Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Content-Free Christianity

Christianity ... without all the nasty Christian bits.
Watch out: it’s catching on.

I mean, I thought Gretta Vosper was impressively brassy. (For those unfamiliar with Gretta, she’s the atheist United Church minister and author who doesn’t believe in the historical Christ. She has a congregation of less than 50 and thinks things are great. And don’t forget, you can have her new book Amen delivered to your door for just a little over Cdn$45 if you suspect she might have something profound to say about ... not believing.)

But though she’d be content to amend the word “God” to read “good” and carry on with many of the traditional forms tweaked only slightly, at least she seems to understand that she is not a Christian.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Enoch-in’ on Heaven’s Door

From the 1728 Figures de la Bible
illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733)
Sorry. Dylan puns just kinda make themselves.

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that Jude has an interesting way of referencing Old Testament stories: he seems to know considerably more about them than the original writers told us.

One explanation is that Jude was a prophet, and in writing a letter that was itself God-breathed and therefore not subject to the normal limitations of knowledge under which most writers labor, he was free to introduce entirely new revelation. Another possibility is that written or oral Jewish religious lore was transmitted more extensively and more accurately than we know, and that the Old Testament only contains a portion of the truth revealed to man by God over the centuries during which it was compiled (though of course all the necessary bits).

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Focus On Tomorrow

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 fully? If you ask those who know me best as an adult, it probably doesn’t.

However, very often in the Bible 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.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Next [De]Generation

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Fundamentalism and Modernism

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Theistic evolution is a concept that has become increasingly acceptable throughout Christendom. As long as God is said to have directed it, evolution is a pill many otherwise-solid Christians seem prepared to swallow.

Tom: I read Terry Mortenson’s article on compromise this morning. It seems as good a starting point as any. He names a number of well-reputed conservative stalwarts whose own statements suggest they have gone (or went) a little soft on the issue — James Orr, Dyson Hague, George Frederick Wright, R.A. Torrey — to one degree or another, some as far back as the early 1900s. Other, less conservative believers like Andrew Klavan accept evolution outright, convinced it’s so obvious that believing it is simply common sense.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Non-Canonical Episodes

Did Jude have the gift of prophecy?

I wonder. It certainly seems a strong possibility. Prophecy is not merely a feature of the Old Testament, but is also numbered with the gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the New Testament church.

Prophecy was a practical gift. In the early church it also appears to have been a fairly common one. It did not manifest itself in the expected esoteric, oddball mutterings but rather in “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation”. In this the prophet functioned similarly to the teacher in today’s church.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Salvaging Corporate Prayer

“Hello? Hello? Is there anybody here?”
How awful is corporate prayer in your church?

You know, that thing that happens when one or more Christians publicly address the Lord on behalf of the entire congregation.

Are such prayers predictable? Painfully long? Full of clichés? Do the same requests get repeated multiple times, sometimes within the same prayer? Do you find yourself struggling to stay awake? Do some of the requests seem merely pro forma? Are there fellow Christians whose prayers make you grind your teeth? Do you feel guilty for occasionally thinking that you’re wasting your time, even though you know prayer is a staple of church life and, in principle at least, pleasing to God? Are there ever meetings entirely dedicated to prayer, or has your church given up on such things? If there are, do you avoid them? 

If you answered yes to many or most of these questions, it’s possible you’re completely unspiritual. On the other hand …

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Denominations and Discernment

Discernment is a difficult quality to teach. Some people have a great deal more of it than others. It’s a quality that seems to me increasingly and depressingly rare.

It’s not hard to think of Christians who have known the Lord for years, yet remain more than a little gullible and sometimes require the protection of family and friends. You probably know some too. They like people. They think the best of everyone. They have a tendency to be so gentle and trusting that they fall for almost every new thing that comes along, provided it is presented with a smile. They mistake niceness for goodness and pleasant talk for the gospel truth.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Testing, Testing …

What happened in the garden of Eden — and the resulting fall of mankind and the subjection of creation to the futility that we observe daily — has been the subject of near-endless discussion over the centuries. Much speculation is on record as to the motives of God in the test presented to Adam and Eve.

And that’s what it is: speculation. We may have all kinds of ideas why God did what he did, but in scripture we do not find the answer spelled out for us. Wise men are careful not to draw conclusions that go beyond the available evidence.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Despising the Clans

I was working on Thursday’s post on denominationalism when I came across a little statement in Jeremiah that may give us some insight as to how the Lord feels about divisions in the church.

Sorry, this one needs a little setting up, as I’m not going to assume all our readers are currently engrossed in simultaneous study of the Old Testament prophets.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Straight Talk

A more current version of this post is available here.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: The New Atheists are Scared (or Angry)

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

By Any Other Name

Pretty, but you get better light when it’s in one piece ...
What is the church, really?

If we want to understand the concept as God designed it and as he sees it, we have to start with the New Testament. The truth about the church cannot be known any other way. Sure, there are lots of invented, historical ways in which we may conceptualize the church. But if we believe in the inspiration of the Bible, this is where we need to begin.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (6)

The Christian blogosphere: you get content or you get good delivery. One rarely seems to find the two together.

Rachel Held Evans’ site and many like it are state of the art, if you can stomach the social justice whining: nice graphics, clean presentation and efficient messaging perfectly calibrated for her target audience. She and others like her market themselves and their opinions with a scrupulous professionalism and — oh yeah —reliably mutilate scripture on an almost-daily basis, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

Meanwhile numerous well-written and biblical posts get ignored because their authors haven’t the wherewithal to format them attractively and make them even slightly readable or their host sites convenient to navigate.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Ill-Advised Shortcut

I dislike buzzphrases, I really do. I dislike them especially in the spiritual realm.

When we employ the words of scripture, understanding what they mean and using them in their appropriate context, we are safeguarded by the Holy Spirit who carried along each human author as he wrote. If the Lord himself could say “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished”, we can confidently affirm that, in this fallen world, we are as safe as it is possible to be in sticking close to the language that God himself has used to communicate his thoughts to mankind.

There are still plenty of ways to err in trying to pass on truth, of course, but we are that much closer to authorial intent in preserving the Author’s language.

Jargon terms and trendy attempts to encapsulate scriptural concepts, on the other hand, are horribly prone to misapplication.

The term “spiritual abuse” is one such buzzphrase.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Quality Control

Knowledge is not enough.

We know this, of course. Where the Christian life is concerned, it’s first principles that real blessing is reserved for those of us who not only hear the words of Christ but who act on the wisdom we have heard. Believers who are satisfied with mere exposure to truth are kidding themselves. There is no reward for head-knowledge, and neither testimony nor substance in the Christian who prides himself in it.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Do Christians Hate Science?

A more current version of this post is available here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Liars and Motivation

Positivity and truth are not interchangeable
What drives a person to say something he or she knows is false?

When the stakes are fairly insignificant, without some counterbalancing sense of right and wrong, almost any trivial motive will do: desire for attention or status, concern about the potential consequences of an action we’ve taken and now wish to disclaim, a wish for petty revenge on a rival or even a distaste for the conflict and complications that often arise when one is completely honest.

But what about when the issues at stake are significant, maybe eternal? Whatever would possess someone to lie about the testimony of God?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Facts and Opinions

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

One of These Things …

… is NOT like the other.

Christianity. Feminism. Not an easy fit.

That’s not just my take; it’s the view of both Christians and feminists.

Cognitive dissonance” is a term used to describe the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. Normally, those who really understand third-wave feminism and genuinely grasp Christianity ought to experience mental stress trying to reconcile the two. At bare minimum a healthy dollop of discomfort is in order. Don’t take my word for it or dwell too much on what feminism may have meant in previous generations. Go look at what it means now and tell me if, when each is rightly understood, the  ideological common ground between the two systems is anything but microscopic.

Of course, if you don’t realize your beliefs are incompatible, no dissonance occurs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Metaphorical Mites

Two sides of the same lepton
You remember the widow, right?

I know, I know, there are more than a few widows in the Bible. I mean the one at the temple in Jerusalem in the gospels. The Lord remarked on the gift she deposited in the temple treasury. He specifically drew the attention of his disciples to it when he said that she put in “more than all those who are contributing”.

If you only read Luke you might be forgiven for thinking this incident occurred at random, but Mark makes it clear that the Lord “sat down … and watched the people putting money into the offering box”. That may seem an odd way to occupy your time, but I think he was waiting for a certain poor widow to come along.

So her two mites matter, and maybe not only for the reasons you might think.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The End of Evangelism

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, March 09, 2015

That Day and Hour

The return of the Son of Man to earth has been promised, prophesied, anticipated and longed-for — and equally disbelieved, sneered at, feared and ignored — for almost 20 centuries now. And when he comes again it will be at an hour nobody will expect. Though there are many facts concerning his return detailed in Bible prophecy, he will catch the world totally by surprise.

The exaltation of the Lord Jesus to his earthly throne — a throne that belongs to him both by right of birth and because he has fully and perfectly earned it — will mark the end of our current world order. This is no small event, and we could hardly expect to be let in on its specific timing.

But what is more than a little surprising is that the One who is coming also disclaims any knowledge of the time of his own arrival on earth … and further, seems entirely unconcerned about the dilemma this fact poses for any number of theologians.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

How Saved Are You?

Most of us associate our salvation with a specific incident: a conversation, a sudden realization, a moment in which it became clear to us that the Lord was speaking; that God was right and we were wrong; that we were sinners and that there was something we urgently needed to do about that. So in our own way we cried out to God: some with tears, some more tentatively, still not completely sure what might be involved. How much we may have fully grasped of the role of Christ in both salvation and in the government of our lives from then on almost certainly differed from person to person.

But my point is … it was a point in time. And if you say the word “salvation”, that event is primarily what we think of.

An event is good. If you have one to look back on, I’m glad.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

The Emptiness of the West

In a post entitled “ISIS and the Missing Christ”, Andrew Klavan points out that in the post-post-Christian western world, there’s no “there” here:
“As much as I believe in capitalism as a method of economic development, a capitalist life is empty without spiritual content. Indeed, as much as I believe in individual freedom as the only worthwhile goal of any political system, individual freedom too is empty without spiritual content.

It is in that emptiness that militant Islam grows like the cancer it is.”

Friday, March 06, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Sexuality and Public Education

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

In the news this week: the sex education curriculum for the Ontario public school system will now be implemented starting in Grade 4. That’s correct: if you live in Ontario, your eight-year-old will be discussing sex in class come September.

And not just the usual stuff we were embarrassed to listen to in high school.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

What Are You Worth to God?

I may enjoy sports a bit too much — I’ll watch virtually anything involving competition and victory or defeat. Being a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, I have become intimately familiar with the defeat side of the competition equation. 

But because I’m a sports fan, I’ve chosen a very common sports object — a baseball — with which to draw a parallel.

There are three distinct ways to value anything at all, including either a baseball or a human life.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

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 apostatized 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.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

So You Want to Serve God

A more current version of this post is available here.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Debunking Baptismal Myths #5: Faith By Proxy

Tired of this yet? Me too. I promise: last one.

We’re looking in depth at a series of objections raised by one of our readers to the Protestant argument that one must be a believer to be baptized.

Two of these are specific to a single verse in Acts 16, so we’ll deal with them together. They concern the baptism of a woman from Thyatira and those of her household.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Higher Learning

A more current version of this post is available here.