Revelation: A Shorter Commentary

Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, by GK Beale, with David Campbell ★★★★

By now, I have read many books related to the interpretation of the book of Revelation. The first books were written by Hal Lindsey, and formed my early impressions of the book of Revelation. Lindsey has a framework of Dispensational Premillennialism. I found the dispensational interpretation to be rather far-flung as it seemed to create more interpretative problems than solutions, which explains why Hal needed to offer revised versions every few years. Ultimately, with the help of the “Four Views” books and input from John Gerstner, I tended to lean toward an amillennial stance. The one post-millennial text that I read, When the Man Comes Around by Doug Wilson competed with Hal Lindsey in its weak interpretive base and was about as awful as Hal Lindsey’s colorful books. The book that affected me the most, Hendrickson’s More than Conquerors became my definitive favorite.

This book, based on a much larger commentary of Revelation by Beale and reduced to its essential elements by David Campbell, is an excellent text based on an amillennial perspective. It was still a rather lengthy text of over 500 pages. Its strengths and weaknesses will be discussed.

Strengths 1. Good orientation, showing how the book of Revelation has more quotes and allusions to the Old Testament than the entirety of the remainder of the New Testament. Thus, a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament is mandatory to grasp the many images described in Revelation. 2. Beale reflects on the overall theme of the book of Revelation, which is that Christians faithful to God’s word will eventually come out as the victors, even in death. 3. It does not dwell too heavily in speculations regarding interpretations of the imagery found in Revelation. 4. It is faithful to a solid amillennial (which Beale calls the Redemptive Historical Idealist) view of Revelation. This is probably a good renaming, since even amillennialists believe in the millennium, just not the way in which pre-millennial or post-millennial folk would tend to think. 5. Each short section of the book ends with a segment discussing applications and things to reflect on. After all, the idealist view contends that Revelation is a book that discusses the whole of the Christian era from the advent of Christ to his second coming. There is no dispensational bungee-jumping Jesus who returns to earth a minimum of three times. If Revelation is talking about the present age, then it would be exceedingly applicable, which is probably why John includes blessings to those who read and hear the book.

Weaknesses 1. Beale seems to be quite aggressive in interpreting all of the imagery in Revelation as being allegorical. I’m not sure that’s safe. It is possible that many images are real but interpreted by John’s best ability to describe the image in terms of what was known in AD 96. Perhaps the imagery has both a real and allegorical face to it. I don’t know. Safety suggests caution in assigning selective passages to be allegorical and other passages as literal based on one’s preconceived notion of Revelation’s interpretation. 2. Beale is great at pointing out the trees but weak at pointing out the forest, in that he spends minimal time rendering a big picture to Revelation. For that, Hendrickson’s text is much better. Any commentary on Revelation needs to focus on both aspects of the book. Where is John going with the text of the book? How do you put together the repeated narratives of the whole of the Christian era (according to Hendrickson, seven repeats!)? 3. Beale is very restrictive at discussing alternate views of interpretation. 4. Though Beale notes 13 other commentaries on Revelation that he used in his studies, about the only other text that he quotes is that of Richard Bauckham (actually, two books that he wrote) and rarely refers to other Christian texts that maintain an idealist (amillennial) scheme of interpretation. Perhaps his full commentary addressed some of my criticisms, though I will not be reading his magnum opus on Revelation (life is too short for me).

This is a text that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even with the noted weaknesses.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Leisure: The Basis of Culture (Including The Philosophical Act), by Josef Pieper ★★★★★

This book was a gift from an old friend, Dane Waterman. We had been discussing how Carlo Lancellotti had translated into English and made the English-speaking world aware of the writings and thought of Del Noce. Pieper, writing from Germany and somewhat contemporary to Del Noce, reflects similar thoughts. Their thesis relates to demonstration as to how Marxism and liberal thinking is presenting an alternative “gospel”. This is especially poignant as Pieper and Del Noce, both being Roman Catholic, passed away before a truly Marxist pope (the current pope) was installed.

The text is divided into two sections, the first being the topic of leisure, and the second section is a discussion of the philosophical act. The two lectures are complementary. In the first section, leisure is defined and developed as an essential part of society. Clearly, leisure is not “labor” to speak of, but is also is NOT laziness or idleness. Leisure (in Pieper’s sphere) is not the act of going on vacation or of watching a good movie. Leisure entails the act of contemplation, meditation, silence, and reflective conversations. Such activity is vital for a society that wishes to sell itself as a free and open society, but is also contrary to the ideology of Marxism. A phrase that I was taught as a child “Arbeit macht das Leben suß” (work makes life sweet) is prevalent in German culture, yet even there, the rise of poets, philosophers, and theologians more than answers how a Christian-based society grasps the need for leisure.

The second section of the book addresses the issue of philosophers. Why do we need them? What do they do? What does it mean to be a philosopher? All of these questions are answered in an oblique style fitting for a philosopher. Is this nothing but an example of Pieper in the act of self-justification? I don’t think so. This section was a bit muddier and not an easy task for me to read, though the final pages demonstrated a wonderful ending. The ultimate end of philosophy is that of identification with Scripture, which allows us the ability to know. Perhaps it might be said that all theologians are philosophers, though their focus is different. It might also be said that all people are philosophers, as we all develop and maintain a personal Weltanschauung, which affects the totality of our thoughts, actions, and behaviors.

I have one concern regarding this book, and would have loved to engage Josef Pieper in a challenge. He begins with the challenge of the great Greek philosophers from Thales to Aristotle. I certainly enjoy reading the classics of philosophy. Yet, Clement of Alexandria and other 2nd century Christian writers were quick to note that that the Greeks were plagiarists, and reflected thinking that existed well before their time, in the writings of Moses and the Old Testament. Thus, as Cornelius VanTil has repeatedly argued, and philosophical starting point of necessity must be Scripture. You cannot get to Scripture by pure reason starting with a tabula rasa. Pieper’s argument could have been much stronger by having his arguments originate in Scripture, rather than by originating through reason in the human mind and ending up in Scripture. This mistake is plentiful not just with the Roman Catholics, but also with the Protestants and Orthodox brands of the Christian faith.

Why read the Roman Catholics? Simply stated, because many of them are Christians just like the Protestants and Orthodox folk out there. It was John Zmirak (see his website at https://stream.org), a devout Catholic, who noted that he was praying for Pope Francis’ salvation. I could say the same thing for many well-known Protestants out there, such as with Tim Keller, Francis Collins, etc. About 30 years ago, an old teacher of mine, JI Packer, was dismissed from the Ligonier Ministry conferences by RC Sproul since he signed a statement encouraging Evangelicals and Catholics to engage in discussion. I totally agree with Packer, and feel that Protestantism is at a loss for not seeing how others think about philosophical and biblical issues from a slightly different slant. My personal denomination (the PCA, of which RC Sproul was a member) is diminished through failure to communicate with the entire body of the Christian church. Packer did not find that rapport with the RC community diminished his theology or message. Neither should we.

So, even with my disagreements with Pieper, I was able to find many gems in this small tome. A great book is not necessarily a book you totally agree with, but with a book that is able to stir your thoughts and to force you into that delightful activity that we call leisure. And my thanks to Dane and Bernadette for giving me this book.

Lessons from the Upper Room

Lessons from the Upper Room: The Heart of the Savior, by Sinclair Ferguson ★★★

This book being used for the Saturday morning men’s book reading group at church. I’ve been unable to make a number of the meetings, so decided to finish reading the book and going on from there.

Sinclair Ferguson provides an expositional devotional to the upper room discourse of Jesus, as found in John 13 to 17. The book is broken up into 13 chapters, each chapter offering a vignette of the upper room discourse. Ferguson is most capable of pointing out gems that may be found in these five chapters. As a devotional book, it is a wonderful text to read.

The Origin of Paul’s Religion

The Origin of Paul’s Religion: A Classic Defense of Supernatural Christianity, by J. Gresham Machen ★★★★★

JG Machen was a seminal individual in conservative Presbyterian circles defending against the progressive liberalization of the church. This text is one of his arguments against attempts to turn the apostle Paul into a fabricated character of the liberal scholar. Liberal scholarship in the late 19th century and 20th century, mostly from Germany, have attempted to remove the miraculous from the life of Paul, and turn him into a product of various political and religious influences. This book originated as a series of talks given by Machen.

Machen first introduces the problem. Attempts have been made to explain away the phenomenon of Paul, his conversion, and his ministry. A lengthy introduction describes the problem at hand. Machen then discusses the early life of Paul. Notably, Paul was born and grew up in the dispersion (Tarsus), but claims that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, suggesting that even though he probably learned Greek early in life, his life and language were Hebrew. Being a strict Pharisaical Jew, he clearly would have been adverse to the pagan and liberal influences strongly present at the time of his childhood. In the chapter titled “The Triumph of Gentile Freedom”, Machen explores Paul’s interactions with the church leadership in Jerusalem. Machen notes that while liberal theologians would love to paint a scene of severe disagreements between Paul and the 11 apostles as well as with James and other Jerusalem church leadership, close examination shows that such was not the case, and that there tended to be mutual appreciation for the theologies of Paul and the Jerusalem church. The chapter that follows, “Paul and Jesus” looks further into the congruence between Paul’s theology and that as found in the words of Jesus. The point is that Paul, though he probably never met Jesus face-to-face, was able to obtain detailed information about Christ’s life, even beyond what is found in the four gospels.

Machen then takes on challenges from the liberals who attempted to reduce Paul to a product of either Jewish sources or pagan sources. In the course of three chapters, Machen is able to demonstrate adequately that such suggestions are completely out of touch with what we know about Judaism and paganism in the 1st century of the church. Finally, Machen addresses the issue of Jesus being called “Lord”, which in ancient times was synonymous with calling Jesus God.

This book was a delightful tome to read. I enjoy Machen’s thought processes and how he is able to cut down the liberal arguments with simply logic and presentation of the facts. It is a pity that more theologians today are not defending the historic faith as Machen did; they seem to desire more the ability to maintain “status” among the academic liberals rather than to fearlessly fight for the truth. The Origin of Paul’s Religion is not a book meant for anybody to read. Those who enjoy a first-class theological discussion of the defense of historic Christianity will be amply served with this book.

Without Roots

Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, by Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera ★★★★

This book consists of simultaneous lectures given in Rome by Joseph Ratzinger (soon after changing his name to Pope Benedict XVI) and Marcello Pera, president of the senate of Italy and philosophy professor. This is followed by a commentary letter from Pera to Ratzinger and a return letter from Ratzinger to Pera.

Pera’s speech is given first. In it, he comments on the identity crisis of the west, being faced with relativism from Islam, contextualists, deconstructionists, and even within the church. With the loss of identity and ability to value older Christian tradition, and with the loss of belief in truth, the west has been left without a legitimization for its own existence.

Ratzinger follows. Europe, according to Ratzinger, is entirely a product of Christian civilization, and for which they were intimately intertwined. Christianity essentially defined Europe and its culture, that is, until quite recently.

Pera responds with a letter addressing Ratzinger’s talk, and Ratzinger responds in kind with a letter. Both letters were complementary, and relates to Europe’s abandonment of its Christian roots. Pera focuses on political aspects of Europe, debating why Europe is unable to construct a unified constitution, and exploring the relationship between the secular and Christian Europe. Indeed, as Europe sees Christianity as an expired and judgmental notion, Europe also enters into what Pera terms self-hate, but I think that self-loathing is probably a better description of what is going on in Europe. Pera’s discussion becomes muddied. He describes the continual state of war in Europe (and the world) as normative, and thus to not think of war as intrinsically evil. This is misguided, since many evils are normative in this world. The Catholics do have the doctrine of original sin! Pera advocates for a non-denominational Christian religion. Ratzinger takes the discussion from here, agonizing over the division of Christianity in Europe following the Reformation. He suggested (in 2004 when the book was written) that America was doing a much better job with maintaining Christianity in the public square. If Ratzinger were alive today, I think he would take back most of his remarks. Ratzinger astutely notes “Statistics tell us that the more churches adapt themselves to the standards of secularization, the more followers they lose”. Ratzinger offers reflections on how Christianity could be in a non-denominational manner more present in the public square. This is an issue that will foster debate and discussion in both Europe as well as the now deeply secular United States of America.

I always appreciate reading Ratzinger/Benedict. He had a strong conservative Christian mindset, and displays how the Roman Catholic church still has elements of conservatism, and still has the same battles as the Protestants in fighting against secularism, relativism, invasion of other cultures (esp. Islam), and abandonment of the concept of truth. This exchange between Pera and Ratzinger supports JI Packer’s thesis of the value of maintaining rapport between conservative Catholics and Protestants. Both sides have great thinkers who would serve better if they would engage in talk with each other.

I have only one objection to Ratzinger, which probably is more of a misconception on my part of his thinking. After reading his book describing the lives of the patristic fathers, he comments fairly harshly on Tertullian for his separatist behavior, yet is kind to Origin in spite of his wild speculative theology. This attitude probably affected his thinking of modern separatists (the Reformation Protestant movement) who, like Tertullian, sought to bring corrective measures to the church. Ratzinger ignores the huge influence Tertullian has had on the Roman Catholic (western) church. This sort of thinking will only do harm to his efforts to usher in a “non-denominational” Christianity in Europe, as it paints the Roman church in a hierarchically superior position to Protestantism. Perhaps that is true. Yet, Ratzinger in his writings assiduously avoids mentioning the sins and faults of the Roman church, including its current idolatries, heterogeneity, and secularism that pervades much of the church. This thinking does damage to the thesis of an otherwise quite remarkable person.

Without Roots can be read in several evenings. Protestants need to accept that many in the Catholic church are probably closer to their thinking than fellow liberal Protestants which promote the elevation of the self to god-like status. Without Roots was a worthwhile read, though I’d be selective with whom I’d also recommend the book.

The Christian View of Man

The Christian View of Man, by J. Gresham Machen ★★★★★

This book was published posthumously, representing a series of radio talks that JG Machen gave before his untimely death. It was originally published in 1937, and this is a Banner of Truth reprint obtained from Amazon.

JG Machen is a true giant of the faith. As a scholar, he studied in Germany under the liberal theologians of the time, later leading the charge against the liberalism that was destroying the Presbyterian church. The warnings and cautions issued by Machen in this text are certainly more relevant today than when he gave his talks. He anticipated the degeneration of society and labeled the root cause as that of the public losing faith in God. He anticipated the development of nuclear energy and the destructive uses that might be forthcoming from that. Machen was very prophetic in anticipating the results of casting God out of the schools and out of government.

This text might better be titled Anthropology 101. In this set of 20 radio talks, Machen explores the theology of who man is, God’s providence over man, the creation and fall of man, our response to God as fallen sinners, original sin, and how God saves us. Machen speaks (writes) in a very simple fashion that almost anybody could understand, yet covers some very complex deep topics that could open a wealth of discussion and reflection. This is truly solid, hard-core theology delivered with the intention of having academic theology affect the practical aspects of life. In this, Machen is completely successful.

The book is highly recommended by me for any Christian serious about his faith. This might have been perhaps my second time through the book, having read it 20-30 years ago. I don’t really remember, but then, it’s a book worth reading twice. It can be easily read over the course of 2 or 3 evenings.

Non-Computable You

Non-Computable You: What you do that artificial intelligence never will, by Robert J. Marks ★★★★

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic in the news and on the internet. This has been true for at least the last 50 years. Now, with more powerful computer systems and the development of more sophisticated algorithms that allow for incrementally more powerful programs which feign the appearance of being a sentient machine, the question about the capabilities of AI has become a more serious consideration. As a leading developer of “intelligent” systems, Robert Marks quickly puts to rest any notion that machines could actually think. Simply stated, machines will only be able to process algorithmic instructions, which thus excludes the ability of the machine to show creativity, ingenuity, or thinking “outside of the box”. Thus, the sci-fi fears of Terminator-style robots taking rule over humans should remain within the realm of fiction.

Marks does a masterful job of showing how computers will never be able to compete with humans on the thinking tasks that matter most. After quickly putting to rest notions that AI will someday become creative, he offers 12 filters to quell the hype of the AI movement; actually, these 12 filters apply to much of life and to discerning truth from fiction. There follows a section where he discusses the history of AI, which was both informative as well as enjoyable to read. Next, a section follows that explores the thinking of Gödel, Turing, and Chaitin, which is relevant in grasping the more theoretical aspects of thinking through AI, though sometimes a bit muddy. The discussion of the Halting Oracle, or of elegant systems was intriguing but not something I would challenge my mind with, even on a rainy day. I felt that the Marks Tax Collector example had faulty logic that produced an impossible answer.

The ethics of AI was most intriguing to me, and I’m thankful that there are those that are asking these questions. If an AI machine makes an “error” (such as an automatic guidance automobile that hits and kills a pedestrian), who is to blame? The human mind shows a vastly greater ability to manage ambiguous situations than any algorithmic device would ever possess. Thus, caution in the excess use of AI must be exercised. We probably won’t be seeing robots taking over the world and achieving independence from man, but it would be expected that other sorts of challenges will arise when AI becomes more commonplace in society.

This text has brought back to mind a book I read many years ago, and which I hope Marks has read, called Technopoly by Neal Postman. Postman describes how technology is used to solve problems that man has asked, such as, how can I travel somewhere faster than present, or, how could I communicate with someone on the other side of the planet. With technopoly, technology is now used to create solutions where there is no problem. Postman offers multiple examples in his book. Perhaps AI has migrated from simply being a technological tool to a technopoly issue that provides solutions to issues that are not a problem. Perhaps.

This book was a delightful read, and very thought-provoking. For those curious about where AI might be headed, this would be the book of choice for exploring those curiosities.

Return of the God Hypothesis

Return of the God Hypothesis: Three scientific discoveries that reveal the mind behind the universe, by Stephen C. Meyer ★★★★★

I had this book sitting on my bookshelf for two years before I was finally able to read it. And, I’m glad I did. This book was hard to put down and was successful in generating much thought and reflection. This review will note only a few thoughts generated by Meyer’s writing.

The book is written in five parts. First, Meyer begins by giving us a history of our current problem. Science was grounded in a theistic setting. Many would argue the necessity for a theistic origin to science, as Christian theism posits an infinite-personal God who designed, created, and then maintains all things in our universe. Thus, it is a reliable and not capricious system that could be described by various “laws” and cataloged with systems of knowledge. During the 19th century, the theistic belief system was challenged by those who opted for a materialistic explanation for the world that did not require another intelligent being to make our world fall into place.

In part II, Meyer then discusses the fine-tuning of the universe, beginning with the initial parameters of the “big bang”, down to the information code of DNA. Six or more fine-tuning parameters have (so far) been identified as being the constrains that allows the physics of the universe to be stable as it is. Even minimal alterations of those parameters would create a high unstable system that could not support the assemblage of atoms, let alone that of a universe with life. These parameters were (supposedly) brought into existence as random quantities in the first few “Planck moments” at the start of the universe, yet happened to create a highly stable universe with surprising characteristics. The improbability of this happening becomes vastly less than than of selecting out a single subatomic particle within the entire breadth of the created universe. If one had an infinite amount of time for this to happen, one could posit that the random chance of any universe coming into existence during that infinity. Or, is that really true? Meyer hesitates to identify certain exceedingly improbably events as simply impossible.

In Part III, Meyer offers the logical argument in defense that an intelligent design creating the universe is far more probable than random events generating our world. Meyer probes into issues related to the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe and the design of life on earth. In all of these situations, the extreme improbability of a naturalistic explanation for the existence of the the world as we see it is seriously trumped by the intelligent design argument. Yet, ultimately, the leaning toward ID vs Random Events (RE) trickles down to presuppositional considerations. If a person were to adamantly maintain that the probability of an intelligent designer (God) is necessarily zero (how they would legitimately argue this claim I don’t have a clue), then naturalistic explanations would always win. Indeed, that is what the atheistic philosophers of science are doing. Meyer frequently quotes Carl Sagan as stating that the universe is exactly what one would expect given a naturalist basis for the universe. Yet, this saying is entirely non-sensical and an argument from a posteriori considerations. Which is to say, if the existence and activity of an intelligent designer is out of the question then there is no argument to be maintained and clearly our universe of necessity must be explained naturalistically. Also emphasized is that Sagan feels that the world only appears to be intelligently designed. Appearances most often are not deceptive, and the possibility that the appearances are pointing most overtly to the truth remains to be explained by Sagan.

Part IV is a discussion of a potpourri of various other hypotheses regarding the origin of the universe. Prevalent are some of the latest theories of origination, such as the multiverse hypothesis, string theory, etc. The multiverse theory suggests that an infinite number of universes have been generated out of the big bang. How and why that could have happened is not explained. Indeed, the theory loses its punch because it explains too much; If an infinite number of random universes have been generated, then there must (of necessity) be an infinite number of absolutely identical universes to the one we are currently experiencing. Many of those universes would have been generated with age and complexity as great or greater than our universe. With an infinite chance of anything happening, there is no reason to not believe that our existence started only seconds ago, with the world and our current consciousness possessing false memories of the past. Thus, we end up in an epistemological crisis with no solution, as there would be no way to trust our current thoughts or memories.

Physicists argue about the nature of the earliest moments of the big bang with some trepidation. At the earliest Planck moments of the big bang, the world would still be small enough to need description with solely quantum formulae. Assembling the wave equations of quantum mechanics with the wave formulae of general relativity, and then placing (arbitrary) boundary values and conditions, we generate approximations to the solutions of these formulae. Tweeking all of the boundary values and constants of physics, we learn that there is an infinite number of solutions, even though we pick the solution that best resembles our world. This leaves one with an uncomfortable question. Traditionally, the laws (equations) of physics were considered to be descriptors of how we perceive reality. F=M*A may be observationally true, yet there are possibilities (such as in the quantum world) where such a formula would need to be modified. To hold that the formulae of physics are the reality would be a mistake. Thus, the concept that all the universe needed was the proper wave equations in order to come into existence would be a grevious error. Yet, physicists falsely continue to seek solutions to the basic equations of physics and then imply that these solutions offer a true glimpse at the creation of the world. At the end of this section, Meyer introduces the idea of the Boltzmann Brain which offers not a solution to the creation of the world, but rather a suggestion of issues of epistemology.

Part V is two brief chapters summarizing the arguments of the book. It is also a personal history of Stephen Meyer and how he came to be the avid defender of intelligent design. All said, this was a wonderful book to read, well written, and fairly convincing argument for the compatibility of (real) science and that of intelligent design. I enjoyed every moment of the book, and found it to be quite capable of generating inquisitive questions for the author. Perhaps some day I’ll be able to hash it out with Dr. Steve????

A year in Las Vegas

On 19MARCH2022, one year ago, we arrived home in Las Vegas. After one year, we are happier than ever about the move. Indeed, the year seemed to fly quickly, but with contentment. Before our arrival, we flew from Spokane to Las Vegas in early February to explore the possibility of moving here. Though the weather was cool in Las Vegas, it was much warmer than in Spokane. We did several days of home hunting with a realtor when Betsy identified several homes in Sun City Aliante which seemed promising. Both homes were acceptable, but the second home seemed to hit home with us. We made an offer on the home, and it was immediately accepted.

The decision to move to Las Vegas was somewhat complicated. We were living in Puyallup, and with the progressive liberalization of the Northwest, decided we had to get out. My two brothers Lewis and Gaylon were in the process of moving to Ocala, Florida, but I wasn’t quite so convinced that Ocala would be the best place for Betsy and me. We put our house up for sale, and within a week it was sold at our asking price. We had a while before we needed to vacate our house, but I wasn’t sure where we should go. The decision-making process included a number of factors. 1. We wanted to move to a more conservative area of the country. 2. We wanted it to be mostly warm. 3. We wanted a state that was tax-friendly to retirees. 4. We wanted a place that had a relatively low cost of living. 5. We wanted to live where it would be very easy to catch an airplane to either Sioux Center, Iowa, or to Puyallup, WA. 6. Housing costs had to be affordable. 7. Acceptable churches had to be available with the possibility of becoming involved in that church. 8. There was a strong preference for being close to mountains. Our list of possible states included Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, South Dakota, Texas, and Florida.

We decided that we would start by renting, and then exploring from there whether the area would be favorable to settle. With Las Vegas best filling the above criteria, we went apartment hunting in LV. The area was appealing, but Betsy and I both were not feeling at peace with LV. “Sin City”?? Living close to the Strip?? We almost felt like something must be wrong with anybody who would choose to move to Las Vegas. Clearly, ulterior motives must be present in those that chose to settle in Sin City. We found several apartments that appealed to us but felt we had to think it over some more. On the plane flight home, we both decided to try somewhere else. I suggested that we check out Spokane since it was close to Idaho as a great state to move to. A quick drive from Puyallup to Spokane gave us the opportunity to find an apartment to our satisfaction. Using Sarah, Ken, and the Flanagan kids, we loaded up our belongings and unloaded them in Green Acres, WA, a suburb of Spokane.

Spokane was wonderful in many ways. There were mountains, though the best hiking would require travel into Idaho. The weather in the winter was frigid, leading both of us to decide this area (eastern Washington or Idaho) might not be the best choice for our retirement years. Flights to visit our children were not convenient. So, after about 4-5 months, we decided we better start thinking about alternative number two. Florida was high on the list, with the appeal of Lew and Gaylon. Yet, Florida had no mountains, minimal hiking (unless one enjoyed hiking through swamps), it was very humid in summer, and there were bugs… lots of bugs to contend with. So, our second trip to Las Vegas was made as described above.

I decided that a moving service was way too expensive for something that we could do ourselves. Thankfully, Gaylon was available to help with the move. We flew him up to Spokane, and after hiring a couple of young folks to load a large U-Haul truck, and with Gaylon driving the truck, we headed off to Las Vegas, filled with anticipation. The trip went through Montana, Salt Lake City and down I-15 to North Las Vegas, now to be called our home. We again used an “unloading” service to put everything in the house or garage. Some furniture did not survive the move, but that was okay. Gaylon soon afterward returned to Ocala, and we were left with the chore of creating a home out of a house.

Though the house was in good shape, we desired modifications. A list of a few follows. 1. We had all of the carpets (in several rooms) removed and replaced with plank flooring. 2. We replaced an aging air conditioner/heater. 3. We had solar panels installed to save on electric costs. 4. We installed a water filtration system. 5. We had a landscaper install a brick patio in the back. He also replaced most of the flora with cactus plants. 6. We purchased more furniture, especially in the living room, to better fill out the house, while making use of the furniture that we brought from Spokane. 7. We had cat6 cable strung throughout the house. 8. We installed a security alarm system. 9. I installed a workshop in the garage. 10. We had security rolling shutters placed on all of the main windows. 11. Multiple minor repairs were done. In all, it’s been a great adventure. We have a feeling like we are perpetually on vacation in our new home. There are no bugs. There are mostly sunny days, though it does rain here in winter, with occasional summer monsoons. It is mostly warm. The two hot months of the summer afford an excuse to get out and go hiking or visit family. Several months of the winter were cold and rainy enough to induce one into book-reading mode.

Slowly, we are making friends. Our next-door neighbor is a friendly couple who are wonderful Christians and a total delight to get to know. For churches, we started with a Reformed Baptist church, but eventually migrated back to the PCA denomination, and now attend Spring Meadows Presbyterian Church, which is close to the south side of the Strip. It’s about a 1/2 hour drive for us. Though we wished for a more formal liturgy, beggars can’t be choosy. Hopefully, we might develop a ministry in the church.

My outdoor adventures in the area of the world are just beginning. I’ve hiked and biked the Red Rock Canyon area many times. Mt. Charleston is 1/2 hour from home and has dense pine forests, though it is snowed in for four to five months of the year. We’ve tried to explore many other areas of the state, including the Extraterrestrial highway, hopping I-15 to San Diego to visit friends, running down to Lake Havasu, and checking out the most southern portion of our state, visiting the Grand Canyon, driving to Phoenix to visit family, and exploring Lake Mead and the Valley of Fire. We still have a lot to do. Southern/Central California remains on the list, Southern Utah with its National Parks, as well as exploring central Nevada, remains on our to-do lists.

Las Vegas is properly titled the entertainment capital of the world. That is not a hyperbole. In 1950, Las Vegas was barely a town. With investments from Howard Hughes, the mob, and the Mormon Mafia, the town exploded. It is constantly a town in transition so almost nothing remains permanent. Yet, Las Vegas provides some phenomenal dining opportunities, as well as clean forms of entertainment. We got to meet Rich Little, who is a conservative that rubbed shoulders with all the high and mighty of Las Vegas. Still, the Strip remains about as far from our minds as anything, and our main excuse for going there is the desire of curious guests who come to visit us.

Why would anybody ever want to live in Las Vegas????? Isn’t it Sin City? Don’t you have to be some sort of pervert to want to move here? Isn’t Nevada synonymous with gambling and prostitution? No. It is not. Certain vices are legal here according to the state, but not according to God. Thankfully, there are many Christians in Nevada and an abundance of churches. There is also an abundance of Moroni churches here, remembering that the Moronis were some of the first permanent settlers in Las Vegas valley. Las Vegas is a veritable mission field for Christians, and it is with shame that more Christians are not flocking to this area. Even Paul considered it necessary to visit immoral cities in the Roman empire, including Corinth, Athens, as well as Rome itself. Truth be told, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle far better fit the description of “Sin City” than Las Vegas, and Christians that use the pretense of sin in Las Vegas to not move here should feel deep shame.

We move into our second year in Las Vegas with a bit more knowledge of what to expect. We’ve been blessed with lots of visitors this late Winter and early Spring. I anticipate that I’ll be able to start hiking training in earnest in the next month or so. It has been an unusually cold winter for California, Nevada, and Arizona, so outdoor activities will be a touch delayed. We hope to visit family in Iowa as well as in Washington this summer. I also hope to get in some more extended backpacking, completing more of the Pacific Crest Trail. Betsy and I have no idea what the future will hold for us, but at the moment, we will stay in Las Vegas and use it as a “base camp” to venture out into God’s wonderful world.

Church Fathers

Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine, by Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger)★★★★

This book is a series of homilies that Benedict gave (mostly) in St. Peters’ Square every Wednesday in late 2007. Each homily (chapter) is a short vignette of an early church saint, with a few saints receiving two chapters, and Augustine five. Benedict is salutatory toward each of these saints, save for perhaps a few comments regarding the separatist nature of Tertullian. Benedict skillfully brings out the significance of these people to our current lives. He instructs as to the holiness and wisdom of these church fathers, traits that call all of us to adapt. A few of the saints were from the eastern desert of Syria, saints that I was unfamiliar with.

My only criticism of this work is Benedict’s inability to also instruct us as to the flaws of these fathers. Cyril of Alexandria was a most belligerent and unkind character; Origin’s speculative theology caused many including his contemporaries to accuse him of heresy, Jerome was a mean, surly character, and so on. To have flaws does not diminish one’s importance as an early church father, which must be remembered.

My criticism aside, this text has charm, and will help the Christian toward gaining a better understanding of a few of the saints who went before us. Their holiness, their steadfastness in spite of persecution and death, give us all a reminder that our faith is not a cheap faith, but rather was purchased by the blood of many of our forefathers.