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

Monday, October 31, 2016

Just Play the Hits

Bear with me. This is trivial. And then maybe it isn’t.

Last night I dreamed I drove down a long, winding highway in the dark to a great lodge, festively lit. Upon parking, I was greeted deferentially and shown to a huge stage with sound, lights and seating for thousands. People with tickets and drinks in hand were gradually being seated, talking among themselves. A crew was wiring up mics and amplifiers, a sound man was testing levels. A buzz was in the air.

I looked at my watch: it was 7:25. My host said, “You’re on at eight.”

Sunday, October 30, 2016

From the Ash Heap

I love this line:

“Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.”

Hannah, who would become Samuel’s mother, is deeply grieved that she is unable to conceive. She has gone up with her husband to the house of God in Shiloh, and she has prayed for a son, vowing that if her prayer is answered, she will raise him as a Nazirite and give him wholly to the service of God. Then she gets up, relieved of her distress, and goes her way — not yet having received an answer to her prayer.

Seems a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Command Performance

I’ve been thinking about the commandments.

People say that in the Old Testament, God is full of these things. Rabbis claim there are 613 of them, as a matter of fact — an odd number, to be sure. Why should God have an opinion on these particular items? Why not 614? Why not fewer?

And the nature of the commandments — everything from killing each other, to what people eat, to how they wash, to how they match their fabrics … and still the list is not exhaustive, for it leaves many aspects of life totally unmentioned and spends what we might deem far too much time on others.

Why does God care about all these particulars?

Friday, October 28, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Heretics Aplenty

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

According to Shane Morris of The Federalist, a LifeWay Research survey of 3,000 people found that significant numbers of Americans who identify as Christian actually embrace ancient heresies.

Tom: The survey results confirm my own prejudices, Immanuel Can. I’ve been reading for years that upwards of 80% of Americans claim to be Christian, and I’ve never been able to buy it. You can’t convince me Roe v. Wade has been law for the last forty-plus years because of 20% of the U.S. population.

Do you find the general public level of knowledge about Christianity surprising?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Other Fly in the Ointment

The careful student of scripture, as I have pointed out in two recent posts, gets his cues about appropriate Christian behaviour and church order from instructions found in the New Testament. Historical narrative in the Bible provides us with much useful information, but it should not be considered authoritative in the same way as is a direct commandment.

That’s a useful principle to observe if you want to avoid confusion. God is probably not calling you to exterminate idolatrous Canaanites, slay giants with a slingshot or lead a slave uprising in Egypt. Likewise, he probably does not expect you to perform miracles, speak in foreign languages you don’t understand or predict a coming famine.

Still, every rule of interpretation seems to have its occasional exception, which is lamentable in that it requires us to exercise discernment rather than simply checking boxes. Oops.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Weights and Mirrors

In two previous posts, I’ve tried to distinguish between: (1) historical narrative in scripture, and (2) the commands of God — basically, between description and prescription.

Why? Well, because people frequently crack open “holy books” in search of answers to questions that are very personal, and reading historical narrative as if it is God’s direction for your life can lead to considerable confusion — like the atheist who thinks the Bible says ritual castration will get you into heaven. I suspect the Lord would prefer that we not experience that sort of muddled thinking. My advice is to read commands as commands, and history as history.

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and point out a fly in my own ointment, if you will.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Chameleon Turning Plaid

Hey, I’m trying! I’m trying!
Easy question: What do all these statements have in common?

It’s locker room talk — it’s one of those things.

If everybody’s watching all of the backroom discussions and the deals, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position.

Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.

Answer: They take for granted that speaking out both sides of one’s mouth is perfectly normal.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Inbox: Description vs. Prescription

In response to the post Is and Ought, Tertius writes:

“Long time Bible readers will make such distinctions, but perhaps not know the way to explain to others why they must be made. You have put a well packaged set of rules for interpretation and application in their hands and so are helping teachers how to teach; a much needed service to the Church.

An example or two of the common mistake of using the descriptive in the narrative in Acts as though it was prescriptive would be a useful addition.”

I agree. I think we can probably find several.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What Sort of Heart?

This quote has stuck with me over the past couple of weeks, maybe because it is not just those who would like the Bible to teach universal salvation that see this type of thinking as the ultimate expression of moral goodness.

“What sort of a heart could approve of eternal death for some? The doctrine of Universal Salvation teaches that all will have eternal life, including Satan and the demons. And that one day, all will have the same nature as God. What sort of a heart could not approve of Universal Salvation, eternal life for all?”

Explicitly or between the lines, it boils down to this: anyone who wouldn’t grant eternal bliss, joy, happiness and God-likeness to Satan, Hitler, Stalin and every liar and murderer in human history that hates and rejects the Son of God is, well ... insufficiently morally developed.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sailing the High Seas

An old friend sent me an email a while ago. He was concerned:

“My daughter is going off to university next year, and she wants to take English Literature as her major! I’m worried about her: could you talk to her?”

I had to smile. Sure, I could talk to her. After all, I had been through all that, and I had survived just fine, thank you.

But why the panic?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: God and the Child of Divorce

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

Larry Taunton has a link up to this Washington Post story about divorce and its effects on the next generation. The Public Religion Research Institute says children of divorced parents are significantly (12%) more likely to become non-religious adults.

Tom: You’ve taught thousands of teens in your thirty-ish years in the education system, IC. What do you think: does that sound plausible?

Immanuel Can: Absolutely. I believe I’ve seen it in the changes in behaviour of the average student, but more tellingly, in their personal reporting of their feelings and attitudes.

Tom: In your experience, how would that show itself?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Distance

Do you ever feel completely inadequate to the task of being a Christian?

The space between God and man is quite a distance to bridge, isn’t it.

I’m not talking about the distance between hell and heaven, or the moral distance between, say, Hitler and Jesus Christ. That’s obvious enough to not require a labored explanation. I’m not even thinking of the need to get saved or the importance of becoming reconciled to God and escaping the judgement we are all due.

No, I’m speaking here, not as a member of a fallen race, but as one who already knows and loves God and is seeking, however incompetently, to stagger along in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The distance between — the difference between — me and him … good grief!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Is and Ought

The Bible tells it like it is, and most times it tells us what we should do about it. But not always at the same time, and not always in the same place.

Much of the Old Testament record is very dispassionate; very ‘just the facts, Jack’. Sure, from time to time an inspired author offers his editorial comment, but this is a rarity. Most of the time, we are simply getting a record of what happened. Those who need to find an application to their own lives beyond the obvious must in many instances look elsewhere in scripture to do so.

To fail to note the difference between the parts of scripture that are prescriptive and those that are merely descriptive is to invite confusion.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Recollection and Response

Old Testament writers often describe God in human terms, though we know from other statements in scripture that many of the human qualities they ascribe to God cannot possibly be true of him in precisely the same way they are true of us.

Memory is a good example, as Ashrei points out:

“To remember, so we are inclined to think, is primarily to preserve in our consciousness a fact or an experience. A ‘good memory’ is one which retains precisely and vividly that which has been seen, heard or learned. In short, we tend to regard memory as simply one comprehensive archive. Retention of the past has great significance per se. However, it hardly exhausts the full range of memory.”

When the Old Testament speaks of God “remembering”, it does not merely refer to his ability to retain information, as it might with us.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Chaotic Mess

Yesterday I mentioned one similarity between churches in 2016 and life in Israel in the time of the judges roughly three thousand years ago.

This was an era repeatedly characterized with the statements, “There was no king in Israel” and “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. There was, of course, God’s law, given to Moses, and the name of Jehovah, the God who had brought Israel out of Egypt into Canaan. These somewhat influenced but did not control the daily habits of Israelite worshipers. The revealed truth of God was thoroughly co-mingled with the thinking and religious influences of Israel’s pagan neighbours.

In short, Israel was a chaotic mess.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Unwanted Dedication

Staring at the train wreck that is most of Western Christendom, it’s not hard to see one or two points of comparison with Israel’s early days in the land of Canaan in the time before God gave them a king. You know, that period the writer of Judges describes regularly with the phrase, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”.

Hmm. That’s pretty much the tale today. The difference is that while Israel had no king, the Church has a living Head.

We are without Israel’s excuse.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Wedded Blitz

Every summer, couples line up to tie the knot.

There was a time in my life when it seemed like every summer weekend was occupied with somebody’s nuptials. Now, however, like most middle-aged men, I’m quite content to leave that to the younger set, and if I’m roped into one or two such ceremonies during a summer that’s about my limit.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: The Greatest Threat to Faith Today

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

Writer Andrew Sullivan gives this advice to churches:

“If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation. Christian leaders seem to think that they need more distraction to counter the distraction. Their services have degenerated into emotional spasms, their spaces drowned with light and noise and locked shut throughout the day, when their darkness and silence might actually draw those whose minds and souls have grown web-weary.

Tom: “The greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction.” What do you think, IC? Is technology dangerous to Christians?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Your Level of Understanding

It’s 50 years since the first season of the original Star Trek TV series, so I’m rewatching some of those ancient episodes when I need a break from anything that actually requires mental activity.

Part of it is curiosity. I’ve been on a “memorykick lately, as readers of this blog will be well aware, thinking about what we retain and how and why we retain it. So I’m interested in seeing if those episodes are anything like what I remember them to be. I was eleven or so when Star Trek blew my adolescent mind.

That’s neither here nor there. But this one little bit of typical Star Trek dialogue stuck with me, from an episode written by multiple Hugo-award-winner (and legendary curmudgeon) Harlan Ellison.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tolerance 2.0

We live in a religious climate in which atheists can be Protestant ministers. One in which the so-called Bishop of Rome insists the Koran is just as valid as the Bible and that Allah is the “same entity” as Jesus Christ. A climate in which the ordination of women is accepted, the LGBT community embraced and the performance of same-sex marriages commonplace.

Tolerance is the sine qua non of the new Christendom; its most indispensable ingredient.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Everybody Take a Deep Breath

You may be familiar with Mark Armitage, the Christian microscopy technician formerly at California State University Northridge, who (allegedly) discovered soft tissue in the horn of a fossilized triceratops just a few years ago, ended up having his employment terminated over it, and subsequently sued the university.

The presence of soft tissue might be taken to imply that at least one triceratops was around much more recently than 65.5 million years ago, the time frame currently posited for the much-debated dino extinction event, whatever that may have been.

In short, if legitimate, Armitage’s discovery would be hard to account for under the current evolutionary paradigm.

Monday, October 10, 2016

More Complicated Than It Appears

Cause and effect are not simple things.

Lots of people would really like them to be. Whether an effect is ultimately good, bad, or a little bit of both, they would like the question “Who did it?” to have a single, obvious answer.

John Calvin taught a deterministic view of the universe that remains exceedingly popular in Christian circles today — largely, I think, because of its simplicity. It reduced all causes to … God.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Not A Tame Lion

“Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
(Psalm 2:11-12)

“ ‘Safe?’ said Mr Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’ ”
— C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

It’s an odd combination, isn’t it: rejoicing and trembling at the presence of the Son of God. The quote from the Psalms is directed to “kings” and “rulers of the earth” and looks forward to the millennial reign of Christ on earth.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

New, Improved, Advanced … You Need One

A few years ago I went on vacation in England. We had some special places to go, but of course there were a few of the obligatory touristy things as well.

We went to the Tower of London. It’s not a single tower, but a concentric castle formed of 21 towers. One of the main ones is called “The White Tower”. It was especially interesting to me since it housed a great collection of historical armaments spanning several centuries of warfare. Much of it is conventional stuff: swords, cannons, muskets, shields, chain mail and so forth. Some of the displays feature experimental weaponry, such as multi-barreled, repeating guns and so forth.

Cool.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Worth Leaving Over

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

In principle, I’m not keen on leaving churches. It happens too often and too easily. But sometimes, there just isn’t any choice.

When Gretta Vosper became the pastor of a West Hill United Church in Toronto, Canada in 1997, she was not yet out of the closet about her atheism, a little bonus she didn’t disclose from the pulpit until 2001. Amazingly, quite a few congregants hung on until 2008 when Vosper did away with the Lord’s Prayer, at which point 2/3 of the flock made for the exits.

Tom: I’m not sure precisely where the line is, but I’d have difficulty faulting anyone who leaves a church with an atheist pastor, IC. From your experience, what are the ingredients that go into making for a “time to go” decision?

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Getting It Backwards

Christian response on the Internet to the ongoing refugee/immigration issue reminds me how easy it is to get things backwards.

This is not the first time it has happened, and it won’t be the last.

First, there was a barrage of pro-immigration posts at various websites that buttressed their arguments with what appeared to be supportive proof texts: we were to be “Good Samaritans”; we were to “welcome the sojourner”; we are “all one in Christ”. The writers of these pieces moved swiftly from cursory proof to immediate and morally-imperative action: “Here’s how you can help, Christians!”

And some of us did.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

The Crutch

I actually don’t know anyone who calls religion a “crutch”.

That may seem surprising. A Google search produces a list of close to 200,000 references in articles, social media comments and blog posts that begin with words along the lines of “People often say Christianity is a crutch …”

So I’m sure people say it. They just don’t say it to me.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Impatient Over Their Misery

Okay, so your sin is impressive.

At least, I’m sure it seems gigantic and unforgivable to you. And since the awareness of the magnitude of sin in our lives, its toxic effects on others around us and its absolute repulsiveness to God is a necessary step in turning away from it, I wouldn’t want to downplay it for you.

Carry on. Be miserable. Have at it.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Anointing a Bramble

The worst leaders are people desperate to lead.

I think we’re all seeing that on TV right about now. The conventional wisdom is that America is reduced to scrounging for its least-worst presidential option, and the pickings are world-record slim.

This is not a new problem. In democratic countries, politicians are stereotypically less credible than used car salesmen, TV evangelists and the mainstream media.

People who want to run the show are often the worst people to actually do it.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Total Recall

My memory is getting worse. I don’t think I’m imagining it.

Then again, if I were, how would I know, really?

On one level this alarms me. Any age-related change to the function of mind or body is a reminder that “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls”. Or as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “We’re all going there”.

That’s for sure.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

So You Want to Serve God …

Dear Daniel:

I’ve been watching you for a while now. I see that you are an earnest kind of person, spiritually speaking. You are enjoying your studies, but finding them a challenge sometimes too, I know. And it’s not easy to handle a young marriage at the same time. Good for you for keeping it all in balance. That wife of yours is a saint; but then again, so are you — I mean the real definition of “saint”, not just some putatively-exemplary dead person in a cathedral window, but a person who has been genuinely sanctified by the salvation in Christ Jesus and has taken his place among all those who love God.