of the man when he was confronted with no other political alternative. It would prove true repentence and depth of moral character if Bill Clinton would follow the prescribed course and retreat from the presidency. As with Henry Lyons and Jimmy Swaggart, the position, power, and money (millions of dollars in democratic fundraisers), will prove to be more important than true Christian character for this President. If political expediency continues to transform moral certitude into moral relevancy, then Clinton may represent a society soon to be subjected to the righteous judgment of Almighty God.
Drew D. Montgomery
Council Grove, Kans.
* I agree with your assessment of Pastor Lyons, but I wish you would go ahead and put the pressure on the President to resign as well. I doubt that his moral influence is less than that of Pastor Lyons just because one is in a Christian job and the other is secular.
The President could do a lot of good for the children and their education by calling the news media and having a Saturday children and teens speech. He could say, "See what immorality brings. It brings shame. It brings pain. It brings punishment. I am going to take my medicine like a 'big man,' and I am asking you not to follow my example."
Jed J. Snyder
In light of a certain Scripture, it is interesting to note the seventh point of Kenneth S. Kantzer's referenced 1987 article concerning the steps in an accountability and restoration process. That certain Scripture is Ezekiel 44:10-14. Clearly God has set forth what a defecting priest's second "genuine call" is to be: caretaking and maintenance work. Both God and his holy offerings were declared off-limits so they might bear the blame of their "detestable practices."
Sin always has it consequences.
Mrs. Robert W. Teague
Head Coverings a Symbol
* Regarding your article "Veils, Kisses, and Biblical Commands" [Directions, Oct. 26], I take exception to Craig Keener's interpretation of a woman's head covering. The entire passage deals with the hierarchy of authority that God has established. The reason given in 1 Corinthians 11:10 for a woman to have her head covered when she prays or prophesies is to have a symbolic representation that she accepts this authority, for the sake of the attending angels. Have angels ceased to exist that we no longer need to indicate to them our acceptance of this? For centuries and, to my knowledge, up through the fifties, women in most churches wore hats. This practice disappeared in the sixties, the time of rebellion and the rise of feminism. Is there any connection, I wonder?
As a teenager in the sixties, I abandoned the practice, with everyone else in my congregation. In my twenties, I suddenly felt the urge to begin wearing hats again, though they were sadly out of style. I didn't understand why for a long time, but in spite of catty remarks by some, I wasn't deterred. After a while, I understood. I was disciplining myself to be obedient to God in other areas of my life, and he was taking care of a situation of which I was, at that time, ignorant.
Mrs. Connie Schutta
The Cost of Forgiveness
The review of Wiesenthal's classic, The Sunflower, is both interesting and deeply thought-provoking [Books, Oct. 26]. The tension it creates, it seems to me, is boiled down to the issue of "cheap grace"—does forgiveness reduce or enhance thoughtless acts of violence? Interestingly, the same issue carries Rabbi Neusner's article on Israel's present-day holocaust of the eradication of thousands of unborn babies [Matters of Opinion].
The very nature of grace is that it is free, renewing, and uplifting to the one being forgiven after repentance. It is the one granting the forgiveness who pays! The price for Wiesenthal to pay was too great, and so all he could do was be silent. He could not deny himself, family, race, situation in order to forgive. Yet that is exactly what it cost God!
Chinese House Churches
In the October 26 issue, the first sentence of an article on house churches reads: "A group of Christian house church leaders, who function without government registration, has issued … " [News: World Report]. Those two commas leave the impression that all house churches lack registration, which is not the fact. Thousands of house churches are registered and get along with the government. I am not sure if the error was the fault of CT or RNS, but it is misleading.
Rev. Arne Sovik
No Political Subtitles
On behalf of Palestinian Christians, I would like to thank you for your cover article "How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend" [Oct. 5]. In the American evangelical world, our voice has been ignored for many years now, and I applaud your effort to hear us once again. We, Palestinian Christians, are caught between the terror of Islamic fundamentalism and the brutality of continual military occupation. Our hearts still cry for justice.
I have learned that though the plight of my people is a harsh one, Christ is strong enough to carry our sufferings, even if they were inflicted in his name. I pray that Americans would at last open their hearts to their brothers and sisters—the Arab church. I still pray for the peace of Jerusalem, but my prayers do not come with political subtitles anymore. Only God can lead us to true reconciliation between all peoples.
* "How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend" is objective, educational and well-written. Timothy Weber's treatment is fair to history and the Word of God.
Two things have concerned me about dispensationalism in the modern American church: (1) It has become such a "fad" to believe in one form or another of it that, to oppose it, places one in a situation similar to our place as nonevolutionists in the scientific world. There are many of us who are strong believers (and, we believe, honest students or scholars) who do not jump on the dispensational bandwagon. (2) Evangelical leaders, as Weber points out, are "making" events in the Middle East conform to their interpretations of Israel, the kingdom, eschatology, and so on. This is an alarming idea, and portends even worse things than the historical tension between the Arab and Israeli people. Thank you for including Dr. Weber's article—to many, an unpopular sketch of these matters.
Colorado Springs, Colo.
I write to share my sense of dismay over the misuse of Scripture by dispensationalists and deep alarm over the negative effects this ideology has had in this country and in the Middle East. Their misuse of Scripture is based on their convoluted attempts to force Christian theology to conform to the nationalistic and military aspirations of ancient Israel. Jesus was rejected because he would not be used for this purpose, and today dispensationalists essentially reject him again by making his ministry "parenthetical." I would read that to mean "irrelevant for our times, especially for Israel and the Middle East"!
The dark side of total support for Israel on the part of dispensationalist evangelicals has been the demoralization of the Christian churches among the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. We have rejected our own people in the interest of political ideology based on theological bias. Close to 40 percent of Palestinians used to be Christians, now the number is down to 3 percent. No wonder Islam is rushing in to fill a vacuum we have created!
In their rush to read the signs and predict the future, dispensationalists have ignored the testimony of Jesus, and consequently also lost the spirit of prophecy.
Vartkes M. Kassouni
Presbytery of San Fernando
Panorama City, Calif.
* If Weber's purpose ever was to enlighten his dispensationalist readers, he sabotaged that strategy on the first page with language that only alienated those readers. He would have served us all better by presenting the history and experience of both sides and then asking if justice is best served by unquestioned support of Israel, instead of mocking beliefs held dear to these our brothers.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Weber says, "The most serious issue that grows out of the relationship between evangelicals and Israel is whether the connection has helped or hindered the peace process." I disagree. The most serious issue growing out of that relationship is the potential blunting of our evangelistic mandate to preach the gospel to all people, to the Jew first. Many evangelicals, under a mistaken notion of love for Israel, have made a conscious determination not to share the love of the Savior with my Jewish people. Regardless of their views on eschatology or politics, those evangelicals are party to an insidious form of anti-Semitism; they end up "loving" my people into a Christless eternity.
True love for Israel must be accompanied by an uncompromising commitment to share Israel's Messiah.
Jews for Jesus
San Francisco, Calif.
Our organization, First Fruits of Zion, was mentioned by name. You said "First Fruits of Zion Ministries … tries to get American Christians to live like Jews." However, the point made about FFOZ is exactly the opposite of what we are attempting to accomplish.
First, we do not solely minister to the American Christians. Our materials span the globe. Second, we certainly do not "try to get American Christians to live like Jews." Simply put, our goal is to encourage anyone to live according to the teachings of the entire Scriptures, not just the New Testament. Thus we are attempting to teach the body of Messiah at large the basic contents of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and how to apply those teachings to their lives—as well as help them to more fully understand the Torah's only inspired commentary, the New Testament. In other words, we are striving to teach the body of Messiah to take hold of their rightful privilege to fully participate with God's covenants with Israel. But we are not attempting to make Jewish people out of them. Their way of living out Israel's covenants may take a different form than that which the Jewish people have sought to do.
Director of Education
First Fruits of Zion
* The Arkansas Institute of Holy Land Studies appreciates being mentioned; however, one correction needs to be made. Weber wrote that the Arkansas Institute of Holy Land Studies was unaccredited. This is not true. We are accredited by ACI—Accrediting Commission International, which accredits schools, colleges, and theological seminaries.
The October 5, 1998, issue of CT ("Is Hell Forever?") stated that the General Baptist Confession of 1660 advocated annihilationism. One would assume this is based on article 22 of the Confession, which quotes Job 20:7 as saying that the wicked will perish forever. However, a thorough reading of the rest of the Confession indicates that its framers understood "perish forever" in the traditional Christian sense of eternal, conscious punishment. Article 4 of the Confession describes "the second death" as "eternally suffer[ing] in Hell," while article 10 defines it as "eternal punishment in Hell."
Thank God for alert readers. In editing Stanley Grenz's reply to a reader's question about annihilationism, the editors "helped" him out by supplying historical context drawn from a secondary work. On checking the General Baptist Confession of 1660 with our very own eyes, we see that we were misled and thus misled our readers. Our apologies to General Baptists everywhere and to Professor Grenz.
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