Thursday, July 31, 2014

New, Improved, Advanced ... You Need One

A more current version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Judenhass and Armageddon

In an article entitled “A Rare Point of Agreement”, journalist Mark Steyn points out that “ethnic Europeans and excitable young Muslims” only agree on one thing: that “all the current troubles of the world are because of … Israel”.

In fact, anti-Semitism is the only thing around which not only Europe but most countries of the world are currently able to unite. Steyn quotes Brendan O’Neill, who wonders:
“Why are Western liberals always more offended by Israeli militarism than by any other kind of militarism? It’s extraordinary.”
O’Neill continues by noting that:
“Anyone possessed of a critical faculty must at some point have wondered why there’s such a double standard in relation to Israeli militarism, why missiles fired by the Jewish State are apparently more worthy of condemnation than missiles fired by Washington, London, Paris, the Turks, Assad, or just about anyone else on Earth.”
It’s not only extraordinary; I’d contend it’s miraculous.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Who Reads Anymore?

A more current version of this post is available here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Who’s That Prophecy For Anyway?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

One More Time: Christians and Reincarnation

Reincarnation — the belief that after a person dies he is reborn in some other form — has been part of man’s beliefs since ancient times. In recent years its popularity has surged with the advent of the New Age movement and the associated renewal of interest in Eastern philosophies and religions. 

The idea behind reincarnation is that the more experience one has in life, the more pure and enlightened one becomes. A mere seventy-odd years is not enough time to attain perfection. Therefore a person’s soul must go through the cycle of life, death and rebirth — known as the “Wheel of Being” — until he or she has reached enlightenment and perfection, and is prepared to meet and/or become part of God. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Anxiety and Slumber

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
(Psalm 127:1,2)
There is an aspect of life that will always remain outside of our control no matter how clever we are, no matter how well we plan, no matter how much experience we have.

Circumstances have a way of making idiots out of very smart people.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Too Hot to Handle: The Role of a Senior Pastor

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lies, Myths and Misinformation: Christianity Causes Wars

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Naked Pastor and the Danger of Gratuitous Novelty

David Hayward, the self-styled “Graffiti Artist on the Walls of Religion”, is promoting his new book, The Liberation of Sophia (available on Amazon, naturally, for a mere $26.99, and if you think I’m going to link to that for him, you have another think coming). Sophia is a book of 59 cartoons with associated poetry and prose that … well, you can read his description of the work because I’m not sure I can do it justice:
“He began drawing images of a young woman in all kinds of situations. He recognized early on that these drawings weren’t just random pictures, but were the articulation of his interior life’s journey through spiritual, emotional, intellectual and social transition. He realized that Sophia was him!”
David Hayward calls himself the Naked Pastor (when he’s not “Sophia”, I suppose). I haven’t yet discovered why, but since the name is eminently Google-able and mildly transgressive, we can probably guess: Marketing 101. And it works. He’s the number 6 most-visited “Christian” blog this week, and climbing.

But the Naked Pastor has a thing about the Bible’s sheep metaphors.

He really, REALLY hates them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Islam 100, Post-Christianity 0

We all know how deals with the devil usually wind up.

Lord Scott, a former UK Supreme Court judge, has a far-from-original way to combat ‘Islamophobia’: it’s called unilateral prostration. During a debate on how relationships between the Muslim community and other religious groups in the UK might be improved, he suggested the following:
“I do just wonder that if an improvement is needed between the faith groups, one way of promoting that might be to encourage interfaith marriages.”
If you find the concept of “interfaith marriages” with Islam as one of the parties less than entirely plausible, you’ve probably been paying attention. Here’s how it worked out in Lord Scott’s family:
“Of my two sons one has become a Muslim and of my two daughters one of those has become a Muslim, and I have 12 lovely grandchildren, seven of whom are little Muslims.”
Umm ... call me a nit-picker, but that’s not “interfaith marriage”. That’s wholesale capitulation. I believe the technical term is “conversion”.

And it’s all one way.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lies, Myths and Misinformation: Smart People Are Atheists

Are more intelligent people atheists? Bill Maher certainly thinks so:
“We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think that religion stops people from thinking ... I think religion is a neurological disorder ... I am just embarrassed that it has been taken over by people like evangelicals, by people who do not believe in science and rationality.”
So does Richard Dawkins, unsurprisingly:
“By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” 
And of course the atheists network calls itself “the Brights”, presumably in contrast to those who are not.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Who’s Running This Place Anyway?

The most current version of this post is available here.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How Not To Be Forgiven

A more current version of this post is available here.

Forgiveness is the great equalizer. In extending Christian forgiveness, we acknowledge our own ongoing sins and failures and accept back those who have sinned against us in the knowledge that we, too, will fail them tomorrow and will go on failing them until the Lord returns.

Forgiveness makes every person my equal and everyone my brother or sister in the only sense that equality can ever be attained on earth and in the only sense that, from a human perspective, really matters.

But some people will not be forgiven.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Assumptions and Loaded Conversations

A more recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why Can’t God Just Let Us Alone?

A good friend’s struggle with her child has taught me a little bit about theology.

If that sounds odd, let me explain. This particular friend has only one child, a girl, born late in her life when it is statistically considerably more difficult for a woman to conceive and carry to term. It was exceedingly important for her to have children; she and her husband tried many times over more than a decade to conceive, to very little effect. On the rare occasions of success, she always lost the baby early into and sometimes even well into the pregnancy.

So far this is the story of many women, sadly.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Can A Loving God Send People to Hell?

Hell is a terrible place. It is described as an everlasting fire which was created for the punishment of the devil and his angels. Christ told the story of how one man in hell was in such torment that he begged for just one drop of water to cool his tongue. Some want to know how, if God is love, he could send people to eternal judgement ‘just because’ they did not put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The problem is that we do not realize the seriousness of sin.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Snare Is Broken

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Calling A Spade A Spade

Popular science fiction author China Miéville is troubled by how the media refers to the … er … troubled.

When asked about the 2011 riots in London, England, his primary concern seems to be the language used to describe those who assaulted pensioners, burned people out of their homes and threw bricks at responding firefighters:
“For a long time I’ve been struck and horrified by the incredible cultural spite we’ve got in the UK towards young people. The constant use, for example, of the term ‘feral’ to describe troubled children should be a matter of utter shame: that our culture has normalised that adjective is an expression of our culture’s moral degradation, far more than children’s.”
In Miéville’s view, the moral degradation of modern British culture is epitomized in its failure to speak kindly of its most debased element.

Those who reported the London riots rather than simply opining about them might point out that Miéville’s “young people” and “troubled children” averaged almost 23 years of age and were 91.6% male.

In spite of this, Mr. Miéville considers it “incredible cultural spite”, “an utter shame” and “moral degradation” to use to word “feral” to describe adult human beings who behave themselves worse than animals. He is not alone in this. So-called progressive writers and opinionators (Miéville is a Marxist) often take the intellectual position that the way we describe the perpetrators of criminal acts is as bad as or worse than the act itself. Some people seem to feel it is more offensive to call someone a “slut” or “whore” than to make one’s living at it.

It’s “hate speech”, dontcha know.

Should Christians take this sort of thing seriously? Is it unkind or shameful to call a spade a spade?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Repent or Perish

Most people understand (or intuit) as they read a Bible that its chapter and verse divisions are a choice made by translators or copyists. They may be good choices or bad ones, but they are not part of the revelation of God. They are not ‘inspired’ in the sense the word itself is.

Usually they are pretty decent. However, I probably would’ve broken up the Lord’s speech in Luke 12 and 13 a little differently.

Just saying.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Baptism and Freedom

So, after three posts on the subject of baptism and a look at the striking contrast between the works-based ritualism of Catholicism and the freedom characteristic of faith in Christ, we come at long last to the point of the exercise.

We have established that the act of being baptized in water does not secure the believer’s eternal destiny. It is not a required component of salvation. It does not admit one to the church, either the ‘church universal’ or any local gathering.

It is, instead, a reminder, a testimony, an act of obedience, and a means of identification with Christ himself. It is merely a symbolic act, not the spiritual reality it represents.

So then, what exactly is this greater ‘spiritual reality’ I keep talking about?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

‘Sola Fide’: Can It Be Enough Just To Believe?

Many denominations and sects teach that putting faith in Christ is not enough to save.

They claim that in order to gain or to keep one’s salvation it is necessary to try and keep at least part of the Old Testament Law. 

So what does Scripture say?

Since the beginning man’s pride has driven him to try and please God by his own efforts. The Bible says that man must cease wanting to boast of his own righteousness and recognize that he can do nothing to merit God’s favor: salvation is by God’s grace alone.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Is Your Faith Boring You?

A more current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

I See Dead People

I saw one today, in fact. Propped in a coffin, fully and expertly made up and ready for viewing. She had passed away in her nineties and, while she certainly looked ‘peaceful’, as we say, no amount of makeup could disguise the ravages of nine decades.

And no amount of makeup could conceal that she was dead.

Dead people don’t look like living people. They don’t even look like the wax sculptures in Madame Tussaud’s. In life, there is always motion: the twitch of an eyebrow or the corner of a mouth; the alertness of the gaze, or the finger drumming absently on a tabletop. The person in cardiac arrest in the emergency room is thrumming with life by comparison. Even the most naturally calm person cannot for a second imitate the profound absence of vigor of a body in which the blood has stopped flowing, the synapses have stopped firing and every natural process that maintains life has irrevocably and eternally shut down.

Especially a week after the fact. They just look over, done, kaput. The End.

Except it isn’t.

Monday, July 07, 2014

If You Don’t Know, Just Say So

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Does Baptism Save?

So, really, DOES baptism save you?

Along with many others, my friend Dwight Longenecker, the ex-evangelical Catholic priest referenced in my previous post, teaches that it is a critical component of salvation:
“In addition to believing and confessing with our lips, we need to be baptized. At the beginning of Romans 6, St. Paul actually explains how we share in the death and new life of Christ: It is through baptism.
      The beginning of Romans 6 he says, ‘Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ ”
On this basis, Catholics teach that faith is not enough for salvation; the ritual of water baptism is a must.

But are they right?

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Mental Scrapbook

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Symbol Is Not The Point

An ex-evangelical turned Catholic priest named Dwight Longenecker has, in his current religious incarnation, become a fan of ritual and symbolism.
“The most difficult thing for an Evangelical to accept in a conversation about the sacraments is that God actually uses physical means and liturgical ceremonies to dispense his grace and administer salvation. The typical Evangelical is heavily conditioned to dismiss all physical components of religion as useless and distracting ‘man-made traditions.’ ”
Hmm, let me think: Could I be one of Mr. Longenecker’s heavily conditioned, typical evangelicals? Possibly. 

I’m not keen on being known as ‘Christian plus a Bunch of Adjectives’, whether they be relatively innocent terms like “evangelical”, “dispensational”, “premillennial” or whatever. But if we take the word “evangelical” simply to mean that I believe in the Great Commission, so called, well, I suppose you had better include me in that bunch.

Leaving aside the obvious straw-manning of his claim that typical evangelicals dismiss all symbolism and liturgical components of religion as useless, distracting, man-made and traditional, and regardless of whether I am “heavily conditioned”, I agree with Mr. Longenecker that there’s considerable disagreement within Christendom about the role of “physical components” of religion.

Which merits a few thoughts:

Thursday, July 03, 2014

How Much Does It Have To Hurt?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Wikipedia vs. Baptism

Where does one begin on the subject of baptism?

If there is a more misunderstood Christian practice in all of the New Testament, I cannot think what it might be. I suspect even the issue of speaking in ‘tongues’ can’t touch it with respect to the degree of confusion produced by the variety of teaching extant.

How widespread and how deeply rooted are the misconceptions about it? I suppose one might look at different denominational opinions on the subject and assess them one by one, but I’m really more interested in what the man on the street (and perhaps even in the pew) thinks than in esoteric positions held by theologians that have failed to make an impression on the masses.

So, to Wikipedia, our barometer of popular cultural understanding:
Baptism (from the Greek noun βάπτισμα baptisma) is a Christian rite of admission and adoption, almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also a particular church.”
I’d maintain that while this definition represents a fairly common view in Christendom, it fails to accurately set out the teaching of Scripture. Which is kinda that only thing that matters, actually.

Really, the definition is wrong in just about every possible way.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

An Islamic Court Finally Gets Something Right

The most recent version of this post is available here.