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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (4)

The following is absolutely fictional and increasingly common. There is no Brad and definitely no Jill, in case that is not obvious. There are, however, way too many people in their position.

Dear Brad,

Firstly, I’m so glad to hear that your elders are comfortable with you breaking bread with God’s people despite the conflicting stories about your marriage breakdown. That’s most encouraging and speaks well of them, I think.

Secondly, no, I’m not really all that surprised to hear that Jill has not yet given you legal notice of pending divorce proceedings despite what she said in the letter she left behind.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Life in Suspended Animation

I grew up a Trekkie.

You remember that word? It was a nerd word. A “trekkie” was a person who loved the television show Star Trek. My daily ritual was to get home and plop myself down in front of the telly and catch whatever rerun was on that day. I think I saw most episodes of the original show a half dozen times or more.

I remember one episode called Space Seed, in which the crew of the Starship Enterprise discovers a ship loaded with sleeping men and women. They’re all in what’s called suspended animation: alive, but asleep and on life support, so that they can endure a lengthy trip through space. The crew revives one named Khan, and he turns out to be a kind of wild superman they’re unable to control. He’s more than a little agitated that he and his people have become the rejects of planet earth.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Double Jeopardy

“I wouldn’t want to be a teenager today!”

I hear that a lot. And I suppose there’s something to it. It’s not easy going through those vulnerable transitional years today.

But then, it’s never been.

It’s a really unnatural stage of life. Today, we may take it for granted; but we are losing touch with just how irregular, how unhealthy and how bizarre it really is. That’s because most of us were raised through a socialization process — including urban economic life, mass schooling, post-secondary training, late induction into adulthood, and so on — that took it for granted. We are out of touch with just how developmentally weird it really is.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Who Hardened Whose Heart?

Sovereignty discussion time.

Scripture is rife with examples of the peculiar streak of human perversity that sets itself against the will of God to the bitter end. But even with all that competition, Pharaoh and his Egyptians must surely rank in the Top Ten.

Or do they? What about this verse:

“Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And the Lord made his people very fruitful and made them stronger than their foes. He turned their hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.”

On the face of it, Christian determinists would seem to have good reason to jump on the words of the Psalmist and say, “Aha, you see, it says that God ‘turned the hearts’ of the Egyptians to hate his people. They didn’t have a choice!”

Except they did. Let’s look at why.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Desultory Spiritual Noises

I wrote recently about the subject of Christian confession in connection with Peter Ditzel’s comments on 1 John 1. Confession is how believers deal with disruptions in our fellowship with God that come from our tendency to sin.

Repentance is another part of that process.

Ideally the two go together, but they are not identical. As Ditzel demonstrates, like repentance, confession has both an attitudinal and an active aspect. Both involve changes of heart and life. But while genuine repentance gives rise to confession (where confession is appropriate), not every confession demonstrates real repentance, as we will shortly observe.

Thankfully, the Bible doesn’t just tell us what these things are, it also shows us what they aren’t.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Snakes, Mistakes and Better Takes

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

According to Infogalactic, the late George Went Hensley, a mover and shaker in the Holiness movement, argued that believers who truly have the Holy Spirit within them should be able to handle rattlesnakes and any number of other venomous serpents. David Kimbrough writes that Hensley even insisted his congregation in rural Tennessee prove their salvation by holding a snake.

He also died after one of his snakes bit him during a revival meeting in Florida one afternoon in July 1955. His death was understandably ruled a suicide since he picked up the snake voluntarily and refused treatment after the bite.

Tom: I suppose one could attribute that to a temporary failure of faith. What do you think, IC?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Quote of the Day (33)

The English Language & Usage website is a useful tool for readers who come across words and phrases they don’t understand and can’t find an answer elsewhere. Other users generally supply the answers they are seeking.


“So, what does it mean to come to the end of yourself? Is it related to getting to the point where you are powerless? Or maybe to the fact that you are sick of yourself? Am I even close?”

Now, if you’ve ever circulated among Christians at all, you’ve almost surely encountered the expression, but it’s my sneaking suspicion you won’t come across it elsewhere and that if you do, it’s probably crept in quietly to secular thinking from Christian theology.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Almost But Not Quite Circular

Claims are not proof. But nobody looks for proof unless some kind of claim has first been made.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Andy Stanley’s assertion that the Genesis account of Adam and Eve is history, not just spiritually valuable mythology. For Andy, it is how Jesus spoke about Adam and Eve that is definitive.

I agree with him on at least two things: first, that Genesis is historical, and second, that the words of Christ are of vital importance to the believer. They are there to be pored over, memorized, analyzed with all the faculties God has given us, meditated upon and lived out wherever they apply to our lives.

Good so far. And then, me being me, I have to lob a monkey wrench into the machinery.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (3)

The following is absolutely fictional and increasingly common. There is no Brad and definitely no Jill, in case that is not obvious. There are, however, way too many people in their position.

Dear Brad,

Your question about participating in the Lord’s Supper during your separation from Jill is a good one, especially as the weeks pass and your wife shows no signs of coming home or even of being willing to talk things through with you.

Still, perhaps the answer is not quite as complicated as you are making it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Divorce: What We Don’t Know

I’ve been thankful to see a few posts from Tom on the subject of divorce, and I’ve been encouraging him to research and write more. We, in the church, need information about this.

I’m afraid we’re not very wise on this. Time was when divorces were rare. Back then, what tended to happen is that if a person got divorced, they just left the church — end of story. Maybe one of the partners hung around … especially if he or she was presumed “innocent” in the event. But for the most part, divorce was just an uncomfortable subject, a Pandora’s Box that churches just didn’t want to open.

I think the problem was really that while the scriptures give us a pattern for God’s ideal — marriage for life — they don’t really give us as much as perhaps we’d like about what to do when the ideal just hasn’t happened.

We may have the broad outline. What we don’t have is any of the details.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Better Word

“Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?”

Washed in the blood. I’ll be frank: that’s kind of a grisly image, though a very popular one in late 19th and 20th century hymnology. If some of our modern churchgoers cringe at the mental picture it conjures, we can hardly blame them.

Elisha Hoffman’s lyric presumably riffs on Revelation 7, where John sees an innumerable multitude of worshipers in front of the throne of God and is told, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

In Revelation it is the robes that are washed in the blood, not the worshipers themselves. Hoffman probably understood this, though his title is a bit too ambiguous for me.

What we do find much more often in scripture is sprinkled blood.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nice Getting to Know You ...

Embarrassing story of father-failure. Brace yourselves.

My youngest son was fired not too long ago. Well, “fired” is a harsh word for something that was actually done with unusual politeness. The Asian manager of the donut store where he’d been working for three weeks let him know at the end of his shift that, “Uh, it was really nice getting to know you, but you don’t need to come back next week.”

Hmm. Okay then.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Religious Freedom, Limited

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

The Independent reports that Belgium’s Walloon region is the latest territory to ban kosher and halal meats. Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand all got there first, in each case turning a deaf ear to the protests of Jewish and Islamic minorities.

Tom: That’s fine with me. We’ve already established in the U.S. and Canada that there are reasonable limits on religious freedoms, though these have been applied more frequently (and certainly more visibly) against Christians than against religious minorities recently.

But this is the nature of multicultural societies. Wherever different religions have coexisted in the same national space, some limits on specific practices have always had to be set. Where blasphemy was concerned, the Jews groused to Pilate that “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” Too bad, so sad. That’s life in the Roman Empire.

Where did the West get this concept of “freedom of religion” in the first place, IC?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (2)

The following is absolutely fictional and increasingly common. There is no Brad and definitely no Jill, in case that is not obvious. There are, however, way too many people in their position.

Dear Brad,

Glad to hear that Sunday did not go as badly as you thought it might. I’ve been praying and will continue to do so.

As I mentioned in my previous email, the elders accepting your resignation from teaching Sunday School is normal. Don’t take it personally. They haven’t heard Jill’s side of the story yet, and they never will if she doesn’t come back to church. Suppose they had refused to accept your resignation out of some kind of misplaced loyalty, then later discovered that Jill really left you because you had an affair at work or something insane like that? I know you didn’t, but these things do happen in the real world. They are being responsible to the Chief Shepherd and doing their jobs. The truth will come out in due course, trust me.

Meanwhile, you’ve done the right thing and the Lord is honored in it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Flitting Sparrow

Just more hot air ...
Most curses are just bunches of empty words. After all, a curse can’t do any real damage without the cooperation of the divine Third Party whose power they attempt to invoke.

In any case, we’re not big on curses in our modern world. Oh, I don’t mean profanity: as a culture we’re pretty much over the top with that, as anyone with Netflix will easily confirm. But the real deal — the Old Testament “God is gonna getcha” kind of curse — is rare. And that’s a good thing, I think.

All the same, some curses are very powerful indeed. One or two are even of historic import.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

You Don’t Want To Be ‘That Guy’

I wonder what it was like for the Jews who sang David’s psalms.

I suspect a bunch of them were kind of like we tend to be. You know how you can sing a hymn 100 times and on the 101st time it suddenly dawns on you what the writer was trying to communicate.

The same words were all there before; they all meant the same thing they mean when you figure them out, but somehow you sang them over and over again from childhood without really processing them. Maybe you were reading the music and trying to figure out if you should go for that high note or drop down an octave for safety’s sake; or a kid down the pew was fidgeting and kept dropping crumbs from the cookie you wish her grandma hadn’t given her; or you were somewhere else entirely in your own head, possibly contemplating missing the NFL pre-game show.

Whatever the distraction may have been, you sang those words but didn’t register them. You missed the point.

I’ve certainly done it enough.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (1)

The following is absolutely fictional and increasingly common. There is no Brad and definitely no Jill, in case that is not obvious. There are, however, way too many people in their position.

Dear Brad,

I am so deeply, deeply sorry to hear that you and Jill have separated. Standing up for you was a privilege and an honor. It’s been … what, almost a decade? But I still vividly recall that crazy, way-too-lengthy conversation we had in the Four Seasons lounge after the wedding rehearsal when everybody else had gone to bed, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that when you took those vows before God and everyone you love, you meant them with all your heart.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Two Glories

Well, it’s Sunday again.

Time to go and meet with the Lord’s people and think about him.

That’s good work, really. It’s just about the best thing we really ever do. The works we do here on earth end when the Lord returns. But some things continue into eternity. Paramount among those things is worship. It’s one of the few things we do that lasts forever. I think that makes it worth getting up for.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Recommend-a-blog (23)

What political theology are you?

I’m a ‘Radical Anabaptist’, or at least so says Mere Orthodoxy’s political theology quiz.

Not sure quite what to think about that. I guess I’m glad to be a radical something. These days I think I’d be more insulted to be called a moderate. And while I dislike the implicit nod to infant baptism in the “Anabaptist” label, I am indeed a firm believer in baptizing believers only, as readers of my baptism series (left sidebar) will confirm, and glad to take a stand on that.

It seems a funny point of theology to fixate on, but I’ll take it ... I guess.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Unhinged Racism

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

Jonathan Merritt contributes to The Atlantic and has been named one of “30 young influencers reshaping Christian leadership” by Outreach Magazine. All good so far, provided you don’t mind your “Christian leadership” flavored with a big honkin’ tablespoon of social justice.

Tom: He also just called Doug Wilson an “unhinged racist”, and Doug has sensibly called foul right here in one of the funniest posts I’ve read in a long time.

IC, these accusations of “racism” are getting so common today as to be almost meaningless.

Immanuel Can: Yes, along with the words, “sexist”, “homophobic” and “Islamophobic”, they comprise today’s “Four Horsemen of the Horse Manure”.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Christian Confession: An Elaborate Fabrication?

Is it really necessary for Christians to confess our sins in order to be forgiven them?

Peter Ditzel says no, that being forgiven for the sins we commit from time to time as believers does not depend on regular confession. That, he says, would be working for our forgiveness.

He is also not a fan of John MacArthur’s take on 1 John 1, which draws a distinction between judicial and parental forgiveness that Ditzel thinks is an “elaborate fabrication”. He sees the ongoing search for MacArthur’s “parental forgiveness” as a Protestant form of penance.

The judicial/parental distinction probably did not originate with MacArthur. I’ve been hearing it my whole life. It is a very common explanation of what the apostle John has to say about forgiveness.

But is it correct?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tom 1, John the Baptist 0

Jim Plunkett when he was
not winning Superbowls
Congratulate me, gentle reader. I have officially beaten John the Baptist.

Oh, he put up a good fight. Taking on the Jewish religious establishment was brave. Living on a diet of locusts and wild honey was certainly evidence of great devotion to his job, not to mention that he spent way, way less than I do on his wardrobe. Excellent stewardship there. And that whole martyrdom thing, well ... it’s a pretty special honor to die for what you believe. I’m not sure I’m up to that at all.

But I won anyway. How do you like them apples!

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Going Out With A Bang

Things are changing at the office.

Sixty-five is no longer mandatory retirement age in Canada, so a few of the men I learned from are still on the job, though they have definitely slowed down. Most are gone despite the change in law. Some even took packages and opted out early. Others who thought they’d work past sixty-five found they were running out of gas and changed their minds. Still others had unexpected health crises or family drama.

Hey, there are no guarantees for any of us, right?

Monday, May 08, 2017

By What Authority?

Busted for blogging with insufficient authority
I love error. Error is a beautiful thing.

Don’t panic. Let me get going here and you’ll soon see what I mean. And in case it doesn’t become howlingly obvious, I promise I’ll clear it up at the end.

Ready? Here we go. So … Tish Harrison Warren is an author and a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. She currently serves as co-associate rector at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I’m going to quote her a bit here, so I mention this not at all in an attempt to disqualify what she says, but so that you can better enjoy the many, many helpings of mouth-wateringly delicious irony she dishes up.

You see Ms. Warren fears the Christian blogosphere is off its leash. She thinks its various Christian and heretical voices are operating without spiritual authority and ought to be reined in.

Wow. Just … wow. Pot, meet kettle.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Back to the Beginning

The world is full of smart people.

Currently, if your IQ is 132 or higher, you are in the 98th percentile for intelligence. Worldwide. Mensa has 121,000 members, but in theory its membership could be sixty or seventy million. That’s a lot of smart people.

But scripture teaches there is something significantly more important than IQ.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Mouth Almighty

Mouth almighty, that is what I’ve got,
 Mouth almighty, telling you what’s what.
 Mouth almighty.
 I wish I’d never opened my mouth
    almighty …
— Elvis Costello (1983)

Some years ago, I was working at a Christian summer camp.

By all evidence, it had been an excellent year — many children’s lives touched, many young people growing in knowing God, good friendships formed, spiritual growth on every side, and a safe and successful physical program.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Surveying Evangelicalism

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

The current state of our evangelical Christian churches is not the easiest thing to encapsulate in a few sentences. While each of today’s Protestant denominations originally sprang from a set of shared doctrinal convictions and associated practices, few could ever have been called monolithic, and evangelicals are even less so. Some groups bear the same name but believe and do things very differently indeed.

Tom: My experience with folks from the denominations is primarily online, but our own Immanuel Can has been out church-shopping of late, and may have a better view from the trenches ... er, pews. Does the average modern evangelical church building still have pews, IC?

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Institutionality and Convergence

“Convergence” is a term originally coined by John Stuart Mill to describe the process by which a public policy consensus is reached. The term has been reinvigorated by former World Net Daily columnist Vox Day, who uses it to describe what happens when institutions are infiltrated and coopted by people pursuing agendas foreign to their original purposes.

Of course, an institution may survive and even prosper for a period of time while pursuing multiple goals. But no man can serve two masters, and no institution can simultaneously make two non-complementary goals its holy grail. Thus an institution can be described as fully “converged” the moment its pursuit of its new mandate begins to make it ineffective at doing what it was originally created to do.

Prime modern examples of the downside of convergence are tech giant Mozilla, Marvel Comics, the NFL and ESPN. All have prioritized social justice virtue signaling over catering to their core demographics, and each has seen its market share shrivel because of it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Stuff That Matters

The human heart (interior view)
To believe you have been known and understood is simultaneously the most exhilarating and terrifying sensation in the universe.

The terror is the reason most of us avoid it. To be known is to expose the worst about ourselves, so we market a more palatable package of “alternative facts” to the public, withholding information or spinning it as required.

Man, it’s an awful lot of work.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Petting a Hissing Cobra

Brad Littlejohn and Doug Wilson are currently in the middle of an interesting back-and-forth on the difficulties that come with trying to deal with visible displays of feminine worldliness in the church: things such as pink hair, ear-stretching plugs, yoga pants, tattoos, body piercings and so on.

Everyone involved already seems to agree on a number of things: first, that it is unhelpful to pretend that the Law of Moses is directly relevant; second, that the New Testament does not address most of these issues in so many words — we have to get there by application from passages about “braided hair” and “costly attire” and such things; third, that despite the fact that we are dealing with principles rather than direct commands like “Don’t get a tattoo” or “Don’t dye your hair”, these principles cannot be handwaved away without us losing something very important; and fourth, not all such displays should be handled in precisely the same way — things like salvation, spiritual maturity, age, level of commitment, baptism, history and present circumstances absolutely come into it.

Everyone also agrees talking about the subject is like petting a hissing cobra.

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Commentariat Speaks (10)

Ministers ... er ... ministering.
From the department of “If I live long enough, absolutely everything will get covered here at least once”, here is commenter Nate on the subject of women in church leadership:

“actually we [Methodists] aren’t nearly as hung up on this as you guys are. The point is ... regardless of how you can twist scripture ... women factually were leaders in the apostolic church. Yes ... including pheobe [sic] and more importantly lydia.

Not to mention Timothy’s own grandmother who paul credits.”

No scripture twisting required, but perhaps a little actual scripture reading would help.