Category Archives: Analysis

On God, Time, and Eternity

When I was younger I was taught that there will be no time in eternity. I was also taught that God is timeless – that he experiences everything as an “eternal now.” I no longer believe this. I think those ideas came from the Greek philosophical view of deity and time. The Greeks thought that time was somehow flawed or imperfect, and that God must therefore be totally outside time; related to this were also extreme ideas about God’s absolute unchangelessness, such that God cannot experience emotion, for example.

Christian philosophers accepted these ideas and developed the idea of “divine simplicity” (“the concept that God does not exist in parts but is wholly unified, with no distinct attributes, and whose existence is synonymous with His essence”, per GotQuestions). But all these things tend to make God into an impersonal Idea, unrelated and unrelatable to His creation.

But the Jewish and Christian scriptures present a different picture of God. He is a personal being; he entered time and space, at least in the Incarnation; he loves, he hates, he has a range of emotions and responses to our obedience or rejection of him. He even changed his mind. Christian philosophers who accepted the Greek ideas said that the Biblical descriptions of God’s anger, acceptance, rejoicing, singing (Zeph. 3:17) were just anthroporphisms; he didn’t really do those things, but that’s just a human way of describing him. But I don’t think that does justice to Scripture. God is infinite and eternal, no doubt. But I think God is everlasting – that he exists through all of time – not that he is timeless.

This does not mean that God cannot see the future. God knows the end from the beginning; he can see the future and he knows all things. We can remember events that occurred in the past; some people with “photographic” memory can remember things in great detail – although interestingly, true photographic memory is apparently a myth. But God can see both the past and the future perfectly – he has perfect memory and perfect foreknowledge. Exactly how this is true, I don’t know; but we don’t have to understand how God can know the future in order to believe that he can. How can God be all powerful? How can he be omnipresent? How is it possible that God took human form and lived on earth as the man Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human at the same time? I don’t know how all that is possible…but I know it’s true.

But even if you still believe God must be timeless, that doesn’t mean we humans will be timeless in eternity. Only God is infinite; only God can be everywhere and do everything at once; only God knows everything. Humans are finite, and we will always be finite creatures. Therefore there still must be time and space in eternity. The Bible speaks of a new heavens and a new earth, in which Heaven comes down to earth and we live forever on the new earth with God. It speaks of time in heaven (there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour, Rev. 8:1); it speaks of the passage of time on the new earth in Rev. 22:1-5: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. . . . There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

I do think time had a beginning – when God created the universe. Before there was a universe, there were no events; nothing could change from moment to moment, so there could be no time. There was only God. But when God created the universe, there was time. And God said that his creation was very good. Time, therefore, is not imperfect or something to be escaped.

Here is what William Lane Craig says on time: … -eternity/

According to the relational theory the passage of time consists in the happening of events. So the question whether time is finite or infinite may be reduced to the question whether the series of events is finite or infinite. [19]

It might be asserted that even on the relational view of time there can be time prior to the first event because one may abstract from individual events to consider the whole universe as a sort of event which occurs at its creation. There would thus be a before and an after with regard to this event: no universe/ universe. And a relation of before and after is the primitive relation of which time consists. On the other hand, this level of abstraction may be illegitimate and may presuppose a time above time. For prior to the universe’s beginning, if there was nothing at all, not even space, then it would certainly seem to be true that there was no time either. For suppose the universe never came to exist – would there still be time? But if the universe does come to exist ex nihilo, how could we say this first event has an effect on reality (but of course there was no reality!) before it ever occurred, especially when its occurrence is a contingent matter? We might want to say that time does not exist until an event occurs, but when the event does occur, there is a sort of retroactive effect causing past time to spring into being. But this seems to confuse our mental ability to think back in time with the progressive, unidirectional nature of time itself. Though we can, after creation, think of nothingness one hour before the first event, in terms of reality, there was no such moment. For there was just nothing, and Creation was only a future contingent. When the first event occurred, the first moment of time began.

If God is really related to the world, then it seems most reasonable to maintain that God is in time subsequent to creation. This also removes Kierkegaard’s Absolute Paradox concerning the incarnation, for God would be in time prior to his assuming a human nature. This understanding does not involve any change in God; rather he is simply related to changing things. As Swinburne explains,

…since God coexists with the world and in the world there is change, surely there is a case for saying that God continues to exist for an endless time, rather than that he is timeless. In general that which remains the same while other things change is not said to be outside time, but to continue through time.

Thus, on a relational view of time God would exist timelessly and independently ‘prior’ to creation; at creation, which he has willed from eternity to appear temporally, time begins, and God subjects himself to time by being related to changing things. On the other hand, the Newtonian would say God exists in absolute time changelessly and independently prior to creation and that creation simply marks the first event in time.

These, then, are the alternatives. A relational view of time seems superior to a Newtonian view because (1) it is difficult to see how time could exist apart from events and (2) the Newtonian objection that every instant of time implies a prior instant is adequately answered by the relational view. Thus, the proper understanding of God, time, and eternity would be that God exists changelessly and timelessly prior to creation and in time after creation.

(bold added by me)

Very deep! I think Craig’s view not only makes sense philosophically, but matches Scripture better with the way God presents himself, as a personal God who relates to His creatures and even took on human form himself.

I hope this can make for some profitable contemplation, and perhaps greater appreciation for God’s personal nature and his desire to have a relationship with man.


Properly understanding two-kingdom theology (from an Anabaptist perspective)

There are at least three possible versions of two-kingdom theology. Dwight Gingrich recently had a discussion thread on Facebook where he offered the following three views:

(1) Government is commanded by God to use the sword to punish evil, so that evil will be curbed in the world. By virtue of God’s command, government has both the right and the responsibility to use the sword, in much the same way that God’s servant the nation of Israel did before Christ came. God requires government officials to use the sword, and to use it with justice and mercy, and he will judge them accordingly. Government officials can be Christians while bearing the sword, provided they use it rightly and only in their role as civil servants. Therefore, Christians bear witness to government by (a) admonishing them to use the sword with justice and mercy and (b) calling individual members of government to choose to follow Jesus.

(2) Government is commanded by God to use the sword to punish evil, so that evil will be curbed in the world. By virtue of God’s command, government has both the right and the responsibility to use the sword, in much the same way that God’s servant the nation of Israel did before Christ came. God requires government officials to use the sword, and to use it with justice and mercy, and he will judge them accordingly, though as sinners. Jesus calls all who follow him to lay down the sword, so it is not fitting for a Christian to fill any government office requiring sword-bearing. Therefore, Christians bear witness to government by (a) admonishing them to use the sword with justice and mercy and (b) calling individual members of government to choose to follow Jesus, thus laying down the sword.

(3) God uses sword-bearing governments to punish evil, so that evil will be curbed in the world. All human governments since the Fall naturally use the sword, and God sovereignly sets up and deposes governments as his servants, just as he did with pagan nations before Christ came. In times past God overlooked the use of the sword, but now he calls all men everywhere to repent. Therefore, no government today can claim divine right to bear the sword, even though God establishes them for his purposes and we should not try to overthrow them. All government officials will be judged by God for using the sword, with a more severe punishment for those who have not used the sword with justice and mercy. Therefore, Christians bear witness to government by (a) admonishing them refrain from unjust and unmerciful use of the sword and (b) calling individual members of government to choose to follow Jesus, thus laying down the sword.

My position is closest to #2, with maybe a few tweaks, and with maybe a few tweaks to #1 to more clearly exclude it. I assume #1 is basically the Lutheran two-kingdom theology, which basically splits the man and says he can biblically operate by one ethic when in the government and by another ethic in the church or in his private life. #1 says, “Government officials can be Christians while bearing the sword” – Denying this could be taken as denying that any government officials (or soldiers) are Christians. I would tweak it by saying, “Government officials can biblically be Christians while bearing the sword”, or, “It is biblical for Christians to bear the sword while in government or in the military” – in which case I think it is clearer and easier to reject.

I think God has a lot of grace for human misunderstanding if the Christian is sincerely seeking and trying to follow Christ, so while a Christian who is in government and bearing the sword is doing something outside the perfect will of Christ for his life, I wouldn’t say he is living in sin by doing so. But it is inconsistent with the ethics of the New Testament that Christians are called to follow, and a Christian who comes to the correct nonresistant understanding of the Scriptures through the guidance of the Holy Spirit should not violate his conscience by bearing the sword – in that case it would be sin (whatsoever is not of faith is sin).

I believe government has both the right and the responsibility to use the sword. But I would hesitate to say “in much the same way that God’s servant the nation of Israel did before Christ came” until I know exactly what I am saying by that. I don’t believe the civil penalties of OT law are for government to use today, nor do I think government should persecute people who don’t worship God. In the NT era, where church and state ought to be separate, government should not bind people’s consciences to follow a specific religion, and should allow people to freely choose to follow Christ and worship Him. With those caveats in mind, government should operate according to God’s moral law, which is in general what Israel did. God instituted his moral law to provide order for society and to convict unbelievers of sin; while Christians are not under the law, the New Testament still indicates that the moral law is useful for unbelievers. And I would add that in the NT era, government should not only follow the OT moral law, but it should also respect the natural rights of its citizens, which are based on the fact that all men are created equal and have value in God’s sight. So rights like the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, etc., should all be upheld by a just and moral government in the NT era.

I don’t think unsaved members of government will be judged positively for using the sword with justice – they will be lost, and all of their “righteous” deeds will be like filthy rags, and will have no relevance. However, they may experience more severe punishment if they used the sword cruelly and unjustly.

I mostly agree with the following statement from #2: “Christians bear witness to government by (a) admonishing them to use the sword with justice and mercy and (b) calling individual members of government to choose to follow Jesus, thus laying down the sword.” In (a), they admonish the government as an institution; in (b), they witness to individuals, whether in or out of government. But I would add that (b) should be the focus; (a) should be secondary. And if a Christian institution, like a local church or a denomination, speaks out in admonition of government, they should generally do so by pointing out areas for government to exercise mercy, without speaking directly to other areas where the use of the sword comes into play. I think it’s okay for individual Christians to support/approve of the use of the sword in justice, but this should be done without excessive enthusiasm or a gung-ho cowboy attitude, if you know what I mean.

For example: I think Christians, including churches, can call for the government to help alleviate the refugee crisis, including by welcoming refugees to America. This should be done circumspectly, with respect for government’s legitimate role of protecting national security, and so carefully screening refugees is fine; but I don’t believe it is good for Christians to react with fear to refugees and hunker down in Fortress America either. Or for another example: I think it was probably good and right for the United States to exercise the sword justly in the strike on Osama bin Laden in 2011. It was legitimate and it was just. But I don’t think Christians should metaphorically celebrate in the streets about it, nor should churches put out a statement expressing approval of it.

The view taken in position #3, or perhaps even more radical positions where the government is illegitimate or inherently evil because of its use of force, and where it might be merely used by God but not ordained by God, runs into problems with Paul in Romans 13. His comments on government as appointed by God for good, not bearing the sword in vain, go well beyond the mere idea that God can use evil men for his purposes, in my opinion. And the underlying view that God himself is nonviolent and merely overlooked OT violence – and that the judgment represented by the sword of government goes against God’s character – runs into problems with the Old Testament evidence that God commanded war on Israel’s enemies and judgment on evildoers both in and outside of Israel, and various verses that speak of God’s wrath and his character as a “man of war” – not to mention the future return of Christ at the head of the heavenly armies to judge evil men and rule the world with a rod of iron.

On Refugees: A Plea for Compassion

(I wrote this a few months ago on another site. Re-producing for this site).

Reading discussions of various political issues, I am occasionally reminded that an American-centered worldview is not synonymous with a Christian worldview – nor is even a “conservative” worldview, necessarily. Not every position that might be considered “conservative” – or that is based on the mantra of “America First” – is compatible with a truly Christian worldview, which I consider essential to being right.

There is an enormous, unprecedented refugee crisis in the world today, affecting over 60 million people. In Syria alone, over 11 million out of a population of 22 million have been displaced or killed.

And yet, many professing Christians here in America would rather prioritize their own material comfort and safety, putting up literal and metaphorical walls to keep out these people who are fleeing terrorism. They are seen as a threat and a burden.

This should not be so. Instead, this is an opportunity. An opportunity to carry out Christ’s commands to love our neighbors, especially “the least of these,” and as James said, to minister to widows and orphans, which is essential to true religion. (I am a passionate pro-lifer and we conservatives do a great job on compassionately opposing abortion, but we should also consider how the same principles of compassion, the sanctity of life and the value of every human being, also apply to the refugee crisis). An opportunity to witness to lost souls (many of whom were trapped in repressive regimes with little opportunity to hear the Gospel), and to show the love of Christ to rest of the watching world – how the love of Christ transcends borders and cultures, and casts out fear.

The command to “be not afraid” is one of the most repeated instructions in the Bible. It is certainly legitimate to have concerns and to expect the government to practice prudence. But many of the concerns that have been raised (economic, legal, religious, and security-related) are based on misconceptions, and the fears are overstated.

First, the fact is that the U.S. screening process is one of the strongest in the world – thorough and very strenuous. The likelihood of being killed by a terrorist attack from a refugee in the United States has been calculated at 1 in 3.6 billion.

No refugee, of the three million admitted through the resettlement program since the late 1970s, has committed an act of terrorism within our borders.

Of the domestic terrorist attacks inspired by extremist Islam since 2001, 70% of them were committed by U.S. citizens. In the same time period, about as many people were killed by white supremacist terror attacks as by radical Islamist attacks, and more were killed by dog attacks.

And even if the concerns and fears weren’t overstated or based on misconceptions, the command would still apply. “Be not afraid”, not because there is nothing to fear, but because God says, “I am with you.”

Putting America first over being disciples of Christ is great folly for Christians. To me, it’s astonishing and sad to see so many putting their own fears ahead of helping those who are desperately in need. Please, open your hearts and have compassion for the strangers.

In the Chronicles of Narnia, Mr. Beaver was asked if the lion Aslan – the Christ-figure of the stories – is safe. He replied, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” What’s true of Christ is also true of the Christian life. Safety is fine, and reasonable actions can be taken for protection; but safety can never be the main concern if we are following Christ.

This thought-provoking blogpost by an acquaintance of mine really hits hard:

If we truly loved, as Christ loved us, we wouldn’t be arguing about whether or not we should let refugees into our nation. People’s lives are at stake, and we could do something about it. Many of these people aren’t walking in relationship with the Father, and we could show them how.

Instead, we are afraid of losing our freedoms or being blown up in our own land. As “disciples of Christ,” we are arguing over statistic numbers while thousands are ending up dead.

Can you really call yourself a follower of Christ and refuse refugees?

Roy, Douthat, McArdle on GOP healthcare plan

Avik Roy and Ross Douthat were the first two guys I thought to check in order to learn more about the GOP health care plan. (Roy is, of course, well known as a health care wonk, and Douthat is my favorite columnist). Like many others, their reaction is negative.

Here is Avik Roy’s article at Forbes. He mentions that the best part of the bill is its overhaul of Medicaid, but criticizes other parts, such as its failure to repeal most of Obamacare’s insurance regulations because Republicans decided to pass the bill using reconciliation, which can only be used for taxes and spending; the flat tax credit, which creates a disincentive that traps people below the poverty line; the high threshold for phasing out the tax credit, etc. Best quote is at the end:

Expanding subsidies for high earners, and cutting health coverage off from the working poor: it sounds like a left-wing caricature of mustache-twirling, top-hatted Republican fat cats. But not today.

Ross Douthat had a series of tweets that I feel are worth mentioning. First, this:

Then, this series:

He also re-tweeted a decently fair-minded explanation of what Paul Ryan might be thinking – almost, but not quite, a defense – from a surprising source, Matthew Yglesias at Vox.

Finally, Megan McArdle at Bloomberg takes apart the plan – it’s basically Obamacare lite, among other problems – and provides a rather funny line, if you’re in the mood for snark:

I must point out that it’s actually quite clear what problem this bill solves: the problem of Republican legislators who want to tell their base that they repealed Obamacare, just like they promised. Tada!

She also points out that, since it’s not likely to work, the GOP would own any ensuing failures; no longer could they point to Obama and the Democrats as the problem.

As it stands, I’m inclined to doubt it should be passed. Something should be done, but not anything. It needs to be something good; something with enough bipartisan support to pass both the House and Senate. Something that won’t simply get repealed when the Democrats inevitably win an election and return to power. We can’t just keep passing the health care yo-yo back and forth every four or eight years. And it needs to be something that won’t let the Democrats credibly declare the “conservative” plan a failure and therefore show the need for single payer health care.

If I were the GOP leaders, I would seriously consider dropping the philosophical opposition to a mandate as a sort of litmus test for any reform, and begin to tout a plan like Switzerland’s. Republicans get to lower government health care spending, and transform the system from an employer-based system to a private, individual, consumer-driven market, while the mandate, regulations on insurers, and goal of universal coverage could be what entices enough Democrats to support it. That might be a way to get 60 votes in the Senate and change the system for the long term (and avoid single payer).

If that’s not possible, perhaps just go with Cassidy-Collins for the “federalist compromise.”

Ryan the strongest candidate in 2016?

A recent poll by Gravis Marketing in Montana showed Paul Ryan beating Hillary Clinton by 14 points – 51% to 37%. That’s to be expected in a red state, though Montana sometimes teases Democrats with close polls during the race, and McCain won with less than 3% of the vote in 2008. Jeb Bush and Rand Paul also beat Hillary, but by 9% and 8%, respectively.

Is it possible Ryan will be the strongest GOP candidate in 2016? It is way too early to quote the polls as gospel, but Ryan has name-recognition, smarts, policy chops, and youthful good looks in his favor. Both sides, if they’re honest, respect his policy acumen. He has won reelection several times pretty easily in his relatively purple district, showing that he can win voters.

Another recent Gravis poll, this one in Iowa, showed Ryan and Jeb both tied with Clinton. If accurate, this would be pretty impressive in such a purple state that Obama won twice. The national average at RealClearPolitics shows Ryan within single digits against Hillary. It would be nice to see polls including other candidates like Marco Rubio and Scott Walker as well.

What do you think?

Brazil may soon have evangelical President

There’s an interesting story on Reuters today about next month’s presidential election in Brazil.

Marina Silva, an environmentalist running neck and neck in polls with incumbent President Dilma Rousseff, is a Pentecostal Christian who often invokes God on the campaign trail and has said she sometimes consults the Bible for inspiration when making important political decisions.

The article goes on to talk about the growing influence of evangelicals, who numbered only 5 percent of the population in 1970 but grew to nearly a quarter today. It also highlights some similarities and differences between American and Brazilian evangelicals. Basically, Brazilian economic politics are to the left of American politics, and both major candidates, including the evangelical, call themselves socialists and support “robust” welfare programs. The evangelical candidate is also an environmentalist. Obviously, all of these positions would be anathema to most American evangelicals who are conservative like me. But Brazilian evangelicals share American’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage, perhaps even more strongly than we oppose it here, as both are illegal in Brazil and the political environment on social issues has obviously not moved to the left as far as the American environment has.

Here in American politics, I have often wondered why it doesn’t seem possible for any left-leaning individuals to support liberal policies on economics, environmentalism, and other things, while still remaining faithful to the Bible theologically as well as fully opposed to abortion and gay marriage. There’s no logical reason why one couldn’t, it seems to me, and often I think conservative Christians are too “religious” in their economic views, speaking as if socialism is against the Bible. (I think socialism is a bad idea, but more for pragmatic reasons than biblical reasons: I don’t think it works well. Although I do think socialism may infringe on property rights, but there is probably room for disagreement there, biblically speaking). But every time I encounter a Christian who leans toward the left on economics, etc., it seems like inevitably that person can’t be bothered to worry too much about abortion and gay marriage other than paying lip service to opposing abortion – as if the liberal positions always take priority. They may even support gay marriage. And usually, for some reason they tend to be squishy on biblical authority as well: is the bible really inerrant? is homosexual behavior really a sin? They often lean toward “no” on those questions. But Brazil’s politics confirms what I’ve long suspected: there is no necessary, logical connection to being a Christian and supporting conservative economic policies. (Of course, it’s not necessary to be liberal or socialist either, to be clear. Sometimes liberal evangelicals act as though conservatives are unbiblical or something). Here in the U.S., I’m not sure what exactly led to social conservatives aligning with fiscal conservatives and libertarians on economic issues so uniformly, but perhaps the two parties are so thoroughly divided on social issues, particularly abortion, that there is a tendency to conform on other issues as well, in order to fit in.

I wish Brazil’s evangelicals the best. But I do hope they remember what the Lord told the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 4:6): “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” They may install one of their own in the presidency and continue gaining in influence, but they need to remain humble and remember that the future of their nation is in the Lord’s hands. And power can corrupt an evangelical just like a Catholic or a nonreligious person. Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, in their excellent book Blinded by Might, detailed the mistakes of the American religious right after their triumph in Reagan’s victory in 1980. I pray Brazil’s evangelicals avoid that mistake, or else Brazil may turn out to be worse off because of it.


The 2014 Senate Elections: Will Republicans Win A Majority?

With a little over a month until the 2014 midterm elections, the battle to control the Senate is in full swing. Currently, the Democrats have the majority in the Senate, with 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans, and 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats, giving the Democrats an effective majority of 55-45. So the Republicans need to take 6 seats to win the majority. Luckily, there are some things that favor the GOP this time around.

There are 36 seats up for election this year; the Democrats hold 21 of them and the Republicans 15. This means the Democrats have more ground to defend. Furthermore, the opposition party often does well in midterm elections, especially during a President’s 6th year, as dissatisfaction with the President leads to a backlash against his party. And President Barack Obama’s approval ratings are particularly low: he’s been struggling to keep his approval rating above 40%.

The GOP is practically certain to win 3 seats from the Democrats: Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. All three seats are “open” seats, meaning that the incumbent is retiring. All three are also in conservative states where the Republican Party has the advantage, and the GOP has produced good candidates with strong leads in the polls.

With those 3 in hand, the GOP is at 48, and needs 3 more. There are 11 competitive races this year that will determine the outcome. First, the 3 that Democrats hope to take from the GOP:

Kentucky: This seat is held by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has always been unpopular even in his conservative state, but Democrats haven’t yet managed to take advantage, and while the race remains competitive, they probably won’t this year, either. No poll has shown the Democratic nominee – Secretary of State Alison Grimes – with a lead since early June. Polls have been consistently giving McConnell a lead of 4-8 points.

Georgia: The current Republican senator is retiring, making this an open seat. Democrats hope to take the seat by nominating Michelle Nunn, who is the daughter of a long-term former Democratic Senator and the CEO of a nonprofit organization. She is probably the best candidate the Democrats could have found, and the race has been close, but at this point she’s probably the underdog to Republican businessman David Perdue, who has consistently led in most polls for the past two months.

Kansas: Republican Senator Pat Roberts is a political dinosaur. 78 years old, he’s been in the Senate for three terms and wants a fourth. The problem is, he’s not very popular, and the Democratic candidate dropped out of the race a month ago and threw his support behind independent Greg Orman. Orman is a blank slate; he has never even said whether he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans, but presumably he would caucus with the side that helped him win, especially if they retain the majority. Roberts is in the fight of his political life. Orman has a lead in the polls, though it has been narrowing as Republican-leaning voters have probably been getting more suspicious of the help Orman is getting from the Democrats.

The GOP is trying to take 8 seats from the Democrats.

Michigan: This is an open seat. Democratic Rep. Gary Peters has consistently held a lead over former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, but the race remains fairly close and may be narrowing, as the four polls have shown Peters with a lead of 4, 5, 3, and 2 points respectively – down from 5-10 in some earlier polls. 15-20% of voters are still undecided and Peters seems to be stuck in the low forties, with a hard time getting above 45% – but Land has a hard time getting above 40%. Peters is the favorite, but Land has a shot if the undecided voters want to express dissatisfaction with Obama by voting against Peters.

New Hamphire: Moderate Republican Scott Brown, former senator from Massachusetts, moved north to New Hampshire to take on incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen. I consider this the least likely Republican pick-up; a CNN poll showed the race tied a couple weeks ago, but that appears to be an outlier as polls since have shown Shaheen leading by 5-7 points The race appears to have narrowed, as polls from March-July showed Brown trailing by 10-12 points, but it’s still Shaheen’s to lose.

North Carolina: Incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan has a small lead in the polls, but is deeply unpopular. The problem is, Republican candidate Thom Tillis, speaker of the state House, is also unpopular – due to both the legislature’s unpopularity and a flurry of Democratic attack ads – and is having trouble getting ahead of Hagan. But there are still scads of undecided voters, and undecided voters often break against the incumbent at the last minute. This race could go either way.

Iowa – The closest race in the nation. Democrats chose Rep. Bruce Braley to try to hold the seat vacated by retiring Tom Harkin. The Republicans had trouble finding a well-known candidate, but settled on state sen. Joni Ernst. Recent polls have shown numerous ties or narrow leads for one or the other. RealClearPolitics estimates that Ernst has an advantage of .02% right now. This race is a true tossup.

Colorado: Democratic incumbent Mark Udall is in trouble. Republican Rep. Cory Gardner has all the momentum; the last 5 polls have shown him with the lead. Combined with the GOP gubernatorial nominee leading the incumbent Democratic governor, Colorado could be set to go red in November.

Alaska: Republicans have the momentum here as well. Incumbent Senator Mark Begich has lost his lead in the polls. State attorney general Dan Sullivan looks to be leading by 4-5 points, on average. Alaska polling is notoriously unreliable, though.

Arkansas: Representative Tom Cotton is challenging incumbent Mark Pryor. For awhile, Pryor held a small lead. But most polls recently have given Cotton a pretty steady lead of 2-7 points. At this point, Cotton is favored to come out on top in this one.

Louisiana: This state has a weird system where the November election is actually an open primary; multiple Republican and Democratic candidates can run and if no one reaches a majority (as is common) a runoff is held in December. Unless there is some miracle, this year will feature a runoff as well; but Bill Cassidy, the main Republican candidate, has maintained a lead in most head-to-head polling over incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu. Democrats haven’t quite given up, but if more polls show him with a 13-point lead over Landrieu like a recent Fox News poll, they might.

If I had to make a prediction right now, I would say that the Republicans will win a majority. On the individual races, I would say Republicans keep KY and GA, and take AR, AK, and LA from the Democrats. But I would also say Orman is a slight favorite right now. I think the Democrats will keep NH. That leaves IA, CO, NC, and MI to decide control of the Senate. If the Democrats keep all four, then the Senate will be at 50-50 and Joe Biden will make the tiebreaking vote to keep Harry Reid the Majority Leader. If Republicans win one of the four, they take the lead. If they win more than one, they could withstand the loss of GA or KY if something changes in those races. And if they keep GA, KY, and KS, then they wouldn’t even need one of the four, assuming my prediction that they take AR, AK, and LA is correct. So on balance, I think a GOP majority is the most likely outcome.