Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Review of 2 Dr. Ole Hallesby Books

Under His Wings

Author: Ole Hallesby

Publisher: Augsburg Publishing House, paperback, 177 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Author

Dr. Ole Hallesby was one of Norway's leading authors of best-selling, popular books such as Prayer, and Why I Am a Christian. He was a seminary professor until his death in 1961. 


This volume consists of a Preface, and eleven chapters, entitled: Be Still Before The LORD, Under The Blessing Of God, The Meek, Under His Wings, In The Day Of Trouble, Our Earthly Calling, The Fear Of God, Faith And Assurance, Martha And Mary, When The Blind See, Closing Words. Each chapter begins with a biblical passage, followed by a meditation on it. 

Brief Observations

Dr. Hallesby first published this book in 1932, it was renewed in 1960, and this paperback edition came out in 1978. He states the book's purpose and intended audience in the Preface: "This book has been written for the many believing Christians who from time to time are filled with dismay at the Word of the Lord, and who almost continually feel weary and discouraged in their struggle against sin." In short, he had a pastoral concern for the spiritual well-being of his readers. 

Dr. Hallesby writes from the perspective of Norwegian Haugean Pietism, founded by Hans Nielsen Hauge. He repeatedly compliments the Haugeans for their faithfulness. 

In his first chapter, based on Psalm 37:7, Hallesby sees stillness as a blessing in that it connects us with eternity, which, in turn, through grace, makes us more aware of our sin, which drives us to Jesus for forgiveness.

Professor Hallesby has some interesting insights in his chapter on The Meek, based on Matthew 5:5 and Philippians 4:5. He states: "The word for meek in the Norwegian tongue signifies slow courage, calm courage, gentle and mild courage." (p. 36) He goes on to discuss how little courage human beings have regarding: the confession of wrongs, giving generously, being humble, and suffering. He then cites several examples of Jesus' "meek courage," which involves love, faith, humility, and servanthood. 

I appreciated Dr. Hallesby's short chapter In The Day Of Trouble, based on Psalm 27:5. Perhaps he is speaking from his own experience--I know it has been my experience as a pastor--when he states: "Believers, too, can be exceedingly mean to each other, both in thought, word, and deed. Moreover, nothing hurts us as much as when Christian people are unkind toward us." (pp. 78-79) Tragically, the lack of unity and love has caused way too many serious, unresolved conflicts and divisions in the church--moreover, it has scandalized non-Christians and turned them off of the Christian faith.

In his Closing Words, Dr. Hallesby speaks of the paradoxical and scandalous nature of the Cross: "The Cross, the most incomprehensible thing of all in connection with the God of the Bible, became the dearest and most indispensable of all to my broken and contrite heart." (p. 172)

Readers who are struggling and discouraged in the faith would likely find some counsel and encouragement in this volume. 

Temperament & the Christian Faith 

Author: Ole Hallesby

Publisher: Augsburg Publishing House, paperback, x plus 106 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


This little volume contains: a Foreword To The American Edition by Dr. Hallesby, A Tribute written by O.G. Malmin, and seven chapters, entitled: Temperament, The Sanguine Temperament, The Melancholic Temperament, The Choleric Temperament, The Phlegmatic Temperament, The Significance of the Temperaments. The Foreword To The American Edition was written, may possibly have been one of the last things Dr. Hallesby wrote on August 5, 1961, since he died on November 22, 1961. 

In each of the four classic temperament chapters, the author includes their characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, hints for Pastors and Spiritual Counsellors, and self-discipline. 

Brief Observations

This little volume was first published in Norwegian as Temperamentene i kristelig lys in 1940, four years before the Briggs Myers Type Indicator Handbook was published, which changed its title to the “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator” in 1956; and the “Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis,” originally developed by Dr. Roswell H. Johnson in 1941, and later revised by Robert M. Taylor and Lucile P. Morrison. 

Dr. Hallesby provides readers with the origins of the words temperament, sanguine, melancholic, choleric and phlegmatic. “The term comes from the Latin temperamentum, which means the right blending—in this case, of the bodily fluids. ...the sanguine (blood) being rich-blooded, warm, lively; the melancholic (from the Greek melaina chole, black bile), dark and gloomy; the choleric (from the Greek chole, yellow bile), hot-tempered and violent; and the phlegmatic (from the Greek phlegma,phlegm or mucus), cool, slow, and sluggish.” (p. 8) 

The sanguine person is an extrovert, tends to: live in the present, is bubbly, lively, happy, a social butterfly, in touch with the feelings and thoughts of others, superficial and unreliable—unintentionally forgetting promises and obligations. They are ultimately people of hope. 

The melancholic person is an introvert, and tends to be: deep and thorough, depressed, sceptical, dislikes the superficial, aware of their limitations, sensitive, faithful, dependable, too self-absorbed, uncompromising, hard to get along with, proud, impractical. Melancholic people are often intellectuals, artists and philosophers. 

The choleric person tends to be: quick-tempered, practical, active and emphasizes doing, strong-willed, self-reliant, intuitive, energetic, insightful into human nature, responds quickly and boldly in emergencies, lacks compassion, is too self-confident and domineering, revengeful, and can become violent. Choleric people are active, practical and hard-working, and can motivate others in their work. 

The phlegmatic person tends to be: calm and has a well-balanced temperament, is stoic, good-natured and easy to get along with, peace-loving, dependable, practical-minded, emulates stability, can be slow and lazy, self-righteous, and indifferent or blasé, as a leader can deal well with all kinds of people, and excel in administration. 

Dr. Hallesby emphasises that as complex human beings, we all have a combination of the temperaments, with one usually more predominant than the others. It is Hallesby’s hope that becoming more aware of one’s temperament will enhance one’s relationships with both God and other human beings; as well as understanding the temperaments of others better with a view to becoming less judgemental of them. 

This little volume is helpful in identifying one’s temperament(s). However, it is most likely best read along with other resources like the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. 


Monday, March 1, 2021

Read the Bible in a Year continued: The Torah

As I shared in my January 18, 2021 bog post, which you can read here, I have made the commitment to read the whole Bible this year. I recently completed reading the Torah, and am now well into the Book of Joshua. I'm following the Good News Translation Bible's plan, titled: "Read the Bible in a Year." However, each day I read a different translation, I'm blessed to have eight English translations of the Bible. For those readers who may have only one or two translations, I recommend the Bible Gateway website, where you can select several translations.

I confess, there are some days I find it quite challenging to read the assigned chapters. For example, when I began the Book of Joshua, chapters 1 to 7 were assigned on that day. This takes time, as I like to write brief notes on each daily reading. It is rather challenging some days to devote the necessary time required--especially when one has a busy day with other commitments. Being retired makes one grateful to be able to choose these kind of commitments. 

With regards to now having read the Torah, which literally means "teaching" or "instruction," here are a few notes. 

Two of the most significant defining moments in the history of Israel are, of course, God giving Moses the decalogue (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21) on Mount Sinai; and the exodus combined with the institution of the Passover (Exodus 12-14) as a festival to be celebrated in perpetuity to remember the exodus out of Egyptian slavery. Both of these defining moments are acts of God's grace toward Israel, and lay the foundation for their nation. The other religious celebrations, including the Sabbath, and such festivals as Sukkot/Tabernacles, and Weeks are also rooted in God's grace.

However, after reading about the origins of the tabernacle and the sacrificial system associated with it, one does wonder about God's requirements. This time round, after reading about all of the minute details of the offerings and sacrifices; their contents and quantities, and the rituals connected with them; I have more empathy towards the levitical priests. They were given huge responsibilities, and I think their work would have been endless. It would have required a lot of time to prepare many of the offerings and sacrifices prior to officiating in their rituals. Moreover, one wonders where and how the levitical priests were able to find all of the animals required for the offerings and sacrifices. It would have helped them a great deal if they were people who had the gift to remember details. 

We like to view God as "gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." However, with regards to the sacrificial system, one wonders--sometimes God seems overly legalistic and unmerciful, quick to anger and punish those who even make a minor mistake regarding the content and/or quantity of a particular offering or sacrifice. The punishment seems, at times, extreme. For example, in Numbers 15:32-36, a man who gathered sticks on the sabbath was commanded by the LORD to be stoned to death. 

On the other hand, there are occasions when God is gracious and merciful. For example, he does listen to both Abraham and Moses when they intercede for their people; that God not destroy them in his wrath. God heard their pleading and had mercy on his people. 

God's grace also blessed Abraham and Sarah with their son Isaac in their old age.

God's grace endowed Moses with the energy, wisdom and leadership skills and gifts to lead the Israelites through the sea, the wilderness, and up to the promised land. God's grace provided for the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings. God's grace provided for the needs and status of resident aliens, orphans and widows. 

After reading the Torah, I am grateful however that I'm not required to remember, let alone keep, all of the 613 laws therein--even though a number of those laws do make sense in their context and even today (for example the dietary laws), and promote the health and well-being of society as a whole. 

There but by the grace of God go you and I.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Brief Book Review: The Psalms: Structure, Content & Message


Author: Claus Westermann

Publisher: Augsburg Publishing House, paperback, 128 pages

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Author

Claus Westermann (7 October 1909 - 11 June 2000) was a German Protestant Old Testament scholar. He was a professor at the University of Heidelberg from 1958 to 1978. 

Born to African missionaries, he finished his studies in 1933 and he became a pastor. During his theological studies he started studying the Old Testament, and became particularly interested in the content of the Psalms. 

He has published several other works, including: Handbook To The Old Testament, Handbook To The New Testament, and The Old Testament And Jesus Christ. 

Westermann is considered one of the premier Old Testament scholars of the twentieth century. Particularly notable among his scholarship is his lengthy and comprehensive commentary on the Book of Genesis, especially covering Genesis 1-11. 


There are 13 chapters, plus an Introduction and a Selected Bibliography. The chapters include: 1. The Community Psalm of Lament (CL). 2. The Community Psalm of Narrative Praise (CP). 3. The Individual Psalm of Lament (IL). 4. The Individual Psalm of Narrative Praise (IP). 5. The Psalm of Descriptive Praise or Hymn (H). 6. Creation Psalms. 7. Liturgical Psalms. 8. Royal Psalms. 9. Enthronement Psalms. 10. Wisdom Psalms. 11. Psalm 119. 12. Conclusion. 13. The Psalms and Christ. 

Brief Highlights

It has been many, many years since I read this volume. I picked it up from my bookshelf since I decided to preach on the Psalter pericopes of the Revised Common Lectionary this church year, 2020-2021, and thought it would be a helpful resource for sermon preparation. (My sermons can be read at my main Dim Lamp site.) Although it is only 128 pages, Professor Westermann packs quite a lot into it. 

In his Introduction, Professor Westermann states that Psalms: "are prayers (words directed to God in supplication or rejoicing), poetry (poetical expressions of thought), and song (they go beyond the mere speaking or even recital of a poem and become music)." (p. 11) I would add that there is the element of story in the Psalms; which focus on a variety of human experiences and saving actions of God. The Introduction also focusses on the: origins, collection, superscriptions and notations, musical designations, poetic forms, types and genres of the psalms. 

In his chapter on IL, Westermann makes the following observation concerning enemies: "Psalm 22 contains, to be sure, an extensive description of enemies, but not one single petition against them. On the other hand, Psalm 109 consists of almost nothing but petitions against enemies. Between these extremes are many intermediary forms of petitions and complaints about enemies." (p. 67)

In his chapter on H, the author relates time and space to Hymns/Psalms of Descriptive Praise: "The praise of God should extend to the uttermost limits of time and space, for only thus can God be affirmed as the Lord of time and space, no matter how far they may extend." (p. 84)

In his chapter on Liturgical Psalms, Westermann identifies occasions and types of these psalms: Pilgrimage songs for festivals, songs of Zion regarding the city of Jerusalem, psalms of blessing, psalms with entrance instructions into the temple, psalms of procession with the ark. 

Christian readers will likely be interested in the chapter on The Psalms and Christ. In his discussion, the author states: "In three passages the Psalms point unambiguously to what has happened in Christ." (p. 123) Readers can learn more about them by purchasing this book.     

Monday, January 18, 2021

Read the Bible in a Year

Beginning in January 2021, I've been following the Good News Translation's "Read the Bible in a Year" schedule. This Bible is published by the Canadian Bible Society.

It has been a number of years since I've read the Bible in one year-so I thought it would be an edifying discipline to do so again this year. If you haven't done so before; or if it's been some time since you've done so; I encourage you to undertake this commitment. 

So far, I've read through the Book of Genesis, and the first eleven chapters of Exodus. When one reads larger portions of the Bible in one sitting, one discovers a greater appreciation for the context of events in many of the stories that one might miss or forget in a briefer reading. Since the Bible is a Living Word of God, one notices certain things that were perhaps overlooked in previous readings of the text. Here are a few notes from my reading so far.

In the first creation story, human beings are created as male and female in God's image, which implies God is both male and female, and, of course, more than the two genders as well. At the end of the the sixth day: "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31)

Even after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (nowhere does it identify the fruit as an apple or any other fruit) God, in an act of grace, made clothes for them. 

In the story of Cain's and Abel's offerings, no reason is explicitly given for God favouring Abel's offering and not Cain's. However, in observing Cain's anger, God warns him to "master it," or it will lead him into sin. (Genesis 4:1-7) Another mystery with regards to Cain is his wife: we are not told where she came from, and she remains nameless in the story. (Genesis 4:17)

Throughout the Book of Genesis the names of far too many wives and daughters are rarely given--reflecting the patriarchal society out of which Genesis originated. For example, in Genesis 5:4, the writer mentions Adam (not Eve) having a son named Seth and other sons and daughters who are not named. The same is true of Seth, 5:6, he had a son named Enosh, his wife remains nameless, and he had other sons and daughters who remain nameless. 

In Genesis 19:30-38, an account is provided of the incestuous origins of the Moabites and Ammonites. Lot, after drinking wine, had sexual intercourse with his two daughters, who are also nameless. Centuries later, God chose Ruth, a Moabite, to be the ancestor of David and Jesus. Although there are certainly good reasons to avoid incestuous sexual relations, (it is not promoted in the Bible as being a normal sexual practice) perhaps one of the lessons from this story is that God's ways are not our ways.  

Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel are all barren and eventually able to give birth with implicit or explicit divine intervention. For example: "Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived." (Genesis 25:21) Indeed, the main purpose of women in the Book of Genesis is giving birth to children. There is little or no room in Genesis for women to choose occupations beyond domestic ones. Most of the stories in Genesis focus on the patriarchs rather than the matriarchs.

In the Book of Exodus, the political, economic and social status of the Israelites has changed radically--they are now reduced to slaves in Egypt. 

The story of Moses reveals how God is at work through Pharaoh's daughter to save Moses. She has compassion on him, spares his life as an act of disobeying her Pharaoh-dad, and with the help of Moses' sister and mother, he is cared for until Pharaoh's daughter adopts him and raises him. 

Moses' humanity is revealed when he is hesitant to accept God's call to him to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. I hazard to guess that many a pastor down through the ages have identified with Moses' hesitation to accept God's call-I know I have! 

The divine drama in Exodus is portrayed by God hardening Pharaoh's heart, and Moses and Aaron confronting him to release the Israelites. As God's servants and spokespersons, Moses and Aaron are given the capacity to assist the LORD by announcing divinely orchestrated events that threaten Pharaoh and the Egyptians, causing hardships and suffering. The plagues serve to heighten the drama; revealing God's power over Pharaoh and his unsuccessful resistance.    


Thursday, January 7, 2021

Brief Book Review:The Beatitudes and Woes of Jesus Christ For The Slow Savouring of Serious Disciples


The Beatitudes and Woes of Jesus Christ for The Slow Savouring of Serious Disciples

Author: Joseph R. Jacobson

Publisher: PageMaster Publishing, 2020

103 pages, paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

About the Author 

The Rev. Joseph R. Jacobson formerly served as a Lutheran pastor, and as a bishop of Alberta and the Territories Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church In Canada. Later, he became a Roman Catholic, and has served in that denomination as a priest. Rev. Jacobson and wife Carolyn were married for fifty-two years and nine months when she died in 2018. They have two children and eight grandchildren. He is the author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction. 


Rev. Jacobson has dedicated this volume: To the Chinese Christians of our own time who along with survivors of the gulag and the jihad are giving the whole Church a fresh vision of what it means to be called "disciples of Jesus." 


In his Introductory Comments, Rev. Jacobson states that: i) contrary to what many believe, the beatitudes and woes are stark; ii) they are descriptive not prescriptive; iii) and they describe discipleship. As stark, ground rules of Jesus for all would-be disciples, the beatitudes and woes, according to the Most Rev. Dr. Donald Coggan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury--cited by the Rev. Jacobson--"They terrify me." (p. 3) They can "terrify" us precisely because we cannot live up to the beatitudes, and the woes in Luke's Gospel all too often describe us. Yet, paradoxically, the author points out: the beatitudes cannot save us, and even though they are stark, we are graced by them insofar as they remind us of the state we are in--we are "Blessed." Originally, Rev. Jacobson wrote these twenty-four private meditations for each day during the season of Advent in 1997, revised them in 2014, and decided to publicly share them by publishing this volume in 2020. 

Structure and Content 

The author has employed a brilliant and creative method of writing these meditations. Each meditation has a two-fold message. First, each meditation begins with the words: "N.___________________________, child of God," (reminiscent of our baptismal covenant) and spoken to the reader directly by God the Father. Second, each meditation concludes with a conversational prayer-response to each particular beatitude and woe, beginning with the words: "Dearest Father." In both sections of each meditation, the author often refers to--in some meditations--several additional biblical passages, complementing the beatitude and/or woe. 

Here is a fragmented example: N.__________________________, child of God, I call you to hunger and thirst for righteousness. I do not need disciples who pay it eloquent lip service. (Matthew 15:7-8) I need disciples who pay it daily life service. (p. 32) Dearest Father, give me a fierce appetite for Your righteousness alone. Show me what it is. Show me how it works. Show me why the world needs it so desperately. Show me how much You want the world to have it. Show me Jesus and never let anything come between us! (Romans 8:38-39) I want to see my craving for anything but Your righteousness for what it really is: Deadly poison served on a silver platter. (pp. 34-35)

Over-all, I found this little Advent devotional book edifying. However, I do have a couple of critiques. My first critique is that the author does focus on total depravity in several of the meditations. In the present time, when the COVID-19 pandemic is causing many to be in a state of depression, these meditations may have an unintended adverse effect on some readers. My second critique is that the author most likely should have identified the painting on the front cover of the volume as well as the painter: The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch, in Frederikborg Castle, Copenhagen. 

That said, I would recommend this little volume to those readers who are looking for meditations for the Advent season.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Brief Graveside Sermon for Grete Olson

Brief graveside sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, for Grete Olson, based on Isa 66:13; Matt 5:4; Phil 4:13. December 4, 2020, Bawlf cemetery, one o’clock.

Comfort, during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need God’s comfort. All is not well with the world. There is so much discomfort, disorientation, suffering, sorrow and uncertainty. The coronavirus has reminded us of how fragile life is. So we turn to the LORD and his word for comfort. The word comfort, comes from the two Latin words, com-with, together, and fortis-strong—as we gather together in the presence of God and through his word, we are stronger. So as Jesus promises us in the beatitude: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” we benefit physically, mentally, emotionally; and we are strengthened spiritually in our faith; because in mourning together we are Christ’s presence for each other, and that brings us comfort.

Moreover, the Greek word for “comforted” in Jesus’ beatitude (paraklethesontai) is related to the Greek word for the Holy Spirit (paraclete) the “Comforter”—and the Holy Spirit dwells within us, so we are comforted. 

That also reminds me of our verse from Isaiah: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” The presence of God is like a mother who comforts; who provides consolation; who contributes to the well-being of her children. Just as the Israelites returning from Babylonian exile found comfort back home in Jerusalem—so as members of Grete’s family, I’m sure you found comfort in Grete’s presence and home. 

Grete Olson, child of God, daughter, sister, wife, mother, neighbour and friend has left this life to join the company of saints in heaven. I am sure that you who loved her will miss her. 

In conversation with Odell, I learned that a most appropriate Bible verse that compliments Grete’s life is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”—which Odell found on the graduation exercise folder for one year when both Grete and her future husband, Palmer attended CLBI. 

As Odell shared with me some of the life-journey of Grete, I’m sure she needed to rely on Christ’s strength to do all that she was able to do. Life was not easy for her. She was very busy raising six children on limited means; as well as meeting the needs and living up to the expectations of being a pastor’s wife which, back in her generation, among other things, often involved playing the organ for worship services and being active in the ladies aid groups. Grete worked hard providing for you family members, sewing, knitting, canning, baking and much more. The life of a pastor, a pastor’s wife and family involves challenges, struggles, disappointments, as well as times when peace and joy, hope and love prevail. 

As time went on and the family grew up; Grete and Pastor Palmer were able to enjoy some of the good things in retired life, like golfing and cross-country skiing, and visiting friends and relatives. When she lived in Rosealta and Seasons, Grete frequently befriended residents and staff. Over all, Grete lived a very full, long life, relying on Jesus for her strength to do all things. Her faith in Christ gave Grete resilience; her ability to cope with the challenges of life; and her joy through adversity; were, without doubt, an inspiration to you as well as to many parishioners, friends and neighbours. 

So, we give thanks to God for the life of Grete Olson, as we commend her into the eternal care of the LORD. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Brief Book Review: Philosophy 100 Essential Thinkers


Philosophy 100 Essential Thinkers

Author: Philip Stokes

Publisher: Arcturus Publishing Ltd.

382 pages, paperback


Amazon.com provides the following information about Philip Stokes: "Phil Stokes is married with two children and currently living in Thailand. He teaches English language and Critical Thinking skills at a Thai university, while pondering - ever so slowly - on the prospect of turning his scrivenings into further books. His latest work is an opensource critical thinking textbook written for lecturers and students of philosophy." In addition to this, the author has a blog (essential thinking.wordpress.com), where he states that he studied philosophy at the University of Reading and the University of Bristol. 

Structure and Content

This work is sort of a Reader's Digest version of the 100 philosophers and their philosophy. On average, the author devotes 3-4 pages to each philosopher. So obviously the volume only provides a very brief introduction into the philosophy of each philosopher. In short, it is designed as an introduction for readers who have no or very little background in philosophy. 

Professor Stokes divides the philosophers into several groups: The Presocratics, The Eleatics, The Academics, The Atomists, The Cynics, The Stoics, The Sceptics, The Neoplatonists, The Christians, The Scholastics, The Age of Science, The Rationalists, The Empiricists, The Idealists, The Liberals, The Evolutionists, The Pragmatists, The Materialists, The Existentialists, The Linguistic Turn, The Postmodernists, The New Scientists.

As for content, the philosophers focus (among other things) on everything from the origins of the universe, to dialectics such as mind and body, matter and spirit, good and evil, faith and atheism, universal and particular, individual and collective, to the meaning-or lack thereof-of human existence. 

After reading this volume, I was left with the following question: Why did the author choose these philosophers, and omit others? For example, there are only two women-Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir. Therefore, I would highly recommend readers to balance this male-dominated volume with any of the following ones: Women Philosophers: A Bio-Critical Source Book by Ethel M. Kersey, Women Philosophers by Mary Warnock, The Philosopher Queens by Rebecca Buxton & Lisa Whiting, A History of Women Philosophers: Ancient Women Philosophers 600 B.C. - 500 A.D. by Mary Ellen Waithe.