Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Looking over ChatGPT's shoulder

Had a bizarre thought today, the kind you would expect from me. I am now using ChatGPT extensively for research. It has to be double-checked for sure. It occurred to me that my son watches videos of people playing video games. I thought it might just be strange enough that some people might bizarrely enjoy watching me to research in relation to my projects and curiosities. I thought maybe even I could have ChatGPT write a book and anyone who wanted could watch some of it.

In the category of, "Why not experiment?" here is a first, 3-minute venture:

Walter Brueggemann and Lawrence Kohlberg

Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Week in Review (July 22, 2023)

It's been another week that flashed by. Not sure I have much of great interest to share. I spent a good bit of time in the second half of the week putting flesh on the "Basic Christian Beliefs" micro-course built around video that Chris Bounds has done with Campus/Kingswood. I think it will be a fairly interesting micro-course that will be available for free through Kingswood Learn. I continue to work on a College Algebra class too.

As far as my own goals, I've tried to put a pulse through my weekly projects. Some of them are long-term and slow-going (Linear Algebra, Quantum Mechanics). I suppose I'll mention that I am about halfway through building a Romans course for Udemy. I've done over two hours of video for it so far. My wife Angie has been out of town this week, so I can make more noise in the house than usual. I had hoped to finish the essential course before she gets back.

Tomorrow I'll finish my podcast series on "A Brief Guide to Wesleyan Holiness." But the writing up of it is only in fragments. It was my goal to publish it this month. It could happen.

I'll leave it at that. I came out of COVID this week. Managed to resume running yesterday and today.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Origins of Evil

I've been working in the "innards" of a micro-course for Kingswood Learn featuring Chris Bounds: "Basic Christian Beliefs." This site with free resources for the church is going to be spectacular, by the way! Look it up. Working on the course made me think of a book I published.

It's been a few years since I self-published The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Why Does God Allow It? in 2012. I don't know that my thoughts have particularly changed much in the last 11 years. My presentation has likely improved and sharpened.

Some of my thoughts are just the same old same old:

  • Augustine, blah, blah, blah -- Free will is better than being robots. But if you give an Adam a free will, he might just use it. Bam. Evil.
  • Irenaeus, blah, blah, blah -- Without suffering and resistance, we would get morally flabby. C. S. Lewis and the problem of pain (not sure if I mention Lewis much)
So the book didn't have "Wow, all my questions are finally answered!" dynamic. Frankly, I'm not sure if I've ever sold a single copy!
So none of that material is new. Where I am unusual is in what I might call a contextualist approach to evil. Augustine and Lewis are still Platonists. They tend to treat good as a thing.

For me, good is an adjective, not a noun. It describes certain intentions and the actions that follow. I thus disagree with Augustine both in his thinking that evil is a "privation" of the good or a twisting of the good. Both assume that good is a thing.

Here's the Table of Contents:

1. Where Was God?
2. Questionable Explanations
3. What Is Evil?
4. Pain Is Not Evil.
5. What Is Sin?
6. Does God Tempt?
7. God and Catastrophes
8. What Did God Create Evil?
9. Why Does God Allow It?

Back to work...

Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Week in Review (July 15, 2023)

It's been a completely boring week except for the fact that I came back from Canada with COVID. I had some symptoms I didn't think much of Sunday at the end of the drive back. But I was coughing enough by Tuesday to check. I never had a fever and have had no trouble with the cough after Tuesday night. If I understand the protocols, I'm now in the wear-a-mask stage. I've been on my own upstairs this week and no one else is sick thankfully. I went to a burial service Monday so am very thankful no one with whom I came into contact there is sick. Second time to have it (to my knowledge).

The Lord has been good to me this week. I've seen the way forward on some long-term stressors. I had a goal of using some of my venues to build an extra-funding stream, but I've actually seen almost all my markers go down since I formulated my plan. :-) I wonder if AI is cutting into my YouTube audience. For all the pushing I've done with self-publication, my sales are a trickle, barely existent. My Hebrew Udemy course is doing well, but I wonder if the Udemy market will thrive as AI continues to ramp up. 

On Thursday I jotted down thirty book projects that I've been actively working on or contemplating in these last weeks. I've decided I just need to do them whether anyone buys them or not. I've also thought that I may need to stop thinking about my contacts from the past as my book market. My YouTube and Udemy audiences are not personal contacts. They're from completely outside my world. I wonder if I should transition thinking about my book market in the same way. 

I don't know what that looks like. One night this week when I was having trouble sleeping, I set up a website through WIX. However, it's nothing like what I wanted. If you want a laugh, go to  I wanted to use the site as a bookstore front for all my self-published books on Amazon. I wish I could blame COVID fog, but it didn't turn out anything like what I was trying to do. A little funny. I've got to figure out how to pull out all the wires and relaunch the thing.

In my work, I've been doing some instructional design on a College Algebra course. One of the fun aspects of my job is that I can create foundations in almost any discipline. Then a specialist can take it home. I do know algebra. It's been fun writing materials for the course. I was tempted even to do a Udemy course on the side in Algebra 1. But my voice isn't really suitable for long-term recording right now. Perhaps that is the Lord stopping me. Too many other projects anyway.

I suspect that, before this year is done, I will finally have the chance to build the foundations for online courses in biology, chemistry, calculus, and physics too, a dream come true. I almost get angry when I think of how I begged Houghton and SWU to innovate with me to put these sorts of courses on the Campus platform. IWU was dismissive too. 

So in the words of Thanos, "Fine. I'll do it myself." 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Reviewing a translation of Matthew

Thanks to Jerry Pattengale, I have a side project for the next few months. My job is to examine a particular translation for theological and other bias. Should be fun.

The task begins with Matthew. So the work of mine that I want to feature this week is my Explanatory Notes on Jesus' Birth. The book does commentary on the birth stories in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. It also has John 1. 

Matthew is the most Jew-oriented Gospel in my view. I suspect Mark, Luke, and John were all written primarily to Gentile audiences. (John could be an exception, but I currently doubt it.) Matthew is the most apocalyptic Gospel. It is the most concerned with the Law. It is the harshest toward the Pharisees (a.k.a., the competition). Still, it has the Great Commission, so it fully embraces the Gentile mission as well.

The journey of life continues...

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Sermon Starters: Our Annoying God

Silver Lake Wesleyan Camp
July 9, 2023

Scripture: Jonah 3:6-4:2

  • Children's church: I feel like I only got the first two, maybe three chapters of Jonah
  • Overview the story
I. Jonah is not really the good guy.
  • Popular preacher, no doubt
  • crowd pleaser
  • Nineveh was really bad -- Assyria (destroyed northern kingdom) -- THE AUDIENCE KNOWS THIS FACT!
  • It's a warning to us.
2. God found the one thing.
  • What’s your one thing? Following God requires total allegiance. Used to be getting called to Africa as a missionary.
  • President Lewis talked about cracks in the foundation.
  • If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, then he’s not Lord at all.
3. He’s both sons in the Parable of the Prodigal Son
  • You know the story (recap)
  • He’s the Prodigal that the Father welcomes back.
  • He’s also the elder brother who hates that God forgives.
II. The bad guys are really the good guys.
a. The sailors
  • They don’t know much. They just know that some God is upset. They are seekers. They want to honor God. 
  • Who do you think God was more pleased with?
b. The Ninevites
  • Their repentance seems more genuine than Jonah’s. 
  • Who do you think God was more pleased with?
III. God is the best "guy."
  • (Not literally, of course)
  • Jonah 4:2 – the creed of the OT
  • What a parent! Gives him shade for a bit. Then pushes him to move on. Plant and cattle
  • He does not want anyone to perish. We only perish at our own choosing.
Where are you in the story?
  • Are you running from God?
  • Are you withholding something from God?
  • Are you a seeker?
  • Are you throwing a tantrum?
  • God is gracious and compassionate

Saturday, July 08, 2023

The Week in Review (July 8, 2023)

1. I spent the week at Silver Lake Wesleyan Camp in Ontario. I was the Bible teacher, and we made our way through Romans "backward," following the lead of Scot McKnight. It was undoubtedly my best experience yet teaching through Romans. It was a great group, real "Bereans," all eager to engage.

God is really using Dave and Lynette Mason in a mighty and magical way there. There's always something new. Record number of people on the grounds. Record One Day Give ($85,000 and growing). The secret sauce? They just love on people. They just worship and fellowship together. It's like Antioch before people came up from HQ.

It was good to reconnect with Wayne and Monica Lewis, president of Houghton and his wife. This year had some unexpected turbulence at Houghton, but they seem to have come out of it well. After his evening services, you wouldn't have known he doesn't preach for a living! 

2. I haven't had much time this week to think of much more than Romans and my day job this week. I may do some recordings on Romans, but my weekly podcast currently has a couple other items on the list in front. I may postpone one of them if I am in a Romans-creating groove.

3. I think I'll leave it at that. On the whole, this stretch of Canada is a peaceful place. I've had my poutine, so with maple syrup in hand, it's back home again in Indiana.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Some thoughts on Romans 9-11

I'm the Bible teacher at Silver Lake Wesleyan Camp this week. I thought I'd follow Scot McKnight's lead and work somewhat backward through the book. I will say that it's working really well. 

Over the years, I have found that Romans surprisingly doesn't grab the kind of enthusiasm in teaching that a book like 1 Corinthians does. The typical approach, starting from the beginning, somehow easily becomes very abstract and heady. There are always a few super-enthusiasts, but the bulk seem to glaze over. Then there often seems little time left when you get to the practical teaching in 12-16, and 16 barely gets a glance.

1. I started with Romans 16. To be honest, I'm from the old school that thinks this chapter was actually sent to Ephesus. The whole list of names just screams Ephesus to me. However, this is not the majority opinion at current, and I decided it was better for the camp to assume a Roman destination for the chapter.

It does make a difference in how you read Romans. For example, I think you will likely see more Jews--and powerful Jewish voices--as part of the Roman church if you think chapter 16 was attached. You will also assume Paul knew a lot more people at Rome than otherwise--and a lot more about their situation.

Whatever the destination, I am extremely grateful for the insights into the make-up of some large urban collection of churches.

Phoebe, a deacon of the church of Cenchrea. Had some good pushback on Facebook about whether she was a deacon or a servant. I did a quick word study that strongly confirmed "deacon" in my mind. The Gospels do not use the word as a technical term, only Paul does. 1 Timothy 3 shows that it became an official office. That suggests to me that it is such in Philippians 1:1, where Paul greets deacons at that church. If so, then Romans 16:1 is the only other place where Paul references a diakonos of a church (as opposed to being a servant or minister of Christ). That is the context clue that tips the scales to a role in a church.

Priscilla and Aquila -- she's mentioned first, again. Noted.

Andronicus and Junia -- apostles. noted. anti-bias of ESV, noted. 

I loved McKnight's stuff on the physical and social location of Christians at Rome, BTW.

2. I got off track. Typical.

Scot sees the lens of the "strong" and the "weak" in 14-15 as focal to understanding Romans. He reconstructs a storyline that is plausible even if he may exaggerate it a little. The church had a primarily Jewish founding. Of course! The church was likely founded before the Gentile explosion and certainly before the heart of the Pauline mission.

Then Claudius kicks the Jewish Christians out of Rome in AD49. Overnight, it becomes a predominantly Gentile church. McKnight would say a Gentile church that was not very Law-observant. Of that, I'm less sure, but it's plausible enough. Then Claudius dies. Jewish Christians return. Now you have a "strong" (Gentile Christians) group and a now out-of-power "weak" group (more Torah-observant, predominantly Jewish Christians). It's a fascinating scenario.

Paul's goal is peace, which we see especially in 12-15.

3. McKnight's thesis in 9-11 is fascinating as well, although I don't think I can go there in the end. He pictures Phoebe addressing the "weak" in Romans 9-10 and into 11. Then she turns and addresses the "strong" in the rest of Romans 11. This is really one of the most interesting readings of these chapters I have ever heard!

Well, I started this post wanting to put down some of my thoughts on Romans 9-11. I've written them down before. I actually have a book on Romans with Wesleyan Publishing House. Two devotionals go with it, one on Romans 1-8 and the other on Romans 9-16.

But here were some of my usual thoughts:

  • Romans 9-11 addresses nagging questions--Why haven't more Jews believed? And why the heck have so many Gentiles believed?! Has God abandoned Israel?
  • Paul's answer is that God can do whatever he wants, so deal with it. McKnight makes I think a really good observation that the scriptural examples Paul uses all point to the frequent unpredictability of God's plan.
  • Although it is not the easiest interpretation to make, I do think Paul teaches in 11:26 that ethnic Israel will come to faith around the time of Christ's return. It's not an easy interpretation in part because it plays into some blindspots in the church today. But that's what it seems to say.
  • This is about the Gentiles and Israel, not individual predestination. The fact that Israel can still be saved shows that predestination is not one-sided or necessarily permanent.
  • God has decided that the way to salvation is by faith. This is true for both Jew and Gentile. It's as simple as the word in your mouth. If you confess Jesus is Lord, if you believe God raised him from the dead, it's that simple.
There was the usual engagement with philosophical and theological tangents (I didn't say it quite so strongly as below):

  • If God determines everything minutely, he is a devil. Actually, he would literally be telling Satan and every serial killer exactly what to do. 
  • The saying, "Everything happens for a reason" is misleading at best. If God empowers us to have some freedom to choose then we and our free will are frequently the reason many things happen, not God's best plan.
  • Technically, Wesleyans don't believe in free will. We believe in God-empowered free will.
  • The truth is neither total indeterminism (Thom Oord) or total determinism (John Piper). God determines some things and allows other things.
  • This doesn't contradict the sovereignty of God. If God, in control, allows something, he has sovereignly decided to allow it. Who are you, o clay, to tell him he can't?

Saturday, July 01, 2023

The Week in Review (July 1, 2023)

I spent some time these last couple of days reflecting on my summer goals. With regard to this blog, I thought it would be nice to establish a rhythm of posting here a couple times a week. I thought I might do a Saturday post along the lines of "The Week in Review." Then on Wednesdays, I'd like to feature some project I'm working on or that I have completed.

The Week in Review

Supreme Court

Some very significant Supreme Court decisions this week: affirmative action nixed, Christian business owners don't have to cater against their religious beliefs, no student loan forgiveness.

It will be interesting to see how history will view these things. Is the current Court a corrective or an aberration? To a large extent, this is not a question of who is right but of who will be writing the history in the future. We cannot really say from where we sit. If I had to bet, I would guess it will prove to be a brief change of direction. However, I can see another future as well.

I do think that colorblindness and gender neutrality are the ultimate goal of society. The problem is that it is hard to get to colorblindness without first going through a period where you see color. It is hard to get to gender neutrality without first going through a period where you see gender. Many would say that we've seen it and now are beyond it. However, I doubt that most in the dominant position have fully seen them. At the same time, I doubt strongly whether the hyper-focus/pressuring of the left is having a net-positive effect at the moment either. It seems potentially harmful and self-defeating in its own right.

My posture is to listen and respond as seems potentially most helpful. But I am not in any position of power to have much of an impact.

Life and Ministry

I'm off to Silver Lake Wesleyan Camp next week. I'm the Bible teacher again. We'll be going through Romans.

Finished Projects with ChatGPT

I've been a little surprised that there has been so little interest in the projects I wrote interacting with ChatGPT. 

  • Chats about God. I think there are probably some people out there struggling with faith who might really be helped by this book. I'm not sure how to get it into their hands.
  • A Pastor's Brief Guide to Business. This might be the most helpful resource for a pastor in relation to business ever written. ChatGPT has aggregated and summarized all the business information out there with a view to ministry, with me asking it the questions. Again, I'm a little surprised more pastors haven't jumped at it.
I'm going to back off self-publishing with ChatGPT for a bit. I'll probably return to it in August.

Coming Next Week

  • Sunday: expect my Sunday podcast/video as usual. This week is "The Power of the Holy Spirit." On YouTube and Patreon.
  • Tuesday-Thursday -- plan to continue posting Hebrew verses from Jonah on YouTube (and Patreon).
  • Wednesday -- expect a post here featuring some project I've finished or am working on
I'm hopefully doing more, but that's probably enough for today.