Friday, January 31, 2014

A Great Chasm Fixed Between

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Antidote

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
(Colossians 1:17)
The words “hold together” here are most frequently translated “commend”, or literally “stand with”, and are used of a confirming testimony; that which supports or substantiates something that might otherwise be less solid or demonstrable. The KJV says, “in him all things consist”, which is fine, as long as we don’t conjure the image of the Lord Jesus as some vast being with everything else inside him, because that is not what the apostle is emphasizing here. Rather, he affirms here what is said in Hebrews about the Son; that he “upholds all things by the word of his power”.

He is the “confirming force” of the universe; what makes all things cohere. Not being a scientist, I’ll stop there, though I’m quite sure scientifically trained Christians (not Christian Scientists) might have much to say on how that works out practically.

No, I’m thinking about human relationships and the way we communicate.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This Explains Why the People I Work With Are Frequently Nicer Than I Am …

The Sword takes up the subject of total depravity reasonably and biblically:
“… to suggest that there is no trace of anything good left in man at all is to contradict the Bible. The Bible teaches that we were created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). That isn’t a reference to our physical appearance, but to a variety of spiritual, moral, emotional, and intellectual attributes. Whatever else it means, it means that we can think, reason, create, love, etc. If “total depravity” means that man is as depraved as possible in every way, then it would mean that the image of God has been utterly obliterated and that an unsaved man retains none of it. This is patently untrue. Unsaved men can think, reason, and create. Unsaved men can even love. Although diminished and corrupted, vestiges of the image of God remain. It is for this reason that the Holy Spirit can say through Peter that Christ “called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet 1:3).
Read the whole thing here, including disclaimer.

And especially “The disclaimer disclaimer”.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Command Performance

A more current version of this post is available here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bible Study 06 — Comparison [Part 6]

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Can We Stop Using This Straw Man Now? Please?

Okay, I have just come across the second book review in as many days which describes how, in the course of the story, a young person involved in an evangelical Christian church is struggling with doubts and goes to their pastor, a parent, or other trusted authority figure for advice. And what they are told, in both these books, is “Don't question, don't think, just pray and believe”.

To which I say, what?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Faithful Have Vanished

“The faithful have vanished”, David wrote.

Not that the faithful have been exterminated and evil has finally won the day.
Not that the faithful have apostacized or lost their salt.

They’ve vanished. Elvis has left the building, folks.

This is not simply David’s personal experience here. No way, not without at least some exaggeration or hyperbole. Matthew Henry says, “It is supposed that David penned this psalm, in the latter part of Saul’s reign, when there was a general decay of honesty and piety, when religion, truth, and righteousness, seemed ready to expire, and every kind of wickedness was without control.”

Yeah, I suppose. Maybe.

Friday, January 24, 2014

God’s Eyelids

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Inbox: Marital Breakdown

In response to this post Tertius and Susan T. Foh seem to be in agreement. Susan’s position on Genesis 3:16 was advanced by Ted Hildebrandt in the Westminster Theological Journal. Tertius says:
I’m with Ted’s explanation; at the least there seems to be nothing in the immediate context to forbid it. Secondly, 1 Cor. 14:34-37 reinforce it, as does 1 Tim. 2:12. Thirdly, having spent some 50 or more years marriage counselling I have observed that much marital breakdown occurs when either a man fails to fulfil his role as a protector and provider or a woman competes with his leadership. She may do this by asserting her ‘rights’ or manipulating her husband into doing what she wants.
To which I can only add three more passages in the New Testament that also reinforce this interpretation, which are the subject of this coming Monday’s Bible Study 06.

The Opiate

Karl Marx once said “Religion is the opiate of the masses”. He believed that religion was invented by wealthy men to control the poor. If the lower classes were pacified with the promise of treasure in the afterlife, they would not rebel against their wealthy oppressors. In this way the rich could continue to hoard their wealth, while the poor laboured on under the delusion that they would receive their rewards in the next life.

It is true that some of the world’s religions and religious leaders have done this very thing — some even claiming to be Christians. While they urged their followers to work harder and make greater sacrifices, they themselves accumulated wealth to excess. This bad testimony alone has caused many people to agree with Karl Marx and to dismiss Christianity altogether.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

He Who Requires Blood

Sounds like a bad vampire movie: “He Who Requires Blood”, though only to our modern ears, of course. The author of Psalm 9 made no such silly Hollywood associations and neither did his original readers. The subject was deadly serious:
“Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
Tell among the peoples his deeds!
For he who requires blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” (Psalm 9:11,12)
If you were – or are – one of the “afflicted”, this is very good news. The word “peoples” here refers to nations. David is looking forward to a time when the Lord Jesus will reign over the earth and will “judge the world in righteousness” and “execute judgement for the [nations] with equity”.

He is occupied here with the absolute fairness of God’s ways with man.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Love Is Not Enough

One of my favourite recordings ever is a tune Todd Rundgren wrote for his band Utopia’s 1977 album, the last song on the record. Like many pop tunes, it failed to chart or make waves (or money) until a folksy American duo covered it in 1979 and people started to listen:
“I’ve looked high and low, I’ve been from shore to shore to shore.
If there’s a shortcut, I’d have found it. But there’s no easy way around it:
Light of the world, shine on me, love is the answer.”
To me the more successful England Dan & John Ford Coley version misses the point. It’s got all the same words, but none of the intensity. They sing it sweetly, harmoniously and entirely without giving the impression that it matters. It’s full of breezy sax fills, bright keyboard figures and strings. Even the choir in the hit version is subdued. And without intensity, the hippified cliché of the title comes across corny and trite (that’s my take anyway, though ‘corny and trite’ outsold ‘intense’, so what do I know). But Rundgren’s vocal on his original has none of that flat, overproduced perfection. He positively rips it, especially toward the gospel-inflected end of the song where the choir kicks in with serious intent.

If it didn’t mean something to him at the time, you certainly could’ve fooled me.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Looking Forward or Looking Back?

By any other name, would it smell as sweet?
In modern cultures, usually not much goes into a name. Names aren’t often chosen for their profundity. For example, Bernie means “bold as a bear”. Does that reflect my character? If you ask those who know me best as an adult, it probably doesn’t.

But very often in the Bible however, there is additional depth to a name. Matthew 16 is a common enough example that has drawn the interest of theologians for generations; what did Peter’s naming really signify? But there are many other famous examples that are less controversial; Saul became Paul, Abram became Abraham and so on. In each case there was a reason that someone’s name was changed and that reason is worth exploring.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Bible Study 05 — Comparison [Part 5]

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

On the Unfair Maligning of Atheists

It occurred to me that a paragraph in Friday’s post probably warrants a disclaimer or two:
“What sort of miserable, twisted personality seeks to rob another human being of all the emotional and lifestyle benefits that come with the Christian life for … for what? So the successful converts to atheism can hit the bars, brothels and the casinos and ‘eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’? So they can swell the ranks of the overweight, the suicidal and the terminally miserable? So they can help bankrupt the health care system? So they can cheat their employers, slack off and go on welfare because, hey, why not? So they can scream and wail and fall on coffins at the weddings of loved ones because that’s all, folks? So they can camp out in the cold with the Occupy gang and resent the rich and powerful because their only hope is in this life?”
I’m not for a second suggesting that all those who are not believers in Christ end up abusing drugs, alcohol, food or the welfare system, are extra-grief stricken at funerals, hate the rich or kill themselves.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Ninth Circle

Maybe you’ve heard the expression ‘the Ninth Circle of Hell’ used to describe an excruciating week at the office, a brutal exam or a particularly acrimonious divorce — hyperbolically, one hopes.

The Origin of the Expression

Over six hundred years ago, an Italian named Dante Alighieri wrote an epic poem entitled Divine Comedy. Inferno (Italian for ‘hell’) is the first part of the three-part poem, and it’s from Dante’s allegorical exploration of hell that the concept of the nine circles comes. Hell is depicted as a series of concentric circles representing a gradual increase in wickedness — and corresponding torment — that have their culmination at the very centre, where Satan is held in bondage.

The Ninth Circle of Hell is reserved for the treacherous: Cain, who killed his brother, is there in Dante’s poem, along with Mordred, murderer of King Arthur, Brutus and Cassius, traitors to Julius Caesar, and Judas Iscariot, betrayer of the Lord himself. Judas is charmingly pictured being gnawed at by Satan, Satan’s claws skinning his back, in perpetual agony for eternity.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Without Ceasing

“The Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
The Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:8-9)
Excuse all the posts on prayer the last while (is it possible to be over-occupied with prayer?).

If the Psalms are any indication, David — who had his share of troubles in his lifetime, some self-inflicted and others for which he was entirely blameless — seems to have brought everything to the Lord as a matter of course throughout most of his life.

I am intrigued by the explanatory sentences that appear prior to the first verse of many psalms.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sceptics, Seekers and Opponents

Vox Day has an interesting piece on the subject of A Manual for Creating Atheists by Peter Boghossian, a book written with the purpose of teaching, in Boghossian’s own words, “how to talk people out of their faith”.

Day makes the point that Boghossian’s position could not be more distant from that of an authentic sceptic in the traditional sense: “Boghossian’s very stated purpose is in direct and explicit opposition to everything Sextus Empiricus advises, beginning with ‘suspension of judgment’ ”. A reader imprudently engages him on this and Day responds (with my italics):
“Scepticism does not mean ‘I am dubious about X.’ It does not mean ‘I am going to convince you that X is better than Y’. It does not mean ‘I will only believe X if there is sufficient evidence to justify it’. It means: ‘I have no opinion about either X or Y, and if you assert that X is better, I will argue that Y is better in order to produce a contradiction of equal weight and thereby allow me to suspend my judgment.’ What virtually no one who talks about scepticism seems to understand is that for the sceptic, suspension of judgment is not the method or the initial approach, it is the objective.”
— Vox Day
I had not thought of this before, but it provides a good jumping-off point for looking at the issue of how people respond to the preaching of the gospel.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I Know

My brother prevailed upon me to read this last night and, while heady and intellectual, I found it quite compelling. You can read the whole thing here, but I particularly like this bit:
“… the defining feature of Theism is the Theist’s experience of an infinite but intimate God; and this sets the Theist so far from abstract epistemic neutrality that she too has every justification for weighting most of the standard budget of problems for Theism found in typical philosophy of religion basically as interesting puzzles. The epistemic reasoner is certain that the world is real, on the basis of her experience; so her question about the sceptical argument is not “I wonder whether it is sound?” but “I wonder where exactly it goes wrong?”. The Theist is certain that God is real, on the basis of her experience; so her question about anti-Theistic arguments is not whether they prove that there is no God, but how exactly they fail to prove that.”
— Timothy Chappell, Theism in historical perspective
What I like is the way Chappell distinguishes 'theists’ from 'Theists’ in that the latter don't simply believe in the idea of God, but in an “infinite and intimate” God. Of course, from that certainty naturally follows. When you speak to me of God, I’m no longer talking about an intellectual idea, I'm talking about my closest friend.

Monday, January 13, 2014

“A Matter of Interpretation”

The existence of various denominations and sects within Christianity has led many to conclude that there must be all sorts of different ways to interpret the Bible. Since most Christian churches say that the Bible is the Word of God, observers assume that every practice or belief of a Christian church must be based on a particular interpretation of the Bible. If another group has a different practice or belief, that must be because they have a different interpretation. This produces the conviction in people’s minds that the Bible does not speak clearly, and that one person’s interpretation of it is just as good as anyone else’s. But is this true?

If everybody was really going to have any number of different ideas about what the Bible was saying, there would be no point in writing the Bible at all. The reason authors write books is because they believe that they can expound their ideas clearly and have other people understand and perhaps accept those ideas. When people read books, it shows that they believe they will be able to understand the ideas which the author wanted to express. We read newspaper stories and magazine articles and books of philosophy in the belief that the clear communication of ideas is possible. We may disagree with what we read, but that is not the same as having a “different interpretation” of what the author was saying.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Not A Tame Lion

A more current version of this post is available here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bible Study 04 — Comparison [Part 4]

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

For All People

I haven’t got any enemies. Really, I can’t think of a single human being in that category. That’s not an indicator of an excessively gracious or forgiving nature, by the way. It’s simply the truth.

I live in a peaceful country. There are, of course, differences of opinion about religion, but I have never (yet) personally encountered any genuine religious persecution. I realize this is exceptional, both in human history and in view of current conditions in the rest of the world. Try confessing the name of Christ publicly in Iran, Egypt or Syria and see how that goes. Even in Baghdad where, because of the US presence for over a decade one might assume it would be a little safer to identify as Christian, attacks on two churches on Christmas day killed more than 30 worshippers.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

It Ain’t Over ’til it’s Over

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Your Father Who Is In Secret

It takes courage to stand up and pray in public if you’re shy by nature, but only a little more than must be mustered to spill your guts on Facebook or Twitter. And judging by the number of people doing that, it must feel pretty good. If you’re the type of person who by nature loves to be the centre of attention, it doesn’t take any courage at all to pray in public. It’s like swimming to a duck.

It certainly doesn’t require faith.

It doesn’t take faith to attend church meetings or to put money in an offering box. These things may be done for right reasons or wrong reasons. Church, or even giving, can be a habit, a social event, a way of feeling good about oneself, a duty or an obligation imposed by family. Such acts are done visibly and because of that, there are other possible benefits than rewards of a spiritual kind.

They don’t require faith

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

In Need of Analysis: Public Prayer

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Impossible to Renew [Part 2]

Having established the context, therefore, we may move on to a closer look at the passage in question:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:4-8)
This Passage does NOT Refer to Christians

Several phrases are used here which seem to imply that the audience are believers: they have been “enlightened”, they have “tasted the heavenly gift”, they have “shared in the Holy Spirit”. This is strong language to use of the unsaved. Doesn’t it, then, refer to Christians? Despite the controversy on this subject, we believe that the answer is no.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Impossible to Renew [Part 1]

This passage in the book of Hebrews has caused consternation to many a believer, and been the source of much controversy among Christians generally:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:4-8)
Eternal Insecurity

Read superficially, it strikes fear into the heart, for it seems at first to imply that those who have put their faith in Christ for salvation can lose that salvation.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Unintended Consequences

When they passed The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007, it is quite unlikely that the U.S. congress anticipated that their little bill would trigger a cereal grain price jump of 67.4% in 2012 over 2011, or that the rise in food prices would plunge nearly 70 million people into what the World Bank calls ‘extreme poverty’. The Houston Chronicle details the extent of the problem here.

Good Intentions

What prompted the EISA? We are told it was the desire to reduce dependency on foreign oil, scale back greenhouse gas emissions and keep the price of gas down. None of these are bad ideas. While I am as easily attracted to conspiracy theories as the next guy, I doubt the average elected representative planned on starving the third world to reduce U.S. gas prices.

But the unintended consequences of the Act have caused and continue to cause near-incalculable damage.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Get with the Program(ming)

I've been looking at inline scripture references most of my life. You know what I mean: they look like this (Gal. 3:2).

From now on, at least in everything I post, they'll look a bit more like this. Unless of course the significance of the quote warrants that it be handled:
"Like this, and this, and this."
in which case it will be quoted in full. Usually when I post, from the English Standard Version.

Online resources have made it redundant to insert inline references. Ordinarily I'd say let's put them there anyway "just in case". But I've always found they take me out of the writer's train of thought. And when anything is a hurdle to comprehension, we welcome its banishment.

So if you want to see a proof text from now on, click away.

In Need of Analysis: What Makes a Good Hymn?

It’s a question about which I have lots of ideas and few definitive answers.

Instinctively I am drawn to lyrical authenticity, biblical content, three to four verses max (or my voice wears out) and a decent melody, not so quick or difficult that the average person can’t sing it. That’s important, I think. Take On Me, for instance, is a pretty pop song by the Norwegian band a-ha, with a soaring chorus. As the melody of a hymn it would be excruciating.

I dislike dirges and choruses that sound cheesy or dated to me. I dislike anything trite. If it sounds like a sales pitch, a pep rally, or frivolous, I’d rather not, thanks.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Inbox: How Can God Allow Evil?

A reader emails a thought on a post earlier this week:
“There’s more to be said on this subject: What would a situation look like in which human beings were fallen, but creation itself was not? Or what would a situation look like wherein evil type 1 (human evil) would be present but evil type 2 (i.e. ‘natural’ evils like earthquakes and cancer) were not possible?
Consider this:
A fallen humanity plus a protected creation means that while the knowledge of good and evil exists, only good can be actualized. It means a condition of ability-to-choose exists for humanity, but no ability-to-act-on-choice. Humanity can dream evil, but never put it into action; therefore, no actual freedom or choice is created, but humanity is constituted as inwardly wicked. Furthermore, since there would exist a permanent disconnect between inner nature and external action, it becomes questionable how a) sin could become recognized for what it is, and b) how salvation would be possible, since all we know about it suggests it is constituted by external events actualized within the world itself. Would humanity then be caught in a permanent condition of sin, with no remedy? Perhaps. But what is abundantly clear is that there would be no genuine ‘choice’ between good and evil, between God and sin, since no person could ever act upon such an inward impulse. 
If this is right, then a fallen humanity necessitates also a fallen creation — since humanity must have a place in which to actualize its choices and a stage upon which the drama of redemption can be set. And if having sin be recognized as sin, and if having a stage that is flawed in such ways as to allow for that all-important drama to take place entails a few instances of chaotic evil, a few earthquakes or cases of cancer, is that really surprising?”

Bible Study 03 — Comparison [Part 3]

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

No Passage Back

A more current version of this post may be found here.

How Can God Allow Evil?

People who wonder how a loving God could allow people to go to hell often pose this question as well. But the very act of asking it defeats the argument, for the first question assumes that God judges too harshly, the other that He does not judge harshly enough!

Where Evil Grows

Evil does not float around unattached, like a big black cloud over the earth. Rather, evil originates in men’s hearts and is committed by men. Sin and death came into the world when Adam disobeyed God in Eden. God could have destroyed mankind then, but He chose to redeem us instead.