Monday, December 05, 2022

Anonymous Asks (226)

“How detailed should prayers of confession be?”

John famously wrote, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He didn’t add a lot of detail about the confession process, but perhaps this is because the Greek word he used for “confess” carried linguistic freight the English translation does not.

Most people get their ideas about confession either from the Roman Catholic practice or from police procedurals, so the concept of biblical confession requires a bit of unpacking.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

When Is It Wrong to Pray? (2)

In a previous post, we were considering the danger of using prayer as a sort of blanket to hide under when we ought to be doing something else, and I suggested that there are times when it is inappropriate for us to pray.

We will come back to that idea shortly, but let’s begin with this statement:

All men are either in Adam or in Christ.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (14)

From one end of the Bible to another, the Holy Spirit quite frequently assigns layers of spiritual significance to real personages, cities and nations.

In Ezekiel, for example, the “prince of Tyre” is an analog for Satan himself. Manifestly, the real, human prince of Tyre never appeared in Eden. Likewise, John calls Jerusalem “Sodom and Egypt” in the book of Revelation, perhaps because the people of that city have at times displayed the moral character of both places. Again, in Galatians, Paul uses Hagar and Sarah as allegories for two covenants.

Observing this principle may help us with a few verses in Micah 5 when our attempts to interpret him literally hit the wall. Back to that thought in a bit. Let’s do the comparatively easy stuff first.

Friday, December 02, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: E-dification

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

In case you’ve never seen it before, TL;DR is internet shorthand for “too long, didn’t read”. Its existence and very common usage online points to a problem for Christians seeking to communicate the truth of God to others through technology, which is that we are often working with a very short window of attention.

Tom: There is little point in us bemoaning reduced attention spans, Immanuel Can: they are a reality among millennials, and if we want to speak for God in the current environment, we’re going to have to learn to deal.

Thursday, December 01, 2022

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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Dying Church

John Garner is convinced churches in America are dying. Raised Episcopal, he concedes he hasn’t been inside a church building in quite a while, and neither has anyone he knows from his own generation. Why might that be? Garner observes, “I’m not sure if it’s Covid, a lack of people my age, or just general laziness.” His musings on the subject can be found here, along with useful links to self-reported attendance data from a variety of denominations.

As a reasonably unprejudiced onlooker, my first instinct is to suggest Garner’s problem may be a lack of a living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ (whose name does not appear once in an article about the church of which he is Head).

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove (22)

One of my seven “sniff tests” for heresy is that an author strings together impressive lists of verses unquoted and out of context, but a closer look shows most or all have nothing to do with the points they are alleged to support. Paul Ellis’s The Silent Queen serves as a great example of this technique, and I promised to do a second post examining his “evidence” that the Christians of the New Testament permitted women to participate in church meetings in exactly the same ways men did, and that Paul taught this as normative.

That’s the context here.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Anonymous Asks (225)

“If perfection is impossible in this life, why did Jesus tell people to go and sin no more?”

Jesus actually did this twice, and both accounts were preserved for us by John, one in chapter 5 of his gospel, and the other in chapter 8. In my Bible, the latter narrative comes with a disclaimer to the effect that the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel do not include it, which, frankly, doesn’t bother me a whole lot. I have always loved the story of the woman “taken” in adultery. It portrays the Lord in a way that seems to me wholly consistent with his revealed character. I believe John wrote it and that it is God-breathed just like the rest of his gospel.

Still, opinions vary about that passage. If you discount it, then you only have to answer this question once.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

When Is It Wrong to Pray? (1)

True faith is an expression of submission and obedience.

When a person believes on Jesus Christ, he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s who Jesus is. A believer receives a Lord who saves and a Savior who lords. The person who expresses faith in this way may never understand all that involves. They simply know they are lost, they realize they need salvation, they cry out for mercy and they put their trust in a Lord who saves, with the emphasis (in their minds) on being saved.

However, once they have come to him, they realize they have come to one who not only saves but also rules. He is Lord.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (13)

Why our English Bibles start Micah 5 where they do is one of those little mysteries to which I will likely never find an answer, but in Hebrew, chapter 5 begins with verse 2. That makes more sense, because the prophet has manifestly changed subjects, moving from a future siege of Jerusalem to God’s answer to a nation’s prayers. It’s a better spot for a chapter break.

In chapter 4, Micah spoke of a king-less Israel longing for the restoration of its monarchy. In chapter 5, he gives us more information about this coming king.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Digital Christianity

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

USA Today has a story about Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, a church that is all-but-entirely online.

Download a worship program if you like. Stream a sermon and share your own thoughts about it in real time through live chat. Donate online or swap goods and services with your fellow believers. Sing along with a tablet hymnal, if that’s your cup of tea.

Tom: This is not merely an evangelical thing. Catholics with iPhones can download a “confession app” to speed up their next visit to the local parish priest.

Are we starting to reach the level of self-parody, Immanuel Can? Or do you see some value in a digital church?

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Inbox: Have I Got a Deal for You

Alison writes:

“Something [has] been bothering me for a really long time. Everybody says, ‘Read the book of Job for comfort, blah blah blah’, but look at Job 1:8.

‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ The speaker is God.

OMG did you get that?!?! It was YHVH who pointed Job out to the Adversary in the first place! He might as well have said, ‘Sic him, Satan!’ ”

[Throws hands in the air and wonders what it’s all about anyway]

That’s a big question, Alison. And though your wording may jar some readers, I think that at the end of the day, it’s actually quite a fair one.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Sniff Test

A heresy in the popular sense is a belief or theory at odds with established beliefs or customs. This is the way I will use the word throughout this post, and it’s not far off the way the word is employed by the writers of the New Testament.

Heresies vary in magnitude, detectability and potential consequences. Some heresies are obvious, and therefore easily avoided; others come couched in weasel words and obscured by rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Some heresies are outright damnable; others merit commendation or disapproval.

Few heresies pass my sniff test.

The religious world is full of theories. The sniff test is a set of criteria by which I make my own quick-’n’-dirty assessments of whether to buy into the theory behind any sermon, book, video or random expression of theological opinion. Other believers have their own sniff tests. A friend recently emailed me a link to a video with the tag line “Can you smell the brimstone?” Indeed, I could; the video provoked yesterday’s post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Who Wants to Live Forever?

“Who wants to live forever?” sang Freddie Mercury of Queen, somewhat prophetically, in 1986. He died of AIDS five years later, a shell of himself at the end. Freddie didn’t write the song (guitarist Brian May did), but its answer to “Who wants to live forever?” is a rhetorical “Not me.” It ends with the line “Forever is our today.” If anything, the song is a plea to live life to the fullest in the here-and-now, rather than an expression of yearning for infinite time on earth.

Brian May is no idiot. We live in a fallen world. “What is this thing that builds our dreams yet slips away from us?” he writes. “Who wants to live forever when love must die?” Better to expend whatever one has left in a good cause, no?