Friday, February 28, 2014

Joshua Twice

The most recent version of Bernie's post is available here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Woman in the Pink Coat

I saw you downtown this morning as I was heading back to my car, standing on a step-stool and yelling to make yourself heard. A fit-looking guy in his forties or early fifties, casually dressed in jeans and a fitted sweatshirt, your neat-trimmed beard streaked with silver. Nothing strange or threatening about you really, except for the shouting. From the way people cringed and hurried past you, I could tell they didn’t like it.

At first I thought you were ranting about something political, but then I saw the Bible in your hand. That made me curious. So while all the people around me kept walking, I stopped and listened.

You know, it wasn’t a bad message you were preaching, at least not the part of it I heard. You weren’t calling down judgment on the people passing by, or trying to badger them into joining your church; you were saying that God loves us, that He sent His only Son to earth to save us, and that no matter how bleak the world looks or how badly we’ve been hurt or how many times we’ve screwed up, there is hope if we trust in Him. I worried for a while you were going to say something weird or creepy, but you didn’t.

You were just … loud.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Inbox: The Purpose of the Gospels

In connection with this, JRM writes:
Just wanted to pass along a thought on the genealogy of Matthew 1. It’s obviously divided into three sections. A while back, I was impressed by the fact that the main divisions are related to the three main turning points in the kingship of Israel: (a)  the first section ends with “David the king” – the first genuine king of Israel (since Saul was from Benjamin and was the “teach Israel a lesson” king); (b) the second section ends with the exile to Babylon – the end of the kingship; and (c) the third section ends with “Jesus who is called Messiah” – the ultimate king of Israel. All of this fits nicely with the fact that Matthew is presenting Christ as the king.
To which I can only add: Yeah, exactly. Wish I’d thought of it.

Bible Study 10 – Context [Part 4]

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.

2. LARGER CONTEXT (The Book) (continued)

The categories into which I’ve placed each book of the Bible are not hard-edged. Many books of the Bible contain more than one type of literature. Leviticus is largely law, but includes history. The gospels are historical, but include teaching. Revelation is prophetic, but includes personal messages to actual churches. The historical books contain long psalms and songs. The books of poetry contain wisdom and prophecy. Job is clearly poetic but there is every reason to believe it is historical. Peter and Paul write letters with prophecy in them. The letters are also full of teaching, but not everything in them is doctrinal by a long shot.

But to understand how to interpret what you read in any book of the Bible, it is necessary to remain aware of both the larger and more immediate context.

Let’s look at just a few of the ways in which failure to observe larger context can cause confusion:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Without Counsel Plans Fail

I’ve seen a professional counsellor exactly once in my life. He was bald with a trimmed, white beard, sitting behind the big, polished, expensive desk one would expect, in a quiet, dark room. No couch. My wooden chair was not completely uncomfortable but clearly calculated to be no more so than required.

He was mild mannered and pleasant, cajoled me into spilling my guts for half an hour and then pronounced that I was a “good person”.

That was pretty much it for me. I knew everything I needed to know about him right there — if not as a man, most definitely as a counsellor.

First, he’d known me for precisely 30 minutes, probably less at that point. Nobody, no matter how perceptive or experienced, can reasonably pronounce on another person’s goodness with such a limited information base.

Second, he knew me only from what I’d told him. I could have been the world’s biggest liar. I could’ve been entirely self-deceived, recounting things I believed to be true but that anyone who knew me outside of that office would have dismissed as nonsense in a heartbeat.

Third, after hearing everything I had to say, his first inclination was to attempt to reinforce my positive self-image to ensure I was not feeling bad about myself.

That was the kicker for me.

Monday, February 24, 2014

10 down, 603 to go ...

My reading this morning reinforced something I.C. posted a little while back on the subject of the 613 Commandments though, much to my disappointment, he only dealt with 10 of them.

(I look forward to a future post setting out how the rest of God’s commands can also be viewed relationally, though I suspect that may take him a while …)

Frankly, since reading that particular post, I’m finding evidence in the Old Testament that God’s purpose has always been primarily about fostering a relationship with man everywhere I turn, and in everything I read.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Inbox: Demon Possession & the Church Age

A friend emailed me some thoughts on demon possession worth passing along:

A couple weeks ago someone asked me for my thoughts on demon possession and the role it plays today [he had been reading something written by Derek Prince]. This led to the following thoughts, and I’d appreciate yours.

[There is a] total lack of instruction concerning demon “possession” and exorcism in the epistles. In fact, the only references to demons or unclean spirits in Romans through Jude are 1 Corinthians 10:20f (the cup and table of demons), 1 Timothy 4:1 (the doctrine of demons), and James 2:19 (the demons believe that God is one). If casting out demons were normative for the church age, I’m pretty sure it would have made the church epistles. Mr. Prince sees demons as not only an occasional issue, but overwhelmingly common. It’s difficult (read: impossible) for me to believe that a critical, pervasive problem that was going to persist through the entire church age would have been utterly ignored in Romans through Jude.

I think this is a very similar issue to sign gifts.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Boy in Black Leather

“I was crazy for Jackie
I was almost ready to say
when a boy in black leather
came and took Jackie away”
— The Waterboys
Those of you who are a few years younger than I am, and most, if not all, of the men, can probably relate to that one. I don’t mean that you necessarily know the song, but you’ve almost certainly had the experience.

I had it as a teenager, and oddly enough the girl’s name actually was Jackie, though I can’t remember if the boy who took her away wore black leather or not. Those were the punk rock years, so it’s not improbable.

And, if I am completely truthful, there was more than one “Jackie” over the years, and more than one “boy in black leather”.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Who’s Afraid of Science?

I often refer to Wikipedia, that unassailable bastion of compiled wisdom, not because I believe it to be particularly accurate, but because it provides as good an understanding of how people currently use language as can possibly be obtained. A Wikipedia definition is the gold standard for lowest common denominator human knowledge. So while it may not represent what everyone down through human history understood by the term “science”, let’s give their definition a browse:
Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”
Sounds reasonable, no? So let’s get some things clear here:

I am not anti-science — and more importantly, neither Christians nor the Scripture itself are anti-science — if by “science” we mean using our God-given intelligence to puzzle out how things work and make life better for each other. Who could reasonably be against the search for objective truth? Who wouldn’t like better hygiene, a cure for cancer or buildings that remain standing in earthquakes?

“Science” in this sense is a perfectly sensible concept, and something man was clearly designed for. It’s in our nature to ask questions and look for answers.

I am, however, profoundly anti-science, if by “science” you mean what most people actually mean by it: agenda-driven, government- or special interest-funded pseudo-authority masquerading as universal truth. 

Boiled down to its essence, it is a propaganda hammer used to bludgeon the most malleable minds into what are — today, at least — the most politically acceptable shapes.

It is about as far from the original concept as it is possible to have come.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mission Statement

I’ve never had much use for mission statements or five-year plans, though they are certainly an ongoing feature of modern business life. And perhaps in a business environment it makes sense to ask, “What is our purpose and how are we going to realize it?” The problem is that it is easy to formulate a lofty catchphrase that is entirely meaningless in the real world, isn’t it?

·         McDonald’s mission statement is typical of such efforts to distill purpose into a single phrase:  “McDonald’s brand mission is to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat and drink”. Predictably bland and inoffensive, it quite rightly leaves out the bit about “enriching ourselves by destroying the health of the world one person at a time”, probably because figuring out which part of the chicken McNuggets come from is a little more urgent.

·         Apple’s mission statement is less of a statement and more of an advert. It starts off: “Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience …” and quickly dribbles off into describing all the different people Apple satisfies with the various indispensable parts of its product line.

·         Possibly the most cloying of all is Starbucks’, notable if only for its spectacular overreach: “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

No, really. I didn’t make that up. Marketing Department, dial the rhetoric back a notch, please: it’s just COFFEE! I don’t come to you to have my human spirit nurtured. I just want an espresso, preferably hot and quick.

But it seems to me that the Christian life doesn’t require a mission statement or a five-year plan, so much as a permanent cast of mind.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Will There Really Be A Millennial Temple? [Part 2]

The concluding chapters of the prophetic book of Ezekiel are among the most hotly debated in all of Scripture. Neither the figurative nor the literal approach to these chapters is adequate to explain every detail, unravel every mystery. However, it is not necessary for us to know all the answers in order to understand the passage properly. Despite the potential for controversy, Scripture does supply us with enough information to answer the main questions associated with the passage, which are as follows: 

1.    Is the temple and its worship literal, or figurative?
2.    Do these things take place at a time now past or at some point in the future?
3.    If the time is future, does it involve the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth, or the heavenly state
4.    In any case, what is the purpose of the sacrifices described? 

In a previous post, we tried to offer answers to the first two questions.

Let’s consider the remaining two:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Above My Pay Grade

“That’s above my pay grade”, a former senator named Barack Obama famously said.

It was 2008 and the abortion issue was being discussed. Obama had been asked the question “At what point does a baby get human rights?”

His response indicated, at very least, an aversion to being pinned down on the subject and a desire to avoid conflict over the issue as he campaigned to be President of the United States of America. There were ‘larger issues’ at stake, he undoubtedly thought. He was prepared to let evil slide for the sake of what he perceived to be the ‘greater good’, which presumably includes his current presidency.

God has been accused of letting evil slide too: “Why do you idly look at traitors?” the prophet Habakkuk asked him. The poor man was genuinely perplexed. He knew the character of the God he served, and to him the idea of a holy God giving evil a pass was intolerable.
“You … are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13)
Was Habakkuk right or wrong in his assessment of God’s character? Does God really let evil slide? In what sense is God “of purer eyes” than to see it?

Does it mean he is oblivious to — or worse, deliberately unaware of — what goes on in the world?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Bible Study 09 – Context [Part 3]

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.

2. LARGER CONTEXT (The Book)

It’s fair to say that each book of the Bible is written with a specific purpose in view. This would likely be true even if each book was solely authored by a human being; most people do not sit down and write without purpose, though some things one reads on the internet might make one question that assertion.

But it seems all the more logical that this would be the case when we remind ourselves that the word of God has a single author, in that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”. Of course each instalment of God’s progressive revelation of himself to mankind would have a specific purpose, whether or not such purpose is instantly obvious to us.

Let’s think about that fact for a bit.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

An Apple for Mr Dalrymple

If a godless totalitarian government ever takes over and forces us all to celebrate Take an Atheist to Lunch Day, I want dibs on Theodore Dalrymple. Mind you, that’s assuming he’s still available at that point, and not locked up as a traitor to the State.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Limits of Toleration

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Will There Really Be A Millennial Temple? [Part 1]

The concluding chapters of the prophetic book of Ezekiel are among the most hotly debated in all of Scripture. Many differing and conflicting interpretations have been proposed by scholars, each according to his own school of eschatological thought. Are these chapters, which describe a great temple, speaking figuratively or literally? Do they refer to a time now past, or to a future state?

The opportunities for controversy are manifold, and a mere consideration of the chapters themselves, in isolation, is insufficient to provide all the answers. For instance, this temple description occurs at the end of a book heavy with symbolism, yet contains precise details and measurements suggesting a more literal approach. There are mysteries in chapters 40-48, as well — who is the ‘prince’ or leader involved in the temple worship?

Neither the figurative nor the literal approach to these chapters is adequate to explain every detail, unravel every mystery. However, it is not necessary for us to know all the answers in order to understand the passage properly. Despite the potential for controversy, Scripture does supply us with enough information to answer the main questions associated with the passage, which are as follows: 

1.    Is the temple and its worship literal, or figurative?
2.    Do these things take place at a time now past or at some point in the future?
3.    If the time is future, does it involve the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth, or the heavenly state?
4.    In any case, what is the purpose of the sacrifices described? 

Let’s consider these issues and attempt to provide some sound and scriptural answers.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Romantic Love is NOT an Inalienable Right

I love Andrew Klavan. He’s bitingly witty, reflective, clever, generous-spirited and brave. His Christianity is firmly grounded in the real world and whether arguing for his faith, conservatism or just common sense, he takes no prisoners. We could use more like him.

That said, this blog post lacks the usual Klavan acuity; in particular, this paragraph:
“If, on the other hand, sex is a spiritual act, then you might have an argument that some types of sex are sinful, but if you make that argument, you are advising a fellow spirit to forgo the consolations of romantic love. And if you want to condemn an individual to a life without romantic love, you better make a much more compelling case …”
There are a few things I’d take issue with here:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

I Commit My Spirit

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Bible Study 08 – Context [Part 2]

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 previous post on this subject.

1. QUOTATIONS

It should come as no great surprise that the Bible is full of quotations, most of which are from some other book of the Bible. New Testament writers especially tend to reinforce their points with quotations from the Old.

Referencing something your readers already agree with in support of what you’re teaching — or something they would agree with if they knew about it — is a completely natural and logical thing to do. We teach high school and university students to do it all the time. It’s particularly useful if what you’re teaching is consistent with what has gone before but not intuitively obvious.

When examining quotes from the Old Testament it is useful to remember that what they mean is determined first and foremost by the context in which they fall; by what point the New Testament writer or speaker is seeking to make.

For example, what does it mean that “the righteous shall live by faith”, and how does context factor into our understanding of meaning?

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Why Do Christians Worship?

A more current version of this post is available here.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Leave Scripture Out of It

A more current version of this post is available here.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Insufficient Authority

This is not a subject I write about easily, but it’s one to which I believe many Christians can relate.

Giant, massive disclaimer: By what I’m about to say, I am not in any way judging or condemning the efforts of serious Christian parents or spouses I know or know about. Still less would I pass any judgement on the parenting and relationship efforts of Christians in circumstances I don’t fully understand.

I am constantly astounded at my own inability to accurately size up other people’s business. What regularly throws me for a loop are these little factoids that pop up in conversation that make you completely reverse your previous set-in-concrete assessment of someone you know, like “Did you know she has a brain tumor?” (No, really, I’m not making this up.)

But since I have very little idea who reads these thoughts other than immediate family members, believe me: I have no particular axe to grind and no particular family situations in mind.

I’m just thinking here.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

In Need of Analysis: Doctrine vs. Practice

The most current version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

What’s in a name?

A would-be commenter drew our attention to the fact that it’s a pain to comment here if you don’t have a Google account or are not logged into some other third-party sign-in option. I tried it and agreed.

So we’ve enabled anonymous commenting for the time being to make life easier for folks who don’t like leaving their personal info all over the internet.

In Need of Analysis: Wake Up and Smell the Potpourri

The most current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Safely and Painfully Dead

The worst of all evils is death, or so modern thought has it. Death is to be avoided, evaded, delayed and denied at all costs. And definitely not discussed.

This prioritizing of the length of human existence over its actual quality is the reason that in most countries of the world there is no longer a death penalty. Even in U.S. states where it’s still legal, almost nobody gets executed anymore. Older concepts of justice, fairness and “an eye for an eye” have given way to a frantic collective scrambling around to keep everyone on the planet as long as possible, whether they deserve it or not.

Except for unborn children. Logical consistency is not our strong point.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Inbox: What’s this ‘Fellowship’ Thing?

In connection with this post Tertius writes:
“Not surprisingly, Tom, in light of what you have said so far, I started thinking whether or not there is a word in the Scriptures that describes this special kind of communication that Christians may have with each other. I believe there is. Doesn’t “fellowship” wrap it up neatly? That is, as long as we do not allow its Biblical strength to be diluted by the limited way unbelievers must understand the term, for Christian fellowship has to be experienced before it can be defined. In fact, I confess I find it difficult to define now though I think I can say I have “experiences” of it. But maybe I am looking at it too subjectively — what joy I get out of it. But isn’t that what happened on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32)? I’m scrambling and hoping you or others will help me to unscramble my thoughts.”
I don’t know of too many Christians today who use the word “fellowship” regularly unless they’re well past retirement. If younger Christians use it, they usually do so in that formulaic, contrived way often associated with terms you wouldn’t hear in the real world but have picked up in church and adopted without much real sense of what they mean.

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.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Bible Study 07 – Context [Part 1]

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. We’ll be coming back to comparison, but our previous study led us to the conclusion that interpreting in context is foundational to any genuine understanding of the word of God.

OUR AUTHORITY

We are seeking to use tools in our Bible study that are taught in the word of God itself. Let’s consider what the apostle Paul says on our subject:
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV)

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Christians That Need to be Saved

The most recent version of this post is available here.