Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Inbox: Cultural Shenanigans

The role of women in the church is one of those topics that I’ve spent little time examining in this forum for various personal reasons.

But you may remember that despite my general enthusiasm expressed a few weeks back for Frank Viola’s “reimagination” of the church in all its various aspects, I found myself unable to get on board with all his views in the area of church authority and decision-making, and also expressed concerns about what I suspected might be Viola’s view of the role of women in the church (though in the pages of Reimagining Church, he never quite spells it out).

Other than that, I love much of what he has to say.

Monday, June 29, 2015

“I Have a Right ...”

This generation is all about its rights. And indeed, the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out a bunch of them: the right to vote, the right to life, liberty and security of the person, the right to legal counsel, the right to an interpreter, the right to equal treatment before and under the law and so on — as did the Canadian Bill of Rights before it.

People seem to love making these things official.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Minding Our Own Business

The most current version of this post is available here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Unsanctioned “Churches”

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

I just came across a blog entry by a Christian fellow named Danny Eason

Danny had this silly idea of inviting a bunch of random (I believe his own description is “ragamuffin”) believers into his home for “Coffee and Jesus”. He describes their get-togethers like this:
“... fellowship, studying the Word (we’re walking through Ephesians), corporate confession and prayer, and worship through song. The time together is incredibly relaxed with no official format.”
That and, oh yeah, “Breaking of Bread”.

Tom: Well, Immanuel Can, maybe you can tell me: How can we put a stop to this sort of thing? I mean, it hasn’t been approved!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Who’s Afraid of Science?

[Originally presented February 1, 2014]
I often refer to Wikipedia, that unassailable bastion of compiled wisdom, not because I believe it to be particularly accurate, but because it provides as good an understanding of how people currently use language as can possibly be obtained. A Wikipedia definition is the gold standard for lowest common denominator human knowledge. So while it may not represent what everyone down through human history understood by the term “science”, let’s give their definition a browse:

Science (from Latin scientia, meaning ‘knowledge’) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”

Sounds reasonable, no? So let’s get some things clear here:

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Vessels of Another Sort

[Originally presented February 1, 2015]
Stephen Fry alleges that of all languages English “has the largest vocabulary … by a long, long, long, long way”. The language columnist of The Economist disagrees, or at least provides sound reasons why Fry may not be correct.

Regardless, there are only so many available words in any given language, and sometimes a writer of scripture elects to use similar language to describe vastly different spiritual scenarios.

In such instances, studies that depend on exhaustive investigation of the etymology of similar words are less useful than those that explore the context of each usage.

In short, dictionaries will not help anywhere near as much as meditation.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Limits of Toleration

[Originally presented February 14, 2014]
When He entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him while He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?’ ”

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ ”

We live in a society that enshrines “tolerance” as its highest virtue. At least, it thinks it does.

But it’s a weird conception of tolerance. Modern “tolerance” has less to do with allowing people the right to free choice, and more to do with pretending that you actually approve of and admire all their choices — whatever they may be. You’re never to contradict anyone, tell them they’re wrong or that what they’re doing is bad; no matter what, you’re to smile and pretend it’s all sunshine and roses.

But this change is quite recent.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Debunking Heavenly Mythology II: Saint Peter and the Pearly Gates

[Originally presented March 25, 2014]
In a previous post I spent a few hundred keystrokes on the things of heaven, trying to point out how very ill-equipped the best of us is to fully comprehend them, even with the aid of the imagery of Scripture, since “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”.

But our inability to fully apprehend everything about heavenly things is not a license to manufacture any old view of heaven wholesale. The only reliable source of knowledge about things outside current human experience is the word of God itself.


Monday, June 22, 2015

How Depraved Can We Be?

[Originally presented April 24, 2014]
That’s a good question.

Our society is clearly messed up. It can be sick enough to think that promiscuity is “normal”, debauchery is “freedom”, and that homosexuality is “love”. It can be twisted enough to call killing the elderly “dignity” and butchering infants in utero “choice”. Morally, things look pretty bad.

That’s what the dictionary definition of “depraved” is. It means “very morally bad”.

But how far does this go? Do people know they are choosing evil, or are they actually oblivious to the fact that they are doing anything wrong? Are they genuinely aware of what they are doing, or are they so messed up they can’t even figure out who they are anymore? Wicked they are, yes; we can see that. But is all this evidence of some kind of mental incapacitation?

And if so, is it unreasonable and arbitrary on our part — or more importantly on God’s part — to pronounce judgment upon them? In condemning them, are we condemning the unconscious for their inability to understand, the blind for their inability to see, and cripples for their inability to walk?

Just how damaged and incapable of reason are they?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Opting Out

It seems to me there are more than a few Christians out there looking for God to give them a personal pass on many of the hard things entailed in being a true follower of Christ.

I’m not looking down on this crowd from any position of superiority: I’m one of them through and through. But a careful reading of the New Testament explains to us why it should not be so. The Christian life was never intended to be a cakewalk. In fact, the Lord Jesus plainly told his followers to have peace in the face of the reality that in the world we will have tribulation.

Then, having set what seems to us an intolerable standard of self-abnegation and perfection of character, he immediately met and vastly exceeded it. Having told us the world was our enemy, he went right out and overcame it.

There was no “pass” to be had for the Son of Man.    

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Atheists in Foxholes

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dear Preacher: On Calvinism and Pride

Dear Preacher Bob:

[Originally presented March 26, 2014]
This isn’t a complaint, just a reflection. My point is not to object, but rather to expand the range of possible answers to a question you raised a couple of weeks back. Would you bear with me while I do that?

You gave a message on the subject “The Sovereignty of God”. I agree that this is an essential topic and for the most part, I found myself rejoicing in your take on it.

Yet I must confess that there was a moment or two in which I found myself hesitant — moments when the language you chose seemed to take the teaching about God’s sovereignty in the direction of what is called in theology “Neo-Calvinism”, and which philosophers call “Hard Determinism” — namely, the view that human freedom is an illusion, and all events are preset by God before they happen. And thus having merged “sovereignty” more-or-less with the interpretation of Neo-Calvinism, you then concluded with the following …

You said, “As far as I can see, the only reason for not believing in it is pride”.

The purpose of this letter is simply to suggest some different ways of seeing things.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The End of Evangelism

[Originally presented March 10, 2015]
There is general fear being widely expressed among evangelicals today that we are not reaching people the way we used to. Certainly the numbers of people in the modern West who are becoming Christians seems to be slumping, and a lot of us are a bit nervous about the trend.

Is the Age of Evangelism Ending?

According to Bible.org, one problem is that the professional clergy people and leaders are not stepping up, and that church ministries and programs are not going out to reach people. Meanwhile, The Evangelism Institute has found that while 85% of evangelical churches have a pro-evangelism statement in their constitution, less than 5% of the people are actually involved in doing something with it. All these worriers are agreed that Christians do still have a message worth getting out to the world, but for some reason we’re just not getting it out. So while this may not yet be the end of the church, it’s starting to look like it’s the end times for outreach, for evangelism, for the gospel.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Repent or Perish

[Originally presented July 12, 2014]
Most people understand (or intuit) as they read a Bible that its chapter and verse divisions are choices 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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Scientific Materialism and the Good Wife

[Originally presented April 15, 2014]
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, June 15, 2015

Promiscuous Freedom and Enslavement

“… promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption …”

[Originally presented April 11, 2014]
Imagine yourself sitting in the center row of a darkened theatre, in an evening performance of a show entitled Cabaret. Tonight’s offering is a musical, and yet it is a musical unlike most others. It’s almost entirely devoid of the kind of cheerfulness that is usually associated with that particular genre, focusing as it does on the excesses of the Weimar Republic in the days just before the outbreak of World War II. Such humor as the play has is heavily ironic, filled with innuendo, and ultimately black.

As you may recall, the government of the Weimar Republic was a notorious failure. Beset by massively complex political challenges, splintered by factions, weighed down with incompetence and undermined by corruption, the Weimar administration dragged Germany through a period of widespread economic, social and political debasement. This debasement was felt on many levels, from the heads of state all the way down to the social conditions and private lives of the citizens. Cabaret revels in some of the more unsavoury aspects of this society, which became truly sick with sin. Using the metaphor of the infamous cabaret shows of the ’30s, the play follows one society’s decline into unrestrained individualism, indulgence and debauchery.

In the two hours in which you have been in the theatre you have been dragged through the bowels of German interbellum night-life.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Inbox: Dawkins and Calvin Go to Hell

Or not. Tertius writes:
“Our Lord spoke three parables in Luke 15. They form His three-pronged answer to the criticism, ‘this man receiveth sinners and eats with them’ found at the end of the previous chapter. Jesus protests that anything lost (a sheep, a coin, or a son) evokes grief but the finding of them calls for celebration. I have heard subpoints of teaching made from the illustration of the two sons which miss that emphasis and I remember a discussion as to whether the prodigal was a lost sinner or a backslidden Christian!”

Tom Takes a Breather

You’re currently reading our 568th consecutive daily blog post since December 2013.

Whew! That’s a lot of writing. Too much, some might say. We’ve done a little recycling of older material now and again when surprised by life, but by my count that only represents a little over 3% of our output.

I’m going to take a couple of weeks to recharge the batteries and work on a few pieces without an immediate deadline looming. We’ll hope to have new posts for you next Saturday and Sunday (the regular Too Hot to Handle exchange between me and Immanuel Can moves to Saturday instead of Friday for two weeks only).

That’s so we can use our next ten weekdays to count down ...

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Fatal Friends: Dawkins and Calvin

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Snakes, Mistakes and Better Takes

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Quote of the Day (5)

Last week, Tertius and I discussed the first chapter of Romans, comparing its language to statements about faith in Hebrews. Specifically, we were interested in how much about God may be known from nature, and how that knowledge is different from what may be known by faith.

Paul says in Romans, For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

Tertius and I agree that “eternal power and divine nature” takes in quite a bit.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Between Boredom and Bedlam

The pendulum swings. Even Christians are not inclined to be creatures of moderation, it seems.

At one end of arc, believers sit docilely in pews being entertained. Assuming the pastor is not merely a well-packaged platform presence of minimal substance and that he genuinely possesses a spiritual teaching gift, he is the only one who gets to exercise it. At best, the performance holds our interest. At worst, we find ourselves constantly checking the time.

At the other extreme it’s a bit chaotic and unpredictable: men and women “share” and interrupt each other to such an extent that impartial observers would be hard pressed to distinguish between spiritual gifts, natural impulses and mere gleeful enthusiasm at the opportunity to actually DO something in the church for once.

Few churches find the sweet spot between hierarchy and anarchy, between boredom and bedlam.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Power of Two

How do we make decisions in the church? What is the teaching of the New Testament?

In his book Reimagining Church, Frank Viola contends that the normal method of making major decisions in the church is by consensus, not just of leadership but of every believer in a local church. (You can find my review here.)

He uses the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 as his sole scriptural evidence.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Reimagining Decision-Making

How does your church go about making decisions?

Perhaps you don’t actually know. In very large churches, the process of deciding what is going to be done may be quite opaque to those who meet there. Where there is a very distinct hierarchy in place, perhaps decisions are made unilaterally, or maybe they are initiated by a ‘head pastor’ or equivalent and signed off on by a board or council of elders. Then again, maybe they are arrived at by discussion among elders and presented fait accompli to the congregation. Or perhaps opinions are solicited and discussed, and a decision is later made with the promise that “all voices have been heard and all opinions considered”.

Maybe there are lots of ugly politics involved that nobody really wants to talk about. I don’t know your church, so I won’t presume.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Reimagining Church

I wouldn’t normally be the type to start writing a positive review before completely finishing a book, but I’ve been enjoying Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity immensely.

Viola is not merely a theorist. In 1988, he left what he calls “institutional Christianity” and began meeting in “organic churches”.

Organic churches are not the latest vegan trend. They are local gatherings mapped to what we read in the New Testament. They seek to practice Christianity as it was practiced in the first century, minus any details that were merely a product of the culture(s) in which the early church grew and thrived. The result is a church that, at least on paper, seems both relevant and authentically “New Testament” in ways I’ve never seen before.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

What Sort of Heart?

This quote has stuck with me over the past couple of weeks, maybe because it is not just those who would like the Bible to teach universal salvation that see this type of thinking as the ultimate expression of moral goodness:

“What sort of a heart could approve of eternal death for some? The doctrine of Universal Salvation teaches that all will have eternal life, including Satan and the demons. And that one day, all will have the same nature as God. What sort of a heart could not approve of Universal Salvation, eternal life for all?”

It boils down to this: anyone who wouldn’t grant eternal bliss, joy, happiness and God-likeness to Satan, Hitler, Stalin and every liar and murderer in human history that hates and rejects the Son of God is, well ... insufficiently morally developed.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Hmm … What Should I Wear to Church Today?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Keeping It Relevant

Is this old enough for you?
In a previous post, I set out the evidence from scripture that elders ought to be, well ... older.

Bit of a disappointment, I know. It is the nature of our society to obsess over youth: to make a big deal of energy, enthusiasm and an absence of wrinkles.

That’s actually a pretty modern quirk. Societies all over the world used to have great respect for the wisdom that comes with age, even though such sagacity was rarely accompanied by a six-pack or a pretty face.

No more. We’re so happy to see young people contribute in our churches that even if what they offer is mediocre and half-hearted, we’re pole-vaulting over each other with joy and pronouncing them the next big thing.

Almost always to their detriment, and ours.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Get the Message

“I am the Lord.”

That’s Ezekiel summed up in four words.

God has a point he wishes to make, and we are wise to hear it in a day when most recognize no final authority beyond their own opinions, prejudices and desires.

The phrase “they will know” (or “you will know”) that “I am the Lord” occurs 72 times in Ezekiel. Only 11 of its first 39 chapters don’t have it. It’s the bottom line to every declaration God makes to his people through the prophet. It’s a message we need to internalize at the very core of our beings. Until that happens, we do not really understand our place in the universe.

Without it, our assessment of reality is warped and disproportionate. We think it’s all about us.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Sound of Salesmen

The above line comes from a couplet in a Rush song called “Spirit of Radio”, one of the few classic rock tunes I could stomach during my post-punk phase. Neil Peart’s lyric goes like this:

“For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall;
Concert hall echoes with the sound of salesmen.”

It’s actually a rather ironic subversion of Paul Simon’s words in “Sound of Silence”, but that is neither here nor there. Peart once said, “The Spirit of Radio was actually written as a tribute to all that was good about radio, celebrating my appreciation of magical moments I’d had since childhood, of hearing ‘the right song at the right time.’ ” What Peart didn’t say is that it’s a wistful tribute: it ends in his disappointment with the ubiquity of commercialism.

I had a “Spirit of Radio” moment in church the other night.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Blink and You’ll Miss It

The “Rapture, I mean.

Or maybe the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats. Or both.

Has the Church failed to notice the return of Christ to earth to judge the nations?

Or more specifically, did his prophesied return actually take place in AD 70 when, under Titus, the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, eventually conquering the city and sacking the temple, thereby fulfilling the word of the Lord about it that “not one stone will be left upon another”?

Some Christians certainly think so.