A short description of what we’re up to can be found here. Comments are welcome but may be moderated for content and tone.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Action, Meet Consequence

Do children bear the sins of the fathers or not? In one sense, absolutely.

Actions have consequences. My body and yours will not last forever because “in Adam all die”. The default mode of human existence is death, and every week, month and year on our march toward futility, decrepitude and (in some cases) eternal judgment drives home that reality.

Thanks, Adam. If it’s any consolation, I have no evidence from my own experience that I’d have done a better job as federal head of humanity.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

When She Leaves

This morning’s office gossip is that my co-worker’s wife has left him. Didn’t improve my day any. But last week I replied to an email from a Christian friend in the same boat. A month before that, I corresponded with another believer married to a woman who had left her husband.

Researcher Shaunti Feldhahn, among others, insists the divorce rate among regular church-goers is actually way lower than previously thought (closer to twenty percent than fifty). If so, that’s a good thing. But if we’re going to pay attention to statistics at all, it’s hard to miss this one: 80 percent of divorces are filed by women.

The plural of anecdote is not data, but I’m sensing a trend.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Minding the Store [Part 2]

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Continuing a discussion arising out of Immanuel Can’s recent and well-received post “Who’s Minding the Store?

Elders have the job of feeding the flock. IC’s post suggested that not only the Holy Spirit’s leading but a certain amount of human organization, ingenuity and especially careful observation are necessary in effectively carrying out that task. I pointed out some of the things that make that tougher than it looks, and we considered three of them last week. And here we are.

Tom: Since you mention individual gifts, IC, I pointed out in our discussion last Friday that our gifts tend to predispose us to see the world a certain way.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

That Wacky Old Testament (6)

Some subjects are a bit … er … delicate. Particularly when you happen to be male.

Still, when the word of God addresses any human issue, we are ill advised to affect sensibilities more tender than the writers of holy writ charged with the responsibility of recording the Divine Will for us in the first place.

So, notwithstanding the queasy feelings that attend any serious investigation of the subject matter, let’s take a crack at it. Less hardy souls may feel free to pass on this one without incurring the critical judgment of their peers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pagans and Presbyterians

An abomination is no big deal.

So says Presbyterian gay rights enthusiast Linda Malcor, who has taken on the unenviable task of trying to prove it.

Malcor’s effort is herculean: she lists every reference to the word “abomination” (Hebrew to'ebah) in six different English translations and even provides a search tool so you can duplicate her results yourself if you wish.

Unfortunately I’m at a loss what Malcor expects Christians to do with her conclusions.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Clinging to Dust

The movies, sports, TV shows and entertainment pastimes I enjoy today can be evaluated as to their importance by comparing them with those I enjoyed 10 years ago, or 20. Can I even remember what I watched, sat through or read back then? How much that was really useful have I retained from any of it, and how much of it would I revisit if I could? Did I learn any lessons worth hanging onto from any of it? One or two, I would like to hope.

But most of it was dust.

Monday, July 25, 2016

That Wacky Old Testament (5)

Mothers have this thing about their sons. It’s natural, it’s powerful and it’s often entirely irrational.

Take, for instance, the mother of the Palestinian terrorist who killed an Israeli teen asleep in her own bed. Mom says her son was “a hero” who made her “proud”.

Okay, that’s a little extreme. But the mother of the Bataclan bomber who inadvertently self-detonated told reporters her son never meant to hurt anyone and may have been “stressed”.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Blissful Incoherence

Work with me here: the secularist mindset prizes this life — and this life only — since it cannot reasonably contemplate any other.

Further, having dismissed notions of God, sin, righteousness and judgment, the worldview that begins from an evolutionary viewpoint is unconcerned with the moral quality of the lives it seeks to preserve. It only matters that life exists, and therefore the taking of it is always “wrong”. This despite a couple of glaring logical inconsistencies: (1) in a random universe with no Creator, nothing can be objectively immoral, only inconvenient or undesirable; and (2) many of the same folks who deplore capital punishment are perfectly fine with the taking of innocent life in and outside the womb.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Commentariat Speaks (1)

As long as it lasts, the phenomenon of blog commentary has provided us with a whole new way of engaging with one another. Sure, it’s a style of interaction with inherent limitations and attendant frustrations, but it has its moments now and then.

On the downside, reaction to blog posts is rarely deep or seriously considered, can be kneejerky and emotional, and is easily lost in a growing stream of similar reflexive expressions that disappear from view and public consciousness as quickly as the blog’s author can bang out something new for his/her readers to huff and puff about. Further, having expressed an opinion, a commenter often wanders off to Internet Parts Unknown, to work or to bed, leaving readers unable to ask, “Hey, wait, what did you mean by THAT?”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Minding the Store [Part 1]

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

In his recent post “Who’s Minding the Store?” Immanuel Can considered the responsibility of elders in deciding what should be taught in the local church they care for. His point was that elders need to really know their congregations in order to provide them with the spiritual food they need. Somebody needs to “mind the store”, so to speak.

Tom: I wanted to get into this a bit further with you, IC, and it seems to me this is a better place to do it than a back-and-forth in the comments to the original post.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Golden Calves and Sacred Cows

Just another divine bovine ...
Anyone who has carefully read the New Testament through more than once will concede that most modern evangelical church meetings bear little resemblance to the gatherings described in the letters of the apostle Paul.

That alone doesn’t necessarily make today’s churches “wrong”: both local autonomy and format flexibility are built into the New Testament church. Thus some of today’s churches may be most accurately described in the words of a local city building inspector who referred to a nearby triplex as “legal non-conforming”.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

He May Be Right, But ...

A great multitude I can’t number
I have trouble with this statement for a couple of reasons:

“Great as the harvest of sin has been, we believe that the saved shall vastly outnumber the lost. Nothing less will satisfy Christ. Remember that in the first age, before mention is made of the latter triumphs of the Gospel, John beheld in heaven a multitude which no man could number. This was but the first-fruit sheaf; let who will compute the full measure of the harvest!”
— F.B. Meyer, Christ in Isaiah

I’ve heard this one before, and Meyer may well be correct. Who can say? Perhaps in the end more human beings will be saved than lost. Love certainly likes to hope so.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Recommend-a-blog (20)

Sarah Salviander, PhD is a physicist, Astronomer at the University of Texas, Christian apologist and writer of homeschooling curriculum and science fiction. Her blog is called SixDay Science.

She is also a former atheist, the child of socialists who were diligent about not exposing their daughter to religion in her formative years. In Sarah’s first 25 years of life, she says she met exactly three self-identified Christians.

I trust that’s not true of everyone growing up in British Columbia. Canada is most definitely post-Christian, but I hope we’re not THAT post-Christian.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lingo or Perfection

How to put it? It’s always the great dilemma.

For instance, I can tell you — my new, unsaved friend — that I enjoy the fellowship of the saints in the assembly at 14th and Dutton. After shaking your head, you might eventually figure out what I’m blathering on about. Or not.

Alternatively, I can simply say, “I go to church at the corner of Dutton and 14th”, something you will almost certainly grasp immediately.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Cause to Celebrate

I’ve always been pretty laid back. There are generations of finely-tuned English restraint in my end of the gene pool, the most obvious result of which is that I tend to be more comfortable with fairly austere, reserved modes of praise.

But people were made to celebrate. Including me.

We’ve done it all through history, in good ways and bad. Celebration seems to be hardwired into the human race, Brits notwithstanding. Whatever doesn’t come out in church comes out anywhere near a football pitch. All cultures celebrate, though it may look vastly different from one cultural setting to another.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Voodoo Therapy

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Through its Transformative Global Health office, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada is partnering with voodoo “healers” to address depression and anxiety in Haiti, which it says have become major problems in the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake.

The 27 qualified psychiatrists currently plying their trade in Haiti will now be aided and abetted in their efforts by some of its 60,000 voodoo priests, who treat illnesses of all sorts primarily with storytelling and dance.

No, I promise, this is real. You didn’t accidentally surf your way to The Babylon Bee.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: The Peasants Are Revolting

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Joel Kotkin of The Daily Beast coins the term “Great Rebellion” to describe the phenomenon of eroding trust in elite opinion-shapers: scientists, politicians, economists, corporatists and the media. He’s not alone: Village Voice and even the Huffington Post have just run similar articles.

Tom: The peasants are revolting, Immanuel Can.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Fourth Option

People talk about God, and about what God wants from us. What they say may come from several places.

Sure, what we say can (1) originate with God. We hope it does. Peter says, “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God”. Amen, so be it.

But we know this is not always the case.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Virtue of Pious Disobedience

I think most Christians would agree that, for believers, starting an insurrection would be morally wrong.

After all, the New Testament teaches that we are to obey the governing authorities. Our job in the present age is to live quietly and mind our own affairs as part of our testimony to our Saviour, something some of us do better than others.

But this is not a universal rule.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tefillin and Wonderbra

Sam the Eagle weighs in ...
God gave his word to man with the intention that it be used to address every moment of human existence in its every aspect.

To those who have never lived this exercise (and it is very much an exercise), that may sound a little tedious and even holier-than-thou. We’ve all met people who are “Jesus this, Jesus that” 24/7 and wondered what exactly they were trying to prove.

God meant, I believe, that we should come to think and live in fellowship with him at all times.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Who’s Minding the Store?

I’m seeing more and more of those “self-checkout” units at the local stores. They always creep me out a bit. There just seems to be something really weird about the idea of walking up to a mechanical box, shuffling around my own transaction, and then leaving, going out of a store without passing by a person.

I feel as if I owe somebody some kind of explanation, like “Here’s my purchase, and here’s my money, and they match up; so don’t call the cops”. And then this person is supposed to give me “the nod”, like “Okay, you’re alright this time; but when you come back, we’ll need to see each other again”.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Taught to Die

Isaiah the prophet speaks the thoughts of the promised Messiah:

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.”

Taught, but not exactly.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Anarchy and Violence

I used to like democracy. As forms of government go, I liked it a lot.

Not to say I’m all that emotionally invested in any particular way of running the show. As an adult Christian, I now recognize the built-in limitations of all human institutions. But for most people, unless the system in which we grew up was transparently horrendous, it tended to define our political horizons. I was no exception.

Mind you, as a lifetime reader of the Old Testament, a monarchy sounded like it might be cool — always assuming you had exactly the right sort of monarch. But the books of Kings suggest such a hope is a bit of a long shot: Israel’s 19 kings were a total moral washout, while Judah went a mere 8.5 for 20 in the “good king” department.

Not a great track record.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Church Is Too Easy

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Our friend Skye Jethani is at it again, causing trouble and making us think.

If I may sum it up, Mr. Jethani’s concern this time out is that church has become so easy that we approach it on autopilot. Comfortable seats, convenient schedule, digestible three-point sermons with pre-organized PowerPoint handouts. He wonders if maybe we might be better Christians if we had to actually try at little. If we had to be a little more like the Lord Jesus himself in the way we communicate truth.

Tom: Does that sound like a fair representation, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Contributory Negligence

Reality is what it is, as one of my relatives is fond of endlessly repeating.

He’s right. Truth remains true no matter whether anyone believes it. God found fault with the peopleLet God be true though everyone were a liar. Etc., etc.

Truth also remains truth no matter who says it. God has communicated truth through donkeys, little foreign slave girls, and even corrupt, pseudo-religious political animals like Caiaphas.

Everyone has an obligation before God to identify truth and respond to it regardless of how that truth may be packaged. The personal failings of the messenger do not excuse us from this obligation.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Living Large

“What church do you guys go to?”

The question came out of left field. She had been poking around at her desk, seemingly preoccupied with the day’s business. Normally our conversations were rare, light and usually practical.

I liked her as a person, but we hadn’t had many deep conversations. There was always a brittleness in her manner if any spiritual matter ever appeared on the horizon — not an uncommon happening if one teaches literature, as we both did. A lapsed Catholic, now essentially secular in all her habits, she usually avoided such topics completely. So to foray into spiritual issues so suddenly was very unlike her.

“An evangelical church up the road. Why?”

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

So Dumb We Need a Pastor

How smart are you, and how much does being intelligent matter to your Christian life?

The other day, a discussion of IQ and what it means for human capabilities in various areas of life took a turn for the bizarre in the comment section of one of my favourite blogs. One of the wordier and more inscrutable readers said something that boiled down to this (I’m translating from intellectual-ese here):

“To be usefully involved in the Church requires a certain minimal level of reading comprehension. Important parts of the Bible are not instantly obvious to everyone. How smart do you have to be to understand it?”

I think Protestants find this an uncomfortable question because it undermines sola scriptura. They shouldn’t: pastors exist for a reason.”

It was, as you might well imagine, the last line that caught my attention.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The Gifts Yesterday and Today

Why are the spiritual gifts we observe in the book of Acts so much more impressive and obviously supernatural than the gifts we observe today? Why do some of the gifts on Paul’s ‘gift lists’ in Corinthians and Romans appear to be missing or underutilized in our churches?

If you’ve been reading the last two days (here and here), I’ve done my best to rule out A.W. Tozer’s chief culprits: unspirituality and bad teaching. These are certainly problems we may observe in many gatherings of Christians and of which we always need to be careful. I do not believe, however, that they are primarily responsible for the apparent dearth of gift in modern Christendom.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Where Did Those Gifts Go?

Yesterday I tried to establish that of the eighteen spiritual gifts listed in Romans and 1 Corinthians, at least half seem to have gone missing in our churches somewhere in the last two millennia.

Most Christian commentators agree this is at least partially true. We may argue about how to recognize the various supernatural abilities on the Holy Spirit’s gift list and about the nuances of a few of the Greek terms Paul uses. But in the end, most Christians acknowledge that unless we describe the gifts of tongues or prophecy very differently from the way we see them occurring in the book of Acts, or wildly dilute the concepts of miracles and healings, some of the Holy Spirit’s gifts are unaccountably absent today.

Very well then, let’s do some accounting.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Missing in Action

How many gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in the New Testament? I suppose it depends on the criteria you use.

Whatever your standards for inclusion on the gift list, and whatever your final gift count, you will surely notice that several factors complicate our application of these familiar passages of scripture to the church today:
  1. In many instances the exact nature of the gift and how we might expect it to show itself are not precisely spelled out for us;
  2. We no longer have apostles in the sense the word is used of the Twelve;

Friday, July 01, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Which Beer Do Christians Drink?

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Everybody’s favourite political football Bristol Palin has written a column on the subject of the Guinness Beer Company and its Christian origins.

Tom: This is not the first time I’ve come across this story, Immanuel Can. In another generation, a Christian brewer turns out to have been the voice of moderation and societal self control. But in some evangelical circles today, Arthur Guinness would be taken to task for corrupting the faithful. I mean, he sold alcohol for a living!

Is there a less cartoonish and more biblical position to be taken on the subject of alcohol consumption, IC?