Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Media Dumbs Down

“The U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking. Has the most powerful nation on Earth lost its mind?” (from a Maclean’s article entitled “America Dumbs Down”, by Jonathon Gatehouse)
I don’t subscribe to Maclean’s magazine, but car trouble last week left me stuck at the mechanic with a styrofoam cup of bad coffee in hand and, well, there wasn’t much else on offer. I read a bunch of articles but the Gatehouse piece stuck out like a sore thumb.

His thesis, in short: Americans are stupid. Gatehouse’s proof?

·         42% of Americans  are “not too” or “not at all” confident that all life on Earth is the product of evolution;
·         51% are skeptical that a “big bang” 13.8 billion years ago started it all;
·         36% doubt the Earth has been around for 4.5 billion years;
·         47% are less than perfectly confident that child vaccines are safe;
·         only 33% are highly confident that global warming is “man made”.

(Also, Gatehouse is offended that more Americans didn’t uncritically embrace Obamacare and had to have it rammed down their throats, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Then he warms to his theme: “Everywhere you look these days, America is in a rush to embrace the stupid. Hell-bent on a path that’s not just irrational, but often self-destructive.”

Really? Does Skepticism = Stupidity, in every instance?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Quite Contrary: Scripture and Mariolotry

I’m all for consistency. Consistency is a great thing. I imagine it’s comforting to view one’s faith as part of a grand ecclesiastical tradition going back a couple thousand years. I suspect it’s reassuring to be able to trace its leadership all the way back to Christ’s disciples. And if there’s strength in numbers, how intimidating is a religious tradition that goes by the name “universal”?

In any accusation against Roman Catholicism, the nagging question How can this many people over this many years be wrong? seems an implicit rebuttal. And even if the concept of infallibility is considered a bit much to ascribe to any human institution, its historical dominance and sheer, massive scale suggest that something in the order of “extremely likely to be correct” must surely apply.

In comparison with Protestant factionalism, Catholicism boasts an enviable appearance of solidarity. However, there are numerous and visible cracks in the facade. For every unifying and stirring address from the Pope there are thousands of practical departures from monolithic consistency at the local, practical level — far away from Vatican City, where most Catholics actually live. After all, before 1870, belief in papal infallibility was not a defined requirement of Catholic faith. And in a 20-year old survey of 15-25 year olds, 81% Catholic, taken over a four-year period, only 36% affirmed that the Pope has the authority to speak with infallibility.

So, cracks in the facade. There are many more. Still, it may seem a little brazen to suggest that so many wise men with so much accrued learning over so many centuries could be so wrong about so much. At least, it would be brazen if the revelation of God began and ended with Romanism.

But it didn’t.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

There Is No ‘Plan B’

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

God’s Sovereignty vs. Suffering

There is very little more disorienting and disturbing than a sudden change of circumstances for the worse. Even those who have studied and enjoyed the word of God for years can be knocked off their pins by tragedy.

I remember reading C.S. Lewis’ book A Grief Observed as a very young believer and thinking that for a mature Christian, he sure didn’t seem to handle loss very well.

Yeah, right.

A few years went by. A few things went wrong. I discovered what real pain feels like.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mysticism and Salvation

I am about as far from a mystic as anyone I’ve ever met.

I lack the sort of conversion story other believers often point to; the type of testimony that includes phrases like “I asked God …” and “I felt a strange sense of peace come over me”; the type of experience that leads you to write a date in the front of your Bible and remember it the rest of your life. All I have is a vague recollection of an emotional moment as a child on a front porch somewhere and the dawning realization that Jesus died for me, but memory is malleable and inaccurate more often than not.

So, like I do with everything else, I check boxes: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” [check], and “believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” [check], “you will be saved” [check and double-check]. 

That’s the word of God, and it gives me more confidence than the recollection of any experience or feeling.

Immanuel Can sums it up perfectly in this recent post: “So how can we know? The Father loves the Son. Surprisingly, this is the essential answer we have been looking for.”

No experience can be more reassuring than that. So, mysticism, yeah … not really my thing.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Present Perfect

A more current version of this post is available here.

Friday, May 23, 2014

God’s Sovereignty vs. Hardened Hearts

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Irrationalization: Call No Man Father

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Eden: Take This Job and Love It

We’ve been considering some of the things we can see about the character of God as they appear for us in a pre-sin moment in Eden. Eden uniquely provides an unhindered look into the relationship God wants between Himself and His creation.

First, we considered that God is shown in Eden to be primarily a God of unfettered fellowship; that He desired to share knowledge of Himself with humanity and that humanity was unashamed in the full presence of their Creator.

Second, we considered that God revealed Himself in the first moments of time to be a God who loves to bless and wants to be known as a rewarder of those who seek Him.

The third thing of note then is this. Adam and Eve had something you and I crave: They had worthwhile work.

Rather foolishly, when I have been having a tough day on the job and finding my efforts unsuccessful, I have wistfully said to someone who was listening — and ideally there wasn’t anybody listening — “Well, you know, work is a curse”.

But I was wrong then and you’d be wrong to think it now. Work isn’t a curse.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

God’s Sovereignty vs. the Evil That Men Do

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Eden: Beginning of the Family Line

We’ve touched on the fact that God’s character is more clearly seen in the Eden story in Genesis than anywhere else in the Bible with the exception of Calvary. In Genesis 1, we read that God created male and female. Immediately following, we ask this: what is the very first thing they experience that Scripture records immediately following?

It’s there in the first line of verse 28. He blessed them. God blessed them.

The initial experience mankind had of the creator God was that He is and was by nature foremost to be known as a God who blesses. The highest priority he had for us, there in moment one, was blessing — and for us to come to know Him as a blesser.

The New Testament puts the same priority on it: “He who comes to God must believe that he is” — that makes good sense — “and that he is a rewarder” — that he is a blesser — “of those who seek Him”.

God wants to be known as a blesser, and here he blesses man and woman first.

In what way did He bless them? It’s manifold, of course — the blessing of life, the blessing of companionship with each other and fellowship with Him, the blessing of the surrounding beauty of creation and so on and so forth. But it’s interesting also to note not what all the implied blessings of Eden were but rather what the first expressed blessing of Eden was. The first recorded blessing is … what?

Children.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Failure to Launch

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saints and Ain’ts

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

God’s Sovereignty vs. the Idiocy of Man

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mean Girls and Mean Theology

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Two Men and You

The Story of the Bible

The Bible consists of 66 books. Thousands of years lie between the first human author and the last, but the way its history, its prophecies, its songs and its teachings blend into a cohesive story implies the oversight of one Person. He must have existed throughout the years of its production! The Bible claims for itself that it is “God-breathed” or inspired.

What is its story all about? Serious students of its pages have made various suggestions as to its overall purpose and plan depending on which of its themes interested them. Every valid idea put forward is like a thread woven into the overall fabric of Scripture. It becomes possible to trace these themes throughout its pages like the coloured strands in a tapestry. The topics of the glory of God, the sinful condition of mankind, the need for a sufficient sacrifice, etc., all contribute to the total impression left on the mind of the thoughtful reader.

And each strand of truth that begins in the first book has its counterpart, contrast and climax in the last.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Islam, Christianity and Secularism

Interesting things on TV these days.

If you missed it, which I certainly did, in this YouTube clip from last Friday’s show, Bill Maher — surprisingly, for such a notorious secularist — connects the actions of Boko Haram (the Nigerian schoolgirl abductors, for anyone not watching the news) to Islam “at large”, stating plainly that “It’s not just a few bad apples”, much to the consternation of fellow leftist Ariana Huffington, who begs to differ.

Matt Welch, Editor-in-Chief of Reason Magazine agrees with Maher (with a considerable number of qualifications): “Islam is providing a disproportionate share of radical nutbags killing people right now.”

Baratunde Thurston, CEO of Cultivated Wit and author of How To Be Black, dislikes Maher’s assessment and disagrees with Welch’s about the “disproportionate share”: “I don’t think Islam has any monopoly on darkness and nutbags and crazy rhetoric and violence.”

Maher replies: “It’s not a monopoly, but it’s the Titanic hitting the iceberg compared to Whitney Houston dying in her bathtub.”

Ouch.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hooray for the Hypocrites

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Do Christians Hate Jews?

Many Jews today feel that, because of historical atrocities committed against their people by the so-called “Christian” church, all Christians are Jew-haters. Unfortunately, not only many nominal Christians but even some real believers harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, and this only confirms the suspicion in Jewish minds.

But does the New Testament allow Christians to be prejudiced in this way?

Definitely not.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Feeding the Dogs [Part 2]

Do you ever feel like God isn’t listening? That’s what this woman had to deal with:
“Jesus … withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:21-24)
In my previous post, I wondered how the Lord’s delay in responding to the woman’s need — or even acknowledging her — was consistent with his character, and how it served the purposes of God.

I wondered: If the Lord responds to the woman immediately and grants her request, what’s the difference? What exactly is lost?

So I tried to point out yesterday that we lose an important lesson about the priority of the Father’s will.

But we lose a couple of other things, I think.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Feeding the Dogs [Part 1]

Picture yourself in a situation of dire need. Say you’re in a private clinic with a sick child, a child that has been ailing badly for weeks and months. In this scenario, there is no Obamacare, no National Health, no social insurance program, and you are without resources, which is why you’ve waited so long to come to a doctor. You can’t pay, and you know it. Hospitals are for the rich.

So you cared for your child yourself as best you could. You tried home remedies. You bought what drugs you could afford. You called on any of your neighbours who knew a little bit about medicine, but nothing could be done. You have exhausted every possibility you could think of. Nothing worked.

So even though you know you can’t pay, you go to the clinic. You sit in the waiting room and watch as other parents leave with healthy children and smiles on their faces. You know that whatever this doctor is doing, it works. You see him down the hallway, treating other patients, but no matter how you beg the receptionist, she keeps looking past you and calling out “Next!” to the rich people behind you in line.

Finally, you step out of line and right up to the kind-looking doctor. Against all your natural instincts, with no dignity left in the world, you begin to beg.

He looks at you with concern and compassion in his eyes and says … nothing. Nothing at all. Not a syllable.

How would you feel? What do you do next?

Friday, May 09, 2014

Debunking Heavenly Mythology VIII: Captain Kirk Was Wrong

“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”
— John Milton, Paradise Lost
I know, I know, it’s Satan’s famous line from Milton, but the first time I heard it, it was delivered by William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in the original 1967 Star Trek episode Space Seed. In my frequently-inaccurate childhood memory the line belongs to Ricardo Montalban’s villainous character Khan, but thanks to YouTube, I stand corrected: Montalban doesn’t ever actually get to say it. Rather, with unusual subtlety for the genre, Khan, offered the choice between a comfy prison or the challenge of taming a wild planet, asks Kirk, “Have you ever read Milton?” Kirk, being a renaissance man, replies “I understand”.

Thankfully for my fascinated pre-teen self (and most of the audience, I’d suspect), Kirk later explains the significance of the reference to his engineer Scotty (who, despite spectacular feats of speed-engineering, is apparently not a renaissance man).

And really, it’s Shatner, so who better to deliver the line?

But that line stuck in my head. I thought it was really cool, and defiant, and independent, and all those things the TV screenwriters thought it was supposed to evoke (hey, I was probably twelve, okay?). Anyway, it worked.

But whether you choose to attribute the line to Kirk, Khan, Milton or Satan himself, it’s still wrong: Nobody reigns in hell.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Stumbling Blocks and Scandals

“Have you seen Priscilla? Was she trying to look away
From the pity in the mirror of your eyes as surprise held sway?
And did she look delightful in that frightful kind of way?
And could you still see the girl that loved me after all that I carved away?       

A fist clenched in my heart when I heard you say
“She has gone down the road called wrong”
So go right ahead and cast the blame my way

And when you saw Priscilla did you finally judge me
As the jailer and the killer of the glory she should be?”
— Justin Currie
“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin” (Matthew 13:41)
For those who have never heard of him (which is probably most people), Justin Currie is a grumpy, unusually perceptive Scottish writer of pop songs. The first quote is a lyric that has been stuck in my head for a month, largely because of its sadness — and because in it he assumes that we bear responsibility for the impact we have on one another’s lives, something that is increasingly uncommon in our individualistic society.

The second quote is from someone considerably more perceptive than even Mr. Currie; someone who knows a great deal about sin and its causes.

The words “causes of sin” are also translated “things that offend” or “occasion of stumbling”. In the Greek it is one word, scandalon, from which we get the English word “scandal”. However, our modern usage of that word carries some baggage that the Greek did not. When we refer to a “scandal”, we are primarily describing our own reaction to it. We are saying that we are shocked, or perhaps even titillated.

In our typically modern fashion, we describe our own emotions, rather than the spiritual consequences of our acts and desires.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Conversion vs. Coercion

A little while back I watched a TV mother’s horror at the dawning realization that her Christian daughter regularly prayed for her. It was an interesting moment and I thought it seemed like a pretty authentic reaction; something I’d seen once or twice myself.

I mean, what reaction should we really expect from people to the fact that we are praying for their salvation, hoping for their conversion and actively working toward that transformation when the opportunity arises … or vice versa?

Sometimes the fact that we take the issue that seriously can come as a bit of a shock.

Selwyn Duke at American Thinker has a good piece on the subject:
“I’m a man who takes his faith very seriously; I believe it is the Truth and that God should be at the center of one’s life. I also know a man who is Jewish and believes just the same. He is orthodox, praying at the appointed times every day — regardless of the situation — and abiding by every one of the 613 Judaic laws that pertain to his life. He is a very saintly, gentle man. And he also has expressed that his faith — not mine, needless to say — is the true one. Now, if I found out that he had prayed for my conversion to what he considers a superior faith, should I be offended? 
       In fact, neither his perspective nor such a desire would bother me a whit. While this may strike a Richard Dawkins type as strange, understand my position vis-à-vis his attitude: I’d expect nothing less.”
To me, this sort of response seems entirely rational.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Debunking Heavenly Mythology VII: I Won’t Enjoy Heaven If So-and-So Isn’t There

There is a something about the generosity of spirit in this frequently-heard and more-frequently-unheard trope that I would hate to disparage.

After all, no less a friend of God than Moses once voiced something similar when God expressed a desire to wipe out Israel in the desert and “make a great nation” from the descendants of Moses. Some people might have been flattered at the compliment. Moses didn’t see it that way. He said to the Lord:
“Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin — but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” (Exodus 32:31-32)
He said, in effect, “If they’re going to be subject to your judgment, God, let me be subject to it with them”.

Generous, absolutely. Smart, maybe not so much. Not, perhaps, entire clear on what he was potentially letting himself in for. But we understand the sentiment, surely. I’ve felt like that about some people. Maybe you have too.

Fortunately for Moses, the Lord did not take him up on his offer.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Milking It

I'm a bit conflicted about re-using material at all (you know, the manna that "bred worms and stank"), but it seems to me that there are one or two posts from a time before we had a significant regular readership that might be worth drawing attention to (if and when our regular contributors run out of gas, which is bound to happen from time to time).

I'm going to stick the "Recycling" label in front of anything I re-post from our first couple of months so that anybody who was around to read them the first time knows to take a pass.

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

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Finally! An Elected Official We Can Believe In

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

What Sort of Heart?

A more current version of this post is available here.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Miracles and Compassion

The most current version of this post is available here.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Chesterton on Freedom

Immanuel Can recently posted on the subject of the meaning of freedom, which puts me in mind of a passage from Chesterton that I happened to read today:
     “It is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called ‘The Loves of the Triangles’; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the THING he is doing.”
 G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Originally published in 1908. Entirely relevant.

That’s the funny thing about truth ...