Our nation is divided. It’s not the first time. If we look to the past, there are some hints about how to handle it.
Yestersday, I made a pilgrimage with my family to the home of Thomas Jefferson. Next to the bed where he died, I told my children about his remarkable relationship with John Adams.
The second and third Presidents of the United States had a long relationship which soured into bitterness. First as delegates to the Continental Congress and later as diplomat in Europe, these two very different people became close friends. But in the years that followed, the business of running a nation exacerbated their differences of style and perspective.
The presidential election of 1800 was nasty and personal. It was part of the emergence of political parties in our country, with the personal and political differences of Jefferson and Adams dividing people into Jeffersonians and Federalists. That rift persists today, with Republicans and Democrats differing on policy and persona; each accusing the other of bad faith and bad thinking.
The former friends, Jefferson and Adams, went radio silent for 12 years. Jefferson overturned a bunch of Adams’s legislation, and I’m sure that they thought they were through with each other.
But with some cooling off and the benefit of hindsight, these two wise men re-established contact. Tellingly, it was their former personal connection that provided a basis for intial contact. But their hurts were deep, and it wasn’t long before they were re-litigating their policy differences. By then, though, something had changed. They were growing old, and their peers from the revolutionary generation were dying off around them. Now, they were willing to listen to each other.
Increasingly, they realized that they shared an experience greater than their differences. As these two imperfect but wise men approached death, they considered their legacies. And they found that their legacies were intertwined. They never ‘solved’ their policy differences, but they did forge a beautiful friendship. Though they never saw each other in person again, they died on the same day: July 4, 1826 – 50 years to the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on which they had worked together. Adam’s last words, and maybe some of his last thoughts, were of Jefferson: “Thomas Jefferson still lives.”
What can we learn?
The things we share are greater than our differences. Looking to those things will make us more open to hearing each other.
Personal relationships can bridge political divides. Don’t start talking policy with someone before you spend some time hearing their story. If you don’t know anyone from the opposite party, check out Braver Angels. This fantastic group can introduce you to someone you disagree with, but whom you’ll probably like.
How we handle ourselves will impact the legacy we leave behind. The comment you’re about to leave or the Tweet you’re about to send will become part of our national discourse, and part of the country we’re leaving for our children. Speak and write as if history is watching.
When you’re on your death bed, the political fades away and the personal remains. Live with your fellow citizens in a way that allows you to die with dignity and peace, leaving behind a country that’s better than the one you found.
Note: I’m not an historian, and I don’t claim inerrancy in my understanding or my facts. If you want to read more about these fascinating characters from history, I recommend a few books:
When last we talked, dear reader, I (Andrew) was waiting to join the Foreign Service. Like a road trip with no speedometer, I had a predictable destination but an uncertain timeline.
The folks at the State Department’s Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) have been working tirelessly to solve a range of logistical and legal issues to allow me and my classmates to join. Foreign Service Orientation, commonly referred to as A-100 and named for the room in the State, Navy, an War building where it the class was first held, has never been held virtually before. And swearing an oath of office for government service virtually hasn’t been permitted until very recently. But GTM and the team at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) have innovated at lightning speed to onboard us and move forward the State Department’s mission of advancing the interests of the American people.
Today, I swore my oath of office and officially joined the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer! It’s not the first time I’ve sworn that oath, and I take it very, very seriously. The swearing in happened remotely, using Microsoft Teams. It was halting and awkward, but no less meaningful.
The swearing of the oath calls to mind the time that I stood aboard the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Munro and swore the same oath to join the US Coast Guard. As then, the oath is one of devotion and implies the ideas of service and self-sacrifice. Those doing the swearing give up some measure of freedom so that others may retain a full, unmolested measure of the same.
The road ahead remains uncertain, but it’s the uncertainty that I’ve been expecting. As disappointing as it was to not join the State Department at the Main State building in Washington DC, , my swearing-in was boiled down to its essence. With all the trappings stripped away, all that remains is my oath. It’s deadly serious, it’s beautiful, and it’s sacred. It ends with a divine supplication, and I don’t doubt that I’ll need the assistance. So help me God – I’m a diplomat.
Sometimes, Mom needs some quarantine quiet to get a little work done. What’s a housebound dad with few connections to do in the middle of a pandemic in rural Virginia? Take the kids to see Civil War battlefields, of course! I found the location of the 3rd Battle of Winchester and took the kids to see it this evening. It was good exercise, good time together, good to honor our past, good to connect with nature, good to slow down.
In December, Lisa and I visited the palace of Versailles, the residence of French royalty from Louis XIV to Louis XVI, or 1682 – 1789. It was awesome – and terrifying. The opulence on display was truly breathtaking. Marie Antoinette, it turns out, had an entire village built in the garden out back so she could cosplay as a commoner. (No, I’m not joking.)
But the entire site exists as a monument to hubris.
You see, at the same time we started listening to Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Written 80 years after the French Revolution, Dickens’s descriptions of the grinding poverty found elsewhere in France while the palace was occupied by Marie Antoinette are striking. They paint a picture of income inequality that should terrify anyone who might be considered an economic elite.
The French Revolution illustrates conditions that can be considered an upward boundary on income inequality. Once inequality hits this boundary, social contracts fail and the laws that govern society unravel (or dissolve entirely).
Effort to reduce income inequality (or at least mask it) aren’t only for the poor – they also serve to protect economic elites from the fate of Louis XVI. The rich kids of Instagram have the opposite effect.
So if income inequality has some sort of practical upper boundary, what about conditions below that threshold? Is there a solution to income inequality?
I think of income inequality as a description or measurement, a bit like temperature. Is it ever the wrong temperature? No, because temperature is descriptive; it doesn’t have a moral dimension. But can it be too hot or cold for survival? Absolutely.
The question in the title comes from a friend, who asked me about it on Facebook. I’m going to reframe it thus: “What sort of economic policies should we pursue?” I have a few reasons for this. First, a measurement or description can’t be ‘solved’, in the same way that you’d never try to solve a temperature reading. Second, the real world needs solutions that are directional instead of idealistic. We should be informed by ideals, but policy should be able to take the real world and move it in the direction of those ideals.
The wisest economic policy prescription I’ve read come from the book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. This book describes societies from colonial America to the Soviet Union to North and South Korea. It spends a lot of time talking about societal elites who create extractive, oppressive political systems that create the sorts of injustices that led to the French Revolution.
The antidote to this is to focus economic policies on inclusivity. When everyone is able to participate in an economy (start a business, own property, buy things and sell them at a profit), you have the conditions for a more just society. When some are excluded from full economic participation (for example, not being able to own property because of gender or tribal affiliation), injustice follows. Embedded in this is the idea that economic participation requires political participation. People who can’t vote will find themselves excluded from full economic participation pretty quickly.
This is both achievable and realistic. It avoids the pitfalls of forced income redistribution, which leads to a stifling of innovation and an overall lower standard of living. It also avoids the pitfalls of an elite-driven system of monopolistic capitalism, which keeps people trapped and unable to be economically mobile.
This, then, is the basis for any economic policy I consider: does this policy move us toward or away from economic inclusivity?
Help me out, dear readers. Add to this conversation. What books have you read that helped your thinking in this area? What am I missing?
This morning we tuned into online church and it was a fascinating experience. It was different from the way we normally participate and I wonder how many of these differences will persist into a post-COVID world.
When we decided to attend online church, we had our choice of different churches. Without the strictures of geography, we could attend any church in the world. We actually attended parts of two church services. I wonder if churches will begin competing for viewers/attenders/congregants? With geography irrelevant, what will be the main attractors? Will churches take some of the money that they’ve spent on buildings over the years and pour it into online delivery innovations? How many church attenders will continue attending online instead of going back into the old offline modality?
The activities within a western church service haven’t changed much in my lifetime. There is a time of singing, some announcements, a greeting time, and a sermon or message. None of this format is prescribed by scripture, though there are loose precedents in the book of Acts for singing, praying together, and preaching. When the delivery is different, how will these elements shift or change? Using Facebook live, we were able to leave comments that everyone can see. In the future, will offline church attenders expect a tech conference-style backchannel discussion? How will pastors change their sermons when everyone else has a real-time feedback channel?
While we participated in church we built Legos, journaled, and ate lunch. Far from distracting from what was happening in the church service, this allowed us to take care of needs (especially for the little ones) that would have otherwise distracted us while we were sitting in the pews of a physical church. I found this to be overall a much more family-friendly experience. I wonder: where and how will we attend church when this COVID-19 pandemic is over?
My entry on duty with the Foreign Service was supposed to happen on Monday, March 30. A lot of things were supposed to happen before the Corona virus starting spreading.
When I received my official invitation on February 19 to join the State Department’s 202nd A-100 class, I had one month and 11 days to wrap up my entire life and get my family moved to Washington D.C. I quit my job, re-negotiated all my commitments, we got rid of many possessions and packed up the remaining ones, made arrangements to take care of our house, and started planning an epic road trip across America. I signed official employment contracts and began other HR preparations for Entry on Duty (EOD). This was the opportunity we’d been pursuing for 7 years (longer than the lifetimes of our two youngest children). To say that we were excited would be akin to calling the Mississippi River a small stream; we were thrilled.
The pack-out was painful, intense, and very good. Getting rid of so many possessions and making decisions that had been deferred (sometimes for years) lightened our souls and started readying us for the adventure ahead. Unfortunately, it also consumed us. While we were focused inward, a storm was brewing in the outside world.
“Adventure is nothing but hardship in the past tense.”
– Andrew Shinn
The Corona virus first popped up on my news feed in early January while I was planning a trip for Fresno Pacific MBA students to Malaysia and Singapore. It’s a trip that I’ve led for the past three years and was handing off to a wonderful colleague. But my risk assessment hat was on, and I was hoping that this oddly-named Asian problem (which reminded me of SARS) wouldn’t be disruptive to our travel plans. I had no idea how this distant storm would come to define our future reality.
After spending Fresno Pacific’s spring break packing, I was looking forward to one last day in the classroom with my students at Fresno Pacific and Fresno State. Unfortunately (for me), both schools cancelled classes that week while figuring out how to respond to the growing epidemic. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to most of my students. But our plans were firmly in place, and the intensity of our personal change kept us from focusing too much of the disaster that was approaching.
On March 18, we began our trek across the United States. We were planning to take a more leisurely drive, stopping to see family members in various states, taking in and enjoying the vastness and diversity of our country.
We were 900 miles into our trip when we received the news that cast our future into doubt: the 202nd A-100 class was being postponed. We didn’t know what that meant and neither did the folks at State who were making these decisions. The Corona virus had become a pandemic, and none of us knew at the time what that would mean.
What we did know is that we had left everything behind, and didn’t have much to return for. Our leisurely drive across the country became a race against the clock, as we began trying to outrun the state closures. We left California the day before a shelter in place order, and drove across Ohio hours before it closed. In Chicago, we bought a traditional Chicago pizza and ate it in our van in a parking lot. Our meals all took place in the car as we focused more on eating miles than calories. Some of the hotels where we stayed told us that we were some of the only guests they had; they were seeing occupancy rates as low as 3-4%.
We arrived in Washington DC far ahead of schedule with no real plan. We spent one depressing night in an Alexandria hotel, then found a lovely Air BnB in Arlington for the rest of the week. We continued to communicate with the State Department. During that first week it became clear that I wouldn’t be starting work any time soon. They didn’t have the capability to swear people in remotely, and all of HR procedures they’ve developed over years couldn’t be retooled to work remotely in a matter of days.
The State Department reiterated their commitment to bring us on board, but still isn’t sure when that will happen. They’re projecting that it’ll be sometime in the next 12 months.
In the meantime, a fellow A-100 colleague connected us with his parents, who offered us very reasonably-priced housing in Winchester, VA. We’ve moved to a comfortable 3-bedroom townhouse in rural Virginia, close to the West Virginia border. After a few days of scrounging furniture from Craigslist and being blessed by our new hosts’ generosity, our household goods arrived. We now have clothes and a few other possessions.
We’re planning to shelter in place here for the moment. The governor of Virginia has closed the state until June 10. It seems prudent for now to be in a rural area. Food and necessities (like toilet paper) are available here for the moment, and we’re comfortable and safe.
“The best laid schemes of mice and men Go often askew, And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!” – Robert Burns, from ‘To A Mouse’ in 1785
We’ve experienced this pandemic and its fallout differently than everyone else. We were already planning on disruption and change; this is just not the disruption that we were planning for. Our framing of this as an adventure should have given me pause; my definition of adventure is, “hardship in the past tense”.
Our hardship isn’t onerous, though. It’s a deviation from what we expected, but there’s a reason that we trot out that old quote about the best laid schemes of mice and men. We’re together as a family, our needs are cared for, and we’re about as safe as anyone can be in these days. We have the expectation of interesting future work with the State Department and some unknown number of months in which to prepare for it. Overall, life is good.
Editor’s note: This was originally posted to Facebook on February 24.
Friends, I’m excited to announce the start of a new adventure. I’ve accepted an appointment to be an economic Diplomat with the U.S. Foreign Service. This means that I’ll be representing my country overseas. Lisa and the kids will be moving with me.
I’ve walked away from two previous jobs that I loved: one with the U.S. Coast Guard and one with Shinn Photography. Now I’m leaving another. I’ve loved Fresno Pacific University and the community here. Teaching has been a growing and fulfilling part of my life. I can’t say enough good things about this institution or its people!
In the near term, we’ll be moving to Washington D.C. We leave on March 18 for a road trip across America. After some training in DC (6 months to a year depending on language), we’ll head to another part of the world. I’ve agreed to serve anywhere my country requires, and I don’t have any indication about where that’ll be; other than the fact that it’ll be somewhere with a U.S. Embassy.
The mission of a U.S. diplomat in the Foreign Service is to promote peace, support prosperity, and protect American citizens while advancing the interests of the U.S. abroad. I’ll do economic diplomacy, advocating on behalf of US companies and US interests. My policy portfolio will probably include areas like trade treaties, energy policy, health, science, and technology policy, and other random bilateral and multilateral policy areas that don’t fit cleanly into other categories.
We’ll be wrapping up everything in our lives in California over the next three weeks. We are selling a LOT of stuff (including two vehicles) at several garage sales and online. In the meantime, we’re also trying to connect with many of the people we love and see in our California lives. If you’re in Central California, we’d be happy to hang out (if time permits). If we don’t see you, it’s only because time is finite, while our love for you is less so.
Thanks to those of you who have supported us on this journey so far! We began the application process in 2013, so your patience with us has been long.
We just finished watching the show Hello World on YouTube, hosted by journalist Ashlee Vance. This episode was entitled The Rise of AI, and was about the emergence of the artificial intelligence industry in Canada.
Below I’ll post some of my thoughts, along with written pieces by Liam and Clara, who watched the episode with me.
I just finished watching “The Rise Of AI” on Youtube. There were a couple of people who talked to the main person (Ashlee Vance, see below) about Artificial Intelligence (AI for short). It was very interesting. If you would like to watch it, click here. Here are the speakers (listed order of appearance).
Ashlee Vance was born in 1977. He is currently 42. We follow him around Canada as he talks to the people listed below.
Geoffrey Hinton has held onto the idea of neural networks for 40 years. In other words, making a computer think like a human. People call him the godfather of Artificial Intelligence. Geoffrey Hinton can’t sit down, otherwise, his disk comes out.
Suzanne Gildert started the company Kindred. At Kindred, they use trial and error to train their robots. She talked about her robots. My favorite was the cat robot. Hers is also the cat robot. In the video, there were robot pilots. You’ll have to watch the video to get the whole story.
Justin Trudeau is the current Prime Minister of Canada. He is mentioned three times in the video. He is married to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau who is currently 44. He was born December 25, 1971. He is currently 47 years old.
Richard Sutton was born in the US, but Canadian politics brought him over to Canada. He wanted to get away from difficult times in the US. He says in the video that he didn’t like that the United States was invading other countries and that he didn’t care for all that. My favorite bot was Blueberry. He’s so cute! Watch the video to find out more. I think that AI could be good and bad. Ashlee Vance records some responses to his mom talking, and then he calls her. He used his responses to talk to her, then picks up the phone and actually talked to his mom. He asked her if that was scary. She said it would have been if it had been an emergency. Click HERE to go to that part in the video. Overall, I think this was a good video.
I just watched a YouTube video called The Rise of AI. It was an hour long documentary about the history of AI, what people are doing with it now, and where it might go. There are many different ways that AI could evolve. Humans could co-exist with AI, or AI could take over the world.
I had trouble finding evidence for AI co-existing with us, because as they become as smart and then smarter than us, they might start to think of themselves as the dominant sentient beings, with a kind of Divine Right of Kings sort of belief. They might start to think that since they are smarter than us, it is their job to take care of us, or maybe they will see the damage we have done to the environment and decide that the planet as a whole would be better off without humans. There was a company mentioned in said video that is called Lyrebird. Lyrebird creates realistic artificial voices. In other words, they can clone your voice. Imagine if someone cloned the president’s voice and then made him say something that threatened the security of the country. Kindred AI is working on AI that can sort stuff such as clothing. It is a real possibility that robots could take over the world.
I know that I have been very negative about AI so far, but there is really no way that we can know what AI will do. Instead of eradicating us because of the way we treat the environment, they might help us fix it. Instead of affixing their dominance over us, they might decide to live with us. There is really no way to know which path AI will choose. That is why I am hoping for the best.
AI is an endlessly fascinating topic. There are so many angles from which to approach it: the ethics of AI, a map of the realities of AI, the probable futures of AI, the people behind AI, the implications for future economies and governmental systems, what it means to be human in the age of AI, and more.
Ashlee Vance (and the rest of the team behind Hello World) chose to focus on the unique contributions of Canada to artificial intelligence. He interviewed pioneering researchers in AI, did a decent job of explaining how the technology works, talked with a few startups commercializing AI, and talked briefly with AI skeptics about some of the possible future dangers.
The portrayal of Geoffrey Hinton was especially touching. Hinton is a computer science researcher at the University of Toronto who, along with academic collaborators, was the first to use a deep neural network approach to AI. He believed in the concept from the late 1980s until 2006, when data processing and data availability were able to prove his ideas valid. His triumph is a testament to both sheer stubborn will and the willingness of universities to employ academics for long periods of time without any evident fruit. It’s a perfect test case of the need to fund basic research.
Amara’s Law states that we overestimate the short-term impact of technology while underestimating the long-term impact of technology. I know the first part of this ‘law’ is true with AI: while startups like Lyrebird are a bit creepy, they don’t represent a Terminator-esque nightmare scenario. But I’m not sure if we’re underestimating the long-term impact of AI. When you read this in the future, you’ll have to leave a comment to let me know!
Note: This is an address I gave at the Master’s Hooding Ceremony at Fresno Pacific University on May 3, 2019.
Masters – congratulations! My
name is Andrew Shinn, and I’m a member of the faculty of the School of
Business. I’ve had the great privilege of working with the MBA cohort being
hooded this evening.
The accomplishment we’re
honoring tonight doesn’t belong to you alone. Graduates: your families have
been there to support you through all the hard work, the late nights of class,
the weekends of homework, the trips away. They’ve watched or helped as you’ve
complained about a professor or struggled with a project. Graduate, please
stand up, look back at your family or the people who are here supporting you,
and give them a hand. Tonight belongs to them, as well.
There’s another sense in which the accomplishment we’re honoring tonight doesn’t belong to you alone. As people who have earned Master’s degrees, you’ve now been called to leadership. In Leonard Sweet’s Book, Summoned to Lead, Sweet writes that leaders aren’t born and they’re not made; they’re called into existence by circumstance. Those who answer that call are leaders. The path that you conclude tonight is part of the circumstance that calls you. The response that you get to choose is to now walk into and embody that role.
In your professional lives, people
will increasingly look to you as the master in the room. You’re now the one who
will assume responsibility. Some of you have already had professional responsibility
for people’s lives, for budgets, and for the future. Your task in assuming these
responsibilities is to walk the fine tightrope between confidence and humility.
You’ll need to balance careful decision-making without waiting for perfect information.
You’ll need to show a bias for action while still listening deeply and fully to
the people around you. You’ll need to live with your mistakes without letting
them make you gun-shy. You’ll need to act like Nehemiah from the Biblical book
of Nehemiah. He was summoned by circumstance and answered. He went from working
in food service to construction management and then military leadership. He was
able to balance both the spiritual and administrative aspects of leadership at
the same time. He was what Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, would call a
Level 5 leader: the kind of leader who empowers those around him or her. The
kind of leader that Jesus was talking about when he said that those who would
lead need to become the servants of all. You haven’t been called as leaders for
your own benefit, but for the people around you. For the organizations and
lives that you’re called to impact.
As leaders, you also need a
deep foundation. You’ll need a well to draw from. The best leaders bring both
proactiveness and depth to their work. This is a pointer toward the source of
Leadership assumes hope; it acts
on the assumption that the world can be a better place, and that we have a role
to play in making it that way. The ultimate hope for this world is in Jesus
Christ. At the end of all things, the ultimate hope is in the redemption that Jesus
bought with his death on the cross and showed with his resurrection from the
grave. As a leader, this is the highest hope, and the deepest well from which
you can draw. There’s a God of the Universe who wants to know and walk with you
personally. I know we come from a lot of backgrounds, but if you want to start walking
with Jesus in a personal way, please talk with one of your professors or a
friend who can guide you. Good leaders also need to carefully choose people who
can lead them.
Graduates, this is your call:
there’s a world out there waiting for you to engage: ideas to create and act on,
people to teach, new structures to make, new paths to find. Bring your
education and keep learning, bring your passion and keep renewing it. Draw from
deep, still waters and create a vision of the world that abides in hope. And
then get to work making that world happen. Thank you!
Note: I wrote this in preparation for teaching about the book of Acts in my Sunday School class. I’m not a Bible scholar, but this is my best take at explaining the text. I’ve written a commentary on Acts 1 in a previous post.
1 – 13 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (or languages) as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
The Holy Spirit Arrives
Pentecost was an already-existing Jewish holiday, known as the Feast of Weeks (or the Feast of 50 Days – Pentekoste meant 50th in Greek). It was the 50th day after the Passover, when God released the Hebrews from Egypt and the Angel of Death passed over the people who had smeared lamb’s blood on their doorposts. As Christians, we celebrate this repurposed holiday 49 days (or 7 Sundays) after Easter. If Jesus taught for a literal 40 days after his resurrection (which is not at all clear), then the 120 followers had to wait about 10 days until the arrival of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t important, but it’s interesting.
In Luke 3:21-22, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit appeared in bodily form like a dove. Here the Holy Spirit comes amidst a violent wind and what seemed to be tongues of fire. We don’t know if the wind and the fire were representations of the Holy Spirit, or if they just appeared at the same time. And Luke doesn’t bother clarifying this for us, so it’s not worth spending a lot of time debating it.
Some people emphasize this matter of tongues rather heavily. This is one of those matters where Luke was writing descriptively, but not necessarily prescriptively. Paul, who wasn’t recorded as being here for this event, writes about tongues in his first letter to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14). His writing seems to be addressing a separate matter than the one which shows up at Pentecost. He says in verse 2 that, “…anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people, but to God.” The people speaking in tongues at Pentecost seem to be speaking in other languages to Jews gathered from all over the known world. These people are in town for the Jewish Feast of Weeks.
This gift of language at Pentecost seems to enable people to hear the glories of God in their own languages. It’s an attention-grabber that draws a crowd.
14 – 21 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:“ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Peter the Scholar
Peter jumps up and grabs the crowd’s attention. For the second time, this uneducated fisherman shows himself a scholar of the law, this time quoting the Prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-32). Joel talks about the great and dreadful day of the Lord. This is at the end of a long, poetic chapter on destruction and God’s great salvation. Peter’s about the show how the Jewish scriptures are going to be fulfilled. He’s powerfully declaring that a new era has come, and he’ll call the Jews back to a salvation that’s familiar from their own scriptures.
22 – 36 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, (or of those not having the law (that is, Gentiles)) put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him: “ ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ Psalm 16:8-11
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’ (Psalm 110:1) Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Peter introduces Jesus, appeals a bit to their Jewish pride (or racism), and links Jesus to the most admired of all Jewish heroes: King David. It’s clear, whether it’s Peter’s opinion or he just knows his audience, that he is calling Jews to a Jewish repentance.
He bears explicit witness to the resurrection of Jesus, in fulfillment of what he’s said is the role of the apostles. Peter says that Jesus has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. Again, we see an oblique reference to the Trinity and Peter’s understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 110, which Peter references, is well worth reading and it all seems to apply to Jesus. Luke doesn’t record Peter as reading the full militaristic scene from Psalm 110, though the rest of Peter’s recitation may have been cut for time (as we’ll see in verse 40). Interestingly, this military view of God’s redemption sounds like what Peter and company were waiting for ways back in Acts 1:6. But it’s not the way redemption unfolds, either in Jesus’s promises to the apostles or in the chapters of Acts that follow.
37 – 41 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
The People Respond
Peter’s words apparently had quite an effect. 3,000 people believed in Jesus on that day!
The call to action here is worth looking at: Peter asks for repentance and baptism, both of which would have been familiar to the Jews. John the Baptist had been baptizing, and the Jews practiced baptism as something called Tvilah, a purification ritual used when converting to Judaism. Later in Acts (Acts 19:1-6), Paul would make a distinction between John’s baptism for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus, which seemed to be accompanied by the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Peter doesn’t seem to make that distinction here, which probably means that the understanding of baptism evolved as the church grew. This is one of those head-scratching inconsistencies in Acts, and I’ll remind you again that Luke is writing descriptively, not prescriptively.
Also interesting is that Peter says the promise of redemption is for everyone: Jews, their children, and those who are far off. We know that Peter didn’t quite believe this yet. He still thought of salvation as being only for the Jews, as we’ll see later in Acts. But perhaps this is an example of the Holy Spirit inspiring Peter to say something that would make more sense to him later. Or maybe Luke wanted to be clearer about salvation than Peter had actually been, and hence edited Peter in the recording of this event.
42 – 47 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The Church Begins
As the camera zooms out after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see an idyllic picture of the early church. All 3,000 of these new believers (3,120, including the earliest believers) devote themselves to study, eating together, and praying. They start acting communally, with shared property and social services. While Christian groups throughout the ages have sought to replicate this model, I’ll point out again that Luke was describing, not prescribing.
Their reputation, for the moment, is sterling. Trouble is waiting just over the horizon. And salvation becomes a daily occurrence, which implies that salvation was either happening organically in the communities around these new believers as they went about their lives and work, or that the church met together daily. Either way, this is a description of an intense time for this community.
Though there’s been much discussion about the Holy Spirit, Luke uses the term ‘praising God’, and not ‘praising the Holy Spirit’. This Holy Spirit isn’t a God-replacement, but a God-addition. This indicates an understanding of the Holy Spirit that consistent with modern Protestant orthodoxy.