Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rhetoric and Dialectic

Cry of the Prophet Jeremiah, Ilya Repin, 1870
If we were to read only the King James Version of the Bible, we might be forgiven for imagining that there is some sort of distinctive manner in which its characters converse or write on God’s behalf; some sort of major communication hurdle which either repels us or needs to be laboriously surmounted over time.

Of course a moment’s reflection would tell us this idea is nonsensical. When accurately rendered in a current iteration of English or any other language, the Bible is much easier to read and understand than is often thought. Its translators do their job more efficiently and with increasing frequency as years go by, which is very much to our benefit.

In fact, we often make understanding the Bible far more difficult for ourselves by failing to recognize in it the same features of language that we employ day after day in our own conversations.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Your Church Building is NOT the House of God

I’m hearing it all the time now in public prayer: “We thank you, Father that we are able to freely gather in the house of God” and other similar thoughts, where the words “house of God” are unquestionably being used to describe the building in which we are sitting.

A similar misconception is given voice by people who insist upon referring to the auditorium in which a church meets as a “sanctuary”. As in (from mother to child), “Don’t run in the sanctuary! Don’t make noise in the sanctuary!”

These are not new Christians. It makes me wonder if they really know what the house of God is or what the term sanctuary means. I think in many cases they do, but have through inattention lapsed into language that is potentially misleading.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Church Discipline and Membership

Let’s imagine a (hopefully semi-plausible) business scenario that may, if all goes well, turn into something of a parable.

We’ll say that I am a night supervisor working on a single floor of one of those corporate telephone solicitation colossi. I have under me perhaps a hundred employees coming and going on a regular basis. Some work on my floor only briefly before moving on to other departments. Others stay for years. I do not hire them, and I do not fire them. My role is simply to confirm that they have what they need to do their jobs and to work with them to make them better telephone salespeople.

Under these circumstances, I find myself writing an email to my department manager.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Thank You for the Failures

Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895
by Studio Levy & fils
God wants to save “all people”, or so we are told.

Some readers understand that concept very broadly. They see that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”, and conclude from it that God would prefer it if every single human being on the planet were to turn from sin and self to Christ, who is God’s only way of salvation.

This may very well be true, though I don’t think it’s exactly what Paul was telling Timothy.

Another Interpretation

Other readers — and I am among them — understand the phrase “all people” in 1 Timothy 2 to mean “all kinds of people” or “people from all stations in life”. The meaning of the word “all” in scripture, as in language generally, is not invariably global in scope; it is limited by the context in which it is used. Context here suggests that Paul’s intended meaning is that believers should not restrict or limit our prayers for the salvation of others to only those of our own kind or those in our own strata of society, because God wants to save people of every type: rich and poor, slave and free, rulers and ruled.

The gospel is offered to all, and who are we to be more delimited in our prayers than God is in his grace?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Where “Judeo-” and “Christian” Part Ways

Apart from a saving knowledge of Christ, even the best of men quite rationally fear death.

We hear a great deal about our “Judeo-Christian heritage” in this country, as if Judaism and Christianity have so much in common that they can be lumped into a hyphenated modifier without further ado. And while Christianity has its roots in the sacred scriptures of Judaism, the specific conclusions Christianity draws from the Hebrew texts and the certainty with which it does so put it in a class all by itself.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: Does Your Building Matter?

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

Tom: I’m prowling the Internet, as is my wont, and encountering discussion on the subject of whether a church building can impede one’s efforts to grow a local church. Take for example this meditation, from Abby Stocker at Christianity Today:

“Our worship spaces matter. The music, preaching, and community obviously influence our church experience, but building styles also communicate something to the congregation about what is proper in worship. A central stage outfitted with a drumset probably means the music will be emotional and modern. Feel free to wave your hands, dance, however the Spirit leads you. Kneelers will probably be dedicated to congregational, possibly liturgical, prayer. Space for a mosh pit signifies ... you’re probably not at, say, a small intimate gathering based primarily on discussion of a text. How often do you walk into a space that feels like a cross between a trendy concert hall and a mall expecting to experience organ-led hymns? Cathedrals, on the other hand, aren’t considered prime ground for a rousing chorus of Chris Tomlin’s ‘Our God.’ ”

So here we are, left to consider how the apostle Paul might have felt about a mosh pit. Immanuel Can, please help me out here.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Inbox: Someone Greater than Lawrence Is Here

Bernie passes on a quote from Winston Churchill about T.E. Lawrence that seems more than a little appropriate today:

“The world looks with some awe upon a man who appears unconcernedly indifferent to home, money, comfort, rank, or even power and fame. The world feels not without a certain apprehension, that here is someone outside its jurisdiction; someone before whom its allurements may be spread in vain; someone strangely enfranchised, untamed, untrammelled by convention, moving independent of the ordinary currents of human action.”

Merry Christmas!

Bernie
Immanuel Can
Tom

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joining the Choir

Is waving our arms absolutely necessary?
I make no claim to being world’s best listener.

When I advise someone to be patient, it’s most often because the thing they’re bothered about would not bother me in similar circumstances. So I consider that either they are worrying about something they have no control over (and therefore worrying pointlessly), or they are worrying about something over which they DO have control, but for reasons known only to themselves are unprepared to take the action required to deal with it.

Both types of unnecessary agitation are irritants to anyone of a pragmatic disposition.

Thus “be patient” from my lips often has the force of “please go away and flap your jaws elsewhere; I’m doing something more interesting”.

What does a choir have to do with patience? Give me a sec.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How Do You Love the Gospel?

A more current version of this post is available here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Resetting our Defaults

If only it were as simple as pushing three keys ...
What does your church do on Sunday mornings?

I’ve been thinking about platform ministry. Each church has its own default set of practices observed week after week (with the exception of churches that meet in living rooms and basements and don’t have platforms) and, other than in the case of brand new churches, the choices that go into how teaching and preaching get presented are rarely conscious ones. They are more often the result of time, tradition and imitation of formats perceived to be successful in other churches.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Recommend-a-blog (2)

It’s only been a year and change, so I guess it’s about time I did another one of these.

Eddy Plett is a brave man. Talking candidly about mental illness (particularly one’s own struggles) is not universally greeted with enthusiasm in certain conservative evangelical circles.

Especially when you do it on the Internet.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Are We Teaching or Just Speeching?

A more current version of this post is available here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: A Lack of Leadership

Is a good man always hard to find?
In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Immanuel Can: Tom, we need a new generation of spiritual leaders in our congregations. But they don’t seem to be appearing in most places, and not nearly fast enough for the rising need.

What can we do?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Joy and Strength

The joy of the Lord is not just a fireworks display
I have on occasion been accused of pessimism. Unreasonably, I assure you.

But when, for example, I see a room full of grade school kids shouting out “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” at the prompting of a smiling Sunday School superintendent, unlike the cheery folk who enthuse over the fact that their children are (albeit unintentionally) memorizing scripture that will someday be of use to them, my first and far-too-natural instinct is to wonder if they have any idea what they’re singing and how many of them mean it.

The second and even less upbeat thing that often crosses my mind is to wonder how many of them really know the Lord, and how badly those who don’t (and even some of those who do) will seriously mess up their lives by the time they’re my age.

Bleak thoughts, no?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rethinking the Platform

Okay, this one may be a little elaborate ...
It dawns on me that this blog is a pretty good opportunity to raise crazy notions about the church that might not get aired elsewhere.

Don’t panic, I’m not talking about heresy or even radicalism.

But beyond what the scripture itself says, in this venue we’ve never tried to promote a particular agenda or denominational affiliation. Obviously we have preferences, but we’re not trying to sell people on ‘this brand’ or ‘that brand’ of Christianity, just Christ.

In this space we are trying to talk to a broad spectrum of evangelical Christians about the faith we have in common and to examine how that faith intersects with popular culture, the 21st century mindset and the modern church, among other things.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

“In case I don’t make it back …”

Heading out to the airport last Saturday, a friend stopped by my desk, put her arms around me and said, “I’d better give you a hug in case I don’t make it back.”

She said it lightly but not frivolously. We’ve both watched a number of people slip into eternity in the last 12 months: her health-conscious forty-something dentist from a sudden stroke; a small businessman I used to say hello to every week unexpectedly diagnosed with a brain tumor; a friend’s mother whose passing was medically predictable but still jarred family and friends; and a fellow employee with some kind of wasting disease that remained undiagnosed until it was too late. There are probably more; those are just the recent ones.

Monday, December 15, 2014

David’s Covenant and the Resurrection

I’m fairly sure David didn’t look exactly like this.
Yesterday we looked at the first six public messages in the book of Acts to examine how one’s audience determines the content of a gospel message, a pattern well established by the apostles in their preaching.

It’s clear that the apostles did not simply memorize a few key points to preach about in every situation. They did not utilize a predictable series of Old Testament proof texts. They were not merely checking boxes, but responded to the needs of the particular audience to whom they were preaching.

So now here we are in Acts 13.

The Seventh Message: Paul in Pisidian Antioch

After their time in Cyprus where they surely preached similar messages to the one we are about to examine (though the Holy Spirit has seen fit to record none of them), Paul and Barnabas continue to the city of Antioch in Pisidia, about 100 miles north of Perga, where they landed. Today Antioch would be located in southern Turkey. It is there that Paul gives a message that is very much a departure from those of Peter and Stephen that are recorded for us by Luke in the first twelve chapters of Acts.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Gospel In Context

Ever preached from one of these?
Anybody who has browsed my Bible Study series is familiar with the conviction (not uniquely mine) that context may well be the single most significant tool for determining meaning available to English students of scripture. It has certainly been the most useful to me.

This is not about that. It’s about the importance of a different sort of context: situation and audience.

A few weeks ago Immanuel Can and I had occasion to discuss the subject of the gospel and what it actually is. The four Gospels themselves (of course) record the beginnings of the “good news”, but necessarily cannot fully elaborate on all its implications. It requires the rest of the New Testament to do that, but a very good starting point is a study of how the apostles actually preached it from the very beginning (up to and including Acts 13, at any rate, which is as far as I’ve currently gone in my study).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas Dreams, White or Otherwise

The most current version of this post is available here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: The Social Gospel and Social Justice

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Was Christ Made Sin?

The latest version of Bernie's post is available here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Making Straight Paths

We are coming up on a year of posting daily, so I thought it might be time to revisit our very first post ever, courtesy of the enigmatic and seldom-seen Bernie, who really started the ball rolling  Tom

We are likely all familiar with the preparations involved for a visiting dignitary: the airport at which he will arrive is closed off to other traffic, the roads his motorcade must travel are cleared, a security perimeter is established and so forth. This has been society’s behavior for time immemorial — when someone important arrives, everything else is managed to ensure that the VIP can keep to their schedule in a way that is most comfortable and safe for them.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Do We Need Revival?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Rabbit Language

“Hmm. How to proceed ...”
A Thanksgiving blog post (American, that is — I’m not running that far behind) has me thinking about freedom of speech, the Christian and the giving and taking of offence with respect to how we speak about those in authority.

Christians definitely disagree on this issue. I was in the U.S. last summer and heard them doing it. Naturally they were all doing it politely.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

“It’s All Under Control …”

“Nothing happening here. You can move along any time now ...”
How many times have you heard that line?

If someone doesn’t come right out and say it (or something quite like it), a distraction is served up in the timeliest possible fashion. Remember Bill Clinton’s famous four-day bombing of Iraq just as the House of Representatives commenced his own impeachment hearing?

Or the problem may magically just go away, as in the disappearance from the news for the last month or so of anything whatsoever to do with the Ebola virus, when well over 1,000 Americans are now potentially infected.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Bad Ideas That Refuse To Die

What is it about bad ideas?

I’m not thinking of anything as egregious as false teaching making its way into the church, though that tends to happen on a regular basis too. No, I’m thinking more of the natural preferences and tendencies we have and assumptions we make that can hinder the work of God and drive a wedge in between believers.

The worst part about bad ideas is that, unlike many varieties of false or heretical teaching, they often come from good people, which makes them that much more sensitive to deal with. They are also not demonstrably sinful in most cases, making it more difficult to mount a case against them and disinclining those who harbor them to easily abandon them.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Inbox: Richard Carrier’s Moral Philosophy

A more current version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Redistributionism and Jubilee

The Great Isaiah Scroll. Wrong chapter,
but you get the general idea ...
Howard Bess is a retired Baptist minister from Alaska whose novel application of the Bible’s teaching about the Jewish Year of Jubilee to issues of social justice in twenty-first century America has attracted a lot of positive attention.

“Thank you — what a beautiful interpretation of that passage,” gushed one reader. “I love the sense of Judaism and Christianity out of which Bess operates. It immediately recommends itself to me as wholesome and authentic,” enthuses another.

But despite the alleged aura of wholesomeness and authenticity, it seems to me that Bess doesn’t so much reinterpret Luke 4 as miss its real meaning as completely as did the Jews in his hometown of Nazareth, the Lord’s original audience.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Get a Cat, Richard

Not my cat, but close enough
I’m feeling inadequate today, for a number of reasons.

One is age. Okay, fine, relatively speaking I’m not all THAT old. Still, when you get out of bed in the morning and creak all the way to the bathroom and don’t feel like yourself until you’ve had your morning coffee (assuming you are still allowed by your doctor to drink coffee and of course always assuming that alcohol is not involved), you start to think about how much worse it may get.

Someone at the midweek prayer meeting I attend recently offered up thanks for the life of a fellow believer who just reached 110, more than twice my age. That is, to me, a daunting prospect.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Hand of the Lord

Raphael: St Paul Before the Proconsul, 1515
I’ve been asked to open a Bible study on Acts 13:4-12 and decided to take the opportunity to share some of the thoughts that arise.

These nine verses mark the beginning of what is often called Paul’s first missionary journey, which began in Syrian Antioch. They relate the story of Elymas the magician.

It is unclear whether “magician” in this context means that Elymas gave wise counsel, knew a few parlour tricks or actually possessed genuine demonic power. The word magos, which the KJV translates “sorcerer”, is also translated “wise men” when Matthew employs it to describe those who came to worship the Lord Jesus as a baby (I suspect Matthew uses magos to mean “astronomers” or “scientists” rather than those who trafficked in witchcraft). In Acts 8, however, when used to describe Simon the magician who “amazed people with his magic”, it clearly speaks of gimmickry or something much worse.

In any case, Elymas had an encounter with the hand of the Lord that did not go as expected.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Service and Administration

Yours truly engages in administrating — not.
Thank heaven we work for someone smarter than we are.

If I wanted to cite a cautionary tale in that regard, I’d look no further than the corporation that employs me (which will remain nameless, since I am grateful for a weekly paycheque). For the last decade or so — not trying to be unkind, but merely truthful — the company has been afflicted with near-systemic administrative incompetence. Even a worker bee can see that dwindling market share, increasing debt load, layoffs by the thousands and an inability to attract investors are not positive indicators.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Co-opting Christ

Or is it “The Democratic Party is my god”?
They’re lining up to make use of the Lord Jesus Christ, it appears.

Carey Lodge at Christian Today writes about how both ends of the UK political spectrum seem determined to make the eternal God the poster boy for their social agendas.

As a Christian, if there’s anything more off-putting than the sort of cynicism that makes merchandise of or leverages political advantage from the Saviour, I’m having trouble thinking of it right now.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: The Gospel Meeting

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Real Evidence

What tipped the scales for you?
I’m going to single out the New Testament for a moment, not to minimize the importance of the first 39 books of the Bible, but because without its reframing and illumination of the Old Testament we could not explicitly know salvation in Christ: we could only hope and anticipate him. We could have Judaism but not Christianity, law but not grace, shadow but not substance.

Though we can find frequent glimpses of the character and work of God in its pages, of course, we could never possess the certainty and clarity that those who meditate on the final few books of holy writ enjoy today.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bible Study 12 – Context [Part 6]

Another instalment in an ongoing series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here.

The second Bible study tool we are discussing is context. For justification, see the first post on this subject.

Immediate Context and Meaning

Sometimes it is only through careful attention to immediate context that meaning becomes clear. As mentioned previously, word study and comparison do not always successfully clarify the author’s intent, especially when a word that is significant in illuminating the passage you are trying to understand occurs only once in scripture, leaving you with no inspired point of reference.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What’s Behind Faith?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Inbox: This Makes A Good Point

Passed on to me today by a friend:


The bit that is often forgotten: “... first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”.

That’s miles from our society’s passive, boundless, mindless tolerance of anything and everything.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

That Sinking Feeling

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

How Will My Life Be Better?

From the Bible Gateway Facebook page:
“It is fair to ask the question: ‘How will my life be better if I understand the Bible better?’ ” 
Bible Gateway is a huge website with a lot of followers, so there are too many good answers to this question to read them all.

Mine is this.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: Unsanctioned “Churches”

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Spiritual Economics

Economics is not science, but its study is most useful when it accurately maps observable human tendencies. At its core, economics is guesswork about what people tend to do in any given set of circumstances. Naturally it assumes rationality on the part of those it analyzes; a common sense that can be documented, predicted and acted upon to the benefit of the observer.

The Lord and the apostles frequently appeal to experience, observation, rationality and common sense to encourage sound judgment in the spiritual realm. Some familiar examples: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times”, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” or even “... the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light”. Each appeals to things that should be obvious to all to encourage proper thinking and conduct in the believer.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why Do Christians Disagree?

Religious skeptics, along with many sincere believers young and old, find the lack of agreement among Christians to be a most perplexing and off-putting fact.

Denominationalism is only one manifestation of its reality. Within virtually all denominations we can find numerous ‘minor’ convictions still considered significant enough by their proponents to justify breaches of fellowship with those who hold different views, amicably or otherwise.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Laughter of Jackals

A more current version of this post is available here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The “No Harm” Argument (a.k.a. the Do-It-Yourself Millstone)

Care to try on one of these?
How on earth did I get started on this subject?

Trying to deal with arguments for the acceptance of Christian same-sex relationships — and let’s be realistic: everyone I’ve read on the subject actively promotes full LGBT “equality” in the church, not merely the homosexualist agenda — is like trying to grasp a handful of jello. The proffered reasons for acceptance constantly change shape and direction. One could be forgiven for speculating that many such positions are actually Trojan horses: they present as reasonable concessions that mask the true intentions (and possibly even the true identities) of those who advance them.

Such tactics are typical of social progressives but one might hope (perhaps foolishly) to find professing Christians agreeable to recognizing a set of common principles to be employed in debate, if not always completely transparent about the goals they have in mind for church “reform”.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: IndoctriNation — The Christian and Education [Part 1]

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.
“88% of Christian children deny their faith by graduation day.”
That’s one of the sensational claims made in IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America, a three year-old movie about the evils of the public school system that, I must admit, I have not seen in its entirety. This trailer was used to promote it:



Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Coin That Always Comes Up Tails

Vox Day contemplates the British parliamentary vote to abandon 900 years of legal sovereignty, and why it is that culture wars are rarely won or lost in the span of a single human lifetime:
“Some think that these extended timescales prove that there is no conspiracy and ‘progress’ is a mere accident of history because no human lifespan is long enough to encompass the strategy or the consequences. The logic is correct, but then, logic also suggests an alternative, which is that there is something, or someone, that exists on a larger timescale and is capable of guiding events of these temporal proportions.

So, the question comes down to this: given what we can observe with the limited means at our disposal, which do you find more unlikely? A coin almost always flipping tails at random or some sort of unknown, long-lived being imposing its will on the coin toss?”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Should Christians Observe the Sabbath?

An electrical shabbat lamp. Should
every Christian have one of these?
From time to time this question still comes up among believers, particularly converted Jews or those accustomed to highly liturgical traditions.

Lauren F. Winner, for example, advocates a modified Sabbath observation for believers, despite evidently having read what the apostle Paul has to say about it.

Today’s post provides a useful counterbalance to that sort of thinking. RJA considers two significant aspects of Sabbath observance: its Biblical origins, and the question of whether or not the Sabbath should be observed by Christians today — Tom

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Incoherence of the Left

I’ve seen this one coming for a while, though I’m far from the only observer of modern society to note the inevitability of internecine strife within progressivism.

The social liberal is, after all, a profoundly incoherent creature in hot denial of the reality that any genuine claim to the benefits he or she seeks to extract from society can exist only on the basis of Judeo-Christian principles he or she despises.

That is to say, when you reject the existence of a creator and therefore the value of individual men and women to him, you lose your rational basis for the ever-increasing list of “rights” to which members of oppressed or marginalized groups claim to be entitled.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Why Are We So Unsatisfied?

A more current version of this post is available here.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

An Object Lesson Rejected: The Feast of Tabernacles

Illustration from Bible Pictures and
What They Teach Us
, Charles Foster, 1897
The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Tabernacles, or Sukkot, as “[a] feast very much observed among us”. From the time it was first instituted at Mount Sinai, this feast has held a unique place among the festivals of Israel. The details of its observance were given by God, its future significance was expounded by the prophets, and its spiritual substance was exemplified by Jesus during his brief life on earth.

Let’s consider the origins of the Feast of Tabernacles, its role in prophecy and finally its use by Christ as an object lesson to reveal to a darkened and spiritually thirsty nation the truth about himself.

Origins of the Feast

The Feast of Tabernacles was instituted by divine command, one of three major feasts in Israel’s annual cycle which required that every male in the nation appear before the Lord in Jerusalem. The last feast in the yearly series, it was held for seven days in the seventh month, from Tishri 15 to 21. This placed Sukkot in the pleasant weather of early autumn, after the completion of the harvest. Beginning with a day of rest, it was concluded by an eighth day, also a day of rest, featuring a closing assembly accompanied by the relevant sacrifices.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The Price of Admission

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: The Greatest Threat to Christianity

The most current version of this post is available here.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Judgment and Discernment

“This is a Christian country. I go to a Christian church. I believe in God and the Bible, so what right have you to judge me and tell me I’m not a Christian?” 
A question like this must be handled with care. It is certainly possible to conclude from a person’s life and actions that they are not living in a Christlike way; it may be discerned and pointed out that their beliefs about salvation and the Christian life are not in harmony with what the Bible teaches. But ultimately the question of whether a person is a ‘real’ Christian or not can be answered only by God, or in the case of a genuine child of God, by the individual believer.

Those who lack saving faith may not even be fully aware of it themselves.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Inbox: Sucking the Life Out of “Vampire Churches”

A more current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Promiscuous Freedom and Enslavement

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Justin Trudeau, Judgment and the Angels

Waitasec ... who will judge whom?
Justin Trudeau wants to be prime minister of Canada.

This is not news. But campaigning for the highest office in the land tends to bring greater scrutiny than teaching high school; the occasional naysayer or critic comes with the territory.

No surprise then that the office of the Public Safety Minister said Trudeau showed an “appalling lack of judgment” for visiting a Montreal mosque in September. It turns out their imam teaches that stoning women and cutting the hands off thieves is necessary for a “healthy, pure and balanced society”. The minister is concerned that Trudeau’s visit lends legitimacy to the imam’s comments. 

So okay, maybe one little lapse in judgment. Nothing to make a big deal of, right?

Monday, November 03, 2014

Houston Redux

A quick follow up to my post from a couple of weeks ago on Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the subpoenas served by the City of Houston on five area pastors. While it might be a little premature (and a little overdramatic) to use the headline “Fight For Faith”, Fox News reported that the subpoenas, previously redrafted, have now been withdrawn entirely.


With his usual subtlety, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee had a few words to say on the subject of the issuance of the initial subpoenas:
“They shouldn’t expect the taxpayers to fund their hate-filled, Gestapo-like actions to openly attempt to shut down the free exercise of religion and their attempt to establish a religion of godless secularism.”

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Faith of the Calvinists

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Inbox: The Sin of Sodom

In response to Thursday’s post on homosexuality, a reader writes:

Q: “Was [Matthew] Vines referring to Ezek. 16:49 which lists Sodom’s sin as being made up of a combination of pride, gluttony, indifference and unwillingness to share one’s bread (inhospitable?) but notably, no mention of aberrant sexual conduct? How would you answer?”

A: Well, let’s look at what Ezekiel says, for starters:
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: Lack of Vision

A more current version of this post is available here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reorient Yourself

Orientation.

That’s the magic word, isn’t it. That’s the game changer.

We used to talk about sin. Same-sex behavior, for example, was understood to be  sinful. Those who engaged in it were choosing to sin and those who didn’t were choosing not to sin. “Orientation” didn’t enter into it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It Ain’t All About You Either

More Reflections On the Song of Songs

This continues an overview of the Song of Songs that is more about what the book is not rather than what it is. I’m looking for ways to interpret a rather unusual portion of scripture that do not result in an excess of speculation. Such esoterica finds its way into public teaching more than it ought to.

Yesterday’s post looked at four more-or-less traditional interpretations of the book. Today’s post explores a fifth.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

It Ain’t All About Me

Reflections On the Song of Songs

Let me start with a couple of quotes that intrigue me. They may even be true:
“All the Scriptures, indeed, are holy ... but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”
— Rabbi Aqiba
“If a manuscript of this little book were found alone, detached from the biblical context and tradition, it undoubtedly would be viewed as secular. The book has no obvious religious content.”
— Dennis F. Kinlaw
While every part of scripture has given rise to some level of disagreement as to its meaning and value over the years, it would be difficult to find two such extreme statements about many other books of the Bible.

Of course Kinlaw doesn’t say the book has no religious content, but that such content is not obvious. And he’s right.

Perhaps so is Rabbi Aqiba.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Inbox: Dangerously Clear-Headed

The most current version of this post is available here.

Timing Is Everything

A more current version of this post is available here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Vessels of Wrath and Vessels of Mercy

We’ve been looking at the question of whether God really prepares some people for destruction and others for glory. How and to what extent is his sovereignty exercised within the human heart?

Romans 9 is much misunderstood where this subject is concerned. In yesterday’s post I made the case that nothing in the first 18 verses of the chapter deals with the subject of individual salvation. Paul’s subject there is God’s election of nations and other groups to strategic roles in human history for his own sovereign purposes.

At stake in the debate is our view of God. Can there be anything more important? A God who elects some to salvation and others to damnation is arbitrary and cruel. His offer of salvation is a lie. Faith is meaningless and hell inescapable for the “unchosen”. Worse, the death of Christ is no more than a symbol.

These things are not taught in Romans 9.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Strategic Roles in Human History and God’s Election

The most current version of this post is available here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: Culture and the Gospel

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

“Participation Awards” and Honour

A more current version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Shape of Character

Shape my character? How does that work exactly?
Have you ever tried to shape your character?

It’s not something I think about doing in those words exactly. Yes, I know: everybody’s character has a shape. You develop convictions about right and wrong over time. Then you either choose to act on them or you don’t. Character results, of one sort or another. It happens to everyone, including me.

But Immanuel Can dropped this gem on me in an email exchange the other day:
“The lack of any concept of male virtues leaves many young men at sea as they try to shape their characters and grow up well.”
and I thought, “Shape their characters? Who shapes his character?”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Disturbances in the Narrative

Does Pilate’s famous question have an answer?
It was Kate McMillan at SmallDeadAnimals.com who coined the phrase “disturbance in the narrative” to refer to a news story, scientific discovery or other revelation of fact that pokes holes in the popular consensus. It’s an apt description.

There have been an excessive number of disturbances in the narrative in the last week.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The First Amendment, Harassment and Leftist Overreach

The other day, Qman brought up the ongoing news story about subpoenas served on five pastors of Houston churches for their position on … well, we’re not sure now exactly. The City is evidently fishing for something:
“The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.”
“Homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker” cuts a fairly broad swath, but Fox News is already calling it a “war over religious liberty”. Five specific pastors have been named and are collectively represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a law firm that specializes in cases to do with religious liberty.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Time to Man Up

No obnoxious gym teacher in sight.
photo credit
I hate that phrase. Always have. Puts me in mind of drill sergeants or particularly dull and obnoxious gym teachers pushing you to scramble up a knotted rope in front of the whole class.

But I can’t think of a better way to say it.

Implicit in the platitude is the suggestion that the way you are behaving is unmanly, which is not a fair assumption. Possibly it also intimates that to behave like a woman is a bad thing.

Which it isn’t, of course — provided you’re actually a woman.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the decline of masculinity among millennials (and men of previous generations), and we looked at greed and the push for universal higher education as societal causes of the epidemic of malaise on the part of males generally, and their failure to assume their God-given role in the family.

Today I’d like to look at a third contributing factor:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Descent of Man

Modern masculinity is on its way down.
North American Christian men, it’s not your fault. I get that.

No matter how hard you work, it is extremely difficult to earn enough to be the sole financial support of a family anymore; it’s well past time we acknowledged that.

We are living in a society that has made sacred cows of greed, universal higher education and feminism. While we may not personally embrace these values, it is evident that without leaving the world entirely it is impossible to escape the inevitable and natural consequences of the priorities of business, government and the individuals among whom we live.

While the conditions in which the modern Christian man finds himself are not his fault, the choices he makes as a consequence are very much down to him.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Benefit of the Doubt

The Internet is an amazing thing. Poor Tom Brennan, pastor of Maplewood Bible Baptist Church, posts this on his Facebook page:


One drive-by commenter just can’t resist taking his best shot:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In Due Season

The author, on one of his better days.
I get tired.

I’m a little tired right now, as a matter of fact. There are days and weeks when I seem to be doing the same thing over and over again, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. And I think, “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?” I’ve asked the Lord about it, I’ve prayed for a resolution, and yet …

Yeah, you guessed it: every week, it’s just more of the same.

It’s a special sort of modern, western, slightly self-indulgent “tired”, when you think about it. Persecuted Christians get tired too, I’m sure, but in a very different way. Despair and exhaustion are a far cry from boredom and ennui.

But we in western Christian culture have the malaise of repetitive, often (apparently) ineffectual service to contend with nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Turning the Beat Around

A more current version of this post is available here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Burning Down the House

No, I’m not going to break into the Talking Heads’ 1983 pop hit.

I’m tempted, but I’m not going to. You really don’t want to hear me do that.

But nothing raises the temperature in a local congregation faster than any suggestion we change the music. Countless battles have been fought, and whole congregations have divided over that sort of thing.

That’s really a pity.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

(Re)Making Music

I’ve heard it said that the quickest way to split a congregation is to change the hymnbook or repaint the walls.

Well, I have no feel for interior decorating, so that second one’s not going to be a problem for me. But like most people, I have more definite tastes when it comes to music. Some of the songs that my local church sings, I love; others, I confess, make me cringe.

There are lots of reasons, I guess. Some songs I don’t like because I’ve heard them way too often. Some aren’t set to my kind of tune. A few make me grimace because the lyrics are actually pretty poor, and some contain bits of nonsense or bad doctrine.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Meaning of Life in Three Rounds

A more current version of this post is available here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Inbox: A Multiplication of Woes

“I thought the definition of a church was ‘a multi-site group of local congregations all part of the Body of Christ’. But if that’s what the church is, then why would we need a flow chart in order to locate our authorities? There are elders, then there’s the Chief Shepherd: did I miss something?”
Before we get into the definition of a church, Anonymous’ reference to a “flow chart to locate our authorities” points out what may have been a lack of clarity in my graphic illustration.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Don’t Forget What You Never Knew

A more current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

A Multiplication of Woes

Need one of these to diagram your local church?
Multi-site churches. Wow.

If you want to get wrapped up in a modern church problem not contemplated by specific doctrinal teaching in the New Testament, this would surely be a prime candidate.

I didn’t even know what a “multi-site” church was until I read Jonathan Leeman’s recent blog post about the problems that tend to result from them.

Call me out of touch, but now that I think about it, I know of more than one local situation in which this sort of arrangement might appear to present a potential solution to complications resulting from sudden or unexpected church growth.

Monday, October 06, 2014

One Wild and Awful Moment

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

A Man Without A Clue

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Big Government, Micro-Regulation and Morality

In a 2012 article for National Review entitled “The Perversion of Rights”, Mark Steyn laments the age of micro-regulation:
“That’s the real ‘hot topic’ here — whether a majority of citizens, in America as elsewhere in the West, is willing to ‘leave it up to the government’ to make decisions on everything that matters. On the face of it, the choice between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church should not be a tough one. On the one hand, we have the plain language of the First Amendment as stated in the U.S. Constitution since 1791: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’

On the other, we have a regulation invented by executive order under the vast powers given to Kathleen Sebelius under a 2,500-page catalogue of statist enforcement passed into law by a government party that didn’t even bother to read it.”

Friday, October 03, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: Choosing A Church

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

(Maybe Not So) Far Kingdom

Anyone with their eyes on eternity is usually alright by me. Like these folks:



I don’t know what the rest of their music is like, but this got to me in a big way.
“There is a far kingdom on the other side of the glass
And by a faint light we see
Still there is more gladness longing for the sight
Than to behold or be filled by anything.”

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Analyzing the Narrative

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Science Is Settled … Until It Isn’t

This little bombshell apparently necessitates reexamination of the theories of both Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. In the words of Phys.org’s Thania Benios, it “not only forces scientists to reimagine the fabric of space-time, but also rethink the origins of the universe”.
“Black holes have long captured the public imagination and been the subject of popular culture, from Star Trek to Hollywood. They are the ultimate unknown — the blackest and most dense objects in the universe that do not even let light escape. And as if they weren’t bizarre enough to begin with, now add this to the mix: they don’t exist.”
Laura Mersini-Houghton, professor of physics at University of North Carolina has done the math:
“The take home message of her work is clear: there is no such thing as a black hole.”
Next they’ll be telling us the Grand Canyon is the product of a global flood.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Christians Against Climate Change

Mick Pope is marching about climate change, not in spite of his faith, he says, but because of it. He insists that:
“… a solid theology of creation and of the resurrection means that Christians should be concerned about climate change.”
Huh. Remember the whole “What Would Jesus Do?” fad from a few years back? It became a trendy thing to have on a bumper sticker or t-shirt, sold its share of merch in Christian bookstores and has largely disappeared, I think.

So what would Jesus have said about climate change, I wonder?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Second Babel

Can you read this? I can’t.

I agree, in theory. So I read his article twice.

I may as well be trying to read Mandarin.

This seems to be how it is in Christendom these days. I find it increasingly challenging to communicate meaningfully with believers outside of my own immediate circle. Despite the fact that we are, according to the words of scripture, all one in Christ, it’s almost as if we speak different languages.

It’s a challenge any serious believer and lover of the word of God needs to face.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Marketing Christ

Jeff Goins’ guest post at Beyond Evangelical asks “Should Christians Sell, Market, and Promote Products & Services?”

If you guessed he’s coming out strongly in the affirmative, congratulations. He says:
“There are basically two ways to pursue a creative calling as a Christian.

First, you can go into vocational ministry (as I did for seven years) and ask people to support you. This takes time and it may include some awkward conversations, pledge drives, or capital campaigns.

Second, you can get a job or go into business for yourself and support yourself that way. In your free time, you can volunteer your time at church, go on mission trips, and give discretionary income to ministries and causes that you believe in.”
Only two ways? Not exactly. He goes on to suggest another possibility:
“The third way is this: If you have a gift, a talent, or skill that the world needs, you can and should offer it people in exchange for money. If you have value to offer, you should let people pay you for it.”

Friday, September 26, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: The Correct Church

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

A gazillion more profound things have been written about the so-called Lord’s Prayer. I’m going to shoot for a low bar here and merely try to supplement the Wikipedia entry on the subject, though I promise not to be anywhere near as lengthy.

You will remember it goes like this, though not because anyone has recited it in school recently:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
(Matthew 6:9-13)
(I’m not, of course, suggesting that having unsaved children recite any mere religious formula daily, especially one that means nothing whatsoever to them, does much that is useful for their spiritual state. I do note that removing its recitation from the school day has not improved schools any. Of course, singing the national anthem never really made me more patriotic either.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Abomination x 3

In case anyone doubts the relevance of the Old Testament thousands of years after it was written, The Wall Street Journal comments on the implementation of the (un)Affordable Care Act:
“… there have been so many unilateral executive waivers and delays that ObamaCare must be unrecognizable to its drafters, to the extent they ever knew what the law contained.”
as does Solomon, son of David:
“Unequal weights and unequal measures
    are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”
(Proverbs 20:10)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hats Off to the Imam

The Portage Daily Graphic has an interesting piece on Imam Bilal Philips, accused by the Philippines of “recruiting and inciting people to commit terrorism”.

Philips runs an online Islamic university he says has 180,000 students — out of Qatar, of all places — and has been banned at various times from the U.S., the U.K., Kenya, Germany and Australia. His YouTube videos explain the penalties for homosexuality under Islamic law. Needless to say, he has generated his share of controversy.

Oh, by the way, he’s back in Canada. From a citizenship standpoint at least, he’s one of ours. Which of course is neither my call, nor is it really any of my business.