Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bring on the Philistines

“Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.” ’ ”

A little Bible history may remind us what a mealy-mouthed, disingenuous endorsement this really is. At this point, David has been ruling as king over Judah in Hebron for a full 7-1/2 years, while the tribes of Israel now buttering him up have been engaged in bitter civil war against him, with Ish-bosheth son of Saul as their chosen king and the tribe of Benjamin as the power behind the throne.

Unfortunately both Ish-bosheth and his powerful and popular general Abner are now dead. They won’t be governing anyone or delivering them from their enemies.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Women in the Old Testament

Why were the lives of Old Testament women so wildly different from those of women today?

If you have never studied history in any serious depth, you might be forgiven for thinking that some of things that went on ancient Israelite households were absolutely barbaric, that wives and daughters were horribly oppressed, lacked agency, were regarded as mere chattel, and lived lives of virtual slavery.

Careful attention to the text of the Old Testament shows this was rarely the case.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Anonymous Asks (70)

“Does God love everyone?”

The answer to this question may initially seem so obvious as to render further commentary a bit pointless. If there is a better-known Bible verse than John 3:16, I cannot think what it might be. Maybe a line from Psalm 23.

In any case, as the Lord told Nicodemus, “God so loved the world.”

There you are. God loves everyone. Full stop.

Or does he? And if he does, in what sense does he love everyone, and what does that mean for the objects of his love?

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Other Side of the Story

One thing you will likely notice as you read through the Bible’s books of history is that they are not saturated with editorial comments. That is to say the Holy Spirit did not prompt the writers of scripture’s various histories to pass moral judgment on many, even most, of the events they recounted.

There are several notable instances in which he did.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Time and Chance (13)

What distinguishes man from other mammals?

Charles Darwin famously argued that the difference in mind between mankind and the higher animals is one of degree and not of kind. In other words, we have all the same basic intellectual material to work with. Humans just have more of it.

Indeed, this can seem like a tricky question if you’re asked it in the middle of watching a YouTube video of an elephant enthusiastically playing piano, or a setter and a pigeon who appear to be best pals. Not all this stuff is staged.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Friendship and Testimony

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

Earlier this season, TV host Ellen Degeneres took some serious flack for sitting side by side with former U.S. President George Bush at an NFL game in Dallas, especially because she and Bush appeared to be having a good time with one another. Twitter promptly erupted into the usual outrage-fest, with commenters calling Bush a “war criminal” and so on, obliging Degeneres to defend herself:

“I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”

Tom: No shortage of Christians expressed approval of Degeneres’ comments.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Change Is Gonna Do Us Good

Where is Kodak these days? Remember that company? It used to have its name on most of the cameras and film that you saw around. Kodak was an empire, an institution. Now where is it?

And how about Blockbuster Video? Seen any of those stores around lately? They used to be on every corner.

Laura Ashley clothing? Napster music service?

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Wikipedia vs. Baptism

Where does one begin on the subject of baptism?

If there is a more misunderstood Christian practice in all of the New Testament, I cannot think what it might be. I suspect even speaking in tongues can’t touch it with respect to the degree of confusion produced by the teaching about it currently circulating.

How widespread and how deeply rooted are the misconceptions surrounding baptism? I suppose one might look at different denominational opinions on the subject and assess them one by one, but I’m really more interested in what the man on the street (and perhaps even in the pew) thinks than in esoteric positions held by theologians that have failed to make an impression on the masses.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

On Incoherence

Ideological incoherence is the hallmark of the political Left.

The Right has its own problems with consistency, of course, and they are not trivial, but it is getting increasingly difficult to keep pace with people who maintain the right to life for murderers and roast beef sandwiches while upholding the right to kill human babies in the womb. What can one say about folks who maintain diversity is strength ... except when it is ideological diversity, of course. What can we say about people who argue for the supremacy of science ... except when genetics plainly tells us a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Then science is right out to lunch.

Well, we can say Christians are probably way too much like them for our own good.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Anonymous Asks (69)

“If it is true that ‘whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire,’ then why did both Jesus and his apostles call people fools?”

Normally the questions answered in this series of posts come from anonymous sources, all of whom are (at least to the best of my knowledge) actual people. Their problems may be real or hypothetical (or, in at least one case, just plain old trolling), but I answer them here because their writers make a decent effort to submit questions we have good reason to believe might be of concern to our readers or people they know.

In this case, I freely admit I submitted this one to myself just for the dubious pleasure of working it through.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

The Perils of Family Ties

Most books of the Bible have themes. Commentators generally do a decent job of teasing out the more blatant ones and turning them into book titles or pithy summaries. Thus Psalms is “the hymnbook of the remnant”, Hebrews is concerned with “an unshakeable kingdom” and Mark’s is said to be the “gospel of the Servant King”. To their credit, in many cases these diligent students of God’s word also identify and share with us less obvious recurring patterns that could easily be missed by first, second and even third time readers.

In the books of Samuel, one of these recurring patterns is nepotism. It might not rate the subtitle of a commentary, but it’s there all the same, threading its way through the stories of Samuel, Saul and David, chronicling the perils of family ties that are just a wee bit too tight, and their potentially injurious effects on the people of God.

Once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Time and Chance (12)

Where does the concept of a final judgment come from?

If you do a Google search or consult an online concordance, you can hardly fail to notice that the vast majority of Bible verses dealing with the subject are to be found in the New Testament. Men seem to have always taken for granted that some kind of ultimate reckoning was inevitable, but there is a surprising dearth of clear teaching on the subject in the earliest books of the word of God.

In fact, we do not find incontestable references to a final, general judgment appearing in scripture much prior to the 10th century B.C.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: How We Live and What We Believe

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

Colin Perkel of The National Post has an update here on our old friend Gretta Vosper, the United Church minister who believes in neither God nor the Bible. She is, in Perkel’s words, “prepared to fight an unprecedented attempt to boot her from the pulpit for her beliefs.” Or her unbeliefs, I guess.

Tom: The attempt by the United Church to give Gretta her gold watch and wish her all the best in her future endeavors may be unprecedented, but it’s hardly a surprise, except perhaps in that the United Church is taking some sort of stand here about atheism in their pulpits.

Immanuel Can, does “the idea of an interventionist, supernatural being on which so much church doctrine is based” belong to “an outdated world view”? More importantly, can we separate how we live from what we believe? Gretta thinks we can and should.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

In Need of Analysis: Wake Up and Smell the Potpourri

I’ve never really liked Christian bookstores.

They have that cloying sweetness typical of the boutiques my wife loves, the ones that sell knick-knacks, scented candles and throw pillows. There’s just an unreality to such places that hits you from the moment you step in the door, a sense that you are entering a zone that has nothing at all to do with the world outside, and where perhaps strange and delicate mythical creatures can thrive.

Okay, I may be exaggerating a little, but you get the idea. If you’ve been in such a store, you know: There’s just something terribly weird about the place. The divergence between the real world and the interior environment — and even its divergence from other store environments — is quite startling; and when you first walk in it takes you a moment to adjust.