Monday, August 31, 2015

What Else Would You Expect?

You’re thinking about Christianity.

Perhaps you’re intellectually dissatisfied with the pat answers the world offers to questions of meaning and truth. Perhaps you’ve been impressed by a neighbor, friend or co-worker who says she loves Jesus Christ and is anything but a cliché about her faith. Perhaps … well, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is, does it?

But if you’re thinking it may be worth examining the Bible more carefully, what might you expect to find there?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Another Exercise in Subjectivity

I just read an extimony.

An extimony, I am reliably informed, is sort of an anti-testimony. It’s the story of how a person un-converted from Christianity, becoming an atheist, agnostic, freethinker or Pastafarian, depending on their particular circumstances and bent.

Short version: I was not overly impressed with the arguments of the gentleman who wrote this one.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Let’s Not Make a Habit of It

What does “sin” mean to you? What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I use the word?

Is it something that you’ve done recently? Maybe it’s something that has been done to you. Or is it some remote, vile and peculiar thing that you’ve never engaged in personally but would like to see eradicated from society?

It seems to me that the Lord never dealt with sin as an abstraction. He never addressed the subject in a merely theoretical way. At the well in Sychar he told a Samaritan woman, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband”. 

That’s pretty specific.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Oh No, Not Two Guys Talking About the Woman’s Role Again!

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

Tom: Immanuel Can is sending me bad things again. And I’m not entirely sure how to respond. This time it’s Moody Publishers’ “Post Sunday”, in which Moody extols one of its new releases. This one is a Hannah Anderson special in which the author holds forth on the “lameness” of the church. Okay, I can’t stop there: the church is lame (according to Hannah) because she has crippled herself. In the words of Ms Anderson, we have failed to equip “Bible women” because we “don’t have a vision for how God could use them for His glory”.

Help me out here: what are “Bible women”?

Immanuel Can: I don’t know … It could be a reference to Eve, or Sarah, or Deborah, or possibly to Michal or Jezebel. Last time I checked, they were all “Bible women”.

But no, that couldn’t be who she means … some of those women were self-starters.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Dangerous Faith

Other than while acting in the service of governments, real Christians don’t generally use guns, knives or bombs on our fellow men. We’re not looking to conquer the world by force of arms. Instead, we seek to persuade men and women of the truth of what we believe.

In theory, persuasion is a fairly inoffensive process compared to, say, armed invasion. Still, some people respond to the Christian faith with outright hostility. Others are more laid back, a subject we touched on in a post a few days ago.

But as Immanuel Can notes in the comments, our dealings with mellow agnostics are just as much “warfare” as when we engage with hostiles, and may be perceived as threatening even when the message is graciously and lovingly delivered.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Does the Bible Need a Disclaimer?

Perhaps a little something like this?
The following ultra-litigation-conscious, politically correct disclaimer comes from the first page of a current reprint of G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man on my bookshelf:

“This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race have changed before allowing them to read this classic work.”

I had to laugh out loud at the naivete of anyone worried about modern children reading Chesterton. The publishers are, regrettably, quite safe from legal repercussions on that front.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Persecution Complex

Rachel Held Evans, what would I do without you?

The redoubtable (and frequently doubtable) Ms Evans would like believers to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and to stop feeding Christian paranoia about looming government persecution. Further, we ought to do it “for the sake of the gospel”.

(That “for the sake of the gospel” is delivered with all the sincerity of the progressive’s “It’s for the CHILDREN!”, I suspect, but let’s let Rachel carry on.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Don’t Bury the Lede

In newspaperese, a “lede” (or sometimes “lead”) is the introductory section of a news item. Its purpose is to entice the reader to continue on, enjoying the rest of the story.

Thus to “bury” a lede is to begin a story with details of secondary importance while postponing more essential information.

There’s a video up on the YouTube website that was posted back in May. It shows camera phone footage of a middle-aged, nerdy-looking evangelical doing some street preaching on the campus of Arizona State University. He is holding a sign that appears to read something like “Warning: Homosexuals, etc. will burn in hell”. The preacher is abruptly assaulted by a crazed student who, along with many profanities, shrieks out, “You call yourselves Christians!”

The particular evangelistic technique that provokes this outburst is what I call “burying the lede”. Among other things.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What Do We Do About the “Live and Let Live” Crowd?

There are people who just plain don’t want to hear it.

The message of the gospel, that is. They think they know what you’re going to say, they’ve heard it all before, and they’ll thank you not to start.

Some of them are outright hostile. They’ve looked around, read a few things, talked to a few people, and they are as satisfied as it’s possible to be (until facing imminent death, when all theories about existence meet their acid test) that they have an answer for life and meaning that does not include Jesus Christ. Any attempt to persuade them to change their mind is exceedingly unwelcome.

So be it. The few brave souls among us willing to intellectually debate them are welcome to do so.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (12)

I don’t know enough about the Intelligent Design movement to recommend this site unreservedly. I’ve seen ID regularly and virulently thrashed in the scientific community; seen its proponents and exponents referred to as “IDiots” and worse.

Still, Denyse O’Leary’s recent article on horizontal gene transfer at Evolution News is not some easily-discredited Christian science fantasy. It is backed by secular science (including MIT) and well worth a glance for anyone interested in the subject of origins.

Basically, it gives Darwin’s evolutionary mechanism a pretty hard time.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: How We Live and What We Believe

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

Colin Perkel of The National Post has an update here on our old friend Gretta Vosper, the United Church minister who believes in neither God nor the Bible. She is, in Perkel’s words, “prepared to fight an unprecedented attempt to boot her from the pulpit for her beliefs”. Or her unbeliefs, I guess.

Tom: The attempt by the United Church to give Gretta her gold watch and wish her all the best in her future endeavors may be unprecedented, but it’s hardly a surprise, except perhaps in that the United Church is taking some sort of stand here about atheism in their pulpits.

Immanuel Can, does “the idea of an interventionist, supernatural being on which so much church doctrine is based” belong to “an outdated world view”? More importantly, can we separate “how we live” from what we believe? Gretta thinks we can and should.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Fulfillment That Isn’t

God doesn’t always work exactly the same way.

Now he is consistent. He does not change his nature from one day to the next. His character is immutable. But he is also endlessly creative, as the world around us and the cosmos well demonstrate.

So when we study the Old Testament prophets we should not be surprised to find that the Lord uses consistent, repeated themes throughout history. It is in his nature. We should also not be surprised at the occasional unexpected and creative twist. That also has ample precedent.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Would You Sign This?

Oh, sorry. I mean one of these here:

MEMBERSHIP COMMITMENT

I couldn’t.

Sign, or you’re not a “member”. Even if you do sign, that’s only Step 1. There’s a “Procedure for Membership” to which each candidate for “membership” (as this church defines it) must submit themselves, including having their name posted at church or placed in the church bulletin for two weeks, after which “those who remain as candidates will be welcomed into membership”.

Those who don’t make it presumably remain outside the camp.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For

What are the limits of the patience of God? More importantly, how many of us are wise enough to discern those limits and stop short of them?

Anyone familiar with the gospels recognizes that testing the patience of God is dangerous. Satan once took the Lord Jesus to a pinnacle of the temple and reminded him of the promises of God in the Old Testament about the protection of those who make the Lord “their dwelling place” in the hope that Jesus would jump in order to make a point. The Lord responded by quoting the Law of Moses: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”.

Monday, August 17, 2015

When Analogies Fail

We do the best we can when we try to explain the word of God to others. It’s not always an easy task, and frequently we are in over our heads.

Sometimes we come up with our own illustrations to try to clarify a scriptural concept for our audience; to put it in terms to which they may find it easier to relate. I have heard the occasional helpful analogy over the years. I have also heard plenty that had the potential to leave a listener with entirely the wrong impression.

For instance, even with the best of intentions, the apostle Paul and the other writers of holy writ are not aptly compared to word processing programs or keyboards.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Quote of the Day (7)

Idolatry is fundamentally the worship of self.

When we think of the ancients grovelling before groves and altars, we may be inclined to envision them as essentially religious people with errant theology. That is easier to do when we picture pagans with no knowledge of the true God beyond that which they might intuit from nature and the cosmos.

But then how do we explain the nation of Israel after the exodus?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (11)

For a regular newsletter, this is grim stuff, no getting around it. It’s not light Sunday afternoon reading before tea.

Which, given the subject matter, is probably what we should expect.

Professing Christians throughout Asia and the Middle East are dying for their faith daily and the Gatestone Institute has the details, if you want them. Many, perhaps most, are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Globalism and Censorship

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

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
Two legal rulings I came across this week have implications not just for this blog, but for all Christians on the internet.

The first is a ruling from European Union regulators that internet users in its member states have a “right to be forgotten”. Google has complied by instructing all its Blogger users worldwide to post a notice giving EU users information about the use of cookies on blogs originating in Canada, the US and everywhere else. In Europe, 90,000 requests for the removal of links and stories are already being processed and European regulators are now arguing the removals should be global, not just in Europe.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

“I Looked for a Man …”

The Bible is filled with the stories of people who we would fairly call ‘servants of God’ — men and women who did great things at pivotal moments and who are forever enshrined in both the Old and New Testaments as examples and stalwarts.

Biblically-undocumented servants fill the annals of secular history too — people who gave their lives in the pursuit of God’s work; men like George Mueller or Jim Elliot come to mind. But there are thousands of others who bore the title ‘servant of God’ with distinction by changing the course of nations and standing for God at needful times.

Then there are those of us who are Christians today and aspire to be worthy of the grand title ‘servant of God’ in our generations.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Truth Is Out There

We live at what is arguably the most privileged moment in human history with respect to the revelation of God. Nobody seeking knowledge of the Creator and his will for mankind has ever had more to work with than we do.

It is tempting to pity those who lived before the earliest recorded books of scripture. What did those poor savages really intuit about God? Without clear direction, wandering around in a fog of unknowing, what were their chances of avoiding the natural negative consequences of their actions during this lifetime? And as far as heaven is concerned, without revelation it’s difficult to make a case that man before the Law (or even under it) could think of eternal life as much more than pipe dream.

If we didn’t know better, I suppose we might assume God was unfair to them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Rest Is Detail

The gospel is a funny thing.

At least the way we often define it is a bit odd, particularly when we include the word in the phrase “gospel meetings”. You know, those very simple, explicit “Come-to-Jesus” messages promulgated in evangelistic tent meetings and in gospel halls all over North America for the last century or more.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I mean, there isn’t, really. It just isn’t the whole gospel picture, is it?

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Time of Their Visitation

In August 1914 after 24 days on the open sea, a German schooner crew with a cargo of oilcake aboard sailed casually into a Scottish harbor — and found themselves under arrest the moment they docked.

Their surprise was understandable. It was long before the invention of the cellular phone or even the wireless, so the crew had no way of knowing that they had picked an exceptionally poor time to visit the UK. Britain had declared war on their homeland as they crossed the North Atlantic. They were at war and didn’t know it.

Many of our neighbours and coworkers today are — no pun intended — in the same boat.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Colorblindness, Privilege and Inspiration

Dependability is a great thing.

Whenever I find myself with nothing obvious to write about, it’s a huge relief to know that in a pinch I can always rely on Rachel Held Evans to say something worthy of polite dissection. Today is no exception.

The inimitable Ms Evans holds forth here on the subject of her own “sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” after an unfortunate non-PC slip of the tongue at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

When the Holy Spirit is Silent

We love building narratives, don’t we.

Sometimes the tales we tell each other represent reality. Other times we are simply reading our own impressions, default assumptions and prejudices into the text of scripture.

I was in a conversational Bible study recently. Our subject was Acts 15 and the “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas over whether or not John Mark, who had previously deserted them in Pamphylia, should accompany them to encourage the believers in Asia where they had planted churches and preached Christ. The disagreement, if you recall, was sharp enough that Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Barnabas took Mark and went with him back to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Nonsense that Remains Nonsense

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

“Worship leader” is a synonym for “lead vocalist”?
Tom: C.S. Lewis has a line I love. He says, “Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God”. It applies nicely to lots of things.

I felt a little like that reading the Moody Publishers piece you sent me this week, Immanuel Can. The author of “Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars”, Stephen Miller, has written a short promotional piece entitled “Worship Leaders are Theologians”, in which he uses one extra-scriptural term to define another. My head is spinning trying to sort out all the modern church-speak.

How far away are we getting from the New Testament here, IC?

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Go Big, Then Go Home

Frank Schaeffer’s latest book is called “Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to give love, create beauty and find peace”.

The “find peace” part is more than a little ironic. Since turning his back on Christianity in the late ’80s, Shaeffer has written 17 books (including a few bestselling novels) to go with the five he wrote while still claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He’s penned novels, gone Hollywood, directed occult horror films and comedies, has been a Republican and a Democrat, has endorsed John McCain and Barack Obama, has gone by “Francis”, “Frank” and “Franky”, has been pro-life and pro-choice and today cannot decide from one moment to the next whether he believes in God or not.

With all these ricochets and u-turns in his track record, it’s at least faintly possible Frank Schaeffer is not the most qualified man in the western world to advise others on how to find peace.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Quote of the Day (6)

“The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love,” said the psalmist.

It may be argued that in a fallen creation the “steadfast love” of God that fills the earth is easier to recognize at some moments than at others. But contrast that with a materialistic universe, where genuine love is absent by definition.

Someone got Catholic novelist John C. Wright going on the subject of the atheistic vs. the theistic worldview and their respective implications, in particular for the possibility of love as opposed to mere sentimentalism.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Do You Want to Go Out?

The most current version of this post is available here.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Immature Christian

I don’t know a lot about modern Judaism, orthodox or otherwise. But I was intrigued by this opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post. Of all the things that might tick Jews off about Christians, the one that particularly sticks in the craw of writer Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks is that we’re ... well ... immature.

Now let’s face it, almost nobody in this century or the last much likes the idea of a religion that claims a monopoly on truth. But the one completely untenable, utterly illogical position to be taken is that all religions are therefore simultaneously true, or even contain substantial truth. The Law of Non-Contradiction declares that contradictory statements cannot be true in the same sense at the same time, and contradictory statements about the nature of God are no exception. Some ideas about God, the universe and morality are simply more accurate (and therefore more truthful) than others.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

On the Third Day

Generally speaking, I don’t find fulfilled Bible prophecy to be a particularly useful tool in evangelism.

Some Christians disagree, of course. If it works for you, that’s great. Carry on. But it must be admitted that many of the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the life of Christ are a little on the obscure side. That is to say, when you look at them in their original context, it is not immediately apparent that they speak of Messiah.

We’re only sure of it because the Holy Spirit plainly states it to be so in the New Testament.

Out of Egypt

One famous example is Hosea’s declaration that, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son”, a statement the Holy Spirit applies to Jesus Christ in Matthew’s gospel. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Indirect Evidence for Inspiration

In an era when not just politicians, lawyers and Muslims but average men and women increasingly play fast and loose with truth, one may forgive a little scepticism when someone makes a claim.

All scripture is breathed out by God”, Paul once wrote to Timothy.

That is a pretty significant assertion, and it is not one that can be substantiated by direct evidence. Christians cannot produce Polaroids of Paul or David in the process of writing the words of God surrounded by a nimbus or with an angel handing them a scroll. Nor can eyewitnesses confirm the presence of any Spirit Being overshadowing, indwelling, controlling or directing the authors of scripture. They are all long gone, if such witnesses ever existed.