Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cage Match: Zechariah 14 vs Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible has gained a reputation as the “best and most widely used work of its kind”. I have its three bulky volumes on my own bookshelf and have found it surprisingly useful at times given its age and the limited number of translations and study tools available when it was written in the early decades of the 18th century. Philip Doddridge said, “Henry is, perhaps, the only commentator … that deserves to be entirely and attentively read through”. Evangelist George Whitfield is said to have read Henry’s commentary daily with his devotions.

So this is not me having another “Rachel Held Evans” moment. Critiquing the opinions of a social justice wannabe looking to amp up pageviews, book sales and personal appearance invitations is not in the same league as tackling a respected and serious writer whose work has been influential for almost three centuries.

That said, there here is no better way to highlight the absurdities inherent in some methods of interpretation — even well accepted and venerable methods — than to simply lay a commentary side-by-side with the word of God.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Making Merchandise

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

As long as there has been a people of God in the world, there have been those who looked to take advantage of them. The Israelites had their false prophets, and Peter warns the young church to expect their share of false teachers. He says, as the translators of the King James Version so eloquently put it, “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you”.

Tom: But of course the trick is always identifying such people, isn’t it, Immanuel Can? I mean, what does that look like in the real world?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Whose I Am and Whom I Serve

How do you characterize your relationship with God?

When people ask you, what do you say? How do you describe it?

Anybody can make a list, even a long list, and many have done so. But if you were addressing unbelievers and had to distill the relationship down to one or two very primary, fundamental elements, which aspects would you choose?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Total Depravity: Can’t We Come Up With A New Term?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Insulting Our Intelligence

Another Stand to Reason atheist challenge, this one plucked out of an article in Salon:

[I]t insults our intelligence to be enjoined to believe, now that we have split the atom, discovered the Higgs Boson, and sent a probe to Pluto, in the veracity of a supernatural account of the origins of our cosmos.”

There are probably half a dozen ways to approach a statement like this. I’m just going to go with the obvious …

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Fixed Mindset and the “Praise Bell”

You’ve got to know that when you come across an article entitled “Why Do Women Fail?” in a forum that specifically exists to promote women, somebody is likely to be unhappy with whatever conclusions may be drawn.

Unless the answer is “men”, I suspect.

The fact that the piece is credited to two credentialed women (one a Stanford University professor of psychology, the other the co-founder of the Girl’s Leadership Institute) and flagged with an uncharacteristic editorial disclaimer declaring, “The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors” just serves to make it more interesting.

I’m hooked.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Work in Progress

My clumsy attempt to visually represent the relationships between the various biblical spiritual domains that impact on the afterlife:


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (3)

“Heaven” / “Paradise”

Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry (let’s call them YRM for the sake of brevity) says the Bible is “the most misunderstood book of all time”.

That’s a provocative statement, and not one that’s easy to prove. But given the ubiquity of Bibles in our times, the number of years most of its books have been circulated, and the diversity of interpretations some derive from it, I suppose it may be correct.

Of course, the question that almost asks itself after such a declaration is “If so, then whose understanding of the Bible is correct?” And we can probably guess how YRM would answer that one.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Immasculate Conception

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

Last week we discussed the problems faced by children who grow up without fathers. If it were just an issue within society, that’s one thing, but evangelicals are increasingly being called upon to aid, abet and even validate single motherhood in the church.

Tom: I’ve just referenced three cases (and there are many more like them) where so-called Christians are looking to justify these sorts of choices and normalize them in Christian circles. Here is Glenn T. Stanton of Focus On The Family. He says single motherhood is not a woman problem, it’s a man problem:

“If women can’t find good men to marry, they will instead compromise themselves by merely living with a make-do man or getting babies from him without marriage.

Women want to marry and have daddies for their babies. But if they can’t find good men to commit themselves to, well … Our most pressing social problem today is a man deficit.”

So the problem, according to Glenn, is that there are “not enough good men”. Do you buy that, IC?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

John Piper’s Exploding Cigar

Not John Piper
Do you want to be a Jew? John Piper thinks every Christian should:

“God is at pains to explain to you that you are a true Jew. It is a great gift to us that he should tell us that an essential part of our identity is that we are true Jews if we fulfil the obedience of faith. Don’t reject God’s good gift.”

Why does it matter if a Gentile thinks of himself as a Jew or not? It seems like a trivial issue to debate, doesn’t it? Why would anyone go to as much trouble as Piper goes to in this sermon from 1999 just to convince Christians to get excited about being “Jewish”?

I sure don’t want to reject any of God’s good gifts. But this particular “gift” is more like the proverbial exploding cigar: it comes with more than you bargain for when you take it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (14)

“Eclectic and intriguing” might be my best crack at describing Morally Contextualized Romance ... a fancy way to say ‘marriage’.

Scott and Mychael Klajic are the duo behind the blog, with the experience of eight years together and four children to show for it. The pair previously wrote about Christian marriage at the now-defunct Courtship Pledge website, abandoned after a major technical glitch erased two years of work. The new site is nominally about “God’s hierarchy for marriage” but though nearly every post intersects in some way with the topic, relationships do not seem to be the site’s only (or even its primary) focus.

Not by a long shot.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (2)

“Jew” / “Jewish”


What is a Jew anyway?

Specifically, does a Gentile who converts to Judaism become a “Jew”? Many people today say so, and quite a few religious Jews agree with them. There is even a Judaic ritual called giyyur by which, it is alleged, a Gentile becomes Jewish.

Tracey R. Rich says, “A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism.

Now, if that’s a scriptural answer, there are an awful lot of Jews out there. But the Bible does not appear to use the word “Jew” that way. There is considerable elasticity in the term, but in neither Testament does it dovetail perfectly with the modern, secular usage or even the definition of many Orthodox Jews.

Curious? Let’s have a look at some history.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Inside Scoop

Those in the news business are forever occupied with beating one another to a story. Old media or new, success is measured in the ability to get the inside scoop.

God, on the other hand, is not in the business of broadcasting his secrets. Communicating is something in which he takes great pleasure, but not something he does casually. His truth is for those who value it and understand its worth, not for those who dismiss or trivialize it.

The value of God’s word is one of its repeated themes.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Of All the Things I’ve Lost, I Miss Myself the Most

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Institutional Fix

Government should do something. That seems to be the consensus.

Never mind what the issue is. Could be the economy. Could be women’s wages. Maybe aboriginal affairs. Certainly immigration. Definitely climate change. But if only those people we elected would just get to it, things would be better.

People love the institutional fix. Specifically, they love identifying a problem and ranting about it. These days, personal responsibility begins and ends with firing off a critical blog post, Facebook screed or nuclear Tweet. Whatever the problem may be, with any luck someone else will deal with it. Hopefully they’ll start a program.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Faith and the Fatherless

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

Single motherhood is the new “normal”.

Government programs of various kinds have made possible a generation (or more) of children, many of whom know no father but the State. The Washington Post reports that by age eighteen fully half of children today will have lived some period with a single mother.

And increasingly, evangelicals are being called upon to aid, abet and even validate single motherhood.

Tom: IC, are there predictable consequences to growing up fatherless?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

“In the Church” and In the Body

The church meeting is not the church.

Let me say that again: the church meeting is not the church.

You would think that Christians who have already succeeded in grasping the biblical distinction between “church” and “church building” would grasp this further distinction intuitively, and it may be that on some level we get it. But if we measure knowledge of any truth by the number of Christians who are living it out daily in a practical way, my suspicion is that some of us have missed the boat.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (1)

“Hebrew” / “Israelite”

I like etymology.

Once in a while I encounter a word I would have difficulty defining precisely if anyone asked me to. Sometimes I’ll look up such terms and add them to my own vocabulary if they seem likely to be useful. The process is almost always of some benefit, as you get to see how words originate and what happens to them over time. It’s a good feeling to be able to use words confidently and correctly.

But from a communication perspective, there is no value in being technically correct about what a word means when everyone around you thinks it means something else. And nobody should want to be willfully ignorant. Somewhere in between technical accuracy and oblivion is a sweet spot where we actually understand each other.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What Is Job One?

An atheist who calls himself “Pointman” is infuriated that Christians do not make it our first order of business to take a public stand against the devastating effects of climate change activism in third world countries.

He provides considerable evidence that the efforts of environmental extremists, far from helping, are actually hurting the poorest of the poor. Western nations threaten to withhold foreign aid from countries that permit the use of DDT, so millions in those countries die of malaria. Changes in North American laws under pressure from environmental lobbyists incent farmers in developing nations to grow profitable biofuel crops rather than food staples, leading to price increases of up to 75% in basic foods, and resulting in food riots, starvation, malnutrition and death.

Notwithstanding his penchant for hyperbole, Pointman may well be right.

Monday, October 12, 2015

That Was Then, This Is Now

Sometimes Wikipedia has a gem or two.

The translators of our Bibles tell us that the thing for which Esau traded his birthright to his brother Jacob was a bowl of lentil soup. The King James that I grew up with reads “a mess of pottage”, and I still get a kick from that now-anachronistic and quirky turn of phrase.

Oddly, there is even a Wikipedia entry for “mess of pottage” that nails the concept perfectly:

“A mess of pottage is something immediately attractive but of little value taken foolishly and carelessly in exchange for something more distant and perhaps less tangible but immensely more valuable.”

Those followers of Christ who look primarily for blessing in this world are making the same sort of trade Esau did.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Dating Scene

It’s the eighth shortest book in the Bible and the second shortest in the Old Testament — only 1,131 words in English in two brief chapters.

But Haggai is full of dates. Almost a quarter of its 38 verses are given over to specifying times right to the very day. The book’s five prophecies to four different individuals or groups are each arranged around these dates.

Even readers unconvinced of the inspiration of scripture are unlikely to see such an obvious pattern as accidental or merely a writing tic. They will generally concede the author must be trying to make a point.

It might be worth a few hundred words to try to work out what the point may be.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Unleash the Monsters

What happens when you turn scientists loose to solve the problems of humanity in a moral vacuum? You get New York University ‘bioethicist’ Professor Matthew Liao.

Don’t take my word for it:


What strikes me is how perfectly reasonable a monster may appear when you don’t think too closely about what it’s actually suggesting.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Ending the Gender War

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

Suzanne Venker at The Daily Caller says it’s time to “end the gender war”.

Venker says gender relations are seriously shot, and that the feminist establishment is to blame for telling women “You can do anything a man can” and “Society is simply holding you back”. She cites Camille Paglia, who confirms that “Men’s faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment”.

Even The Wall Street Journal concedes that an increasing number of men are checking out on the idea of marriage and family.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Sub-Prime Mortgage From Heaven

Christians are used to getting blamed for a lot of things. Imprisoning Galileo. The Inquisition. The Crusades. But this is a new one.

Hanna Rosin at The Atlantic theorizes that Christians tanked the American economy:

“There is one explanation [for the 2007-2009 recession] that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture — a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.”

Wow.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Quote of the Day (9)

Youth work is a juggling act.

I haven’t done it in a few years. The cultural distance between me and the current generation is significant enough that I can’t imagine the sort of effort required to properly bridge it, and the opportunity is not there in any case. Others are doing the job, and God bless ’em.

But I’ve put in the better part of a decade leading youth groups and/or teaching Sunday School and I well remember the juggling act that comes from trying to please everyone with an opinion about what you’re doing.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Your Alms Have Ascended

The things you do for me stand a good chance of being forgotten.

I may not appreciate them the way I should. That Christmas sweater was a little too red and a little too heavy for me, so I never wore it. The gift card was for a shop I never go to, and it’s still sitting on my shelf. The DVD was something I already had, but I didn’t want to mention it.

I didn’t need what you gave me, so I said a quick thank you and forgot about you.

Sorry.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Where Are The Results?

In business, success is quantifiable. Or at least it should be.

At the beginning of the fiscal year, or more likely prior, you set a series of targets to be met or exceeded and, come year-end, you stack up the goals alongside the actual results and … then you figure out how to fudge the numbers for the shareholders.

Too honest. Sorry.

But somewhere between the delivery of the actual numbers from the accounting department and the creation of the largely-fictional version that ends up in the annual report, the truth about the current state of your company is known, if only by a small group of men gathered in a boardroom.

Success — or horrible failure — is quantifiable.

Not really so in the church, is it? Not the way we’d like.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

I Am the One

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

From Safety to Where?

Christian Mingle takes your safety very seriously. Good to know.

But we all take our safety seriously. Some of us are too immature, unwary or inexperienced to recognize potential dangers when we encounter them, but that’s more a matter of failing to apply a principle than failing to believe it. If you ask a group of average folk how important their safety is to them, you’ll find most answer “Very”.

Drug safety, food safety, bike helmets, pre-nuptial agreements, fine print, motorcycle leathers, sunscreen, shark cages, air bags, seatbelts, life preservers, parachutes, fire alarms, escapes and extinguishers … everybody wants to be safe. Nothing intrinsically wicked about that.

Except when you do it at someone else’s expense.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Biocentrism and Reality

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

The soul: it’s a heavy topic, and one that not everyone agrees about. Dr. Robert Lanza is a biologist who says that consciousness creates the universe rather than the other way around. He’s what is called a “biocentrist”. His is a relatively new theory, having come into play around 2007. The fundamental notion behind it is that the much sought-after “Theory of Everything” scientists are looking for cannot be found until biology is placed at the head of the sciences.

Tom: It’s interesting, Immanuel Can, to see the spiritual dimension of life acquiring some scientific credibility. Do you want to take a shot at explaining Dr. Lanza’s theory?

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Has Science Buried God?

Mathematician Dr. John Lennox addressed the question at Rice University Monday night, and his answer is well worth the time:


Don’t be put off by the length of the video (1 hr 53 min). Lennox is not introduced until 00:13:20 and does not address his subject until around the 26 minute mark. He winds up by approximately 01:12:00, so the actual speech is only about 45 minutes. Everything after that is simply Dr. Lennox answering questions posed by the audience.