Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Doctrine Worked Out

Truth has implications.

Jesus Christ was manifested in the flesh, giving us a visible, tangible template for what godliness looks like in action, and an example to follow. He was vindicated by the Spirit, demonstrating that resurrection power is available to transform human lives. He was seen by messengers, meaning we can believe what we hear and take it to heart because it has been repeatedly substantiated. He was proclaimed among the nations, meaning that he does not play favorites with men, and neither should we. He was believed on in the world, meaning God’s plan for this planet does not merely involve taking people out of it, but transforming it. And he was taken up in glory, meaning that we can look forward to an eternity in which we will share that glory with him.

No theological point is without practical consequences.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Drawn Away

“But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.”

It’s not just young widows who need to worry about being drawn away from Christ by worldly passions, and it’s not just women more generally. The symptoms and objects of earthly desire vary from person to person, but the unshakable conviction that the grass on the other side of the fence is somehow greener than the grass on my side is a lie of the devil we must all contend with.

Here, the specific passion in view is not anything evil. In and of itself, the impulse to marry is not abnormal or unhealthy. Everybody wants to know and be known, to feel secure, to have someone to care for and to care for them.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Anonymous Asks (13)

“If the stars are so far away and it would take millions of light years for them to be seen from earth, why do we see stars?”

Ah yes, the perplexing problem that the appearance of age raises for creationists.

The standard difficulty is not about whether it would have been possible for God to cause starlight to provoke its usual reaction from Adam’s retinas in a nanosecond rather than taking light years to travel to earth from the moment the stars were created. Obviously someone powerful enough to speak the universe into being could make both light and human nerve endings dance to any tune he pleased.

No, the standard complaint is moral rather than practical; something like “Wouldn’t it be a bit deceptive of God to bend what we perceive to be the established rules of science?”

No.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Building Blocks of Reality

The Old Testament is full of hints, winks and nudges. Or so it seems to me.

For example, I cannot read Abraham’s words to Isaac, “God will provide for himself the lamb,” without marveling at the subtlety of the wording. It works as a double entendre in either Hebrew or English. Was Abraham a straight man or a prophet? I can’t tell you, but I love that line. From thousands of years down the road we look back and say, “He certainly did.”

That’s not a comment on our cleverness, of course.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (32)

Some proverbs are absolutely straightforward. Perhaps most were in their day. For example, when we read “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue,” it is all-but-impossible to misunderstand. Much might be said by way of application, and examples could be cited both from scripture and personal experience, but the basic concept is not the least bit enigmatic.

Others? Well, time, linguistic and cultural differences have a way of obscuring meaning.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The State of Theology

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

David B. was kind enough to forward us this link to a recent survey by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research about what Americans believe about God, Jesus Christ, sin and eternity.

Tom: Apparently they are doing this every couple of years now. Having regular new data sets to browse can be useful in noting trends of one sort or another. We discussed the LifeWay 2016 survey in this space, if I recall correctly … yes, I do. That was the one where, based on the frequency of their heretical answers, my fellow writer Immanuel Can was inspired to refer to some of the respondents as not so much Christian as “ ‘Christian-flavored’, like a really, really bad kind of tofu.”

How’s the tofu this year, IC?

Thursday, November 08, 2018

A Bigger House

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

The household of God is his church. That should be an uncontentious statement. Paul says it plainly to Timothy.

Where we have difficulty is in defining what it is exactly we mean by “church”. Many modern teachers interpret Paul’s instructions to Timothy as if he has in view only church meetings; as if the church only really exists in the moments its members come together. This is useful if, like egalitarian Margaret Mowzcko, one is attempting to argue that 1 Timothy 2:9 refers to women praying out loud in public gatherings of God’s people, something that is not obvious from the passage.

It is also wrong.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Into the Crucible

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.”

If for some reason you needed to melt gold at home, you could actually do it with an acetylene torch, assuming you have the right sort of container to melt gold in. Gold becomes liquid at around 1,943°F (1,064°C). Once you’ve tried melting gold, silver is comparatively easy, melting between 1,640 and 1,762°F (893-961°C).

The process by which precious metals are refined and purified is intense. Going from solid to liquid can’t be much fun either. If we are to learn anything from the first two clauses of this verse, it is that our Father does not bring us to the place of crisis trivially, nor does he do it in order to leave us as he found us.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Everyone’s a Mark

Ever idly browsed the internet of an evening only to find your peaceful reading experience disturbed by an alarming pop-up notification to the effect that you have been diagnosed with a computer virus?

Thankfully, the folks dutifully alerting you to your imperiled status are willing to provide just what you need: for $29.99 — or considerably more — they will happily outfit you with downloadable software guaranteed to purge your hard drive of all current infections and keep the baddies away for 12 months, after which a further $29.99 — or considerably more — is required to guarantee your ongoing ability to browse in peace. Since you so obviously need it, you ought to consider that perfectly reasonable. In fact, they will retain your credit card info and simply treat your purchase as a subscription so you’ll never have to trouble your little synapses about computer security again.

Isn’t that sweet of them?

Monday, November 05, 2018

Anonymous Asks (12)

“Where did God come from before he created earth, animals and humankind?”

This is the kind of question that could be asked two entirely different ways. The first is out of curiosity. The second is out of an obdurate refusal to believe anything that can’t be stringently proved on one’s own terms.

Since I have no idea where this anonymous questioner is coming from in his current thinking, I’ll answer it both ways and trust he’ll take it appropriately.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Should Elders Give Orders?

Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity is a vitally important — even radical — reassessment of the church that attempts to encourage evangelicals out of clericalism and into something much more like what was taught by the apostles and practiced in the first century. Several summers ago, I examined it here, here and here.

There is much to be said for Viola’s vision of the church. He’s got so many things absolutely right that I struggle with critiquing him at all out of concern that in doing so, I’ll end up minimizing all the wonderful things he has to say. Viola condemns paid clergy, one-man domination of a congregation, professionalism, corporatism, passive pew-sitting, lack of congregational involvement and all kinds of bad practice that has crept into our churches from the corporate world and other faulty models — all things we have criticized repeatedly in this space.

There are, however, two areas in which I believe Viola has missed the boat, if only by a few seconds. One is the women’s role. The other is the authority of elders.

Specifically, one can come away from Viola’s books wondering if elders should ever give any orders at all; if the organic leadership model he champions precludes the giving of strong verbal direction of any kind. I will argue it does not.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (31)

The Western world has no lack of powerful people. Still, the rulers of today’s first world countries are constrained to a much greater extent than many of us think by the political systems in which they operate and by the vagaries of public opinion.

All Western leaders test the political climate with internal polling before making significant moves. Canada’s Justin Trudeau, for instance, rarely makes even a public statement without his entire inner circle weighing in. Donald Trump, often accused of being unilateral and arbitrary, accepts the rulings of lower court judges and the limitations of working through Congress.

I suspect the Israelites of Solomon’s day might not recognize our leaders as real “rulers” at all.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: How Do You Read It? (5)

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

Tom: We’re in the middle of batting around commonly misunderstood Bible verses. Here’s another frequently-quoted line for you, IC, this one from Proverbs:

“As he thinks within himself, so he is.”

I mentioned in another post a few weeks ago that I’ve often found other people understand individual proverbs very differently from the way I understand them. This one is no exception.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

An Islamic Court Finally Gets Something Right

Malaysia’s top court has ruled that non-Muslims can no longer use the word “Allah” when referring to God. This despite the long-standing trend of Christians and other groups using the same name to refer to God in scriptures, prayers, songs and normal conversation.

The word isn’t a local Malay one, but rather a borrowing from Arabic. However, some Malaysians have no other word in their current vocabulary to refer to the Supreme Being. But apparently the two-thirds of the Malaysian population that profess Islam are now going to have exclusive use. Authorities worry that failure to distinguish Allah as a unique understanding of Divinity could result in confusion and lead people to be converted away from their religion. So they’ve legislated away the confusion.

Sounds about right to me.