Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Freedom: The False and the True

A more current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Universalism = InterpretationFail

It is awfully useful to observe how and where people go wrong in interpreting scripture.

If, say, a Universalist misappropriates a particular text to serve his cause, you can bet Calvinists, Amillennialists, Prosperity Gospel folks or whoever will use a similar bag of tricks to get where they want to go too.

In perusing Universalist websites for a previous post, I noticed many of them have this is common: they are fond of pointing to the word “all”, as though its employment in any context decisively proves their point. I suppose this preoccupation is easily understood, given the nature of their particular doctrinal aberration.

How can we go about making Scripture say whatever we’d like it to?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Christians and the Media: Field Day

People who have not spent a great deal of time around serious Christians are often surprised, on the rare occasions when they finally do, to find that we are not always exactly the way we are frequently portrayed in popular culture.

Some Christians, notably Cory Copeland, a writer for Relevant, think any disconnect between the way we are portrayed in the media and the way we actually behave is … kind of our fault, actually.
“The truth is that there are some so-called Christians who quite closely mirror the Christian characters we watch on television and film. They’re loud and proud and angry in God. They stare down their “opponents” with judgmental eyes and damning language. They protest funerals and vomit epithets at people they’ve deemed sinners.                                                                        
And on some level, most of us are guilty of some of this type of behavior. Maybe not to those extremes, but we too judge, condemn and feel “better than,” while refusing to admit our own faults. For the more dogmatic Christians and for us, it doesn’t matter that how we behave, how we treat people, how void we are of love and grace is a direct and vicious contradiction of everything the Bible teaches us of God and His ways.”
Okay, so … Fred Phelps. Bit of a straw man, Cory.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The End of the Family Line

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Debunking Heavenly Mythology VI: Everybody’s Going

For reasons only they fully understand, the Christian Universalist Association would like you to believe the following:
“We believe in universal salvation, the idea that there is no such thing as eternal hell or annihilation because God has planned the universe to produce a positive outcome for all people of all times.”
Under the banner “All God’s Children — No One Left Behind”, clutching tenaciously to their proof text “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” and a bunch of quasi-logical justifications, these folks take the position that it’s all okay: no matter what you do, say, or think in this life, there has to be SOME good in you somewhere, and God’s omnipotence and benevolence will not allow that to be lost for eternity.

So we’re all in. Whew! Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin. Charles Manson. Paul Bernardo. John Lennon and Mark David Chapman.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Not of Faith

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

How Depraved Can We Be?

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Shrimp Skewers and Fellowship

By the time we arrive at Genesis 3:11, the Fall has happened. The first sin has been committed by mankind and, in believing the lies of the serpent, Adam and Eve have rebelled against the word of God; they stopped believing that God was good and wanted the best for them. What had been perfect fellowship between God and man has been destroyed by their doubt and their sin.

There was a time when they believed Him entirely, of course; when there was no distance and no separation between God and man. But can you imagine that first awful moment when God comes to the garden called “delight” that He had made for Adam and Eve, and He has to call for them because they’re not in view, not eager to meet Him?

He knew where they were, of course, but when He called them He wanted them to understand that fellowship was broken. In verse 11 He asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” That beautiful fellowship that had been part and parcel of the garden is shattered. Adam and Eve have fashioned loincloths for themselves because they have this sudden realization that they’re naked. It never bothered them before that moment. They literally had nothing to hide from God, and suddenly something has changed. There are things they wish God did not know about them.

Sound a bit familiar?

It sure sounds familiar to me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Christians and the Law: Repercussions

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But what were the consequences of the Apostles’ attempts to deal with the controversy?

The Consequences 

When the meeting at Jerusalem concluded, Barnabas, Paul and their new companions Judas and Silas promptly carried the apostolic letter to the church at Antioch, where it was received with great rejoicing.

Although the issue of whether or not circumcision and Law-keeping were necessary to salvation remained a hotly debated one in the Christian community for some time afterward, and Paul was soon forced to write a lengthy epistle to the church at Galatia to counteract the grievously effective work of the Judaizers among them, there could no longer be a doubt as to the opinion of the leading apostles and elders on this question. 

The official statement had been made: Gentiles were justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone, and neither circumcision nor observance of the Mosaic Law was necessary to complete their justification.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Good Friday, Tax Collectors and Sinners

It’s Good Friday, though I probably won’t post this until next week.

I’m out walking through my neighbourhood around noon. It was noisier this morning than yesterday at this time; more people around home instead of at work. By lunchtime the local Starbucks is buzzing, other establishments are opening up for business. Even the used bookstore is open.

I remember only a few years ago when, on Good Friday, everything was quiet well into the afternoon. Most offices and storefronts still took the opportunity to close and give their employees a day off since business wasn’t likely to be exactly booming. You could drive anywhere downtown at any time of day and almost nobody else was out and about.

Worse, I remember all the way back to my childhood, when Easter was conferences or special church meetings for the Protestants I knew, mass for the Catholics and peace and quiet for everybody else. Nobody went shopping on Good Friday because there was nowhere open to shop.

It’s good to see that the de-Christian-ization of our country continues apace.

No, really.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Debunking Heavenly Mythology V: Heaven Is Boring

I know, I know — nobody comes right out and says it that bluntly. Of course they don’t.

But lots of people think it. Or, more accurately, are a little afraid it might be.

Here’s one example of someone who does, and I’m sure you’ve heard dozens of similar comments, often at funerals:
“… if there is a heaven, and right now I am sure hoping there is, I like to think my grandfather is just making the turn at nine. A smile on his face from ear to ear because he can walk carrying his own golf bag. His eyesight that was taken from him in the early 90s is back and he doesn't see the world in shadows anymore. That his hearing, taken from him at about the time as his sight has returned. He can hear the birds singing in the trees and the sound of his persimmon driver compressing a golf ball 300 yards down the middle of the fairway.”
Of course there must be golf in heaven. And hockey. And beer. And rock ’n roll.

Because if my favourite thing isn’t to be found in heaven, I simply can’t imagine living for eternity without it. And life without it would be … well, if not ‘boring’ exactly, at least deficient in some way.

Or just maybe my concept of God’s love is a few sizes too small.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Eden: The Original Plan

In many ways the garden of Eden is distinct.

Eden, the word itself, means “delight” or “pleasure”. Interestingly, it also can mean “delicate”, and as it turns out, Eden certainly was that. If we look at Genesis 1, we will see there on seven occasions, as God creates, he says, “It’s good”. Six times over, he says simply “It’s good, it’s good, it’s good, it’s good, it’s good, it’s good,” and finally he sums up all by saying “It’s very good”.

So when I say Eden was a delight and a pleasure to God, it’s not purely because the name in the original language means “delight” or “pleasure”; it’s because God himself repeatedly said, “I really like this”, “I really like what I’m making” — the completed work, which included mankind, Adam and Eve. God Himself pronounces it “very good” indeed. More than simply a name, the garden of Eden was truly the delight of God.

It was also experienced as a delight by the first and only human couple to experience the garden of Eden.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Millennial Kingdom and the Blame Game

The most current version of this post is available here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dismembering the Church

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Harlequin Romances, Detective Fiction and the Essence of Prophecy

The most current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Scientific Materialism and The Good Wife

Popular culture is an ocean of leftist muck, propaganda and uncritical thinking.

Still, there are rare occasions when you run across something so thought-provoking and strikingly out of place in its lucidity that you just can’t believe it’s actually on TV.

It is sadly common these days to leave entirely unexamined the real life implications of one’s philosophical and religious beliefs, or the lack thereof.

There are about 100 comments that come to mind about the following scene, but maybe I’ll just let it speak for itself.

Courtroom drama from The Good Wife:

Alicia: When we left off, Professor, you said you believed in right and wrong, and that it was wrong to hurt people. Professor?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Calvinism: Rotten TULIPs

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Garden of Eden: Stardust

I hope you’ll forgive me a little Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (or if you prefer, a little Joni Mitchell). I’m going to think a bit about the garden of Eden, and CSNY had something to say about it in their 1970 hit Woodstock.

They close the song this way: “We are stardust”.

I understand, scientifically, that appears to be the case: we are formed from the same sort of heavy materials and elements that form stars. So I think, scientifically, they were on to something.

I’m not entirely sure what they mean by adding in the next breath “we are golden” but, being generous, I'll grant a little poetic license.

So I largely agree with their science, and when the penultimate line of the song is “we are caught in the Devil’s bargain”, I find I can agree with their theology too.

But when they close with, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”, I’m not sure that I can agree with their eschatology.

This whole “getting back to the garden” notion is appealing. It’s a nice idea. Implicit in the statement is a recognition that there is something terribly wrong with the world we live in now. And CSNY suggest that a solution — maybe — is to get back to the state we were in in the garden.

They were talking about the garden of Eden. Now the garden of Eden, of course, is one of ‘those’ stories.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Historical Details, Forests and Trees

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Inbox: Practical Sanctification

I remember sitting through a lot of sermons about theological concepts as a teenager and wondering “What am I supposed to do about that?”

Or maybe I just wasn't listening as carefully back then.

Anyway, I received an email this morning from a full-time Bible teacher currently traveling across Canada that takes one of those five-syllable spiritual ideas and makes it extremely practical, something I still appreciate. An excerpt:
 “Sanctification therefore is not principally an experience: it is God using the truth, or God using His Word — and the Holy Spirit bringing it to us, opening our understanding of it, and then enabling us to apprehend it. We are then to take this truth and apply it to ourselves or to our lives day by day.”
Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Christians and the Law: Answering the Challenge

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But how did the apostles deal with this challenge to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Peter’s attempt to persuade his brethren was based on his personal experience of how God had worked in the hearts and lives of the Gentiles who had believed through his ministry. He described how God had not only directed him to share the gospel with pagan people, but had showed His approval by bestowing the Holy Spirit on those who had believed. By giving the Spirit He had clearly shown that in His sight the Gentile believers were no different from and no less privileged than the Jewish believers.

This being the case, what grounds were there for saying that the uncircumcised Gentiles were inferior in God’s sight and needed to do more to complete their salvation?

Had God Himself made a mistake in giving the Spirit prematurely to people who were not truly saved? 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A Further Thought about Screaming Kids

One thing I neglected to mention in today’s post that my parents did which, as I’ve gotten older myself, has begun to make perfect sense to me, is that they established control over their children early.

I think maybe once you’ve shown, through consistent reinforcement, that the war is won, you don’t have to fight it every single day.

I don’t remember NOT respecting my parents. I remember disagreeing with them, sure, but not being prepared to outright defy them to their faces.

On one occasion later on in my high school days, my father and I were having words in the hall by the front door as 9:00 a.m. drew closer and closer. Wanting to put an end to his lecture, I announced that “the government says I have to be at school, so we’ll have to deal with this later”.

My father simply replied, “Well, **I** say you need to stay here and finish this conversation”.

I was several inches taller and fifty or sixty pounds heavier than my father at that point. There was no physical contest to be had. But guess who got his way? It wasn’t me.

That battle was won long before I remember it even going on.

Screaming Kids and the Harvest of Righteousness

I’m fairly emotionally robust, a product probably of both nature and nurture. I’d like to think I’m not completely insensitive, but it takes a fair bit to hurt my feelings, let alone do any kind of serious damage. I can’t imagine what someone would have to do to me to cause permanent harm to my worldview, self-image or confidence. (My family may, of course, wish to offer their own take on any spirit of self-congratulation that sneaks into such a self-assessment.)

But that’s not true of everyone. It wasn’t even always true of me. In Grade 5 when I first encountered bullies (or more accurately, they first encountered me), I was insecure, terrified and conflict-avoidant. Mostly I was perpetually astonished at the intensity of their venom, which as far as I could tell was directed my way for no reason at all. I walked miles out of my way to get home from school without being pummeled silly.

Nowadays, at least in Canada, bullying in school is frowned upon and a token effort, at bare minimum, is made to manage it. When I was a teen, there was not much you could do except fight back (if you were able) or run for the hills. Taking your sad tale to a teacher or principal didn't accomplish anything positive, something I learned rather quickly.

But even being bullied is merely a manageable annoyance if you have a good home and a loving family to retreat to.

The really emotionally destructive stuff happens at home. No stranger or acquaintance can hurt you like a loved one can.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Christians and the Law: Controversy

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But why was it such a crucial matter for the early church?

Paul’s background as a Pharisee certainly gave him a ready understanding of the Judaizers’ position, but on the basis of his knowledge of the gospel of grace, he strongly opposed their teaching. Years later he would explain to the Galatians:
“A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus ... by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified ...  if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Galatians 2:16,21)
Paul and Barnabas fought the Judaizers in Antioch for some time before it became clear that the debate must be officially resolved. At last the church at Antioch decided to send a delegation, led by Paul and Barnabas, to Jerusalem to consult the apostles and elders there.

Whatever was decided at the council would determine the practice of the Gentile believers throughout the Roman Empire and throughout subsequent history.

Monday, April 07, 2014

God’s Sovereignty, Man’s Responsibility and the Two Witnesses

In his recent post on Calvinism, Immanuel made the point that pretty much every Christian believes in God’s sovereignty. The debate, he says, is not really about whether God is sovereign, but:
“… what they disagree about is how prescriptive His management of the universe has to be in order for that to be true. Does He have to mandate the movement of every molecule that twitches? Or is it possible that God allows human beings some measure of freedom of choice and action? How “tight” does sovereignty have to be in order to remain sovereignty?”
My personal conviction, and that of many fellow believers (obviously including Immanuel), is that Scripture teaches both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.

The “two witnesses” of Revelation 11 appear to me to illustrate both these principles, and one way in which the two might co-exist (I’m not suggesting that in every instance the two work together in precisely this way).

Let’s suppose in analyzing the chapter that its words are intended to be taken at face value; that is to say, that when John writes “if anyone would”, it means “if anyone would” (as opposed to something along the lines of “if the sovereign God compels anyone to”).

If we do that, is it possible to see the sovereignty of God on display at the same time as man’s will?

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Tolerating Evil: Moral Relativism and the Slippery Pole to Hell

The most current version of this post is available here.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Christians and the Law: Why the Confusion?

“And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’ ”.
These words in Acts 15:1 introduce an issue that challenged the Christian church soon after its inception and would continue to be debated among the believers for years to come.

But where did this controversy originate?

The Cause 

In order to trace this issue back to its roots, one must go back to the Old Testament and consider what it has to say about the relationship between Jew and Gentile.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Culture, Politics and Christianity

I’ve been asking myself lately where my loyalties really lie.

Christendom is part of the cultural mainstream. That is not news to anyone. That Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, at a cost of something in the neighbourhood of $130,000,000, would get released at all in 2014 is evidence that Hollywood thinks there are plenty of Christianized or at least vaguely Christian-influenced pockets out there to be picked.

(No, this is not going to turn into a movie review. Matt Walsh and Ben Shapiro have done such fine jobs eviscerating the movie that I wouldn’t take a crack at Noah even if I’d bothered to see it. Think three words: “Perversely pagan mess”. That should about do it.)

And of course, in addition to cross-pollinating with popular culture, we have our own “vibrant” Christian subculture going on. We have our own fiction writers, our own music, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and now even our own films.

They’ve infected us. We’ve (kinda) infected them, at least to some degree. We’ve become mercantile. And they’ve become aware that we’re a market, and they’re not so uncompromisingly leftist (yet) that they’re willing to let a buck pass without grabbing their share.

In this miasma of kinda-sorta Christendom that doesn’t seem a whole lot like the first century church in the book of Acts — at least not by any spiritual metric I can easily locate — one wonders what exactly the Lord would have to say about us, assuming we’d stop to listen.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Relativism: Facts, Foolishness and Faith

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Tolerance and Relativism

The most current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

On Christians and Hypocrisy

“Christians are hypocrites.”

When people say it — and they do — they are often thinking of unscrupulous TV evangelist-types whose greed and hypocrisy have been publicly exposed, or perhaps their own bitter personal experience with a person who claimed to be a follower of Christ but acted in a very un-Christlike way.

It is certainly a great shame when people claim to be followers of the Lord Jesus but live lives of self-centredness and prejudice. Often these people make the matter worse by assuming an air of false piety and loudly condemning those who do not match up to their lofty standards of conduct — standards they themselves do not even follow.

Is there a Biblical response to this sort of thing? How should a genuine believer respond?