Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cultural Heritage and Faith

The lines are getting blurrier and blurrier.

The U.S. Constitution codified an Americanized version of British Common Law tradition that went all the way back to the 11th century and became the basis for the American identity and a culture that, for good or ill, has been unique in human history.

Now that identity is disappearing in America; drowning under wave after wave of unassimilated immigrants. This is not a new development. It has been going on for decades but has been steadfastly ignored by the political class. Republicans are happy because their corporate benefactors profit from cheap labour and continue to prop up their fading political hopes. Democrats are happy because immigrants and welfare dependents swell the ranks of potential Democrat voters.

Everyone (except perhaps the American middle class) benefits, so it is thought. Why rock the boat?

Well, the boat is rocking now. And we might wonder what the attitude of the American Christian caught in the middle of the culture wars really ought to be.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Like many statements about the Spanish Inquisition, that one’s not quite true.

Initially, at least, everyone expected the Spanish Inquisition. When the Inquisition rolled up on your city, the Inquisitor would publicly read out the Edict of Grace after Sunday mass, after which those who presented themselves within the next 30 to 40 days were able to reconcile with the state church without severe consequences.

So much for the cliché. Still, some people have a view of history that’s about as accurate as Michael Palin’s opening salvo from the famous Monty Python skit.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Clickbait and Maturity

We get what we ask for.

In economics, it’s the law of supply and demand, really. On the internet, it’s number of clicks. Generally speaking, if you read several pages on the same websites every day, you click a lot. If thousands or hundreds of thousands of others do the same, that’s virtual boatloads of clicks. On the Web, clicks = success.

So if Christians visit websites that offer feel-good fluff, it’s logical to expect that bloggers will write more fluff. If Christians visit websites that offer substantive cultural analysis and reasoned biblical responses, bloggers will write more of that. If Christians visit websites that carefully analyze scripture and teach it, bloggers will offer more careful scripture analysis.

It’s not rocket science. Basically, if you come they will build it, or build more of it. We get what we ask for.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quote of the Day (8)

You can probably find every subject in the world being discussed somewhere in the blogosphere, along with just about every aspect of Christian living.

But my favourite exchange of the day? Haus Frau has a legitimate question about how best to respond to advocates of Christian homosexuality who seek to disqualify Paul on the subject.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Build a New One

So your testimony is blown to smithereens.

It might have been temper. It might have been unchecked desire. Maybe you were seriously provoked. Or maybe you had the bad judgment to get involved with dishonest business partners and let things slide rather than stand up. You look back on it and say, “How did I miss that?” or “I should’ve known that was over the line”. It might be something in which you were minimally at fault but — as they say in politics these days — the optics are terrible.

The point is, you did something no Christian should do, and it’s gone really, really public.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: What’s the Point?

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

Some people market Christianity like fire insurance, and others buy into it in fear of judgment. Then there are the folks like Joel Osteen who tell us being a believer will make us powerful and successful. Others who claim to represent Christ tell us that knowing Jesus will make us better human beings, improve our relationships or help us cope in bad times. Intellectual believers may say that in their search for truth, the Christian worldview best explains things about which they have always wondered.

Tom: Immanuel Can, there is a certain amount of rationality in most of these motives, but do they really get to the core of the Christian message?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Inbox: Things That Don’t Hold Together

My previous post addressed a question raised by Immanuel Can about the use of the term “bride” in scripture as a metaphor for the Church. Examining the subject raised a number of issues best explained in this Infogalactic blurb:

“The Bride of Christ or bride, the Lamb’s wife is a term used in reference to a group of related verses in the Bible — in the Gospels, Revelation, the Epistles and related verses in the Old Testament. Sometimes the Bride is implied through calling Jesus a Bridegroom. For over fifteen hundred years the Church was identified as the bride betrothed to Christ. However, there are instances where the interpretation of the usage of bride varies from Church to Church. The majority believe it always refers to the Church.”

Another thing we call “groups of related verses” is systematic theology

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Inbox: Who’s Getting Married?

The “Bride of Christ” is not a term found in the Bible.

There, I said it.

Someone is bound to take umbrage, because it’s an expression very commonly heard in Christendom. Even the very useful GotQuestions.org assumes its validity in asking the question “What does it mean that the church is the bride of Christ?” and in going on to note that “In the New Testament, Christ, the Bridegroom, has sacrificially and lovingly chosen the church to be His bride”.

Is that quite right? Let’s have a look.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Bible Study Troll

Where there is open participation, there will be trolls.

I don’t mean the fairy tale creatures that live under bridges. “Troll” is slang for someone inclined to stir up Internet drama by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages. The disruption may be very calculated or completely unintentional: Howard Fosdick says, “Motivations differ but the results are the same”.

Troll-types didn’t originate with the Web and they don’t restrict themselves to it. Trolls have been around as long as there have been opportunities to get attention. The Internet Troll has a genial cousin I call the “Bible Study Troll”. He’s not malicious and he doesn’t mean to be inflammatory, but his contributions are just as likely to lead to drama and discord as those of his better-known relative.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Walking in Lockstep

Some people feel the inability of Christians to agree is a fatal flaw in our faith. The fact that believers understand the word of God differently and apply it differently is, to them, evidence that there is something wrong with the scripture itself, or that Christians are deluded about it, or that perhaps God does not really exist at all.

On the contrary, I believe it is evidence of precisely the opposite. It is exactly what we ought to expect.

To Kendall Hobbs, the inability of Christians to agree about either the will of God or the content of scripture and how it ought to be applied constitutes a valid reason to abandon Christianity. So he did.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (13)

Sure, they have a few more bodies involved. And the occasional video.

But for the most part, the Stand To Reason blog is trying something not unlike what we’re attempting here: to reach out generally to the evangelical community by encouraging biblical solutions to modern issues with a focus on the person of Jesus Christ.

Not to mention that they probably do it a little more graciously than we do.

Not surprising I would like them then, is it?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Disqualify!!

People whose foremost desire is to disqualify the word of God from application to the human experience start with a set of baseline assumptions that cannot help being wrong.

One is that the world has always operated exactly the way they have personally experienced it to operate. Another is that every difference in eyewitness testimony amounts to a contradiction.

Neither is remotely true.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: The Palestinian Question and the Christian

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

Editor’s Note: More and more I realize that a large number of Christians have strange ideas about the nation of Israel today. Some see them as God’s chosen people who can do no wrong. Some see them as entirely outside the scope of God’s blessing now and forever, and view all the promises to national Israel as being fulfilled in the Church. Where a Christian stands on Bible prophecy and Dispensationalism will likely be a factor in his or her position on Israel, but geopolitics often plays an even bigger role.

This is our first ever Too Hot to Handle discussion from the summer of 2014. IC and I don’t hit every possible facet of the topic, but maybe it’s a helpful opening salvo:

Alex Awad is a professing Christian who leads a Bible school in the town of Bethlehem and wrote 2008’s Palestinian Memories: The Story of a Palestinian Mother and her People

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ya Really Oughta Know …

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Into the Mystical Abyss

How does God communicate with you?

No, really, it’s a serious question.

People who call themselves Christians have vastly different ideas about how God speaks and how the Holy Spirit leads the believer. As a direct consequence, they also have vastly different ways of living their lives.

I keep coming across things like this:

Six children’s lives and mine were forever changed when I filed for divorce last November. It was the hardest decision I have had to make. In fact, I didn’t want to make that decision. I pleaded with God for a very long time.”

And yet, strangely, God “led” this evangelical woman to divorce her husband.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Those Ten Lost Tribes (Or Is It Twelve?)

There are few prophetic subjects more hotly contested than the Ten “Lost” Tribes. Maybe the doctrine of the Rapture. Maybe the Pre-/ Post-/ Amillennial divide.

But the folks who get agitated about those issues can’t possibly compete with Alex Christopher. Alex asks “Who Are the Real Israelites?” His answer? Almost every white person on the planet EXCEPT the ones currently living in Israel.

How important is the issue to Alex? “IT IS TIME FOR THE COMMON AMERICAN TO GET UPSET AND INVOLVED,” he shouts [the caps are his, not mine]. Fair warning: Alex actually employs the word “dastardly” to describe the quasi-Jewish conspiracy he is convinced exists, so … you know … judge for yourselves and all that.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Motive That Matters

Yesterday we looked a little at the difference between rhetoric and lies. Some Christians can’t see that there’s a difference, and that’s okay.

Sure, almost everyone uses rhetoric regularly, so these folks are in for a tough time communicating with others if they eschew it. And I suppose they may struggle to grasp the meaning of the many rhetorical statements found in scripture. Not to mention that they’re going to suffer from epic verbosity, given the necessity of qualifying and contextualizing every statement they make.

Still, if someone wants to hold his speech to a higher standard of accuracy and explicitness, I won’t fight with him. It may be that he’ll manage to successfully communicate with people that you and I could not. And good for him if that’s the case.

So live and let live, I say, at least where the use of rhetoric is concerned.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Whatever Drives the Nail

You really have to watch yourself when you get into a debate in the comments section of your favourite blog.

There’s a certain beauty in being able to engage a large number of people at once. But a line of thought being developed between hundreds of individuals twists and turns and takes on a life of its own. In order to respond to any specific facet of the argument, you have to be quick off the mark or you may wind up saying something redundant. That, or your comment may appear so far from the things it references that it gets lost entirely. 

Thus a fair bit of kneejerking is common among commenters, which on occasion leads to making an idiot of oneself, like I did last night when I briefly found myself arguing something I don’t believe at all.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Sophomores, Sophists and Solipsism

Solipsism is the theory that self is all that exists.

It’s kind of an oddball worldview first enunciated by the Greek sophist Gorgias of Leontini around 400 B.C. Gorgias argued that (i) nothing exists; (ii) even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and (iii) even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.

Now of course when we refer to someone as “solipsistic” today, we do not generally mean that they are a philosopher of the Gorgian school or that they really believe that everything they experience (including the external world and other people) occurs only in their heads and lacks independent existence. Most solipsists are not philosophers at all; in fact, they may never have even heard the word “solipsism”. They have no specific theories of existence and may never have contemplated reality in the abstract.

They just live and think as if self is all that exists.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The “Loving Society” and Category Error

In 1949’s The Concept of Mind, Gilbert Ryle gives this example

“One day a girl visited a college campus. After seeing buildings, teachers, students, and dorms, she looked at the tour guide and sweetly asked, ‘This is all nice, but when do I get to see the university?’ ”

Now I don’t agree with Ryle on too much, but he deserves credit for coining the expression that describes what is wrong with the girl’s thinking in this story. The mistake she makes is called a category error. She has seen buildings, teachers, students and dorms, and thinks a “university” is just one more item in the same category or on the same level as these things. She fails to grasp that all these elements make up the university. The university itself is in a different category.

Christians and unbelievers alike are susceptible to category error.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

In Need of Analysis: Saving Sunday Evening

This post is over a year old, but it is carefully written and a study in neutrality. Its subject is the declining interest among evangelicals in attending traditional Sunday evening church services. Thom S. Rainer explores the history of Sunday evening meetings and hazards a cautious speculation or three as to why almost nobody cares about them anymore.

It’s a topic worth discussing, but before we invest too much energy in debating how we might salvage Sunday night, we ought to ask ourselves another, more pressing question first:

Do we really want to?

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Depression, Grief, Melancholy and Guilt

Granny says she’s depressed.

Okay, she’s not my granny, and she’s probably not actually depressed either. There’s a chance she is, but in all likelihood she’s grieving, not depressed.

There is a difference.

You see, her husband of many decades went to be with the Lord earlier this year. Her ongoing grief is natural and appropriate; in fact, if at this stage she were said to be feeling fine and spending her time internet shopping for a new partner, the gossips among us would be even more troubled.

But I point this out because where sadness is concerned, our thinking is very muddled these days.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Mission Accomplished

How does the Infinite behave in close proximity with the Very Finite Indeed? (That would be you and me, by the way.)

I struggle with this as I read about the Lord Jesus and his dealings with men. He asked them questions to which, being God incarnate, he already knew the answers. He confronted them with impossible conundrums to bring out what was in their hearts. The common language in which two very different parties may converse and the language of theology are in such (apparent) conflict that we may wonder whether man can ever hope to begin to comprehend the Divine.

And yet that very comprehension seems to be God’s purpose.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Digging In for the Long Haul

On the wall-mounted flatscreen across from my table in the restaurant where I enjoyed lunch today a news item flashed by. It reappeared every three minutes or so until I started to pay attention.

Apparently 77% of Canadians support assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

Canadian doctors, thankfully, are not yet on board with the idea. But of course Dying with Dignity Canada felt compelled to get in an obligatory shot, suggesting the poll validates the Supreme Court decision in February that struck down the federal law against assisted suicide.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Persecution Complex (2)

Rachel Held Evans vs. Reality in ten rounds or less:

Rachel: “For the sake of the gospel, drop the persecution complex.” 

Reality: “Kentucky clerk’s office will issue marriage licenses Friday — without the clerk.”

Rachel: “Not only do American Christians experience complete religious freedom in this country, we also enjoy tremendous privilege.”

Reality: “A Kentucky county clerk [has been] found in contempt of court and held Thursday for her refusal to issue marriage licenses after the Supreme Court decision to allow gays to wed.”

Friday, September 04, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Islam Fading

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

This is a curious little video:


Tom: As you know, IC, I tend to take such things with a dumpster-sized grain of salt. There’s enough disinformation circulating these days to keep the Christian perpetually on his or her toes. But the gist of this video is that Islam’s popularity and reach may not be all it is cracked up to be. Rather than growing prodigiously as we have assumed, the evidence may suggest the influence of Islam is actually shrinking.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

522 Inept Logicians

Fritz von Uhde imagines Mary’s
encounter with “the gardener”
The debate as to whether Jesus actually rose from the dead stands at the centre of Christianity. As the apostle Paul pointed out, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins”.

That being the case, the doctrine of the resurrection could not be more important.

Amy Hall at the Stand to Reason blog has been regularly fielding challenges from the atheistic 522 Reasons Christianity is False website (apparently the name changes daily; they are at 522 reasons and counting). Still, after reading today’s challenge from atheism, I propose we rechristen their blog 522 Inept Logicians.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

College / University Survival Guide [Part 2]

What can a Christian do to maintain his or her faith on campus, especially in the presence of a fairly discouraging atmosphere of indifference?

There’s actually quite a lot. Let me suggest that just as learning requires habits of study, staying strong in your faith requires a sort of ongoing maintenance program that counteracts the corrosive effects of secular indifference.

What’s in the survival program? Okay, let’s look at that. I’m going to put things in four categories: “preparing” (i.e. what to do right now, in order to get ready), “arriving” (i.e. what to do immediately upon getting to the campus), “surviving” (i.e. basic priorities to get you through the first year and beyond), and “thriving” (i.e. how to employ your faith to enrich your academics and actually give you a strategic advantage). How’s that?

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

College / University Survival Guide [Part 1]

It won’t be very long now until universities and colleges in North America begin gearing up for the year. And with this, a whole new cohort of Christian young people will enter post-secondary life for the first time.

Are they ready?

Parents often worry about that. Everybody knows that university can be a challenging place in which to hold to your faith. It’s full of new ideas — most of them secular, and not a few genuinely anti-Christian — and new experiences — not all of them perfectly healthy and safe. But it’s also a tremendously exciting time for many young people; and when we consider it part of a natural process of moving from parental control to full independence, then there’s every reason to be positive about it. (And parents, when you consider the alternative, what’s better?)