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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Politeness vs. Goodness, and Other Observations

A few unasked-for observations triggered by watching Christians attempt to edify one another on social media:

Observation 1: The frequency with which the words “That’s not very Christ-like” are employed is inversely proportional to the speaker’s grasp of what being like Christ actually involves.

Hey, I’m all for the occasional stern rebuke, having benefited from quite a few of them over the years, but for a word of correction to carry real moral authority, it kinda has to, well ... ring true. Lies, misrepresentations and insults don’t prick the conscience; the Holy Spirit does.

If you have never read the Gospels or have only managed to commit to memory the well-known bits about love and forgiveness, drawing an unfavourable comparison to Someone you don’t actually know very much about is probably not your best go-to line.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Ship of Fools, or The Titanic Arrogance of Postmodernity

We’re setting sail
To the place on the map
From which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of
the joker and the fool
By the light of the crosses that burn

Drawn by the promise of
the women and the lace
And the gold and the cotton and pearls
It's the place where they keep all the darkness you need
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby

You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow”
Ship of Fools, World Party (1986)

Those are pretty “Christian” lyrics, really.

Oh, they’re not genteel, kindly or polite, to be sure; but they’re real, they’re true and they’re accurate — at least when we apply them to our present society.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Uncompassionate Christ

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

“… and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?” … And he did not do many mighty works there.”

You see the problem, of course. A mere four chapters on in our narrative, the “compassionate” Jesus of Matthew 9 by-and-large withholds the benefit of his healing powers from the very people with whom he grew up.

What are we to make of this?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Blind Spot

What happens when your church is riddled with false teaching and nobody in charge knows it?

If that seems an unlikely scenario, don’t laugh. It can absolutely happen.

It’s next-to-impossible to miss when a speaker goes off the rails doctrinally from the pulpit at 11:30 on a Sunday morning. Whether it’s a pastor, a local Bible teacher or visiting preacher, a public pronouncement that is wildly at odds with a church’s statement of faith will almost always generate serious discussion and immediate blowback. If there’s any question as to what was actually said, your soundman has probably got digital backup or even video. One way or another, error that’s visible and audible to all usually gets addressed.

But modern churches have a huge doctrinal blind spot.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Woman Overboard

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

Last week we discussed the “new normal” — that almost 70% of divorces are now initiated by unhappy wives — and suggested a number of possible reasons for a phenomenon that is growing not just in the world but in our churches: young women brought up in Christian homes, most or all of whom have made professions of faith, seem increasingly able to walk away not just from their husbands but from their families, often to raise the children of their new partner.

Tom: We talked about the Internet and the work environment, IC, and the family-associated problems of over-protection and legalism.

But let’s leave the family for a moment.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

People Whom One Cannot Instruct

Perhaps if we dropped this on their heads ...
Wayne Grudem devoted years of his life to understanding and expositing a single word in a single verse.

Why, you may ask? Good question.

In an article entitled “Personal Reflections on the History of CBMW and the State of the Gender Debate”, Grudem asks himself the same thing: “Why did I spend so much time on this?”

What he discovered is that nobody’s listening. At least, nobody’s listening that wasn’t listening already.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Bowl of Fake Rights

Fake rights are all the rage.

Sure, the “right” to almost anything, duly constitutionalized and conferred upon us by government, can be created out of thin air provided there is sufficient public demand. But in the absence of heavenly authority, state-enshrined rights are both morally incoherent and logically inconsistent. In practice they are largely unenforceable.

In short, fake.

The hottest new fake right on the block has to be the “right not to be offended”.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A House In Order

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’ ” 

Isaiah’s prophetic directions to Hezekiah were pretty specific to his own situation. Most of us do not get a heavenly heads-up before our final exit from this life (although a few of us get sufficient advance warning from circumstances and surgeons to nearly qualify).

Still, all of us would be well served to apply Isaiah’s instructions to our own situations.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Judeo-Christianity

I once took an inter-cultural understanding class at my local Reformed synagogue.

Now, I should probably explain. For those who don’t know, the Reformed Tradition in Judaism is the most “open” and modern segment of the Community. Quite a number of Reformed Jews are former Gentiles, or married to Gentiles. In fact, you could easily meet, or being going to school with, or working with a Reformed Jew, and never know what his or her religious practices were at all. They’re very well integrated into Western life.

The class was intended to further improve understanding between the most tolerant Jews and the rest of our society. The rabbi who taught the class was charming, intelligent and personable. He was also very helpful in laying out the practices and traditions of modern Judaism to a Gentile audience. He knew his stuff, and I liked him. (I’m sorry to say I hear he’s passed on now.)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Commentariat Speaks (8)

TechCrunch editor John Biggs mourns the fact that social media is no longer a place where you can air an opinion without fear of adverse consequences:

“Our errant Twitter thoughts can make us targets and we often don’t know we’re being watched. A prominent writer and friend recently mused about what would happen if he posted some political rants. The first thing that leapt to his readers’ minds was the potential for SWATing and doxing and then a visit from the FBI. Then, as evidenced by the above CEO example, you get fired.

Social media has become a very real, very visceral, and very censorial force and it can now only worsen the human condition.”

Now, none of this is news. Ironically, it’s John Biggs’ fellow Democrat voters who fired the opening salvos in the online equivalent of the nuclear arms race.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I Mean It, I Swear

An international team of university researchers concludes that people who curse more are less likely to lie and may possess more integrity than their politer peers.

What fascinates me about the study is not its rather pedestrian conclusions, which are all too predictable given the initial assumptions of psychologist Gilad Feldman and his team. After all, garbage in, garbage out, right?

No, it’s really the assumptions they make about the meaning of honesty that ought to cause Christians to stop and think.

Why? Because apparently the word no longer means what it once did.

Ugh. Not again.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Abandoning Ship

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

Men have always done it mid-life — some men, anyway, though thankfully Christian men did it more rarely.

We met the “right” waitress, secretary, serving wench or married woman bathing on a rooftop and bailed on our wives and families. We did it to find happiness (or at least firmer skin or, for a time at least, a cheerier disposition). We did it to demonstrate we were still virile and desirable. Or we did it for some other perfectly scrutable male reason that we wholeheartedly believed was unique to our own experience.

Tom: It took them a while to catch up, Immanuel Can, but thanks to feminism’s influence, women are doing it too, and they’re doing it with a vengeance. Almost 70% of divorces are now initiated by unhappy wives.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

That Wacky Old Testament (7)

How would you like to be publicly executed for the sins of your grandfather? Any takers?

There’s nothing particularly “wacky” about the events of 2 Samuel 21, which involve the capital punishment of seven Israelites for nothing more offensive than being blood relatives of the former King Saul. A story like this may raise questions in our minds about the fairness of Israel’s law, and thus the fairness of God himself.

I had two major goals in mind in introducing our irregular but ongoing “Wacky Old Testament” series: (1) to set some of the more perplexing commands and events of the Old Testament in their historical context, thus making them more comprehensible to the modern reader; and (2) to demonstrate the consistency of God’s character from Testament to Testament. It may be trendy to portray Jesus as gentle and loving, and Jehovah (or YHWH) as barbaric and bloody, but neither portrayal is exactly on the nose.

Let’s see if for once I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Getting What We Deserve

Poor leaders. First we put them on pedestals. Then we have a go at the pedestals with sledgehammers.

Leaders ride waves of popularity and drown in waves of rejection. Often the trends of public opinion are neither predictable nor rational. I know of exactly three people who, months beforehand, accurately forecast the rise of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. Everybody else just hoped — or much more frequently, snickered.

But when things go wrong, it is not always just bad leadership that is to blame.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Quote of the Day (30)

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you’ve almost surely noticed that in attempting to understand the meaning of the any given Bible text, I am reluctant to allow too much weight to the opinion of historians.

This is not because I automatically suspect all historians of having agendas, even though the politicization of history is arguably more pervasive than the politicization of science. Science deals (or ought to deal) in events we can replicate experimentally, and should in theory be far less likely to cede territory to the circumscriptions of PC ideologues than should the humanities.

But practitioners of the hard sciences are now demonstrating almost daily that even they cannot always be trusted to stick to the facts. It would be imprudent for us to exercise greater faith in historians, notwithstanding their relabeling of history as a “social science”.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Force Farce

Yesterday we were talking about the charge made by so many non-Christians today that we are guilty of “forcing” our views on them.

At first blush, the charge seemed ridiculous. After all, Christians represent absolutely no threat of physical or political violence: even to imagine that is just paranoid, and completely misunderstands the fundamental necessity of faith. Moreover, Christians may sometimes choose to absent themselves from participating in or approving of worldly values, activities or lifestyles because of conscience, but that represents no threat of force: it’s simply a matter of personal conscience — the very thing that world is at pains to affirm.

So where does the charge of “force” come from?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Disturbance in the Force

“Stop forcing your beliefs on me!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that cry when debating with unbelievers. In fact, I’ve heard it so much that I’ve begun to think there might be something behind it. After all, when many kinds of people from many kinds of backgrounds and situations seem to be arriving at the same kind of sentiment, there must be some cause for it, right?

But for a long time I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what it is. The problem is the wording: “You’re forcing …”

Am I? Really? How is that?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Hobbits In a Land of Dragons

We are hobbits in a land of dragons.

(Properly, I suppose, we should say, “in the land of THE dragon,” but since Satan has innumerable minions doing his bidding, we would not be out of line to assume they are of similar character.)

It’s impossible to know precisely how much of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth was intended to allegorize the Christian experience, and in the end the answer is unimportant. Tolkien’s faith, like that of any believing writer, informed both the plot of his epic fantasy and his imaginary characters, intentionally or otherwise. At least in part he wrote what he knew, and it seems to me that one of the things he knew best was salt-of-the-earth, slightly out-of-touch, decent, ordinary men and women going about their business without ruffling a lot of feathers.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Performance-Church

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

Tom: You sent me a horrible parody of a contemporary evangelical church service, IC. You’ve got to know I couldn’t leave that alone. I’m still brushing my teeth to get the taste out of my mouth.

But when they’re snarking the modern eleven o’clock church meeting on YouTube, and especially when it looks horribly familiar to most of your audience, you’ve almost got to concede we evangelicals are done like dinner. And it appears we cooked ourselves.

Does this travesty seem familiar to you?

Immanuel Can: You seem more shocked about it than I. There’s a reason why the piece is funny so many people; it’s recognition. The jokes reflect the current reality of many, many evangelical-type churches.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Joy In Action

The precise linguistic distinction between joy and rejoicing is a matter I’ll leave to others, but it is fair to say that joy is most often understood to be an inward response of the spirit, a feeling we may or may not have.

So it is that David can say, “Restore unto me the joy of your salvation.” David rightly recognizes that a full and trusting reliance on God ought to produce an inward joy, a joy which sin mutes. So too in the New Testament we read, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Minding Our Own Business

Our church just got a flow chart. It’s our very first.

Congratulate us. We have a new hierarchy, with the elders and lead pastor pegged in at the apex, then a sort of “Christmas tree” pattern downwards, with levels for “administrative pastors” and “pastors of family life and missions” and then various lay designates like Sunday School supervisors and teen ministry functionaries below them. (The congregation itself didn’t make it onto the diagram, but I think they’re assumed to be down there somewhere.)

And … oh yes … Someone Else is missing. I just can’t think of who he is.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Practical Doctrine, and Other Clarifications

The sermon didn’t really go on until 2:00.
It just felt that way.
Growing up in and out of various local churches, I often heard the complaint (usually from women) that certain Bible teachers were hard to sit through because all they did was teach doctrine when what the church really needed was something more practical: the Bible applied to everyday life.

I must confess that at the time I was a little unsympathetic. I figured it was kind of a “girl way” of conceding they weren’t spiritually up to the job of making the effort to decipher what the speaker was saying. You know, like “We don’t do math.” That kind of thing. I thought, “Why don’t you just ask your husbands at home then?”

I wasn’t always as nice as I am today. Hard to believe, I know.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Confounding Expectations

Running gag on conservative social media: “Aaaaaaand ... it’s Muslims.”

The meme tweaks the Powers That Be for their persistent unwillingness to attribute terror attacks throughout the West to their actual cause — Islamic jihad. As each new incident breaks, TradMedia, Lefty virtue signalers and our designated Elected Obscurantists one-up each other in cheerful speculation that THIS TIME it’s one of those dreaded neo-Nazis they’re always carping on about. And each time, greater numbers of perfectly normal news buffs with working memories and the ability to process reality without the aid of a PC filter respond with bemused mockery: “Aaaaaaand ... it’s Muslims.” Which to date it is.

During the reign of King David of Israel, there was probably a similar chorus: “Aaaaaaand ... it’s the Benjaminites.” Because it always was.

Sometimes we develop expectations about others for very good reasons.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Exam Return

I walked by a box in a college foyer last week on which was marked the words “Exam Return”.

A little earlier I had been listening to a meditation on the way the Lord Jesus communicated truth to his disciples. On a number of occasions the speaker recognized in the Lord’s technique what he called the “Teach-Test” method, and gave a few examples that seemed to bear out what he was saying.

Good enough so far.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Ask Not For Whom Rob Bell Tolls

Universalists, as I mentioned in a previous post, are people who wrongly believe everyone, no matter how willfully and determinately wicked, will eventually be saved.

Popular pastor/author Rob Bell has been called a universalist, though I don’t believe he describes himself that way. His book Love Wins is arguably the most well-read recent exploration of the subject, stirring up a fair bit of evangelical dust upon its release in 2011. However, if you want to argue fine points of universalist doctrine (or even broad strokes), Bell’s not your guy. Even his most ardent supporters (like Greg Boyd) admit Bell prefers asking questions to providing stringent proofs, and is more of a “poet/artist/dramatist” with a “fantastic gift for communicating in ways that inspire creativity and provoke thought” than an actual Bible teacher.

Too bad, really. Those of us waiting for a well-reasoned, serious defense of universalism from scripture will continue to keep our eyes peeled.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: He Made Them Male and Female

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

Immanuel Can: Ordinarily I let you throw out the first pitch, Tom, but let me hurl the first fastball today. The wind-up’s a bit long, but I think it’s worth it for the amount of heat we stand to generate.

Tom: Deal.

IC: Psychologist Paul Vitz (a Catholic) has a book, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism (2013), and in it he says some very provocative things. In context, he’s been writing about how atheism and the experience of bad, abusive, weak and absentee male parenting (fatherhood) are psychologically correlated. He turns to considering the reasons why men and women tend to experience the effects of ill-fathering in a somewhat different way.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Not a Fairy Tale

Comedian Linda Beatty has a weekly atheist comedy web show called The Bible and Other Fairy Tales, from which we may safely conclude Linda, like many other atheists, has never actually read the Old Testament.

The real Bible is full of people displaying contradictory, often self-defeating behavior. There are few squeaky-clean Cinderella types, and few transparently evil stepsisters. Rarely are its characters utterly and irredeemably wicked. Rarely are they entirely faithful, wise and obedient. They are real, flawed human beings, driven by their passions, often displaying surprising decency or brutal inhumanity within a few paragraphs of each other.

Fairy tales these are not.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The Commentariat Speaks (7)

“ ‘The Bible was codified and given to the world by the Catholic Council of Nicaea in the 4th century. It’s indisputable. The Catholic Church gave us the Bible.’

‘Er ... so what? Think God couldn’t have managed if they didn’t?’ ”

— Exchange in a website commentary

Miracles are rare things. If they weren’t, more people would believe in them. How many have there been? Christian Answers lists 124, some of which I think are a little dubious. About Religion lists 37 different miracles attributed to the Lord Jesus, but we know he did many more. When Jesus went through Galilee healing “every disease and every affliction among the people”, that had to seriously bump up the number.

The answer is probably in the tens of thousands.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Lies That Sound Like Truth

It’s getting harder and harder to figure out what’s really going on, isn’t it? This week, I’ve tried to navigate my way through two very different propaganda minefields.

The first is a brief speech from President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in which he lectures the West on its departure from Christian morality. Pure, ironic gold.

The second is an uncharacteristic opinion piece from the pen of Lefty billionaire and master manipulator George Soros, who usually lurks in the shadows behind paid political operatives when trying to tip the scales of American public opinion. But nobody flushed more money down the drain in November’s election than George Soros, and in this op-ed he purports to tell us why.

Both Putin and Soros assure us they are determined to save Western civilization — by precisely opposite means.

Monday, January 02, 2017

A Dangerously Clear Head

True story: When I was in my early university career, I was friends with a girl whose father taught history there. One of his students exhibited a most peculiar propensity in his essays; and that is, that no matter what question he was asked, he always answered, “God did it”.

What caused the Napoleonic Wars?

“God did”.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Forever Doesn’t Mean Forever Anymore

Universalists are a funny bunch. They’d like everyone, no matter how willfully and resolutely horrible, to be saved in the end. Not a bad desire, in one sense. It certainly appears a loving and even-handed approach, provided we don’t apply a microscope to it and examine its implications too carefully.

So universalists read scripture to conform with their fantasy, redefining words as necessary and explaining the meaning of difficult verses in what seem to me to be very unnatural ways.

Thing is, they’re not always wrong.