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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Quote of the Day (37)

The very articulate Stefan Molyneux hosts Freedomain Radio, the most popular philosophy show on the Internet — not that he has a lot of competition in that department. Molyneux has described himself as an atheist, though these days he seems more of an agnostic than a hard-nosed denier.

Earlier this year I picked up a copy of his book Universally Preferable Behaviour: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics, figuring I might review it here if it turned out to be of interest. The case for ethics apart from God is a tough one to make, and I was curious what sort of evidence Molyneux might produce.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: The Weight of Tradition

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

Years ago I would regularly come across stories of how this theologian or that one came out of Catholicism and now calls himself an evangelical Christian. More recently I notice some going the other way. Among the reasons usually given for embracing Rome is an emphasis on church history and tradition that doesn’t exist in the same way in Protestant gatherings. Roman Catholicism is thought to have “roots” that go back to the early church.

To seekers of this sort, the value of a church experience is measured by whether their faith community is convincingly in touch with its own past.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Contemplating Evil

The most popular course in the Religion and Culture department of one Canadian university is a course titled “Evil and Its Symbols”. It’s the one course where there never seems to be enough room to fit all the applicants. One student quipped that the homework assignment was probably “Go home and do evil”.

Maybe not. But people sure are fascinated with the topic. Why evil exists is a challenge for any Christian to explain; perhaps the biggest. Still, two things bear remembering right away: firstly, that to say that it’s a challenge does not mean that the challenge cannot be met, and secondly, that to explain the existence of evil is not a challenge unique to Christians or even to theists more generally — it’s equally necessary for atheists. Not only that, but it’s a lot harder for them.

Let me justify those statements a bit further in a moment; but first, let me set the stage for today’s post.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Spam for the Clergy

Ooh look, a free e-book!

I generally ignore spam in my inbox, but this is graphically well-packaged spam disguised as free Christian reading sent to a guy who takes his best shot at posting five times a week, so why not? It’s entitled Toxic Leadership: 5 People Churches Should Never Hire, and it purports to offer evangelical clergymen their chance to avoid one or more of those “fatal church hiring mistakes”.

Who could pass that up?

Also, I love the word “toxic” ...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (7)

Hands up if you’ve figured out Marshall Brain’s agenda.

First clue: he’s plugging a book entitled God is Imaginary. Second: a lengthy post asking “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?”

Yeah, I thought so too. But what interests me is the passage of scripture from which Brain starts his anti-God ramble, because there’s no logical way to get from there to where he ends up.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Moving in Circles

History is cyclical, nothing is truly new, and the capacity of men and women outside of Christ for evil, self-involvement and delusional thinking is no different today than millennia ago. That’s not what progressives teach, but it’s reality.

God repeats the same lessons to mankind generation after generation after generation, but the penny never drops.

In the seventh century B.C., Isaiah watched, warned and wrote about a nation at the end of its civilizational cycle. What he saw was not pretty, and it looks alarmingly familiar to those watching our own culture circle the drain.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

On the Mount (5)

When God set about creating the universe into which he eventually placed mankind, the first thing he did was turn on the lights.

The very first.

And it wasn’t so he could see to work. Where God is concerned, “night is bright as day”. No, it was entirely for the benefit of his creation.

Today, we take light for granted. You want to see, you just flip a switch. Or push a button on your cellphone, which, if you’re like me, you take to bed with you in case you need to find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night without stepping on anything black, furry and alive.

Convenient, especially for the cat. But quite a recent development.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Evil That Men Do

Some time ago I acquired a cat. Or she acquired me.

She came through my window, crawled onto my shoulders, head-butted me and began to purr like a broken air conditioner. She had an obvious upper respiratory infection and one bad eye, but seemed energetic and very sociable. Once she found the dog’s dish and began to chow down, she obdurately refused to leave.

Initially I thought she was an outdoor kitty belonging to a neighbour, but from her trusting nature and complete absence of interest in going anywhere near the door, I concluded that being outdoors was not normal for her (something that was confirmed when her former owner admitted she had been outside for only two weeks of her life).

Still, whether the original owner (who declined to take her back) lost his cat intentionally or otherwise, her untroubled, sunny disposition suggests that he must have treated her reasonably well.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: The Future Church

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

We’ve written here on many occasions about current trends within Christendom and what they say about North American Christians. Last week, for instance, we did a piece on giving by millennials. But I wouldn’t say we do an inordinate amount of speculating about the future, because while we can see from scripture where both the world and the people of God are ultimately headed, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to plot exactly where we are on that timeline.

Tom: Still, Carey Nieuwhof is willing to go out on a limb and tell us where he thinks the Church is headed in the next few years in his article “10 Predictions About The Future Church”.

What did you think of Carey’s musings, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

One More Kick at the Can

Confrontation is not easy. Not for most people at least, which is a good thing: people who lick their chops at the thought of a good set-to are the last people who should be confronting anyone.

My job involves the occasional confrontation. Happily, not often; maybe three times in the fifteen years I’ve been supervising. In our office, the kitchen is the best place to chew someone out when you absolutely have to. It’s open and accessible so that nothing is done behind closed doors, but far enough from the troops that nobody hears what you’re saying — unless you intend them to.

At least that’s the way I choose to do it. I’ve never liked the practice of running to upper management when I have issues with the behavior of employees who report to me. Not at first, anyway.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Who’s Running This Place Anyway?

Churches today need leaders — badly. And biblically speaking, that means they need elders.

“Elder” doesn’t necessarily mean old but it does mean spiritually mature, so some age and experience are required, of course.

Unfortunately, spiritually mature people are in short supply these days. I fear that the majority of my generation, the currently middle-aged, didn’t spend much of their youth reading the Bible or seeking spiritual growth opportunities. Consequently, those now in the best age group to be selected as elders to lead the churches are not quite up to the task.

But churches still need leadership.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Of Words and Wording

Which version of the Old Testament did Jesus use?

Being a Jew, one might expect him to quote from the Hebrew scriptures, which would surely have been the “official” word of God in his day. But this was not always the case. Craig Evans makes the case that the Lord often quoted from a well-known Greek translation of the proto-Masoretic Hebrew, and even occasionally from the Aramaic tradition.

If you find that odd, here’s something odder: once in a while, a non-literal translation is more useful than a literal one.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Reset Button

Get behind me, Satan,” said the Lord Jesus to an entirely earnest Peter.

It sounds a little unkind, but Peter was in need of serious correction. In that moment he was thinking naturally rather than spiritually: all his standard defaults had kicked in. In the realm of ordinary human logic, death and suffering are things to be avoided under virtually every circumstance.

Peter could not conceive of any higher good such things might make possible.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

On the Mount (4)

“Until about 100 years ago,” says author Mark Kurlansky, “salt was one of the most sought-after commodities in human history.” Not so much today. The modern Western diet includes an average of 10 grams of sodium chloride a day, mostly from processed food, and we are frequently urged to cut back on our intake.

Salt is cheap, and it’s everywhere.

Because of this, our own eating habits are probably not the best place to start meditating on the meaning of the salt metaphor from the Sermon on the Mount.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

14 Inches to the Northwest

Apparently building your house on something quasi-rock-like won’t cut it.

San Francisco’s Millennium Tower has sunk 17 inches and tilted 14 inches to the northwest since 2006. If that sounds like nothing, bear in mind that this is a 58-storey state-of-the-art concrete monster that drew millions in investment dollars from people like former NFL quarterback Joe Montana.

The problem? Not built down to bedrock.

Does that take you back 2000 years or what?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: What Gives?

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

Once again, Christianity Today has the sort of article everybody who serves the Lord Jesus and loves the Body of Christ should be reading and thinking about. I don’t agree with everything they have to say by a long shot, but they regularly provide a starting point for serious discussion of major evangelical issues. Kudos to them for that.

Tom: In this particular piece they’re talking about missions and what makes that whole thing tick. Immanuel Can, did you find anything CT had to say interesting?

Immanuel Can: Oh, plenty. This is something I know a fair bit about.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Relativism: Facts, Foolishness and Faith

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph’. Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’.”

In my last post, I talked about relativism. I pointed out that there are two kinds — epistemic relativism and moral relativism — and that they need separate treatment, because they deal with very different issues. Then I started with epistemic relativism, the doubting of the existence of any facts, and showed how it is completely irrational.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Subhumanity and Satisfaction

“Deliver my soul … from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”

David spends a portion of the 17th Psalm asking God to deliver him from wicked men and deadly enemies. But he finishes his meditation by asking for deliverance from a third, arguably less offensive group.

This last crowd sounds awfully familiar. Basically, it’s everyone who simply doesn’t appreciate the value of knowing God.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (6)

Postmillennialist Doug Wilson on God’s purposes:

“Future catholicity is set before us in the New Testament (Eph. 4:12-13), and anyone who kicks at that is kicking against God’s revealed purposes for the history of the church. Peter [Leithart] and I agree on the eventual reunion of all believers. It is just that Peter thinks it should have happened by now, and my best guess is that we are looking at another couple thousand years, right on schedule.”

Future catholicity. The eventual reunion of all believers.

Really? Is THAT what the apostle had in mind?

Monday, November 06, 2017

On the Mount (3)

I’m working my way through Matthew 5-7 in an attempt to process the words of the Lord Jesus from some approximation of the cultural and religious perspective of his original audience.

As established in my first two posts on the subject, the evidence is pretty overwhelming that most of the ears that took in the Sermon on the Mount were Jewish ears. Any Gentiles in that crowd were either proselytes of Judaism, or on their way to becoming proselytes, or else outside the community of the faithful just listening in. In those days, if you wanted to draw near to God, or even to obtain more accurate information about him, no better means existed than studying and obeying the Law of Moses.

Other generalizations could be made about the crowd that gathered to hear the Sermon, but let’s consider those when we reach the relevant portions of the Lord’s discourse.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Above Our Pay Grade

David, doing a Q&A in Psalm 15:

Q: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”

A: “[He] in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord.”

That’s interesting, don’t you think?

Saturday, November 04, 2017

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (5)

David Brainerd is a little worked up, asking “Can anyone defend Paul’s misuse of scripture in Romans 3?”

He’s referring to verses 10 through 18, in which Paul strings together a lengthy series of Old Testament quotes in order to demonstrate that both Jews and Greeks alike are under sin.

Mr. Brainerd’s beef is that in their original contexts, none of these verses prove what Paul says they prove. Is he right?

Friday, November 03, 2017

Too Hot to Handle: Witnessing as Hate Speech

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

What constitutes “hate speech”? A fairly standard definition goes something like this: “Speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation.”

Tom: Now personally I’d consider even that arguable, not least because the word “attacks” is nebulous, which leaves hate speech to be defined by the party claiming injury (a bad idea), not to mention it takes for granted that “sexual orientation” is a valid concept even though science has not yet demonstrated it is anything more than a personal preference.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Tolerance and Relativism

“What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”

So wrote Sir Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method. The man was not just a scientist, but a devout Christian as well. For him, the two were of a piece — truth in scientific inquiry was a road to knowledge of the Creator. So he wrote as much theology as science, and he stands as but one evidence of the long interaction between Christianity and scientific advancement.

In his 1601 essay “Of Truth”, he pointed out the embarrassing relativism of Pilate’s attitude. Pontius Pilate was standing next to the very One who could tell him definitively any truth he wished to know. He could have asked how planetary motion worked. He could have asked about the origins of life. He could have asked the meaning of our existence. And obviously, he could have asked what God required of him personally. He could have had forgiveness. He could have had salvation. He could have had life. And yet he walked away. And so he is remembered as one of history’s great fools.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

On the Mount (2)

In this series of posts I’m working my way through Matthew 5-7 attempting (however feebly) to hear the words of Christ from the same cultural and religious perspective as the Lord’s original audience.

Since I’m not William MacDonald, and since this is a blog post rather than an exhaustive commentary, I make no apology for skipping lightly over some sections of the Sermon and dwelling at length on others as they may currently interest me.

All I can really promise you is that it’ll be consecutive and that it’ll be as Jewish as I can make it, and with any luck almost as Jewish as it actually is.

Ready? Let’s go.