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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Semi-Random Musings (2)

There’s often quite a difference between what we assume went on in a Bible story and what probably really happened.

My mental pictures of Bible characters and their environment tend to auto-default to the flannelgraph cutouts of my Sunday School years. These presumably came from the fertile minds of whoever was drafted to produce the art for the curriculum. But such sacred two-dimensional imaginings are not necessarily the first thing a ten-year old challenges or even notices. They are what they are, and they stuck with me.

This was long before Veggie Tales, so thankfully I don’t carry around the mental image of the prophet Daniel as played by Larry the Cucumber. Not much, anyway.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Things NOT Done in the Body

One night in my late teens I found myself facing a temptation that is probably better not described in excruciating detail. Let’s just say it was a temptation common to young men. The other party was ready and willing and very much to my taste, there were no adults around to complicate matters, the situation was intimate and comfortable, and there was every natural reason to carry right on with what was already well underway.

For reasons I was unable to adequately spell out at the time, I didn’t. I’m not sure there’s a heavenly reward for that exactly, but I can tell you without even a shred of doubt that I did save myself a great deal of earthly emotional distress, guilt, ongoing complications and probably several courses of antibiotics.

If you must know, I blame my parents for that one. There’s probably a reward coming for them, if not for me.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (7)

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 Dorothy,

I haven’t had much of a chance to work through what you shared with me in your email, nor an opportunity to pray about it the way I intend to, but I figure it’s better to get back to you sooner than later.

You’re right, I must confess: I never in a million years expected to hear from you. I’m almost positive the last time we saw each other was at Brad and Jill’s wedding, which makes it over a decade now. And I agree: discussing my best friend’s failing marriage with his mother-in-law puts me in almost as awkward a position as it puts you to discuss your daughter’s current relationship problems with me. I expect neither of us will be at our best as we are both working with understandable biases and with only partial information. But I think if we are careful and Christian about it we may be able to do some good for two people we love without breaking any confidences or meddling in their lives.

Deal?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Poking the Bear

“A soft answer turns away wrath”, says the writer of Proverbs. I learned that as a child, though I didn’t always use it to my advantage. Still, it’s a good bit of wisdom to have up your sleeve in a confrontation, and too few people today know much about how to de-escalate a conflict.

But what if it’s not your objective to defuse anger? What if you’re looking to provoke a strong emotional reaction?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Different Package

Yonatan Zunger is a former Distinguished Engineer at Google, a product of Stanford and a very smart guy, so it’s a little surprising to find him making spectacularly unrealistic generalizations like this one: “Anyone can learn how to write code.”

The context of the comment is unimportant and would take way too long to explain, but having spent a significant portion of the last 20 years troubleshooting other people’s rather sad attempts at writing code — or even at manipulating existing code — I almost laughed out loud when I read it.

Still, we should probably cut Mr. Zunger some slack and assume he didn’t mean to make such an absurd and utterly unsupportable claim.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Calls and Feelings

Two weeks ago I posted some thoughts on the “gift of singleness” that didn’t conveniently fit into an earlier post (the one in which John Piper gives advice about marriage to a single mother).

There was another interesting thought-thread associated with the woman’s question, and since Piper hasn’t addressed it, I think it’s time to take a whack at it. It’s this statement I’m referring to:

“Now, as I attempt to wrap my head around the overwhelming task of raising this boy into a man by myself, I do not feel called to marriage.”

“Feeling called” may be a very common evangelical trope, but ask yourself this: Exactly how biblical is it?

Friday, August 25, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: The Christian View of Premarital Sex [Part 1]

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

In an article appropriately entitled “Premarital Sex: Is It A Sin Or Not?” Charles Toy of TheChristianLeft.org contends it’s … not:

“There is no passage of the Bible that references premarital sex as a sin against God. The association between sin and premarital sex is a new Christian idea. The only possible reference to premarital sex being a sin in the Bible is in the New Testament. This premise although, is generally dismissed by theologians because the Greek word pornei, or sexual immorality is commonly incorrectly translated into the English word fornication.”

Tom: Immanuel Can, what say you?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Positives of Negatives

I’ve got a favourite word.

It’s only two letters long, but it gives me complete control of my life.

My wife says maybe I use it too much. I’m not at all sure that’s true.

After all, I’ve seen that people who don’t have this word in their vocabulary suffer a lot. They let people put things upon them, and then have to live with the consequences.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Fatal Friends: Dawkins and Calvin

Hey, look — John Calvin and Richard Dawkins are riding on the same bus!

To be fair, I think neither is likely to be very happy the other has come along for the ride. They’re probably sitting at opposite ends, looking away from each other, and maybe pretending to read an outdated copy of The Times. But they’re riding to the same station.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Freedom: The False and the True

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

What is freedom? Does it mean what people today think it does? Does it mean doing whatever, whenever? Does it mean liberty to surrender to our own impulses? Does it mean opportunity to do whatever-the-heck we feel like at a given moment? Does it mean being exempt from moral censure or practical criticism regardless of what action we may choose to do?

Does it mean total independence? Does it mean not needing anyone, or not feeling the lack of anything?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Do Christians Hate Science?

If you pop around on the Internet for very long, you’ll find that one of the most common screeds against us is that Christians hate science.

I don’t think it’s true, of course, but it does seem a rather general perception among our detractors. They think we see in science a direct threat to our beliefs; and since science undeniably does many good things for us, secularists of various kinds have a duty to deprive us of our illusions in this regard. We will thank them later: or if we do not, it will only be because we couldn’t be helped.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Are We So Unsatisfied?

A few days ago I offered readers a chance to comment on the subject of their level of satisfaction with their church experiences. To say the least, response was underwhelming. We had plenty of readers of that post, but none who took us up on our offer.

Two possibilities follow: (1) readers are so content with their church experiences that they have no point of contact with the article, or (2) readers do not feel comfortable speaking on this subject.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Mental Scrapbook

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”, as the famous adage goes. Your raw materials define what is possible with them.

The same is true of your mental life: you cannot make a good life out of bad imaginings.

Your mind is a scrapbook. Like any scrapbook, it collects fragmentary images of whatever you decide to put in there. Over time you fill it up. And eventually, what you have put into it defines the kind of life you’re going to have. That happens because the ‘resources’ you put into your mental scrapbook become the raw materials for your present attitudes, your frame of reference for present experiences, and the repository of images for your present imagination.

Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out. It’s that simple.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Eternal Insecurity

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

Todd Strandberg would prefer that we remain insecure about eternity. Let’s allow him to make his case:

“The all-pervasive eternal security teaching has to rank as one of the devil’s favorite tools for deceiving man into neglecting or turning away from God’s plan of salvation.

Alarm bells should have sounded immediately the first time it was made known that eternal security allows its adherents to sin as they please.

I’m amazed that a doctrine so contrary to the Word of God could have so many people relying upon it as their means of salvation. Jesus said, ‘he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved’ (Matthew 24:13). For someone to think they can just claim Jesus as their Savior and go on living a life of iniquity is ridiculous. Jesus told us in Matthew 7:23 that when Judgment Day comes, he’ll be saying to many, ‘... I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’.”

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dismembering the Church

My church recently had a “membership” drive. The goal was to get people to sign up to the church roll, then stand up in front of the congregation and proclaim their membership through what they called a “church covenant”.

I’ve been in my local church for 12 years. I didn’t sign. I won’t.

It’s not because my fellow Christians do not know I’m one of them; they do. And I trust it’s not because I’m passive, uncommitted or uninvolved with church life. I’m in there serving, and I doubt there’s anyone in my congregation that couldn’t tell you that. (If there is, that will be corrected the next time they give me the pulpit, which they do fairly frequently.) And it’s not because they have found I am caught up in some particular sin or wickedness. No one has accused me of that — though I’d admit to being your garden variety hypocrite, in the sense that I continually fall short of the level of holiness God deserves from me. But no one so far has called me “hard hearted” or accused me of some crime.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hooray for the Hypocrites

One of my Neo-Calvinist friends wrote to me yesterday. He said that I should like a favourite preacher of his (David Platt). He said that this preacher “holds to the Reformed theology”. Then he added, “People who truly understand the Reformed theology have a passion for lost souls”.

His first statement is probably true.

If the second one is true, the first one is certainly false.

If a Calvinist loves the salvation message it might make him a nice person but it also makes him a bad Calvinist.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Mythical Native

So you’re speaking to someone about the gospel. And suddenly he gets that ironic glint in his eye. He folds his arms, steps back and says, “Well, what about the people who have never heard? What about people not born in Christian cultures, or even in cultures with some other religion? Hey, what about the native on some remote South Sea island, who has never even seen a white person and knows nothing about Western culture? If you have to believe the gospel to be saved, then isn’t that poor guy going to hell? And how is that fair? After all, he never even had a chance.”

He smiles smugly at you, confident you won’t be able to field that one. And you stumble.

Well, what about it? How can we believe in salvation if not everybody has a chance? How fair can it be to proclaim the gospel if the truth is that God simply doesn’t make it available to everyone? What about a ‘nice guy’ who isn’t, simply by virtue of birth or upbringing, even aware of the gospel?

How do we answer that one?

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Trouble with the Truth

Some years ago I picked up a volume compiled by Walter Truett Anderson entitled The Truth About The Truth. It was a collection of essays, actually, each one detailing some way in which the modern conception of “truth” has been warped. It had chapters on reification (the modern tendency to mistake mere traditions for inevitabilities), the love of the ironic tone, the tendency to accept things at face value, the obsession with commercialism, gender fluidity, cultural pluralism and the loss of the integrated self, and so on … all very interesting, and some of it insightful. But so far as the concept of a stable, universal, actually-existing kind of truth, very cynical.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tom Takes Another ’Nother Breather

You may have noticed I like doing a “retrospective” post once a year, usually on a Sunday in the summer just as I am about to disappear somewhere far away for a couple of weeks and totally ignore the Internet.

It gives me a chance to preview what’s coming for the next week or so, which in 2015 was a Top 10 of our most-read posts, and in 2016 was Worship Week. It also gives me a chance to let our readers know how things are going generally, to say thanks to a few people, and to take stock.

All good things, so let’s have at it.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Gift of Singleness

This is the first of two extended lines of thought that wouldn’t fit conveniently into my post from two days ago. You may remember that one: John Piper was giving advice to a single mother who wondered if she should be looking for a husband.

A couple of common evangelical catchphrases were bandied around in the exchange and caught my attention. First, Piper referred to the “gift of singleness”. Later, the young woman declared she did not feel “called to marriage”. You have probably heard people say things like that. You may have said them yourself.

Both phrases sorta-kinda employ the language of the New Testament, but both do it in ways that can mislead us if we’re not paying attention to the way they are used.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Bad Reasons to be Non-Denominational

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

Christianity Today reports that about 1 in 6 Christians now refer to themselves as “non-denominational”, which is about double the number who did so as recently as the turn of the century.

Tom: Gallup says:

“Increasingly, Christian Americans … prefer to either identify themselves simply as Christians or attend the increasing number of nondenominational churches that have no formal allegiance to a broader religious structure.”

What do you think about that, IC? It’s not all good news, is it?

Immanuel Can: No, probably not. Some of it is.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Shooting from the Lip

“Pastor John” Piper is answering his mail again, which nearly always ends up, well ... interesting, to say the least.

This time he’s responding to the single mother of a three-year-old boy who wants to know whether the Bible teaches she should be looking for a husband.

Piper is rarely reluctant to engage with questions the Bible doesn’t directly answer, and this one is no exception.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Multicultural Road to Hell

I’ve got a simple message in this post. Simple, yes, but not the less needed for all that.

What have you done with the gospel, Christian? Where is your voice these days?

I’m not telling. I’m asking. I don’t know you, or what you’ve done, or where you’ve been. Really, this is a question only you can ask yourself, and only you can answer.

Well, you and God, of course, because that’s the urgent point. God knows what we’ve done with the gospel. He knows whether we’ve been living like we believe it, or only saying we do, and living another way. He knows.

I don’t.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Did or Didn’t

Who are you, and what’s your job in the Body of Christ? Do you know?

When you and I confessed faith in Jesus Christ from the heart, God saved us, and the Bible says he saved us with certain objectives in view. Those objectives were both general and specific. Unless we were saved in the last six months, I think we should probably know something about that.

Hey, if you don’t have a clue, it might be time to give the subject some thought.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Separation Anxiety

If our culture has a mortal sin, it is discrimination, the penalty for which is shaming, mockery, job loss or exclusion from the in-group.

We are told not to discriminate between moral and immoral behaviors, regardless of the real-world outcomes such actions produce. We are told not to discriminate between the productive and unproductive use of our tax dollars, because to do so demonstrates that we are ‘phobes’ of one sort or another. For similar reasons, we are not allowed to distinguish between employees who are capable of performing required tasks and employees who are not; or between students who understand the material and students who do not. Instead, we must meet demographic targets for success based on levels of perceived historical victimhood.

We might say our society has separation anxiety. It’s in a mindless panic to make sure nothing is ever usefully distinguished from anything else.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Not As Simple As It Looks

Getting things done in the Christian life is not a simple process.

Oh, maybe it looks simple. The apostle Paul could pray this:

“… that our God may … fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Simple, right? Christians like Paul pray, and a powerful God takes care of business.

Well, I guess we could read it that way. But I think there’s another side to it.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Inbox: Grace and Gratitude

PB takes thoughts from last Monday’s post in an interesting direction:

“ ‘Grace’ as understood today does indeed fall woefully short of conveying the depth of meaning in charis. Gratia, whence cometh grace, was ‘a goddess of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity and fertility in Greek mythology’, so it isn’t that the meaning has changed — it’s pretty close actually. It’s as you say — we don’t have an equivalent in English for charis.”

If we are to talk usefully about grace to people who do not understand what we mean by it, we are probably best to use four or five different English words, each conveying a single aspect of the meaning of charis.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Rightsizing the Church

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

On his blog, Karl Vaters considers new strategies for church planting and concludes the Body of Christ might well function as effectively or even more effectively with 50 smaller churches than a single megachurch.

Tom: Interesting post, IC. He says a lot of things I agree with that not too many other evangelical pastors are saying, and also makes a few statements I find a little naïve or maybe misinformed. First off, it sounds as if he believes megachurches are planted like regular churches, and grow more or less naturally to their colossal size.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Unmuddling the Muddle

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Christian teaching about prophecy is a chaotic muddle.

Within Christendom, in the broadest and most general terms, we find Preterists, Historicists, Futurists and Idealists. When we get into specific features of the prophetic calendar such as the Millennium, we fragment further into Pre-, Post- and Amillennialists, and the Premillennialists subdivide yet further into Pre-Tribulationists, Mid-Tribulationists and Post-Tribulationists. If I’ve left your view out, forgive me.

You will be unsurprised to find that I have no particular interest in trying to straighten all that out, and no patience for it even if I had the skill.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

My Church Must Change

There’s a thread of an idea that pops up at the end of a previous post that I wanted to take a few more moments to explore, since it’s been cropping up over and over again throughout my life.

Parents love their kids, or at least they should. In properly-functioning family units, which would hopefully include most Christian families, parents generally fulfill their responsibilities more consistently and effectively, though none of us can claim to have achieved perfection in parenting. Far from it.

But some parents cannot resist putting a finger on the scales to help their kids through life. This is the source of all kinds of trouble.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

A Suspicious Inversion

It’s been a few years but this guy still grinds my gears, and since he’s quite literally the poster boy for a generation — or at least for the last administration — there is a problem with that, and I hope we can see it.

Now, to be fair, nobody wants to marry a guy who resolves domestic quarrels with a fist to the face. At least, nobody normal and emotionally healthy does. But be honest here: how many women truly want to partner up with a man who possesses neither the will nor the physical strength to act in a crisis?

That’s a different question, isn’t it. This guy is all that in spades.