Sunday, October 20, 2019

The People Standing Around

“I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around.”

Sometimes Jesus said things he didn’t need to say. Sometimes he asked questions to which he already knew the answer, or asked to be given things he didn’t require. Once, he even went through a baptism of repentance when he had nothing whatsoever for which to repent.

He had to, on account of the people standing around.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Time and Chance (6)

The last few verses of Ecclesiastes 1 (v12-18, which we discussed in this space last week) may best be viewed as a summary of the Preacher’s intentions for the book. He is about to apply his exceptional wisdom to all aspects of human experience in hope of finding meaning.

Spoiler alert: he tells us his conclusion up front before going into his investigations in detail.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Generation Z and Unbelief

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

In this article in The Atlantic, Larry Taunton tells the story of Phil, a young atheist whose reasons for his unbelief sound surprisingly unlike those of the New Atheists.

To me they sound uncomfortably close to home.

Phil had been president of his Methodist church youth group, and loved the Bible studies led by Jim, their youth leader. Jim didn’t dodge the tough chapters or questions. He couldn’t answer every question, but he made the Bible come alive for Phil.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Turning Into Monsters

In one of his messages, a self-styled philosopher sent this line:

“Conservatives are monsters.”

I’m not really sure what he means by “conservatives”. In the context of the discussion, he meant anti-abortionists, definitely.

Oh, believe me: the irony’s not lost on me.

But I think he meant to speak more broadly, as well. I think he also meant social conservatives like Libertarians, Republicans and Brexiters, and maybe even Christians. Anyway, he gets them all with one broad brush: “conservatives”.

It’s obviously rhetoric. But let’s take him seriously.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 2]

Continuing our examination of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, starting with what they were not, and moving to what they were. In my last post I tried to establish that, first and foremost, the sacrifices of the Old Testament were far from God’s ideal. I am quite confident that if there had been a way to accomplish the necessary purposes of the sacrifices without involving suffering or death, God would most certainly have ordered it.

So let’s carry on with what the sacrifices were not:

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Purpose of the Sacrifices [Part 1]

Animal sacrifice is not something Christians practice, for good reason. The sacrifices of the Old Testament point forward to Jesus Christ and were fulfilled in his death, and are thus no longer necessary for either Jews or Gentiles.

For Christians, the sacrifices can be an interesting study, the details of which frequently serve to reinforce the unity and consistency of scripture and the plan of God for man through the ages. They can be very reaffirming to a Christian’s faith, and give a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the holiness of God, the nature of sin, the condition of man and most significantly, the value of the sacrifice of Christ himself.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Anonymous Asks (62)

“Does it really matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere?”

This is a curious question in that one would almost never think to ask it about anything other than religious belief.

Consider what happens if I go for a drive at high speed on a dark and stormy night and decide the sign that says “Bridge out!” is a hoax. The sincerity of my belief in a functioning bridge cannot stop what inevitably happens next. Consider what happens when a general sends his armies east instead of west because he believes sincerely that is the direction the attack will come from, and instead is attacked from the west. Again, the intensity of the general’s convictions has no bearing whatsoever on the end result. Reality will be what reality will be, regardless of what men and women think about it.

What the question presupposes is that God is uniquely uncaring about how men and women approach him. That is an assumption which cannot be defended from the Bible.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

An Afterthought about an Afterthought

“As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped.”

By his own admission, Gideon was the least accomplished son in the household of a father whose clan was a mere afterthought within its tribe. Worse, in the latest recorded Israelite census, the tribe of Manasseh had finished dead last in the number of fighting men it was able to supply to Israel’s army, less than half the number available from Judah and well behind even small-but-pugnacious Benjamin.

To top things off, the tribe of Manasseh then voluntarily split itself in half.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Time and Chance (5)

If you’ve ever read the biography of a genius, you’ll understand that a high IQ on its own is not necessarily a recipe for a successful or happy life.

Beethoven is thought to have been bipolar. Michelangelo was probably a high-functioning autist. Isaac Newton may well have been schizophrenic. Before becoming a Christian, Leo Tolstoy suffered from deep depression and regularly contemplated suicide.

Obviously there is more to living well than thinking at a high level and possessing a large number of facts.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Upside-Down World

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

Two weeks ago, a British court ruled that transgender fantasies now officially trump the word of God in at least one Western state.

Tom: Here’s the wacky ruling in a nutshell:

“Belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals ... in so far as those beliefs form part of his wider faith, his wider faith also does not satisfy the requirement of being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”

Well, here we are, IC, “not worthy of respect.” How will we look at ourselves in the mirror?

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Why Are We So Easily Shaken?

I won’t soon forget his face.

He was perhaps thirty or forty years of age, well-dressed and smart looking, a typical man of his era. He was just one among the thousands who had come to this week-long Christian conference.

Every morning, the speakers had been dealing with the reasons for faith, their goal being to show people how firm and rational the foundation for our beliefs really is. Naturally, in this day and age, they had found it necessary to refer often to the recent screeds of people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris, the self-appointed “brights” of the atheist world, the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the secular apocalypse; though, really, all four are theological lightweights, since contempt for one’s subject matter tends to make one rather imprecise. Anyway, they make their way by preaching to the atheistic converted, reciting to them the same old canards that have been circulating since Darwin, Freud, Marx and Nietzsche. (Truly there is no new thing under the sun.)

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

From Gilgal to Bochim

“Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim.”

The angel of the Lord went up. Have you ever wondered exactly what that means?

In Hebrew, the phrase is mal'ak Yĕhovah (literally, “the representative of YHWH”). The word mal'ak (often translated “angel”) may also refer to perfectly ordinary human messengers, so context very much determines how we interpret any given instance of its use. When Jacob sent mal'ak to Esau in advance of his return home, we can be quite confident he did not have Michael or Gabriel at his disposal. Thus, the use of mal'ak on its own in scripture may not necessarily be intended to convey anything supernatural or otherworldly.

Add Yĕhovah to it, however, and you’ve got a phrase with a rather more specific spiritual significance.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Names of Their Gods

Dr. Jordan Peterson’s fifteen minutes of fame are pretty much up, I suspect, but since he got almost three years of limelight and a book that has sold in the neighborhood of three million copies out of his notoriety, he’s probably not complaining.

For the three readers who have never heard of him, the professor drew international attention in late 2016 for his critique of political correctness, something almost unheard of on Canadian university campuses. He has not looked back since.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Anonymous Asks (61)

“Is low self-esteem better than pride?”

Pride is very, very bad. God hates it, and has documented his hatred of it repeatedly. It leads to destruction; in fact, it was one of the sins for which God judged the city of Sodom. James says God opposes the proud, and the prophet Isaiah reminds us that “the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty ... it shall be brought low.”

So pride is definitely something to avoid. The question is whether low self-esteem is really a whole lot better.