Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Running

Last weekend I checked something off my bucket list-- running a 5K. Flash back several years. When I was a senior in high school, I started running around my neighborhood in the evenings. But I struggled with it. I could not do a complete mile. Even after I started eating healthily and got my weight down to 150 from 200+, I could not run without side stitches or just mental fatigue, telling me to quit. This continued in college, where I was generally out-of-shape, and had no idea where to begin. I resided myself to low self-esteem. I then had a memorable experience as a summer missionary in Russia in 2001. The missionary there was a big runner, he implored me to go out on jogs with him. I finally relented and he coached me in breathing and encouraged me. I finally ran about a mile without stopping. This was an emotional experience, like something that was broken deep down inside of me was finally starting to get fixed. That was probably about the last time I ran.

Last year I started doing HIIT a lot, Insanity gets you in good cardiovascular shape for many tasks, and this year I started doing serious weight lifting as well. In my life in general, I've declared war on the phrase "I can't." Tony Horton says it best "If you turn your 'I can't' into 'I presently struggle with'..." then pretty soon you'll find that you can do a little bit more each day and it will eventually add up to something significant.  I decided that running could be one of those things I add to the repertoire.

We moved into an apartment with a fitness center and treadmills. I started running on them, downloaded one of those 5K trainer apps for my iPhone. I decided that if I listened to my Turkish pop music during my run I could kill two birds with one stone-- maintain some of my Turkish vocab and get into running. Running my first mile without stopping was a milestone, and I kept at it about 1-2 times a week. It was sorta easy. I signed up for a 5K as a fundraiser for Elias' school, now I was committed.

I found that running on a treadmill didn't get my heart rate up as high as something like Insanity, unless I really jacked up the incline. But one day after I had jogged a couple miles on the treadmill, my knee really started to hurt. I tried to run it off and ignore it, but the next day the ligament or tendons hurt so bad I could just barely make it down stairs by myself and had to visit a doctor. When this healed, I tried again only to get a similar result.

The Monday before the 5K, at 5:30am, I decided to take a test jog of 3.5 miles through our neighborhood. Boom, made it without slowing down. My heart rate was pretty high the entire time, but it didn't stop me. I got pretty emotional about it. But afterwards my knee hurt again, real pain, so I decided to rest it until Saturday. (I still did my Leg Day workouts and walked my 10,000 steps in a day, but no running). That was frustrating because I felt like I was really close to accomplishing my goal and did not want it hindered.

This past Saturday was the 5K. I got up to the front to start the race and was overcome with emotion-- namely excitement but also fear of failure. We had prayed for my knee to feel fine. When the horn sounded, I was off and ran the first mile at record speed for me-- and too fast. I made it past the halfway point and had to walk for a bit to get my heart rate down to start up again. But I was able to pick back up and keep pushing. In the end, I finished in 26:13; a pace of 8:27 per mile-- good enough for 22nd out of a registered 327. I felt like I did at the end of that run in Russia, a sense of relief and just of thankfulness to God for being able to do something I'd never done and never really thought I would do until very recently. My knee never hurt.

Coolest part was probably that my wife also finished with a very good time, she was able to accomplish a big goal for herself as well. My son was also there to enjoy the race, and I love this picture.

You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book Review (#42 of 2014) Wholly Jesus by Mark Foreman

Wholly Jesus: His Surprising Approach to Wholeness and Why it Matters Today
Foreman is a pastor and father of Jon Foreman, member of the band Switchfoot.

I am reading this book at the same time I'm working through several books in the work as worship/ theology of vocation movement looking at the doctrines of work and vocation. This book almost fits into that category as Foreman is addressing the same false dichotomies of "secular" and "sacred," and confronting the idea of being "separatist" instead of engaged in the world and bringing Jesus to everything we do. Other authors, like Dallas Willard, have addressed the same issues that Foreman has addressed, and done so more thoroughly. Foreman writes as if he's pioneering these thoughts without recognizing that there are centuries worth of scholarship on it. Foreman seems to be unaware of other scholarship, although he mentions Willard a couple of times. He quotes frequently from C.S. Lewis and also mentions Richard Niebuhr as an influence. Willard and modern Reformed pastors like Tim Keller, when writing on such subjects, quote from a host of ancient sources and inspire the reader to dig deeper as well.

If you gave this book 5 stars and it really influenced you, I wonder if you've read much on the topics Foreman presents or on church history. If this book didn't impress you, you probably have done some reading on this area. To his credit, Foreman's personal anecdotes are good examples of a living faith.My criticism is that he writes as though his thoughts are original when there is "nothing new under the sun."

Foreman intends to confront the stereotypical American evangelical church is focused on a "two-chapter" Gospel instead of a "four chapter" Gospel (Foreman doesn't use this term, but others do, so I'm using it to describe his thinking). American evangeliacls preach the Gospel as forgiveness of sins and assurance of eternity in heaven--full stop. You pray to "ask Jesus into your heart" to get your "fire insurance" and then the Gospel does not penetrate anything else you do. "Separatism" is encouraged as the Church settles in a defensive and critical posture rather than offensive and engaging one. "Really spiritual" people are encouraged to quit their "secular" jobs and engage in "full-time ministry."

This Gospel ignores the Cultural Mandate of Genesis where man is called to subdue and exercise dominion over the earth as the image of God, as well as the Great Commission which is focused on making disciples and not just baptising people. It ignores that all of creation is being redeemed by God, and that the salvation of souls is just one part of it. Christians too often think worship is something they do on Sundays instead of every day of the week. That Jesus is someone who "lives in my heart" instead of also living in our words, deeds, and mind. A theologian might argue that Foreman is confronting the dispensationalist church and reminding us of historical covenentalism, however he does not use that language and hardly harkens back to anything written before 1950.

Another commenter pointed out that Foreman doesn't spend too much time on the Cross as being the sole means of redemption. There is a good mention of the cross and the Gospel when looking at Romans 12, but there are too many statements like "our righteousness is based on the faithfulness of Jesus," instead of Christ's atonement on the cross that would make me recommend this book. He doesn't advocate a watered-down Gospel or church services, however. In the last chapters he implores the church not to entertain youth but teach them the importance of prayer, Bible study, and intentional evangelism. He warns against Eastern religious influences in the modern church, harkening back to the problems of Gnostic dualism and Platonic views on human activities of the first centuries. Books critical of the modern American evangelical church are a dime a dozen, and Foreman's book is one of many that criticizes from a conservative standpoint.

Foreman doesn't address vocation and worshiping until the final part of the book, probably because his only experience in the church is through the arts, worship, and preaching. His book comes across more as a collection of sermons that you'd hear him preach. There is nothing wrong with that, it just isn't a great book. It is mostly exhortations to be more patient, not gossip, love one another during the week, etc.

A couple tidbits that I liked: Foreman gives an illustration of surrender. When he first came to Christ he thought he needed to give up all his music, so he drug his keyboard and equipment to the church and donated it. A year later he was at a church worship concert and the band needed a keyboard player. He eagerly volunteered and found it was his old equipment on stage he'd be using. He gave up something he thought was hindering him from a relationship with God and got it back from God in a radically different way.

He also explains the dilemmas he felt as an early Christian, being pressured by his church to conform to their will. He was playing in a "secular" band and his churchmates constantly criticized him for it, urging him only to play music in the church. He rightly points out that his church's thinking is not the New Testament example-- Foreman had a ton of missional influence and was able to share Jesus with people who never would have darkened the door of a church; one of his bandmates came to Christ. 
After trying to talk his bandmates into working some Jesus-related songs (like "Jesus is Just Alright with Me") into their sets, they asked him to leave. He ponders why the church supports foreign missionaries who intentionally get into the community context to share the Gospel but criticizes anyone who does the same thing in their back yard.

He concludes the book with the illustration that our Sunday worship services should not be the Main Event, but rather be the halftime pep-talk from coaches and teammates while the weekday living out of our faith is really the Main Event. I agree with this, and enjoy the analogy, just wish Foreman would have drawn more strength from others in the church espousing these same ideas since the Reformation. 

2.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review (#41 of 2014) The Reason Why I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism This work is translated from Japanese into English and I have high hopes that Naoki's words are recorded faithfully in Japanese and then translated faithfully.
Naoki answers questions every parent wishes his autistic child could answer-- why he does repetitive things, loves watches the same commercials, spins, etc. Much of the book is heart-wrenching. Naoki pleads over and over "Please, whatever you do, don’t give up on us. We need your help." I found those words moving and encouraging. My son does many of the things Naoki explains and it's important for us to realize that he understands, doesn't want to disappoint us, and may be internally crushed when he does see our frustration and disappointment. Too often we assume our son wants to play alone, because he seems so happy and contended. Naoki acknowledges the contentment, explains it, but makes the statement: "The truth is, we’d love to be with other people. But because things never, ever go right, we end up getting used to being alone, without even noticing this is happening...Whenever I overhear someone remark how much I prefer being on my own, it makes me feel desperately lonely." Naoki ends the book with one of his short stories. He may be one of the least-outwardly-functioning autistic people in the world, and it's encouraging to hear that his mind and spirit are strong. I give this book 5 stars and recommend it if you know or love someone with autism.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review (#40 of 2014) Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action I keep books on management and leadership in my reading rotation because that's what every book on leadership and management I've read says managers and leaders should do.

Sinek's premise is that great companies have an identity shared by their employees and customers that revolves around why the company/product exists rather than what the company/product does. Apple, as a frequent example, has a slogan of "Think Different" -- it's why it exists (think of the 1984 Big Brother Super Bowl commercial). People who buy Apple buy into that identity, they see it as a cause rather than just a product.

Other companies had products similar to iPods and iPhones before Apple rolled them out. But their marketing focused on what the devices could do, rather than why the customer should have one. A device that allows you to "hold hundreds of hours of mp3 files" is different psychologically than a device that lets you "have 1,000 songs in your pocket." That's why Apple succeeded while the others failed.

Sinek maintains competing on price, quality, rebates, celebrity endorsements, and clever marketing are "manipulations" that doom companies to mediocrity. But he does acknowledge the importance of "How," it's the second rung of the "Golden Circle" (love these business books defining vernacular). "Why" leaders need "How" people to organize their companies into efficient machines to deliver their product and message. But Why should be at the center of everything.

Key takeaways:
1. Keep returning to your "Why" and make sure it is instilled in your company so that it exists long after you're gone. Apple lost its "Why" when Steve Jobs was fired.
2. Avoid the temptation to focus on the "What" after you achieve success. Microsoft used to have a slogan of "A PC in every office and on every desk." Now, it's not clear what their "Why" is, and they've floundered.
3. Make sure you hire people that match up with your Why, and not your What or How. The CEO who replaced Steve Jobs after he fired was a great How guy but he didn't get the Why.
4. Pair yourself with good How people to make your business run efficiently. Jobs needed Wozniak; Gates needed Balmer (and vice versa).

As a Christian who is actively studying the doctrine of work and vocation, I agree with Sinek on the "Why" principle. Too many Christians identify themselves with what they do rather than why they do it. Ultimately, we should work, create products, start businesses, and help others for the glory of God and as an act of worshiping Him who gave us the capacity and the mandate (Genesis) to do such things. Our churches, likewise, should focus on the Why. A What church is one that is focused on having the best music, right programs, the highest attendance, the most baptisms, etc. rather than on leading people to a deeper relationship with Christ and one another. Churches stagnate and even become legalistic after they start focusing on the What.

Tivo might be the best example Sinek gives of a "what" company that performed dismally with a great product. The company focused marketing on the features of the product rather than the power and freedom that it gave TV watchers. Sinek proposes some alternative "why" pitches for companies like Tivo to get his point across.

Some of Sinek's conclusions are problematic or contradictory. He holds up Southwest Airlines as successful due largely to putting the employee, rather than the customer or the shareholder, first. But at the end of the day, it's the shareholders that have to be on board with the strategy. Other aspects of Southwest's business model that made it different from the other airlines go unmentioned.GM and Chrysler will gladly tell you that paying high wages and good benefits to employees-- putting them first-- only worked for so long in the face of global competition. That's life. Sinek's escape hatch is a carefully inserted caveat that "best practices" are not universally applicable-- every company, market, and situation is different.

Wal-Mart is another problematic what/why example in my view. Sinek maintains that Sam Walton's Wal-Mart was "obsessed with serving the community," whereas the modern Wal-Mart is only obsessed with low prices. This doesn't jive with other works on Wal-Mart I've read, it has always been Low Prices Every Day (and now it's Live Better). Sinek concludes that Walton just did not do a good enough job articulating his "Why" because the "Why" of a leader or company is more like a feeling than something that can be described by English. As a result, later CEOs got the What and the Why confused.  I would argue that Low Prices and Live Better are still "Why" visions, nobody is better at delivering what consumers want at the lowest price than Wal-Mart.

I'm currently prepping to teach a section of Managerial Economics for MBA students. Production managers focus very much on the How and What. Competing on price is effective-- if you have properly estimated a demand curve for your product then proper pricing is not a "manipulation." Sinek's analysis falls short in this area. I would say he also falls into a false sense of thinking he is the first person to "discover" (his word) why people do what they do. Most people just don't read anything older than 20 years to know there really is "nothing new under the sun."

3 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review (#39 of 2014) The Ancient Church by W.D. Killen

The Ancient Church: Its Doctrine, Worship, and Constitution Traced for the First Three Hundred Years by W.D. Killen, published in 1859 (free at link).

This is a detailed and highly-readable account about the early church, based on what documents were available in 1859 and what we can logically deduce from them. Killen's ultimate goal is to explain the series of events that led to the Catholic prelate. Killen uses the various sources available in Latin, as well as his contemporary commentators, to piece together what the Church looked like in its early days and how it evolved, with special emphasis on how the Catholic prelate came into being. It is clear that Killen reads Latin well (common in 1850s), offering up his own translation of several works but there are Greek citations as well. Every thought and evidence is footnoted and well-documented. It is also an interesting look at what consensus scholarship was in the 1800s. Killen (1806-1902) was an Irish Presbyterian whose various works on church history have been scanned and archived

Archaeological research was pretty sparse in Killen's time as Palestine and Asia Minor were occupied by the Ottomans and the Vatican was pretty picky on who it let dig around Rome. As such, the book relies mostly on the writings known from this period, a few of which had only recently been discovered and a few which had yet to be translated into English. The Didache had not been discovered and would have added to Killen's analysis. These range from intentional histories to epistles by elders to letters written about Christians by governing authorities. 

The first third of the book is a historical retelling of the New Testament, where Scripture is essentially the sole source. What I found most interesting was to compare the scholarship given on the gospels and various epistles to modern-day works, almost none of which quote Killen or even the sources that Killen quotes. This gives the reader a picture of how biblical scholarship has changed over the years as new discoveries have come to light or new modes of thinking come into vogue. I find a few of the dates he gives for some of the epistles to differ from modern texts, but I would recommend this portion of Killen's book as an Intro to the New Testament.

My hope in studying this book was to find "pure" church practice-- how did the Apostles set things up, and how did we later corrupt those practices? Killen cautions the reader against such thinking, arguing that we're better off in modern times to determine correct practice since we have much better access to Scripture and history than those living then.

"Some imagine that in times of Tertullian and of Cyprian we may find the purest faith in the purest form, but a more intimate acquaintance with the history of the period is quite sufficient to dispel the delusion...we cannot reasonably hope to find among (the early disciples) any very extraordinary measure either of spiritual wisdom or of consistent piety." 

One result was that there was "as much diversity in discipline and ceremonies mong Christians as is now to be found in evangelical Protestant Churches." We know remarkably little about the early Church and how it operated, for various practical reasons (emphasis mine):
"(T)hough it was most important that the heathen should be made acquainted with the doctrines of the Church, it was not by any means expedient that their attention should be particularly directed to the machinery by which it was regulated. An accurate knowledge of its constitution would only have exposed it more fearfully to the attacks of persecuting Emperors. Every effort would have been made to discover the times and places of the meetings of pastors and teachers, and to inflict a deadly wound on the Church by the destruction of its office-bearers. Hence, in general, its courts appear to have assembled in profound secrecy; and thus it is that, for the first three centuries, so little is known of the proceedings of these conventions."

Eusebius is a source for much of our information about the ancient church and is cited repeatedly. But Killen notes that Eusebius "is not entitled to the praise of a great historian," and argues his work is an "unsatisfactory performance." Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History was published around 324 A.D., shortly after Constantine bestowed his blessing on Christianity.

There are good explanations of the various heresies that arose during the first three centuries and how they were addressed. I found his description of the various forms of Gnosticism very helpful. The heresies are described in order to explain the change in ecclesiastic constitution over the first two hundred years. Killen takes special care in the last chapters to explain the rise of the Catholic prelate, and to show that it was contrary to the earliest days of church leadership and what had been exemplified by the Apostles.

Early on, churches resembled Jewish synagogues and questions of worship and doctrine were referred to the Apostles in Jerusalem:
"Every Christian congregation, like every synagogue, had its elders; and every city had its presbytery, consisting of the spiritual rulers of the district...(In Acts 15) the parties proceeded in the matter in much the same way as Israelites were accustomed to act...Had a controversy relative to any Mosaic ceremony divided the Jewish population of Antioch, they would have appealed for a decision to their Great Sanhedrin; and now, when this dispute distracted the Christians of the capital of Syria, they had recourse to another tribunal at Jerusalem which they considered competent to pronounce a deliverance. This tribunal consisted virtually of the rulers of the universal Church; for the apostles, who had a commission to all the world, and elders from almost every place where a Christian congregation existed, were in the habit of repairing to the capital of Palestine...In accordance with the free spirit of the gospel dispensation, it appears to have consisted of as many ecclesiastical rulers as could conveniently attend its meetings. But the times were somewhat perilous; and it is probable that the ministers of the early Christian Church did not deem it expedient to congregate in very large numbers."

In Apostolic times, there were presbyters who were in charge of teaching, preaching, and general organization of churches. Each presbytery tended to have a "president" to maintain order, conduct meetings, etc. but "he was the representative of the presbytery--not its master." The presbytery generally submitted to one another-- no one had ultimate authority. Smaller congregations likely had only one presbyter. The president, later "bishop," was initially the oldest member of the presbytery. One wonders how much of that is Asian cultural deference to age and how much was Spirit-led. The presbytery was bestowed by the laying on of hands, and this practice occurred for several men whom were acknowledged to eventually become bishops-- there was essentially an order of succession created for when the previous bishops died, based on seniority. 

The age deference created a problem in that many early churches, particularly the Jerusalem church, saw a high rate of turnover in its presidents. Eventually a system was widely adopted where the presbyters elected a president/bishop, which correlated with an increase in longevity of the bishops according to records. "The law abolishing the claim of seniority came into operation about the close of the second century."

The elections were thought to create a safeguard against heresy. However, the system soon allowed for popular election as popular presbyters campaigned among the entire body for their election. This created a problem as heresies became popular--you might have popular heretics elected to the presidency. Gradually, the bishop gained more power and authority-- baptisms and other ordinances could not occur without his presence or blessing-- over the presbytery. As the church grew, this model was reproduced. Professional presbyters became more common, and even encouraged. How much of this came from pagan Greek (ie: non-Scriptural) attitudes about work (which pervade the church today) is unknown, but it appears evident in the quotes Killen puts forth from the time period.

As heresies arose, the church trusted a few bishops with more power-- it was "for a cure of schism," as Jerome put it. They also became more powerful over church funds, and were supported by the church. Who better to trust than those leaders who had withstood trial and persecution? Rome had one of the biggest heresy problems, and its response of power consolidation was then copied by many of the smaller cities. The term "catholic" later developed to distinguish orthodox from heterodox. "Catholic" simply meant churches who agreed on what "universal" sound doctrine was. The hope was that in enlarging the influence of non-heretics, the heresies could be marginalized. Ultimate power in the hands of the Roman bishop was an outgrowth of the size and influence of the Roman church, and it was later justified on a bogus basis that Peter had been given such a role himself as head of the church at Rome, and his successors therefore inherited his mantle. With power came corruption and political intrigue. This became worse once Christianity was endorsed by the Roman Emperor.

So, the "bishop" of the first centuries was simply the "chief presbyter." He taught, preached, and did the other acts as an "elder" and is not to be confused with the Bishop of several diocese that we see in the modern Catholic church. Killen concludes:
"All the primitive bishops received nothing more than presbyterian ordination. It is plain, therefore, that the doctrine of the transmission of spiritual power from the apostles through an unbroken series of episcopal ordinations flows from sheer ignorance of the actual constitution of the early Church."

One of the first glimpses of Roman prelacy came late in the second century. Differences grew in the celebration of Paschal (Passover/Easter) between the churches close to Rome and those in Asia Minor, creating a schism. Believers in Asia Minor celebrated Paschal to coincide with the Jewish passover, and with fasting, whereas churches in the West argued that the Paschal must only be celebrated on Sunday and without fasting. Between 189 and 199, Victor the bishop of Rome attempted to excommunicate those who celebrated Paschal differently than Rome traditionally did (see link for details). This decision was rebuked by several bishops and seen as a power-grab, and Victor later had to back down. (He's today considered a "Pope" by the Vatican, but that term was not in use then).

"At this time the jurisdiction of Victor did not properly extend beyond the few ministers and congregations to be found in the imperial city. A quarter of a century afterwards even the bishop of Portus, a seaport town at the mouth of the Tiber about fifteen miles distant from the capital, acknowledged no allegiance to the Roman prelate. [340:3] The boldness of Victor in pronouncing so many foreign brethren unworthy of Catholic communion may at first, therefore, appear unaccountable. But it is probable that he acted, in this instance, in conjunction with many other pastors. Among the Churches of Gentile origin there was a deep prejudice against what was considered the judaizing of the Asiatic Christians in relation to the Paschal festival, and a strong impression that the character of the Church was compromised by any very marked diversity in its religious observances." 

The book makes me want to read the epistles of Clement and Polycarp, as well as the histories recorded by Eusebius and Iraeneus. Polycarp (69-155 A.D.), who had known the Apostle John and was bishop of the church in Smyrna, apparently opposed the early consolidation of power he saw in the Roman church and confronted it by letter and personal visit.

The heresies also helped create the modern system of church membership we see today. When a Christian traveled or moved to a foreign location, he took with him letters written by his church attesting to his faith to introduce him to the local church, so he could rely on that church to help him. As the "catholic" church became more firm about what true doctrine was, a member excommunicated by one bishop would not be admitted by another.

Killen argues that infant baptism probably occurred from the earliest days of the church. Even Scripture records people's "entire household" being baptised, and this likely included children. It appears that several elders in the early church were baptised as infants, and it was considered to "supersede" the Jewish right of circumcision. Sprinkling and pouring likely occurred as often as full-immersion baptism:
"Some have asserted that the Greek word translated baptize, [220:7] in our authorised version, always signifies immerse, but it has been clearly shewn [221:1] that this statement is inaccurate, and that baptism does not necessarily imply dipping. In ancient times, and in the lands where the apostles laboured, bathing was perhaps as frequently performed by affusion as immersion; [221:2] and it may be that the apostles varied their method of baptizing according to circumstances. [221:3] The ordinance was intended to convey the idea of washing or purifying; and it is obvious that water may be applied, in many ways, as the means of ablution. In the sacred volume sprinkling is often spoken of as equivalent to washing. [221:4]"
The Eucharist was likely observed at the weekly gathering of the church and presbyters (the terms "sacrament" as well as the doctrine of transubstantiation come much later in church history).

According to Killen, icons and other paintings were not used in worship, nor likely were musical instruments. These practices were likely seen too close as the licentious pagan theaters around them:

"Late as the beginning of the fourth century the practice of displaying paintings in places of worship was prohibited by ecclesiastical authority. A canon which bears upon this subject, and which was enacted by the Council of Elvira held about A.D. 305, is more creditable to the pious zeal than to the literary ability of the assembled fathers. "We must not," said they, "have pictures in the church, lest that which is worshipped and adored be painted on the walls.""
In the church, as well as in the synagogue, the whole congregation joined in the singing; [465:2] but instrumental music was never brought into requisition. The early Christians believed that the organs of the human voice are the most appropriate vehicles for giving utterance to the feelings of devotion; and viewing the lute and the harp as the carnal ordinances of a superannuated dispensation, they rejected their aid in the service of the sanctuary. Long after this period one of the most eminent of the ancient fathers describes the music of the flutes, sackbuts, and psalteries of the temple worship as only befitting the childhood of the Church. "It was," says he, "permitted to the Jews, as sacrifice was, for the heaviness and grossness of their souls. God condescended to their weakness, because they were lately drawn off from idols; but now, instead of instruments, we may use our own bodies to praise Him withal."

Discipline was handled much as described in Paul's epistles to the Corinthians--. Killen contrasts it to the later notions of the Latin Church of permanent excommunication:

"those who were excommunicated should be admitted neither to the intimacy of private friendship nor to the sealing ordinances of the gospel. But it did not follow that the disciples were to treat such persons with insolence or inhumanity...for they were to love even their enemies, and they were to imitate the example of their Father in heaven who "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." [228:5] It is obvious from the address of the apostle to the Thessalonians that the members of the Church were not forbidden to speak to those who were separated from communion; and that they were not required to refuse them the ordinary charities of life. They were simply to avoid such an intercourse as implied a community of faith, of feeling, and of interest. "If any man," says he, "obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." [229:1] How different was this discipline from that which was established, several centuries afterwards, in the Latin Church! The spirit and usages of paganism then supplanted the regulations of the New Testament, and the excommunication of Christianity was converted into the excommunication of Druidism. [229:2]"
Persecutions are well-documented. All periods of persecution were not uniformly bad, there were relatively peaceful times and relatively harsh ones. One problem the church faced was what to do with those who had recanted their faith during persecution, only to later embrace the faith when persecution relented.This problem led to further schisms requiring common understanding.

Some of the issues of great importance were handled by representatives of churches in meetings called synods. It is unclear from history when and how often the earliest of these occurred, some were regional where others involved bishops from many regions. Over time, these grew into more elaborate affairs and, after Constantine, the involvement of the Roman government itself.

The above is just a glimpse of things I found interesting in the book, though my highlights are numerous. I give this book 5 stars. Like many books from the 1800s, it's a forgotten gem.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review (#38 of 2014) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trailwas recommended to me by a co-worker who has spent some time hiking and biking various parts of the Appalachian Trail (henceforth known as the "AT"). Bryson is a humorist who has traveled the U.S. and Europe and wrote this in 1998 while living in the U.S. temporarily.

It is hard to know what is embellished and what is fact in this book, but it's certain that Bryson and an old high school classmate Kratz--overweight and out of shape-- attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Bryson is originally from the Midwest, resides in the North, and is unfamiliar with the strange ways of the hillbillies of Georgia and Tennessee. The hikers fare pretty well compared to many who give up the AT after just a few days. They survive record cold weather, snow, losing a bunch of their gear, drunk drivers, and strange or annoying hiking companions. Upon reaching Gatlinburg, they decide to bypass Kentucky by rental car (to my disappointment) and hike in Virginia. Eventually, they call it quits and decide to reunite and hike the northern part of the trail later on.

Bryson includes many facts on the history of the AT, the geography and wildlife, and is often highly critical of the U.S. Forest Service. His adventures with Katz are entertaining, sometimes fairly profane. The second half of the book where Katz is doing some solo hiking and exploring is more dull. Eventually he and Katz are reunited for a brief and disappointing last attempt at hiking before calling it quits for good. They are rightly proud of their accomplishments. I learned a bit about the AT, and was entertained. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Review (#37 of 2014) Justinian's Flea by William Rosen

Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe
This book is primarily about the reign of Justinian (482-565 A.D.) with the bubonic plague ("The Devil") as a key world-changing component in the second half of the book. There is a lot of contextual history provided, which some critics have argued is unnecessary and detracts from the book. I was looking for wider regional context, so I enjoyed much of it. The author gives a helpful summary of the history of the decline of Rome as government moved away from Italy and to the provinces. There is also a brief history of the Goths as well as the Scythians' (Mongols and Turk from Central Asian steppes) and other peoples' encroachment toward Europe. All of this is necessary to really understand the geographical importance of Constantinople and the pressures facing it, and the mentality of its authorities. The religious history is also important as ecumenical councils were trying to decide on doctrine and East was developing apart from West, and Justinian would have been a theologian were he not an Emperor.

Prior to the plague, the most significant event in Justinian's reign was the Nika riots of the Blues and the Greens, the Roman equivalent of today's football hooligans, destroying half of Constantinople and killing tens of thousands. That history and the politics surrounding it is itself fascinating. 

However, the detailed tangents on anything remotely touching Justinian and Constantinople are a bit much. Detailed accounts of Belisarius's conquests, Jewish history, silk production in China, etc. are unnecessary and add nothing. The supposed focus of the book-- the bubonic plague and its consequences-- are not even introduced until the last half of the book. Its impact on Constantinople itself and the various social structures and religion in the Empire is hardly mentioned. The economic and geopolitical impacts are the focus of the few chapters devoted to the plague.

4 million people died within two years. The plague shrunk the population of Europe and any area the Empire touched. As Persians took advantage of the Roman Empire's weakness to gain territory in Anatolia and beyond, eventually they also succumbed to the plague. The plague led to a lack of labor supply and an invention of better tools and even an increase in property rights among the farming peasants in Western Europe. The Arabs, who due to desert climate and remoteness were isolated from the plague, end up reaping the advantages conquering Persian and European territory and spreading Islam.

Justinian was "the emperor who never sleeps." Justinian's contributions to society were numerous. He re-conquered African and Italian territories and enlarged the empire. He set out to reform all of Roman law, commissioning the Codex Justianius and the Corpus Juris Civilis, which became the legal standard for the West (and was used by the Continental Congress in drafting the U.S. Constitution). Justinian's wife was a very licentious woman, as were many of the women chronicled in this book. The morals of Rome really declined in the 4th century. It was odd in that leading figures staked out theological positions and fought, often violently, for them, but were morally void of any impact of that theology.

I give this book 3 stars out of 5 because it was a lot of information about nothing pertaining to the Plague or Constantinople or the birth of Europe. There is a such thing as too much context.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Book Review (#36 of 2014) In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto gives a good overview of the checkered history of nutrition science (or what could be better termed "nutrient science.") There is a lot we don't know, which doesn't keep parties of all sides from making bold claims. Are Westerners' health problems caused more by a lack of Omega 3's or too much Omega 6? Why is it that nutrient compounds, when separated from their plant sources don't give us the health benefits found when consumed in the plants themselves? What health studies are actually useful and conclusive (not many)? What are scientists really confident of?

Pollan's advice after the review of the literature and hundreds of interviews are this:
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

You can break it down further into some basic rules of thumb:
1. Don't eat any single food with more than five ingredients.
2. Eat at a table--(ie: not at your desk or in the car).
3. Eat meals-- combinations of food have arisen for cultural and evolutionary reasons. There are social aspects of eating meals at table that improve our health, as well as the combinations in those meals themslves. 
4. Spend more on healthier food (so you likely spend less on health care in the future) and then eat less of it (as the law of demand would imply). This includes having your own small garden plot.
5. Eat a variety.
6. See meat as a side item-- something to be enjoyed with a meal that is mainly vegetables. 

Westerners have moved from eating leaves (fresh greens) to seeds (corn, soy), and this poses problems. We've industrialized our food chain and homogenized our products. Now we consume a ton of a few specific items-- like corn, soy, and meat-- which itself has become homogenized.

This book made me think about my own habits of straying toward processed foods so that I hit my calorie and macronutrient targets since I'm working out and lifting weights every day. The USDA's estimations of both micro and macronutrient content of things like produce is highly suspect, since there is a lot of variability based on the quality of soil each fruit and vegetable was grown on. Likewise for cattle, what's the quality of the grass consumed by the "grass-fed cattle" you're eating, and isn't "grass-finished" cattle more important since what they were eating in the feed lot before being slaughtered may not have been grass?

One flaw I might find in the book is the lack of combination with exercise science. Yes, the Europeans eat less and in smaller portions so this might explain their better health than Americans. But they are also more urbanized and walk and stand more, and do more flights of stairs. Building muscle, even in small amounts, effects how your body processes the calories it consumes. That area goes completely unaddressed in the book.

Not nearly as vitriolic or dogmatic as other books on the subject. Pollan is intellectually humble and understands that recommendations put forth today may not be what is put for tomorrow.I recommend it. 4 stars out of 5.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Book Review (#35 of 2014) Jesus for the Non-Religious by John Shelby Spong

If you're a Christian considering this book, then know that if you're a deist who believes that God intervenes in human history either in the miraculous or in the form of sending a Messiah named Jesus to save us from our sins then Spong says you are, knowingly or not, engaged in "heresy" (his words). Jesus performed nothing miraculous, fulfilled no prophecies, and there was no crucifixion for the atonement of sins nor a resurrection or eternal life. To believe otherwise means you are at best "ignorant," at worst "irrational," and definitely have a God concept that is "primitive" due to your "insecure" (his words) standing as a result of your theism.  The last 2,000 years of Christian thought has created a system which makes us dependent on a God who supposedly has to rescue us from our sinful selves-- this "dehumanizes" mankind, fuels tribalism and parochialism, and keeps us from a proper "God experience," which only Spong understands as he admits he does not have the proper words "in human language" to define or explain it. You only need to believe the parts of Scripture that Spong believes, even though he contradicts himself often on which parts he believes to be true and why. He says the point of writing this book is to show that Christians must no longer be theists, as that keeps them from "living life to the fullest" and "experiencing God."

If you're an atheist, you'll find various atheists' reviews of this book are spot on-- Spong is himself creating his own mythology. If a theistic God does not exist and does not intervene in human history, then how can Spong claim that the disciples "had a God experience" through Jesus that Spong also claims to seek? This contradiction runs throughout the whole book; you have to suspend logic to read it. Another reviewer nailed it: "In his attempt to move Christianity away from childish notions into a more adult and responsible conception of God, he has simply replaced a childish need for an all-powerful parent with an immature need to be in control by explaining away troubling mysteries." He denounces beliefs in the literal, historical Jesus as "irrational" yet proudly pretends he's rational in believing in his own selected aspects about Jesus himself. In the final chapters he lauds certain characteristics of Jesus that he spent the first half of the book saying weren't literally true in the first place. So, shouldn't he be worshiping Mark and Matthew who invented the entire Jesus narrative? He claims to be pushing Christianity to a higher level in the "Jesus experience" which transcends human thought and the ability for humans to communicate the God they are "experiencing."

Warning: If you've ever taken a course on logic, you will have a hard time finishing this book.

Spong actually begins this book with a prayer to Jesus, which would imply he believes Jesus is divine or that there is something miraculous in prayer-- he is an Episcopal bishop, after all. But this is hypocritical because he later criticizes belief in prayer as a "primitive" act done by "insecure creatures," and denounces belief in the miraculous or divine intervention of any kind-- "God doesn't answer prayer," he says flatly. The contradictions in Spong's tortured reasoning throughout the book are numerous. For example, he writes that he remains "deeply committed" to Jesus, is a "committed Christian" and "searches the Scriptures" for the truth of who Jesus is because the ancients believe they had encountered God through Jesus; and Jesus was an important part of his own childhood. Yet he doesn't believe much of anything written anywhere about Jesus-- there were no Josephs, perhaps no Mary (his mother), no miracles, perhaps no crucifixion, no crowds, Last Supper, Barabbus, and no physical resurrection. It's not apparent why he should maintain his belief that Jesus existed at all or why we should seek a "Jesus experience." At best, he makes the authors of Scripture liars telling myths that no "rational" person should ever believe in. The logical conclusion is that they intentionally set out to delude society-- and therefore Spong maintains part of this delusion by being a career clergy member.

Spong is also very disingenuous in his textual criticism. One short example, at the end of the book he lauds Jesus' handling of the adulterous woman in John 8. The problem is, there are almost no biblical scholars--evangelical or liberal--who believe this event actually happens or belongs in text. Of all the other events that Spong strips away from the Gospels, he quotes this as authoritative? That's very problematic.

He denounces theism for creating "religious anger" but, as many commenters have pointed out, the tone of this book is quite angry and condemning of millions of Christians through the ages. Spong does not want to tear down walls separating us from fellowship, he wants us to leave our "primitive delusions" behind and join him in his own definition of "the Jesus experience." It's like he never bothered to bounce his ideas off others before, read anyone else's research, or attended any churches outside of Virginia.

Spong's belief system requires enormous faith in him on the reader's part-- for example, that Spong interprets the "code" (his word) correctly in every name recorded in the Gospels, every action of Jesus recorded, and every historical landmark recorded along the way. That Spong alone holds the correct interpretations of Scripture--everyone else for the last 2,000 years has been mistaken (or thousands of years before that if you include the all the Jews who falsely believe in a God who intervenes in human life and recorded a "mythical" history of it).

If you follow his logic about the historicity of scripture, then its logical conclusion is that the Christian movement never happened, nor the centuries of Jewish faith before it-- because God never intervenes in human history, and the miraculous events around Jesus' life never happened. Therefore, Jesus could have never drawn the crowds recorded to him nor was his death of any consequence; and he was never resurrected. There was never anything remarkable about Jesus-- except the fact that some of his associates felt there was something so remarkable that they changed their whole lives and faith traditions after his death. "Something happened," says Spong, but it's "heresy" to take anything the Gospel authors wrote about about Jesus as historical, and leaves it to the reader to figure out how the early disciples convinced so many others that Jesus was someone remarkable-- because he was not the Messiah and fulfilled no prophecies.

One can imagine Spong in the first couple centuries arguing with Polycarp, who knew the Apostle John, and Josephus the Jewish historian-- or any of the disciples in Jerusalem for that matter--that there were no remarkable events surrounding Jesus' life, that there was no crowd of witnesses to Jesus' crucifixion or a claim of an empty tomb, and that everything being said about Jesus was purely symbolic code for a Jewish audience-- none of the historical events ever happened. I imagine they would have laughed at him-- arguments about Jesus in that time were quite diverse but none argued that the basic facts agreed upon about his life were fictional. Spong's account has a much lower probability than just taking the various authors at their word even on the basics. He ignores anyone's work over the last 2,000 years that might correct him errors.

Spong argues that the fictional miracles are also all "code" to be understood by the audience (just like all the names recorded in the Gospels... unless you named your child something truly original, it is suspect to Spong, and that person probably didn't exist.). None of the 37 miracles recorded by the Gospel authors are to be taken literally, and none of the Gospel authors intended his work to be historical-- not even Luke who states in Luke 1:1-4 that's exactly his intent. (Spong quotes from Acts, written together with Luke's Gospel, authoritatively but very selectively. The history recorded in Acts and Paul's conversion pose obvious problems for Spong's argument and he simply ignores them. He quotes from 1 Corinthians as authoritative, but ignores that Paul believed Jesus was betrayed and that there was a Last Supper-- which Spong contends never happened). He contends that somehow Jesus' life influenced a few fishermen and tax collectors enough that they believed they had a real-life God experience through him, they wrote metaphoric accounts of his life to state their beliefs about it, and somehow this started a world revolution that Spong continues to be part of today. Why would anyone want to be martyred on the basis of a few commoners' delusions about a man?  Why would anyone want to "experience" a Jesus that the author spends most of the book saying didn't really do much of interest.  

I've read a good number of works on early church history recently and checked this book out to gain some further insights into modern research. The foreword to the book makes it sound like evidence will be given for a "Jewish Jesus," but that is clearly not his aim. Part II of the book includes an argument that Mark, Matthew, and Luke were written to be preached as part of the Jewish liturgical calendar, which is plausible (though not original to Spong, as he disingenuously makes it seem). However, if none of the events recorded actually happened why would the Jewish audience pay attention to them, much less change their lives and faith traditions as Spong acknowledges they clearly did in the name of Jesus.

Many of Spong's "facts" and conclusions have been argued and refuted time and again since the earliest days of Christianity. Spong makes some basic errors both in his dealing with Hebrew thought and early Christian history, particularly Yom Kippur. He goes well beyond any New Perspective theologians. Spong seems either unaware of this, unaware of any scholars or even archaeologists who give strong evidence against his theories, or he simply refuses to address their work-- probably because they are theists, which Spong argues Christians must no longer be. In the end, he alone holds the "truth" that he hopes to convey to the reader through this book.

Spong never considers that all of the witnesses to Jesus' life-- including his own family-- had plenty of opportunity to refute the spread of the teachings about Jesus and did not-- they believed and embraced them. In the Gospels, it is repeated that crowds believed Jesus was the messiah because they saw his miracles. The Pharisees argued that his miracles were demonic, not that they didn't happen. There were, after all, hundreds of witnesses that someone who had been blind or lame since birth could now see and walk. Without any of Jesus' acts being commonly attributed to him at the time, how would he have even gained any sort of following in his life? Spong doesn't say. He would have been just another commoner.

Spong argues against the Gospel accounts, in part, because of what items Paul did not write in his letters to the early churches. Paul doesn't write a Gospel narrative of Jesus' life and death, and Spong argues that as evidence that the Gospels that were written were somehow false. This does the reader a disservice in not explaining what Paul's letters were-- mostly addresses to specific churches dealing with specific questions and problems. Paul mentions "the cross of Christ" in several of his letters, but Spong ignores them and contends that Paul either doesn't know about a crucifixion or doesn't believe it, when the letters clearly show otherwise. Spong quotes from these selectively and doesn't explain why.

He acknowledges that Paul met with Peter and other eyewitnesses early on, but doesn't seem to consider that Paul--an acclaimed expert in Jewish law and tradition--would have used those opportunities to learn about Jesus' life and lineage (as the Temple was still intact in Paul's day). Let's also remember that Paul originally killed Christians for their heresy that Jesus was a risen messiah. He gave up the power and prestige of his Pharisaic life for a life of continual hardship and death in the name of this Jesus--becoming a mortal enemy of the Pharisees who raised him. Why would Paul do that if he didn't believe Jesus was the risen messiah that everyone claimed? Spong claims Paul did not believe in Jesus' physical resurrection. But Paul wrote that "if we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15). Paul clearly believed in both a physical resurrection and an afterlife-- included in the earliest Christian creed we have, repeated by Paul. He also believed he had encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus appeared to him on multiple occasions. If Paul does not believe in the miraculous, then why does he tell about these experiences? Why doesn't he refute others' accounts of miracles taken place during Jesus' life and after his resurrection as the Church began to grow? Everything in Christianity hinges on a literal resurrection; if Christ was not divine and not physically resurrected, then what's the point? Does that also not make Paul complicit in some kind of willful cover-up? Spong doesn't say, while taking Paul at his word, which seems quite the contradiction.

While some of Paul's letters were authored before the Gospels, Paul would have been well acquainted with the early creeds and what was being taught about Jesus and later written down. Peter, who died a year after Paul, would also have had ample opportunity to refute any falsehoods being spread about Jesus' divinity, miracles, virgin birth, etc. since he's included in such stories. Peter did not, and the early church affirmed these teachings very early on. The logical conclusion is that the Apostles who spread Christianity spread one of the greatest delusions in history, and were willing to maintain their deception even to martyrdom. Spong somehow does not draw that conclusion, which I find quite irrational given his logic. Why does he search scriptures he does not believe and pray to someone he believes doesn't hear him? Makes no sense to me. 

Spong does the lay reader a great disservice by ignoring texts on church history prior to the 1800s-- it's as if real church history was done by Germans in the 1800s or by himself alone. He dismisses the various theologians, historians, Greek and Hebrew scholars, and archaeologists who actually do have rational arguments for Jesus being born in Bethlehem and John being the actual author of his Gospel (for example). No Protestant believes that Mary was "perpetually a virgin" or "born divine," yet Spong seems to ascribe these false beliefs to all Christians.

How can one believe that God does not intervene in human events, and that this world all came about by randomness, yet still be able to worship a historical Jesus? This is Spong's claim. He explains his "evolution" to a-theism in Part III. He steps out of his realm of expertise into biology and cultural anthropology, again stating as fact certain things that are debated among anthropologists. He argues that theism creates "religious anger" that fuels tribalism, racism, and violence. He has apparently never visited a church in the world that is diverse and works for social justice, as his hypothesis is that can only happen if we reject theism. Surely he must have at least heard of evangelical churches who have women pastors, but he writes as though they cannot exist because of the theistic shackles evangelicals place on themselves. I'd like to introduce him both to diverse churches worshipping a risen Christ and working for social justice. I'd also like to introduce him to some people who have seen the miraculous with their own eyes, and demon-possessed people in the dark heart of Africa who could speak to him in fluent English despite never having learned it. Has he ever even traveled outside the U.S.? Has anyone giving this book 5 stars ever done so?

C. S. Lewis made the argument that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. Spong seems really unable to figure out which one he believes-- so he tries to reject all three. You can only do that if you suspend logic, which Spong is quite good at. I prefer using logic, so I'll stick to it.

0 stars out of 5.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Book Review (#34 of 2014) The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan

I should have read The Peloponnesian War before I read Xenophon's Anabasis. Xenophon's work takes place shortly after the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) and that event sets the context of the relationship between the Athenian Greeks and the Spartans. One can see generals like Demosthenes and Lysander as influencing how Xenophon would have led, as well as learn what was expected of Athenian commanders both on the battlefield and in the realm of politics.

Donald Kagan is apparently the world's foremost expert on this event, and his works on it seem unassailable. Kagan's goal is to bring his academic research into a format more relevant to the modern reader who is familiar with modern wars and politics. While some reviews on Amazon have criticized this work as being "dry" or "too detailed," I disagree; it was a long and historically consequential war involving various people groups and cultures and is more than just "Athenians" vs. "Spartans." It is also "Ionians" vs. "Dorians" and others. The modern reader (myself) may tend to forget that in this period there was no united "Greece," the Aegean was all loose affiliations of independent and democratic city states that fell under the influence of larger city states. Spartans and Athenians had differing cultures and political structures and did not get along.

One is struck by the parallels between this war and 20th century wars. You have a problem/conflict in a far-off territory supported by a superpower, which begins to pull in other regional powers and eventually grows into a major war between superpowers. What looks like a quick-and-easy war turns into a costly quagmire. Democratic institutions get subverted in the name of defending the country, and much blood and treasure is robbed from future generations. During the war, people do things so far outside cultural norms and accepted morality that it cracks the very foundations of their civilizations. The question of how to have "peace with honor" for both sides in a potential stalemate becomes the issue. Bold speeches lead to disastrous actions, and popular sentiment changes with news of each battle's result. Borders get redrawn setting the stage for future conflicts.

Greece early on was moving from a true democracy to a "republic of the first citizen," where a general or other man of consequence had actual power and sway beyond statutes. By the end of the war, many of its cultural institutions were badly undermined and it was no longer an empire. 

In the first phase of the war, the "Archidamian War," Athens was influenced by Pericles to adopt a defensive strategy-- to resist until the Spartans see they cannot be beaten. To rely heavily on its naval advantage while Sparta relies on its superior infantry. After Pericles death, the Athenians begin having some success on offense and adopt a more aggressive strategy. Good tactics and luck swing the war into Athens' favor, but they overreach at a point where they could have achieved very favorable terms with Sparta and expanded their empire. Instead, the Spartans achieve some victories and sue for a more favorable peace.

In the interim, both Sparta and Athens wage a sort of proxy war by supporting opposite sides of other regional conflicts. Athens and their allies experience major defeats, which is foreboding for the next chapter of the conflict.

When Athenian allies are attacked by Spartan-backed Syracusans in Sicily, Alcibiades convinces the Athenian assembly to mount a massive expedition to crush Syracuse and incorporate Sicily into the empire. After this meets with disastrous defeat, Alcibiades is convicted of treason and flees to Sparta-- effectively turning traitor and convincing the Spartans to follow his advice in attacking Athens! Athens ends up doubling down on its Sicilian campaign, resulting in almost the complete destruction of its navy, infantry, and the loss of city states as the balance of power shifts in Sparta's favor. Nicias opposes the Sicilian expedition but gets appointed as a general, and ends up the last remaining general on the expedition after Alcibiades is arrested and others are killed. Generals who experienced bad results in the battlefield, even if there were a good excuse, were routinely disgraced, tried, executed, or banished. Demosthenes suggests the army retreat to defend Athens but Nicias hesitates both due to fear of returning to Athens and because of a solar eclipse that soothsayers say is an omen to wait before retreating. The Syracusans press the attack and destroy the Athenian forces and execute Nicias and Demosthenes. 

While Athens now fears mass uprisings and Spartan conquest, the Spartans face the problem of not having a strong enough navy to finish off the Athenians and Alcibiades convinces them to seek alliance with Persia for help. The Spartan's supposed desire to defeat Athens "for the independence of Greek states" becomes subverted to their desire for victory as they're willing to sacrifice Greeks to Persian rule.

Meanwhile in Athens in 411 B.C., a group of 400 wealthy Athenians stage a coup, replacing Athenian democracy with oligarchic rule and eliminating lower classes from serving on juries or being able to participate in government. They promise that it will be "temporary"  in order to save money and prevent the demise of Athens and will eventually restore democracy to a larger group of 5,000. The 400 desire to change the Constitution to bring back Alcibiades, who they falsely believe has Persian support and can enlist Persian help to to defend Athens. They elect Alcibiades as general and he now plays his newfound power as a sort of negotiation chip with the Persians. The coup fails as the outraged navy at Samos depose their generals and elect new ones, now with a desire to attack Athens and restore democracy by force. Kagan does a good job explaining the players in the complicated political intrigue, from moderates who calculatingly went along with the 400 to those who really would eliminate Athenian democracy in the name of defense. As the coup falls apart, the moderates execute the extremists, building monuments to their treachery. The 400 become the 5,000, and eventually Athens reverts to full democracy. Meanwhile, the Persians who had promised aid to Sparta are slow in delivering and the price the Spartans pay is costly in terms of money and morale. 

Alcibiades and the Athenian navy score some victories against the Peloponnesians, and the Spartans sue for peace-- which the Athenians reject because they would not accept the status quo with so many of their former colonies, including Byzantium and Ephesus, under Spartan control.Eventually, the Peloponnesian forces allied with Persia and led by Lysander defeat the Athenian navy decisively in 406 B.C. (ending Alcibiades' command) and in 404 B.C., effectively wiping out the Athenian navy. Lysander kills all his prisoners, which hardens Athenians' resolve to hold out under siege. The Athenians negotiate a final peace where they agree to give up their colonies and raze their walls, but maintain their liberty.

Lysander and the Spartans then impose their will on Athens and other colonies, setting up oppressive oligarchies and extractive institutions. "Greek independence" was never actually intended. However, Sparta would end up facing costly revolts and wars with Thebes and conflicts with Persia that would eventually cause its demise. Within a year of the peace treaty, Athens had restored its democracy, rebuilt its walls, and restored many of its colonies. The cost of the war was high, with about half of the adult male population of Athens wiped out by either war, plague, or famine.

I learned a great deal from this epic work, I give it 5 stars