Monday, November 30, 2015

Revisiting Lot’s Wife

“But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” 

Wow. That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?

As a child, I certainly did. That image stuck in my head: righteous family fleeing from a condemned city, scrambling frantically for the shelter of the little town of Zoar, as instructed by angels. Then sulfur and fire begin falling from heaven.

And … poof! The wife takes one fleeting glance over her shoulder and gets incinerated.

Was God looking to make a point or something? As a believing youngster, I found it more than a little scary. And it raised very practical and personal questions, like “Is this sort of instant, inescapable judgment the type of thing I can expect from God if I slip up?”

Maybe, but a few of my assumptions as a child appear to have been a little off.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Recommend-a-blog (15)

Marcion’s favourite interpretative technique
Marcion of Sinope was quite a character.

Wikipedia calls him “an important leader in early Christianity”; important, I guess, in the sense that his theology got him denounced by the church fathers of his day. Often described as a Gnostic, he is said to have rejected the deity described in the Hebrew scriptures and to have affirmed instead that the true God was the “Father” referred to by the Lord Jesus.

In this he foreshadowed many today who have difficulty reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Be Who You Are

Charles Paul Landon, 1760-1826
Poor Hagar. Seems like she was everybody’s punching bag, doesn’t it.

When we are introduced to her in Genesis, she is the servant of Abram’s wife. Every modern writer will tell you servitude is the worst of all possible fates, so it must be so. Then Hagar’s mistress, too old to conceive, comes up with the bright idea of using Hagar as a means of perpetuating her own family line.

Despite his years of experience, Abram goes along with Sarai’s plan. After all, he’s a guy, and he’s just been given permission — by his own wife, yet — to have guilt-free sex with a younger woman.

What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Positively Negative

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

Karen Wolff at Christian Books for Women gives some tips for the Christian on maintaining an upbeat attitude that are almost generic enough pass for the musings of whatever secular positivity guru happens to trending on the shelves in Chapters this week. She says obeying Paul’s injunction to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” involved purposefully replacing any negative thoughts we have with positive ones.

Tom: Such a thing is not always easily done, and I’m not even sure we have a scriptural warrant to pursue it. Certainly Wolff provides none, simply assuming the validity of her own premise. But her thoughts on the subject are similar to other believers I’ve encountered over the years.

Still, “negative” and “positive” are not really scriptural terms at all. Immanuel Can, do we have a mandate as Christians to be “positive” all the time?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Phrases That Jump Out At You

This one did:

“Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”

The three words that stuck in my head are “for OUR glory”.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Stray Thoughts from Romans 14

I’m struck by my own tendency to read into the text of scripture my current circumstances and the modes of thought that dominate the age in which we live.

It’s a bad habit, but also a hard one to break.

Two weeks ago in Too Hot to Handle, Immanuel Can and I explored the meaning of the word “judge”, as in “judge not lest you be judged”. We did not get into Romans 14, but the entire chapter is about judging and worthy of a few extra moments of consideration.

I’d suggest you cannot properly interpret Romans 14 without trying at least a little to understand the mindset of Jews and Gentiles in the early church and the differences between them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Quote of the Day (12)

I invented virtue signalling,” says James Bartholomew of The Spectator.

It may even be true. The online version of Collins Dictionary incorporated the expression earlier this year, defining virtue signalling as “activities intended to indicate a person’s virtuousness”.

In June, Facebook introduced Celebrate Pride” function that allowed users all over the world to show support for gay marriage by imposing a transparent LGBT rainbow over their profile picture. Two weeks ago, another group of ideological lock-steppers adopted the colours of the French flag in sympathy with the victims of the Parisian massacres.

That’s virtue signalling: “Look at me! I’m a good person!”

Monday, November 23, 2015

Work Yourself Out of a Job


Come again? That’s a perplexing statement.

The regions to which Paul refers are, after all, pretty large. He says he has preached to Gentiles “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum”. At its widest, Illyricum included all the territory west of Macedonia and east of Italy extending south as far as Epirus and north through the Balkans almost to the Danube (see map).

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Coming Up Short

When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans, it doesn’t say that he took his father, but that his father Terah took him.

We don’t get an exact age for Terah at the time he and his family left Ur with the intention of moving to Canaan, but he had to be at least 100 years old, and possibly quite a bit older than that. The first leg of the trip was about 600 miles, give or take, starting in what is today Iraq. The family presumably followed the Euphrates north and west up into present-day Turkey about 10 miles north of the Syrian border. They stopped short of their goal in a place called Haran. That wasn’t the original plan, but that’s what happened.

I may have it all wrong, but I suspect the problem was Abraham’s dad.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Mythical Native

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: I Have My Doubts

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

In a poem entitled “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”, Robert Browning wrote these words:

“That way
Over the mountain, which who stands upon
Is apt to doubt if it be meant for a road;
While, if he views it from the waste itself,
Up goes the line there, plain from base to brow,
Not vague, mistakeable! what’s a break or two
Seen from the unbroken desert either side?
And then (to bring in fresh philosophy)
What if the breaks themselves should prove at last
The most consummate of contrivances
To train a man’s eye, teach him what is faith?”

Tom: Wow, I can relate. Immanuel Can, are Christians supposed to admit we ever have moments when we struggle with doubt?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Follow the Evidence

Secular humanists frequently start with an agenda and worry about details later, if at all.

The justification for any course of action is often jerry-rigged into the mission statement after the mission itself is well under way; the why comes after the what has already been decided.

For instance, Alister McGrath points out this interesting fact about Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis:

“Freud’s atheistic view of the origin of religion comes prior to his study of religion; it is not its consequence.”

In other words, Freud first decided on his theory then went about doing the research to back it up, not the other way round. His theory did not arise inductively from his studies but from his own prejudices.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Facebooking from Nazareth

“The worst thing you can do is keep it all inside.” 

“There’s too much inside yourself to keep it all cooped up and restrained.”

This is the sort of advice I encounter daily. You see it too, if you’re looking for it.

Bryant McGill claims 60 million readers and “some of the most shared writings in social media history”. If accurate, that’s a lot of people sharing McGill’s thoughts. A Christian friend of mine passed on one of McGill’s more cringe-worthy bromides on Facebook the other day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Total Disappearing Act

The limitations of the Blogger platform became evident last week when the comments on IC’s post on the subject of Total Depravity started misbehaving.

Total Depravity ended like this:

I think we need a new term. “Total depravity” is a poor coinage, and terribly misleading, I think. I would opt for a biblical term instead. However, “dead” won’t do, unless we keep remembering that it’s a metaphor, not a total reality. The danger is that we will take that metaphor farther than the Bible takes it — which is an error comparable to adding or subtracting from scripture.

after which IC and Qman got into a lengthy exchange that Blogger truncated for us around the seventh comment. The original post and previous comments may still be read at the link above, but further comments (if there are any) may be made here.

For convenience, here are the portions of the exchange that are missing:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Present Perfect

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Inbox: Breeding Atheism

Mac Pier, head of a parachurch organization in Manhattan called The New York Leadership Center, is calling for unity in the church.

Fox News thinks Pier’s “confessions” on behalf of the church are important enough for Bill O’Reilly to spend five minutes quizzing Charles Krauthammer about the church and how its longstanding divisions are alleged to encourage atheism in the world.

Our reader Qman asks, “What’s your take, is it valid?”

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Stray Thoughts from Genesis 7

It’s not a myth. The Genesis flood, I mean.

Yeah, yeah, I know they say it is. Wikipedia does, at least:

“A flood myth or deluge myth is a narrative in which a great flood, usually sent by a deity or deities, destroys civilization, often in an act of divine retribution. Parallels are often drawn between the flood waters of these myths and the primeval waters found in certain creation myths, as the flood waters are described as a measure for the cleansing of humanity, in preparation for rebirth. Most flood myths also contain a culture hero, who ‘represents the human craving for life’.”

Man, is that lame.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: The Discipline of Discipline

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

Immanuel Can: The only verse in the Bible that everyone today seems to know is “judge not lest ye be judged”.

Tom: Sounds about right.

IC: Okay, so that verse seems to people to be conveying something important. Maybe it needs some closer examination.

Tom: Fair enough. Well, it seems to me there’s an obvious incentive on the part of those who use it to rebut any potential critique of their own behaviors — or the behaviors of those for whom they choose to be advocates. I mean, quoting a verse to an unbeliever would carry no weight at all, so it’s clearly a device to disqualify dissenting Christian opinion and shut down any debate before it begins.

It’s saying to you and me, “Aha, see, you’re not allowed to have a view on this”.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

From the Cat’s Perspective

I’m sitting in the vet’s office with a very unhappy young feline. She was okay in the car; a little curious but not overly concerned. Now her tail is fluffed up like a feather duster and she’s growling, a sound I’ve never heard from her before. The instrument poking into her ears was bad enough, the prodding and squeezing of her abdomen was worse, and then came the rabies shot and the growling if you accidently touch her where it now hurts.

To top things off, this is only the preliminary round. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s getting spayed in two weeks. That’s when things will really get ugly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Quote of the Day (11)

More than 350,000 Syrian refugees have sought refuge in Europe since January.

Nadim Nassar is the only Church of England priest in Syria, and is well positioned to describe what is currently going on there. In this CBC interview earlier this month with Michael Enright in Toronto, he lays out some of the causes behind mass migration. Though many surging through the countries of Europe toward Germany do not originate in Syria, it is the refugee component that gives this “immi-vasion” its media credibility and moral authority.

It’s a complex issue and believers all over the world are interested in what’s happening to their brothers and sisters in Syria, because Syrian Christians are among those most impacted by the civil war in their home country.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Breaks in the Pattern

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Rehabilitating the Proverbs 31 Wife

Poor, much-maligned wife of the last chapter of Proverbs! Google her and see. After you get through the usual commentary citations, much of what you find is Christians complaining:
Hmm, that last one may have a grain of truth to it ...

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Stray Thoughts from Genesis 2

“Is that ‘Bear’ with a ‘B’, Adam?”
Though the Lord made Adam first, and though he tasked Adam alone with naming all the animals he had created, it seems God always intended that Adam should have a wife. We read that he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”.

Now God doesn’t always “say”. Much of the time he simply thinks, and the universe is none the wiser as to what goes on in the recesses of the Infinite. God’s thoughts, one psalmist tells us, are “very deep”. Elsewhere David says God’s thoughts toward us are “incomparable” and “too numerous to count”. He does not share all his thoughts with us. He does not even share them all with the angels.

That should not be a big surprise. He is God, after all.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

John Piper Gets Political

In a previous post, I pointed out the various ways John Piper’s supersessionist leanings cause him to read things into Romans 2 that the apostle Paul does not say, largely in aid of convincing Christians that we are “true Jews”. As a result, Piper makes murk of the clear distinction in scripture between Jews, Gentiles and the church of God.

I also pointed out that a preference for a supersessionist reading of the Bible frequently goes hand-in-hand with a very defined political position on the modern nation of Israel and its right to occupy the Holy Land, specifically, that those rights could use some major curtailing.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Majoring on the Majors

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

Tom: There’s a line I keep hearing these days that goes something like this:

“We should keep unity for the sake of the gospel. Major on the majors, and not on the minors. We shouldn’t fight over secondary issues.”

Immanuel Can, some things are worth fighting over. Jude urges his readers, who appear to be a very general believing audience, to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”.

So what’s really worth contending for, and what should be set aside for the sake of unity? In short, what makes something “major” or “minor”?

Immanuel Can: Ah. What do I mean, or what do most other people I meet seem to mean? Can you clarify?

Tom: I take it there’s a significant difference then.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

I Stand Amused

So, you know, Christians have answers to atheist objections.

What’s funny to me is how different those answers may be without being contradictory. God has given different members of the Body of Christ a variety of complementary ways of looking at the world around us, and completely different, often totally unexpected responses to the diverse needs evidenced in that world. An intellectual perceives a need for an intellectual answer. A historian looks for someone who understands his discipline and responds to it credibly. A plumber or carpenter may expect common sense. A stay-at-home mom ... well, we don’t have many of those anymore anyway.

And if anecdotal evidence means anything, any honest seeker may find himself under conviction by means of encountering other kinds of evidence entirely. We don’t always know what we’re looking for after all, and we may not know ourselves as well as we think we do.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Quote of the Day (10)

From David Cambell’s Illustrations of Prophecy, 1839
Students of prophecy make reference to a future geopolitical entity described in detail in both Daniel and Revelation. In scripture it is called the “fourth kingdom”. Some Bible students also refer to it as the “revived Roman empire” because it will be the spiritual and political reanimation of ancient Rome.

Neo-Rome is consistently depicted as being comprised of ten divisions or kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream image in Daniel 2 has ten toes. The fourth beast of Daniel 7 has ten horns, as does the seven-headed monstrosity energized by Satan’s power that John saw in Revelation 13, and the beast on which the great prostitute rides in Revelation 17.

This ten nation confederacy is said to “devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces”. So, you know, fairly significant stuff, at least to those of us who believe these things are still to take place in our world.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Turn It Off

The other night I was out with Bernie and one of his neighbours, a man who works in the correctional system. Bernie has his own business to run. His neighbour had a co-worker in crisis. I had just come from work myself. We had a great time and some good, solid conversation, but in the course of a three hour dinner, every one of our cell phones was active between five and twenty times.

You have probably had similar experiences.

A new initiative in my department at work is migrating 90% of company communications to an intranet social media site patterned after Facebook. We are being discouraged from using email and encouraged to access the forum regularly from our phones when not on the job in order to keep abreast of developments and “share information more effectively”.

Monday, November 02, 2015

The Priests Go First

When Malachi condemns the people of Israel for their unfaithfulness, he starts with the priests.

Hmm. That may seem a little unfair. After all, the priests in Israel had limited control over the minds and hearts of the people. When Israelites chose to bring blind, lame and sick animals to offer their God, it could hardly be said to be the priesthood’s fault.

Could it?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Worship of Angels

A more current version of this post is available here.