Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Mark on the Forehead

Three rather obvious lessons from a fairly obscure passage of scripture.

Ezekiel the prophet is sitting at home with a group of Judah’s elders around him when he has one of those very intense visionary experiences that seemed to characterize his relationship with the God of Israel. Some prophets heard voices and others dreamed, but Ezekiel saw overwhelming heavenly splendor — in the middle of his own living room, one assumes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Do We Need More Church Meetings?

Christians love the church of Acts 2.

Now they’re not wrong about that. The church in Acts 2 is certainly lovable. It looks, at least potentially, like a solution for many of the world’s societal and culture-related ills. It looks like a community steeped in the teaching of Christ and demonstrating practically the various spiritual truths about which he told the world.

It looks, to nick the words of someone or other, like a foretaste of heaven.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Quote of the Day (3)

James Bartholomew of The Spectator on the subject of modern virtue:           

“No one actually has to do anything. Virtue comes from mere words or even from silently held beliefs. There was a time in the distant past when people thought you could only be virtuous by doing things: by helping the blind man across the road; looking after your elderly parents instead of dumping them in a home; staying in a not-wholly-perfect marriage for the sake of the children. These things involve effort and self-sacrifice. That sounds hard! Much more convenient to achieve virtue by expressing hatred of those who think the health service could be improved by introducing competition.”

Monday, April 27, 2015

Star Trek, Salvation and Sermons

A more current version of this post is available here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sins and Dominos

The consequences of sinful acts are rarely limited to the life of the sinner. A series of sinful acts can issue in ongoing repercussions. Like dominos.

Many of the circumstances we face in our lives are the product of choices made by our ancestors, by government, neighbours and even our fellow Christians. Much less obviously, in a democracy they are increasingly the result of decisions made by unelected administrative functionaries, more or less by fiat. To dominos it is not apparent what starts the chain reaction that causes their fall.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dogs, Sorcerers and Saints

I have a Catholic friend who is not a fan of the name Peter. She almost flinches at it. The name has associations, you see.

I think she’s sorta half expecting to meet him someday. Maybe.

In the tradition in which she was raised, Peter stands at the gate of heaven as an endless stream of the dead parade before him. As the man with the keys to the kingdom, she was taught, he personally gives the final decree on whether you go “up” (in her words) or “down” (presumably with his thumb, being the hip fellow Peter is reputed to be), all on the basis of the things you have done in this life.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Generation Z and Unbelief

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

In this article in The Atlantic, Larry Taunton tells the story of Phil, a young atheist whose reasons for his unbelief sound surprisingly unlike those of the New Atheists.

To me they sound uncomfortably close to home.

Phil had been president of his Methodist church youth group, and loved the Bible studies led by Jim, their youth leader. Jim didn’t dodge the tough chapters or questions. He couldn’t answer every question, but he made the Bible come alive for Phil.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Quote of the Day (2)

Walking home in the rain this morning, I passed a sun-faded, comprehensively rusted-out, seedpod-covered sports car.

The fact that I can’t even hazard a guess as to its make and model is probably a dead giveaway as to how little I’ve ever thought of a vehicle as anything more than a means of getting from Point A to Point B. Nobody but a starry-eyed auto buff with a serious mechanical bent would tolerate this thing in his garage, even for spare parts. It didn’t look salvageable to me.

And yet at one point it was somebody’s dream. Not mine, but if I haven’t fantasized about cars and can’t relate to theirs, I’ve certainly had plenty of dreams of my own.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ritual and Validation

There is an idea in circulation that has become increasingly popular, and it is that God needs or is somehow validated by our attention, our acts of worship or our fawning, groveling subservience.

In this view, man speaks well of God or prostrates himself before him because God has a well-developed taste for burnt offerings and ritual; because he wants to rub in our faces how magnificent he is and how horrible human beings are by comparison.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Two Suppers

The differences between the things that are and the things we perceive are probably too great to enumerate.

In North America many of us live in suburbia alongside what appear to be perfectly pleasant, civil human beings. And by the standards of our day they are. Sure, like everyone they have secrets — desires that they wouldn’t express during a family get-together and things they have done about which nobody is aware — but by and large these are pretty normal, civic-minded, responsible individuals.

Have they sold their souls to Satan? We would say it’s unlikely, even absurd.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (7)

John Lennox is an Irish mathematician, philosopher of science and Christian apologist.

The latter two are instantly evident from any visit to the home page of his website, where a plethora of interviews, videos and articles demonstrate his interest in atheism, creation, evolutionary theory and the coexistence of faith with science, among others.

That Lennox is a mathematics professor is not as obvious until you get into the articles and video, but his Irishness is inescapable.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The “Cultural” Argument

What do we mean when we say a particular passage of scripture is “culturally limited”?

It’s a pretty common argument these days, used to dismiss everything from apostolic teaching about the respective roles of men and women at home and in church to New Testament instructions about sexual purity.

The assertion at its core is that any particular command, principle or example being debated was intended only to address a particular local situation for a limited period of time, not as a directive for the church throughout its history.

But the cultural argument is a powder keg. We need to be careful how we handle it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Trained or Gifted?

A few posts back I promised to try to answer the question How can we recognize teaching gift?

In one sense the title of this post represents a false dichotomy: why not be both trained AND gifted? In fact, many gifted men are trained, whether in Bible schools, seminaries or less commonly through private mentoring, or discipling. Still, there is a distinction to be made between what can be supplied by a seminary (good study habits, recognition of logical fallacies, general principles of homiletics, familiarity with Greek and Hebrew, etc.) and what can only be supplied by the Holy Spirit of God.

It is the latter set of qualities I’d like to consider.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Enforcing Conformity

The latest version of this post is available here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Consensus and Truth

Truth is an interesting thing.

If every intellectual, expert and scientist in the world could be simultaneously brought to consensus by some particular piece of evidence, would that constitute “truth”?

More importantly, how would we know?

The climate change folks attempted to convince us their popular theory has just about that level of consensus. Motherboard ran an article in 2014 that insisted “0.01 Percent of Climate Scientists Reject Global Warming”.

Hey, if only 1/100 of 1% of climate scientists are against global warming, that must mean everybody important is already on board. So break out the sunblock: anyone who disagrees with us must be nuts!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Babel’s Antidote

Monsù Desiderio, The Tower of Babel
I’m thinking about human relationships, specifically the way we communicate.

I used to take great delight in my facility with language, a skill developed largely because my father read to us incessantly as children: Lewis, Tolkien and other writers consistently above our grade level. As a result, we paid little attention to grammar lessons in school; they were largely redundant. We didn’t need to know a word was a gerund or an adjective to use it aptly in a sentence or to spell it correctly. Such things were innate.

You know the old saw: “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. I figured language was the key to pretty much everything. If one were only logical enough, if one could only make a convincing argument, then everything was potentially within one’s grasp. You could manipulate, coax, coerce or persuade anyone to do just about anything you wanted.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

As Relevant as Today’s Headlines

In an opinion piece for The Claremont Independent, Taylor Schmitt waxes eloquent about “How Campus Progressives Ruined Liberalism for the Rest of Us”. 

Coming from a self-avowed leftie and supporter of the legalization of both marijuana and gay marriage, it’s an interesting read. Mr. Schmitt is obviously not about to embrace conservatism, but his lucidity and willingness to call a spade a spade are bound to create serious distance between him and his fellow liberals.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Nothing To Fear

Some years ago I drove through upstate New York on my way to visit a client in Massachusetts. The road rose and fell as we wove our way through the Adirondack Mountains and I was amused to see signs like the one pictured on a regular basis; there were dozens of them. I wondered about them a fair bit as we drove because really, if you’re driving a car over a mountain pass with vertical drops on the immediate left and right side of the car and you see a plane approaching the front windshield, well, what exactly does one do aside from brace for impact?

Where I live and work there is not a single one of these signs. There never has been and I dare say there never will be and the reason is pretty simple: There are no mountains here at all. So even though it is always good advice to be wary of low flying aircraft, the warning is only needed and provided when there is an actual risk that there could possibly be an impact. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Decently and in Order [Part 2]

The New Testament is not laid out like a textbook or reference manual.

If we’re honest, many of the conclusions generally drawn about first century church order and the way the early Christians conducted themselves when they met together are based on a verse or two here and there and the occasional example. Some things are very clear; others are mainly inference and supposition.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Decently and in Order [Part 1]

The Bible is not a textbook.

Some people treat it like one, but even a cursory look reveals it’s considerably more complex than that. It is a collection of history, poetry, ancient law, prophecy, doctrine, personal letters and more. Despite the fact that it is a compilation, the Bible is somewhat systematic in the sense that there are lessons taught consecutively from Genesis to Revelation that build on what has already been established. That should not surprise us if we believe it to be divinely authored. The final few books (from Romans on) are perhaps the most pointed and direct in addressing how the reader ought to respond to it.

But its format is not “textbook-y” in the least.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Forgive Us, But …

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Quote of the Day (1)

No. Really? A politician was wrong about something
“George W. Bush once said, ‘God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom.’ But that’s just wrong. In fact, how any man who believes in the Bible could believe that, I truly don’t know. The Bible tells how God freed his chosen people the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. He sent them the prophet Moses, he sent them signs and wonders, he rained plagues on their enemies, he defeated the mighty pharaoh and his armies with uncanny heavenly warfare. And when the Lord was done and his chosen people were free, the chosen turned to Moses and said, in effect, ‘We’re hungry! We were better off as slaves!’ ”
— Andrew Klavan

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

It’s Not a Bug …

How many times have you made an ironic remark that sailed right over someone’s head, said something sarcastic that much to your surprise was taken literally, or made a joke that went over like a lead balloon?

You said one thing. A different interpretation was taken.

In the course of looking into the history of universalist thought, I came across this statement on one of the relevant Wikipedia pages: “The Bible itself has a variety of verses that appear to be contradictory if not given additional reader interpretation.”

That’s worth thinking about for a moment, isn’t it.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Unchristian, Sure … But is it Wrong?

Strictly speaking, an unchristian thought is a desire, wish or inclination that does not conform to the principles taught by Christ.

But the term is frequently used much more broadly in our culture and even in religious circles to describe things considered outright evil. If a sentiment is unchristian, the assumption is often that it is automatically wicked, uncivilized or unconscionable

And in many cases, that’s quite true. But maybe not in every case.

Is it possible, perhaps, to be “unchristian” without being wrong?

Monday, April 06, 2015

Unintended Consequences

When they passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007, it is quite unlikely that the U.S. congress anticipated that their little bill would trigger a cereal grain price jump of 67.4% in 2012 or that the rise in food prices would plunge nearly 70 million people into what the World Bank calls ‘extreme poverty’. The Houston Chronicle details the extent of the problem here.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Christians Are Not Exempt

If you think it looks easy, try a few lines ...
The prosperity gospel is bunk. This is not a profound revelation.

Anyone who pays attention to the word of God is aware that in the ordinary course of things, we Christians are not exempt from the ills of the world. Believers do not get a free pass on pain and suffering. God’s primary concern for us is not that we “have a good self-image and feel right about ourselves”, notwithstanding Joel Osteen’s latest work of fiction.

Most Christians understand this in principle, but when it’s my life that’s being put through the wringer, I may have a little more trouble than usual believing it.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Which Jesus Do You Worship?

The world is full of frustrated people. Some of them are even Christians. Specifically, some dissatisfied searchers are looking to understand Jesus Christ.

Now on the surface that sounds like a very good thing, doesn’t it? Pursuing understanding of the Lord Jesus is about the finest activity in which a human being can be engaged, at least in my experience.

But there are ways of pursuing the knowledge of Christ that may be quite a let-down; roads of spiritual inquiry which we may travel only to find a dead end or a bridge out.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: When We ALL Get to Heaven

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

The Huffington Post headline reads “Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics”.

The Post adds, “Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists. During his homily at Wednesday Mass in Rome, Francis emphasized the importance of ‘doing good’ as a principle that unites all humanity.”

Everybody’s Home Free

Tom: It’s not quite universalism, but add a few good works in there and it seems everybody’s home free. If so, that’s pretty generous of Rome, wouldn’t you say? Do you know if he’s walked that one back yet?

Thursday, April 02, 2015

What’s at the Centre?

What — or rather Who — controls the forces in play here?
Do you ever think certain Christians may be just a little bit too nitpicky about things that don’t matter a whole lot? If so, this might be one of those times.

Or not, depending. Bear with me here.

There’s a sign outside a little old moss-covered urban church building that I drive by on the way to work. It reads like this: “Welcome to Jesus, the centre of the spiritual universe.”

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Problem with Compassion

Compassion is a fine quality. But an excess of emotion without appropriate practical follow-up always seems to end very badly indeed.

Now I’m not talking about Leftist social engineering, professional fundraising or the welfare state when I use the word “compassion”. Such projects are promoted as compassionate and claim a tender-hearted motive but produce little effect. Professional fundraisers often absorb most of the funds they raise. The welfare system is so administration-heavy and fraud-ridden that handing stacks of cash to the visibly distressed on the street might well mitigate the effects of poverty more efficiently.

We may credit Progressives and Redistributionists with good intentions if we are being generous, but those ideologies have never been effective at producing their desired outcome — the only metric by which we may judge the fruits of compassion.