Sunday, September 20, 2020

Time and Chance: The Post-Game Show

The heavens declare the glory of God and God’s invisible attributes have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made; our Old and New Testaments are in absolute agreement on this. Even if the Creator had never uttered a word to his creatures, men would be without excuse.

We would also be hopelessly confused, frustrated, and conflicted, grasping for an explanation of meaning and purpose that forever eludes us, feeling the pull of eternity in bodies destined only for the grave.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Time and Chance (54)

We have arrived in our study of Ecclesiastes at what the Preacher calls “the end of the matter”. The matter under consideration, if you have a long memory, was this: “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” What is the point of man’s existence? Why are we here? This was the question he set out to answer.

Through twelve chapters, the Preacher has undertaken the task of examining the experience of being human from every possible angle in hope of gaining insight into its meaning and purpose, always using only what he could observe and infer from the input of his senses. What he discovered was that when you approach the big questions of life in that way, the experience is frustrating and the answers elusive.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: After COVID

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

Immanuel Can: I’m noticing a very common theme springing up in news organizations and on the internet right now. There are lots of articles talking about the changes to society that will persist after the COVID-19 crisis is over. For instance, ABC says the major things that will remain different will be: more automation and more work-from-home options in employment, increased telemedicine, stricter travel regulations and precautions, and more virtual education. Another media source predicts masks everywhere, no more handshakes, loads of anxious parents, closer cliques, more centralized government control, smaller cities ... and a whole bunch of other things. All that’s speculation, of course. But some of it’s probably going to turn out to be right.

It seems what’s missing from such articles, Tom, is any reflection on what all the shifts will do to local congregations of Christians. Of course they will be subject to the same changes as anyone else, for starters. But are there any special concerns that Christians should take note of? What trends do you see as either opportunities or ominous possibilities for Christians after COVID?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Three Reasons to Get Going

“Jesus said … ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’.”

Ah, these little sayings that sometimes escape our notice.

I don’t know about you, but I always find it very exciting, and yet also not a little embarrassing, when I come to realize a verse I’ve known all my life has waaaay more to it than I ever realized.

This is one of those verses. Let’s break it down.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (13)

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

The commendably-honest Sarah Frazer acknowledges she once believed this familiar promise in Psalm 37 meant “I can have anything I want.” If so, that would be quite a promise, but it would reduce God to a mere term in a larger equation, where if you treat that term a consistent way, you can always expect a predictable outcome.

Nice deal if you can get it, but quite a comedown for the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe to be reduced to a component of your personal math problem.

Let’s suggest that might not be the verse’s intended meaning!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

That Guy Outside Starbucks is NOT Jesus’ Brother

God bless the poor.

In fact, I don’t even have to ask him: we’ve been told he will; at least inasmuch as their poverty is primarily one of the spirit.

But we should pray for the poor, of course, and share as we are able. We should care, we ought to avoid partiality and we need to act. Our faith does not amount to much if it does not make us compassionate in a very practical way toward those in need, and toward those who may have started life at a huge disadvantage, or have encountered trials and troubles we have never experienced.

But that guy outside Starbucks who invades your space — the one with the tatty green or brown jacket, bad breath, body odor and uncomfortable social habits — while he may be made in the image of God and deserving of whatever we are able to do for him for that reason alone …

Sorry, that guy is just not Jesus’ “brother”.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Anonymous Asks (110)

“What should a believer do before he dies?”

Some denominations prescribe rituals to be administered by the church in a man or woman’s final moments on earth, and perhaps this week’s question is coming from someone with that sort of ecclesiastical background.

If religious routines are what the dying are calling for, we would not wish to rob them of their comfort, but I should probably point out that we do not find any commands at all about “last rites” in our Bibles. The Christian is neither obligated to perform them nor to have them performed. It may even be that the practice encourages a false sense of security about one’s relationship to Christ and one’s eternal destiny.

That would be very unfortunate indeed. In any case, it’s not the sort of preparation we are going to discuss today.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Act Like What You Are

Clean living requires an act of the will, and acts of the will require a changed mindset — at least if they are going to stick for any length of time. Down through the centuries, men and women who sought to control their natural appetites have attempted to “live clean” with different goals in view.

Plato taught the suppression of fleshly desires in order to free the soul to search for knowledge. The Stoics disciplined themselves to manage their emotions in order to uphold what they believed was the essential dignity of human nature. Kant advocated moral asceticism in hope of cultivating virtue. Monks of various religious orders idealized poverty, fasting and celibacy as ways of expressing devotion to their gods.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Time and Chance (53)

With the advent of the internet, we have become all too used to people sharing their opinions with us.

Editorializing is far from a new activity — human beings have engaged in it for millennia. What’s new is the sheer scale of useless bloviating made possible through social media. More information is fine, but information bereft of both authority and coherence is not worth the effort it takes to process.

Back in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher is about to tell his readers something similar.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Christian Globalist

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

For the last fifty years, the media has quietly endorsed it. Politicians in every country in the world have worked tirelessly to build public support for it. Mega-corporations love it: who wouldn’t like to have the entire planet to choose from when optimizing for low taxes, inexpensive manufacturing and cheap labor?

Tom: Globalism is officially out of the closet, Immanuel Can. The Economist declares: “The danger is that a rising sense of insecurity will lead to more electoral victories for closed-world types. This is the gravest risk to the free world since communism. Nothing matters more than countering it.”

“Nothing matters more.” That’s pretty clear. So tell me, IC, is it possible to be a Christian globalist? Can we hold such an ideological position coherently and biblically?

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Inbox: Was Christ Actually ‘Good’?

I’m going to share with you a short exchange I had with a couple of philosophers, because it was interesting to me, and helped me think through a few things more carefully. The issue it raises might be something you’ve thought about as well.

A short aside: for the most part, I have reproduced my partners’ conversation mostly verbatim. I’ve only altered a couple of punctuation glitches, and made a couple of small line changes in my response. I’ve also inserted a few lines after-the-fact to help you track and to make it work as an article. But the substance is pretty much exactly as it really happened.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

If It Happens Again I’m Leaving

Doug Wilson is not the only Christian blogging about the phenomenon of people leaving a church over the issue of compulsory mask-wearing, but he’s probably more quoted on the subject than most. Responding in a recent post to questions from believers frustrated by the stand their own elders have taken over the issue, Doug has (perhaps inadvertently) opened a larger can of worms than the mask issue itself, which is the authority of elders to bind the consciences of those under their care over matters about which scripture is silent.

And the mask issue is certainly that.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Inbox: ‘Systemic’ Racism

Israel had the greatest system in the history of our planet.

God gave a plethora of laws to Moses on Sinai, yet they did not make for a perfect society because people are not perfect. Individuals observed those laws from time to time, and in doing so, benefited from them. But on a national level, Israel would not — nay, could not — follow those laws, notwithstanding the fact that they were morally excellent, decent, orderly, and taught lessons humanity absolutely needed to learn, not to mention they pointed to Christ. So God gave them, man received them, and the result was systemic failure.

Or was it?

Monday, September 07, 2020

Anonymous Asks (109)

“If God loves the world, why does he make people choose between loving him back or spending eternity in hell? That sounds more like an ultimatum than love.”

I agree: that choice does sound a bit like an ultimatum. The Bible also frames it as a command.

Why is that? Why is there no third option where God simply leaves me alone to do my own thing, and I leave him alone to do his? Surely a policy of benign indifference would be more loving than condemning millions of people to a lake of fire.

I wonder what simply leaving humanity to its own devices would look like ...