Friday, July 31, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: My Favourite Atheist

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

Pat Condell*
Tom: My favourite atheist is a cranky Irish comedian named Pat Condell. He’s fearlessly pro-Israel, anti-Islam … and, sadly, more than a little ignorant about what the gospels actually say.

Here’s a sample of what he thinks about Jesus, for instance:

“I don’t reject Jesus, I reject religion … the early church capitalized on [supernatural nonsense about Jesus] and exploited it enthusiastically because they needed Jesus to be a god so that they could use him to generate fear — which, of course, is the only level they know how to operate on — and also so that they could claim supernatural authority through him, which is the best kind of authority to have when you’re bluffing. As a mere man, Jesus was almost useless to them. All he could offer were words of compassion and wisdom, and what earthly good would they be to the men who run the church?”

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Faith, Identity and Growing Up Christian

Nobody should have to be a pastor’s kid. And nobody should ever be called a PK.

If that sounds a little cranky, be advised there are Christians reviewing Barnabas Piper’s book “The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity” on Amazon who agree with me. Because that’s got to carry some weight, right?

My disdain for the “PK” (pastor’s kid, preacher’s kid) and “MK” (missionary’s kid) abbreviations goes way, way back to the days in which I was two of the three. I’m not sure I could tell you why I disliked them so much; to the best of my recollection nobody ever used either designation to describe me. I don’t recall hearing them from my Christian friends. In fact I suspect I only ever encountered PKs and MKs in the magazine rack next to our couch in publications like Christianity Today or in those hokey teen novels in Christian bookstores.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Living Under the Blade

The most current version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Christian Escapism and a Time of Trouble Such As Never Has Been

Christians are sometimes accused of escapism, primarily with respect to the doctrine of the “rapture” (or parousia) taught in the New Testament.

After all, why should a bunch of Gentile believers expect to get a free pass on the judgment of the world? Doesn’t that seem just a little unfair?

Not all those who dislike the idea of Jesus Christ making a special trip to this planet specifically to carry away his people to be forever with him object to the notion for exactly the same reasons. Some feel believing in a parousia is elitist. Others see it as baseless and wishful. Still others, like Kurt Willems, are troubled by the idea that Christians with a psychological safety net like the “rapture” will give up trying to make society a better place — or worse, will mislead others about what Willems believes are God’s plans for this world. He says, Our world’s future is hopeful. Let’s tell that story and not the escapist narratives that many of us grew up with”.

Nice idea. Tough to see where he gets that “hopeful” bit from these days though.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Leadership: It’s a Dog’s Life

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Help! They Changed My Bible!

Bible translations have a way of changing over time, and it can make some Christians quite frantic.

Textual criticism is a discipline about which many believers know very little. The average regular churchgoer can probably tell you that the Bible was written primarily in Greek and Hebrew, not English (and the average reasonably intelligent person might simply assume it), but beyond that basic piece of information, how our Bibles came to us is not all that widely understood.

Given the quality of history courses in the average high school since 1970, fewer still know that when we speak of “the originals”, they are not sitting in some airless, climate-controlled museum display case. Would they be shocked to discover such manuscripts no longer exist and have not existed for centuries? Probably not, with a few seconds consideration.

But no, they don’t exist so far as we know. Some people are fine with that idea.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Crazy Uncle

Normally, I’d leave something like this alone. It is, after all, the Huffington Post, and anything they have to say on the subject of Christianity is almost guaranteed to be dismissive, frivolous and poorly informed.

But hey, it provides a useful lead-in to something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

In an article entitled “3 Reasons Why Apostle Paul Is the Crazy Uncle No One Wants to Talk About”, Pete Enns argues that “Paul’s handling of his Bible makes him look like the crazy uncle you make excuses for or avoid entirely”.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Let’s Make Sure They Hate Us Enough

A more current version of this post is available here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Vain Salvation

Many of us, especially those living in the western world, find ourselves disappointingly short in the “foe” department, at least in the literal sense of the word. When told to love our enemies, we have to think long and hard to find anyone in our lives to whom that word genuinely applies. At least that’s my experience.

There are notable exceptions, but the sorts of foes Christians generally encounter in North America are more along the lines of surly relatives, ungrateful children or fellow employees with a tendency to step on others to get ahead. And I suppose not too many of us are all that disappointed with that arrangement.

But there was a time when foes were common, and there are still numerous places in the world where foes are not metaphorical, and challenges to faith are of a life-and-death nature.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Too Much for Sunday School

I can recall nearly every chapter of Daniel from my childhood. Many kids who grew up in Christian homes can (or could; our current generation may not be so well versed).

This shouldn’t surprise us. Many stories from Daniel make fantastic Sunday School material, and I mean literally fantastic — there are miracles to be found throughout the book: the golden image and the fiery furnace; Nebuchadnezzar’s dream; the king’s humbling at the hand of God; the writing on the wall; the den of lions; the prophetic visions of coming kingdoms depicted as beasts (kingdoms we actually studied in history class, so I knew this was no fairy tale); and so on.

And the stories are not just fascinating; they make significant moral points: stand for what you believe in; don’t be proud; don’t blaspheme; trust in God; the heavens rule.

Of course the book sticks in our memories. Why wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

“My Church Believes …”

What does your church believe?

“Oh, you mean like a creed, or a statement of faith?”

Not really. I’m thinking more generally. A statement of faith usually attempts to be concise, whether it’s eleven paragraphs or seven pages. It may cover only basic theology or it may go into detail about home life and personal conduct. But it cannot possibly include everything the New Testament teaches. It cannot tell you all that a church really believes, though it may set off spiritual alarm bells by what it does or does not contain.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Doing It the Hard Way

The Wailing Wall: Last vestige of Herod’s temple
How much does the church matter to the Lord?

When we look at the condition of most local churches today and compare them to Christ’s original intention as laid out in the epistles and patterned for us by believers in the first century, we might well wonder why the Lord continues to bother with the church at all.

Most of us do not really understand why we’re here and what we’re supposed to be doing. Great numbers of professing Christians atrophy in the pews, putting in an hour or two a week listening to a lecture and going home to a largely secular existence into which God is only allowed to intrude when things have gone disastrously wrong.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Failure to Choose is a Choice Too

The other day I came across a paperback a few years old called “Hard Sayings of the Bible” credited to a number of generally reputable authors.

Why not? There are more than a few commonly misunderstood or genuinely obscure sayings in scripture to work with, perhaps even enough to fill a decent-sized book.

But I wonder if we don’t make some sayings harder than they should be.

There can be a tendency among Christians to mistake indecisiveness for graciousness. Thus a waffling, cover-all-the-bases interpretive position may be thought humble when it is merely uncommitted. A failure to point out the logical fallacies on the other side of a scriptural question may seem charitable when it is merely cowardly.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fulfilling or Destroying

A couple of days ago I posted some thoughts on the place of the Law of Moses in the life of the Christian.

Most Christians who have read Romans or Galatians understand that we are not under law but under grace. However, because the teaching of the Lord Jesus is traditionally bundled with our New Testament, some believers have difficulty recognizing that things like the Sermon on the Mount are really addressed to people living under and seeking to obey the rules of the Old Covenant.

Confusion on this subject leads to inconsistent interpretation and maybe even inconsistent living. It’s worth a careful and prayerful look.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Diluting the Faith

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

William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once said, “I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be: Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.”

Author Daniel Sweet believes American Christianity is already there. One of the problems Sweet identifies is the dilution of the faith almost exactly the way Booth described.

Tom: What do you think, IC? Any of Booth’s formulations ring true to you? I’d argue politics was always without God, but other than that …

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Progressive Revelation and Paradigm Shifts

Seismic enough for you?
Whenever I come across an overly technical explanation of some phenomenon in Christendom, I like to try to restate it for myself in plain English before I decide whether it makes any sense.

On that note, if you haven’t heard of them, the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (OCRT) have set themselves the task of reducing bigotry by exposing religious people to information about other religions.

A worthy undertaking. Perhaps.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Authentic Me

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Forgive or Die

“I can’t forgive him,” the young man told his counsellor.

Understandable, I think. I don’t know all the details, but it seems the speaker has been quite horribly mistreated and cannot bring himself to feel forgiving toward the person who has hurt him so badly. He simply can’t let it go.

More significant is the young man’s concern for his own soul, since he has read the very words of the Lord Jesus himself and has concluded that if he cannot feel forgiveness toward this individual who has had such a negative effect on his life, then he cannot be saved.

And “forgive or die” is a pretty scary ultimatum to face when your feelings won’t play along with what your Christian friends are telling you is the right thing to do.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dispensing With Dispensations

If you are the average, practical Christian just looking to apply practical Christian principles practically to your life, feel free to tune out here.

This post will not help you much.

If, on the other hand, you are keen on understanding the whys and wherefores in scripture, being able to make distinctions in the way God has behaved towards mankind throughout history has helped me tremendously, and has made a lot of things clear that would otherwise be terribly foggy. I’ll give you a very real-life example of that tomorrow.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (10)

William Lane Craig has one of the better-reasoned takes I have come across on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that has redefined marriage.

Like Roe v. Wade, this is a seismic event for the U.S. and the consequences for Christians who seek to follow scripture will be significant. Craig’s analysis and advice to believers is eminently more sensible than David Brooks’ column in last week’s New York Times, which may as well have been entitled “Resistance is Futile”. (My thoughts on Brooks’ advice may be found here.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Enemy Territory

This is not our world.

It hasn’t been ours since the garden of Eden and it’s not ours today. It is the dominion of the “god of this age”, the “prince of the power of the air”, the “ruler of this world”. 

That explains so much, when you really think about it.

We live in enemy territory, like Frodo in Mordor without the obvious orcs and spiders. Oh, there are plenty of both here, but they come well disguised. They don’t even drip acid when they speak — unless you pay very close attention.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: American Laodicea

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

Friedrich Nietzche, 1844-1900
In a blog post entitled “The 10 Biggest Issues Christian Americans Are Facing Today”, author Daniel Sweet maintains American Christianity is Laodicean in character. Sweet reads the Lord’s condemnation of the church at Laodicea and says this:

“Yes, that’s America. With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance. Why would a Christian be reticent about living and sharing his faith in Jesus Christ? Could it be because neither the Word nor the Lord is real to them? And could that be because the doctrine presented to most Christians is illogical, self-contradictory, confusing, bland or unmotivating?”

Tom: That’s pretty harsh, Immanuel Can. Do you think it’s accurate?

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Ezekiel and the Future of Palestine

To whom does Palestine really belong?

The student of history encounters numerous arguments for both sides, most of which transparently serve the agendas of their writers and pass themselves off as factual while trading largely on sentiment. But any careful reader of scripture understands that the Jewish claim to the land of Palestine goes back a whole lot further than May 15, 1948.

Having been unilaterally gifted the land then called Canaan via God’s covenant with their forefather Abraham around 2000 BC, Israel has spent more time in exile from the land of promise than actually living there.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

It Ain’t Personal

Spiritual leadership is not easy.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason so few Christians seem to seek it, especially these days. But unless we opt out of family life and church life entirely, most of us are faced with a certain amount of responsibility, like it or not.

Elders are leaders. And in fact every Bible teacher, formal or otherwise, leads too. The act of writing down or publicly giving voice to a spiritual conviction is invariably an act of leadership that declares, “This way, not that way” or at least “This means X, it doesn’t mean Y”, no matter how delicately or deferentially one chooses to formulate one’s opinion. In addition, all mothers and fathers lead their children, or else their lives quickly devolve into an endless series of rather potent miseries.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Culture War and Surrender

Someone recently recommended this David Brooks column in the New York Times as the “correct true Christian response” to the ongoing culture war.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Wikipedia refers to Brooks as a “non-observant” Jew and “conservative political and cultural commentator” — in other words, not exactly a leading spokesman for the Christian faith. Having read his op-eds on occasion, I was pretty sure what I’d be in for.

Still, my morbid curiosity won out, as it often does. Brooks starts with the obvious: the decline of Christianity in the United States, the decreasing percentage of the electorate made up of evangelical voters, millennial disinterest in institutional religion, etc., etc.

Short version: “Christians, you’re losing”.

Monday, July 06, 2015

You Worship WHAT?

What do you think: worth dying for?
This is interesting.

Debate.org asked the following question: “If there is a god, does that being necessarily deserve worship?”

Get this: 73% said no. Are you surprised?

Probably not. But ignorant as it may be, perhaps the logic and underlying assumptions of the “no” brigade are worth a moment’s consideration.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Media and the Gospel

The most current version of this post is available here.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

A Hill to Die On

Lately I have begun to suspect that the notorious “mark of the beast” is not a literal number 666 tattooed on one’s forehead or hand, but rather an ideology.

Kidding, of course. I know full well that the social justice grievance mongers currently monopolizing the media with their view of the ideal society are not the fulfillment of New Testament prophecy.

You know the prophecy I mean. It’s made its way into popular culture.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Spirit and Truth

A more current version of this post is available here.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Change Is Gonna Do Us Good

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Binary Thinking

I used to put it down to straw-manning, this tendency of some folks in an disagreement to take aim at the most ridiculous, transparently caricatured representation of the side they oppose. I considered people who argued this way manipulative and calculating.

Now I wonder.

It seems to me some people are simply binary thinkers. There’s no malice involved, and no intention to be difficult or obstructive. But to their way of thinking if some church practice has blessed them or been beneficial to others it must be an unmitigated good. Therefore any suggested modification to that practice, however modest or scriptural, must be a bad thing.