Monday, February 29, 2016

Beyond Baseline Obedience

The specs for the Ark are so clear
even Hasbro made a model of it.
Words on paper are rarely enough.

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the written word. I wouldn’t be blogging daily if I thought written communication isn’t effective and meaningful. It’s a tremendous blessing, and one for which we should always be thankful.

Still, when the original communicator is no longer on the scene, the limitations of words alone start to become evident.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Only One Son

Genesis 22 provides the account of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. In just nineteen short verses we are given the simple outline of a story that leaves us with a multitude of unanswered questions about such a profound event.

Still, despite the scant detail provided, some things can be discerned:

The Anticipation

Abraham loved his son Isaac deeply and the journey to Moriah that would apparently end with the sacrifice of Isaac must have been filled with sorrow that was most uncommonly deep.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Brains With Feet

The most current version of this post is available here.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Break Out the Marshmallows

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

This is an interesting take. The Independent brings us the story of Joseph Atwill, who has written a book entitled Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.

Atwill says Christianity is actually a “system of mind control” developed by the Romans to “produce slaves that believe God actually decreed their slavery”.

Tom: Who knew, Immanuel Can? Our whole faith is nothing more than the product of a first century propaganda campaign. Fortunately someone finally figured that out for us. Or not.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Inbox: Truth Leaves the Stage Entirely

A friend from up north forwards a few thoughts from 1 Timothy 3 well worth considering.

The apostle Paul, he says, is concerned that Timothy would know how to conduct himself in the church:

“In encouraging Timothy in this regard, Paul has three phrases to describe the church that bear consideration:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Try Reading It First

From the department of “Let’s actually open our Bibles and read before we start preaching”, here’s Matt Chandler preaching about Adam and Eve:

“What happens is the Serpent deceives Eve with Adam standing right there. Eve takes the apple, believing the lie of the Serpent, takes a bite of the fruit, and then hands it to her passive idiot husband, who also takes a bite.

Do you know who God blames for sin introducing itself into the cosmos? Adam. Because he had the role of spiritual headship, of covering and protection. He didn’t step up. He did the spiritual equivalency of, ‘Go check it out, baby.’ ”

This is so … NOT what actually happened.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

I’m Not Sorry

Elton John sang that “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, which is quite untrue.

We hear the word “sorry” dozens of times a day, usually about something entirely trivial. For those of us who are by nature conciliatory, “sorry” is actually a very easy word, one we bandy about reflexively the moment anyone near us starts to look tense. Even those who are dispositionally dominant and ordinarily insensitive to others learn quickly that faking regret can be useful in forging alliances and spreading influence, provided you don’t overdo it and come off looking weak.

Most of the time we say sorry, we are not sorry at all.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Quote of the Day (17)

This summary of a recent series of Twitter exchanges reminds us the claims of scientists are frequently overstated:

“To put it in context, some scientists and science fetishists on Twitter were in an uproar over my assertion that scientific peer review was not only unreliable, but was nothing more than glorified proofreading. They argued that scientific peer review was all about replicating experiments and testing conclusions, not merely reading over the material in order to make sure the author wasn’t smoking crack.”

Fair enough. The Russian proverb, Doveryai no proveryai (“Trust, but verify”) remains sound advice. Except it doesn’t seem there’s much actual verifying going on.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

If There Were No Christians

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Redefining the Language

Nicked from the comments on another website:

“What is incredible is how many churches pay people full time to be ‘worship music leaders’. They are given status equal to the pastor.”

What is appalling here is not so much that “worship music leaders” are given any status at all in modern Christian thinking, nor is it that they are paid a salary to do a job in today’s evangelical churches that has no precedent in the New Testament church and no authority from scripture, though both of these facts are certainly regrettable.

No, it’s that the accepted term of comparison is “the pastor”. The status of that equally modern and unbiblical role is assumed uncritically, entirely by default, and near-universally.

In other words, the people who see clergy in the Bible where it doesn’t exist have successfully redefined the language we use about servants of God.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: How Do You Read It? (2)

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

We had a good time with this last week, so Immanuel Can and I have agreed to revisit our growing list of commonly misinterpreted Bible verses and discuss three more examples.

Tom: How about this one?

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

How do you read that, IC?

Two or Three

Immanuel Can: I think the first question has to be “two or three whats”, or “two or three of whom”?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thought Experiment #2: Light Momentary Affliction

Paul was, in his own words, a former blasphemer, persecutor and ignorant opponent of Jesus Christ.

That’s not Paul being humble. That’s simply factual.

Acts 8 tells us that before his encounter on the road to Damascus with the One he was persecuting, Saul ravaged the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women to have them imprisoned.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Leave Scripture Out of It

In 2013’s Pauline Paradoxes Decoded, a self-described “world famous cryptographer” named Michael Wood — whose Wikipedia entry remains surprisingly perfunctory for someone “world famous” — announced his discovery that “When his writings are properly translated, it’s clear that Apostle Paul not only did not condemn homosexuals, but he openly defended them against the religious views of his day”.

How did Wood do it? He “clarified” the “meanings” of “key words”.

Translation: He rewrote the verses that offended him.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Priests Are In The Pews

The concept of priesthood did not originate with the Bible. That may be where most of us first encounter priests, but priesthood has existed in many other cultures throughout history.

Canaanite culture, for instance.

Abram met Melchizedek, king of Salem (later called Jerusalem). Melchizedek was not only a priest; he was also likely a citizen of one of the nations that several hundred years later God would instruct Israel to exterminate from the face of the earth. That’s unless Chazalic literature is correct in asserting that Melchizedek was actually a nickname for Shem, son of Noah, who we know outlived Abram. We have no scriptural evidence Shem was Melchizedek, but his exceptional age would certainly explain the respect Abram extended to the “first priest”.

And this is the very first reference to a priest in scripture.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Life and Godliness

To whom much was given ...
What is really necessary to please God?

I’m not thinking of salvation here but of service.

The fundamental “work” God requires is “to believe in him whom he has sent”. Faith is foundational to pleasing God, but the faith that pleases God has always historically manifested itself in works. It can be no other way. Leaving aside the thief on the cross, it is pretty clear that love displays itself in obedience.

So faith precedes all works that matter to God, of course.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Profound Apology

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Division and the Preservation of the Bible

People often complain that Christians are divided. Denominationally, intellectually, interpretationally, geographically and/or racially divided. Some even take this as evidence the claims of Christ are untrue.

I take a little different tack on that subject. In 2014, I wrote about the reasons Christians are divided. In 2015, I even wrote about the good that occasionally results from these divisions.

If I keep coming back to the subject, it’s not because I want to repeat myself but because so many people see it as a major problem.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: How Do You Read It? (1)

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

We’ve done maybe seventy of these exchanges now on various subjects, Immanuel Can. But what we’ve never done is a post on commonly misunderstood scriptures. Everybody does those. I’m feeling left out.

So why don’t we just do it like the Lord Jesus did with the lawyer and ask the questions, “What is written? How do you read it?” That’s a pretty solid precedent to work from.

Tom: I’ll start. Let me lob you a softball here, IC.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Poetry and Practice

The apostle Paul is not primarily known as a poet.

Still, even translated into English, 1 Corinthians 13 is poetic enough to have been set to music or read at millions of weddings all over the world, religious and secular.

So much so that Mark Woods at Christian Today wishes we’d use something else instead. He says, “Paul’s sublime, God-breathed words in 1 Corinthians have been co-opted and corrupted by a wedding industry that celebrates romantic love, which is all about hormones, at the expense of Christian love, which is all about commitment”.

Not wrong.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Witnessing to Witnesses [Part 5]

Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge the Bible’s inspiration and accuracy but not its testimony about the deity of Jesus Christ.

That’s both intellectually vacuous and spiritually dangerous.

You may or may not encounter JWs in your travels, but the scriptural parallels between Jesus and Jehovah are worth considering regardless. John wrote that the Father has given all judgment to the Son in order that “all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father”.

That’s the aim of this series.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Complements of John Piper

Darlene Parsons and/or Wanda Martin at The Wartburg Watch are deep into it over complementarian commander-in-chief John Piper. In an article entitled “John Piper Backs Himself Into a Corner and Even Reformed Complementarians Are Confused”, TWW points out that Piper has well gone well beyond any biblical mandate he might have for his views on gender roles.

If you have no idea what a complementarian is in the first place, join the club. Large numbers of Christians have never encountered the term. Though the idea has apparently been around for years, I only heard it used for the first time very recently.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Three Songs of Moses

I’m not sure I can easily picture the Moses of this 1861 Ivan Kramskoy painting “Prayer of Moses” breaking into song.

Can you?

Some Bibles, including my ESV, give Exodus 15 the title “Song of Moses”. Technically this is true, because we read that Moses and the people of Israel sang the words that follow to Jehovah after the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptians. We don’t actually read that Moses was the one who wrote it, though most scholars assume it and it seems likely.

But there are three “songs” in scripture attributed to Moses, and he may well have written more.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Assumptions and Loaded Conversations

Back in 2012, NBA Commissioner David Stern caught flack for cracking an old joke in an interview with Jim Rome. Rome asked him if the NBA lottery was rigged. Stern came back with, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

Of course, this immediately got him into trouble with the PC set, who took him to be making fun of the very serious issue of wife abuse. I can sympathize with their ire; but in fairness, I think it’s not what Stern was trying to say. He was actually referring to an old (admittedly somewhat tasteless) joke. I think I first read it on a bubble gum wrapper when I was a kid, and I remember seeing it in other places a well. It was one of those things that was “just around”. The joke went like this:

Question: What’s a question you cannot answer either “Yes” or “No”?
Answer: Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

Perhaps Stern and I chewed the same gum, I don’t know.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Orderly Meditation

Have you ever thought about why the books of our New Testament are ordered the way they are?

They’re not alphabetical, like a reference work. We can see that right away.

They’re definitely not completely chronological, like most novels or histories. Read the NT through a few times and that will certainly become evident. There is some evidence of chronology, certainly, in the sense that the four gospels come first, but Acts is a history that spans a period of decades during which most of Paul’s epistles were written. If we were able to determine precisely when each epistle was written, we might try to slot them in between chapters of Acts, but that would make for an awkward read.

Some have argued that the order is providential (in fact, in 1864, Thomas D. Bernard did that precisely), but good luck trying to make that case. You’d pretty much have to take that on faith.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: What Is Progress?

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

Donald Trump’s popularity is hugely alarming to the political left, whose agenda is often called “progressive”.

In the last couple of years Democrats have had much of their policy wish list implemented by presidential fiat to almost no resistance from the largest Republican majority in Congress since the late 1920s. Crickets.

All this social “progress” is rendered precarious by the specter of a Trump presidency. Trump has tweeted things like, “If elected, I will undo all of Obama’s executive orders”, posing an existential threat to the dream of the “just society” that lies at the heart of progressivism. Thus Carlos Lozada of The Washington Post can argue that Trump is a throwback; that he appeals to what Lozada calls the “stone-age brain”.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Greatest Enemy

What is the greatest enemy of mankind?

Basil says it’s got to be corporations: “They have enormous power, and their priorities and objectives are seriously at odds with the greatest good / greatest number goal.”

Videsh says it’s greed: “So many wars were fought ’cos of greed.”

Mikael says disease, because it “destroys morale”, “does not discriminate” and “will never be stopped”.

Not a bad selection so far.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Witnessing to Witnesses [Part 4]

Jehovah’s Witnesses say the Bible is inspired and accurate but don’t accept its testimony about the deity of Jesus Christ.

That combination doesn’t work. It’s intellectually vacuous and spiritually dangerous.

The extent to which scripture parallels Jesus with Jehovah is a subject worth considering for all believers, whether or not you regularly encounter JWs in your travels. John wrote that the Father has given all judgment to the Son in order that “all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father”.

That’s the aim of this series.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Vashti as Role Model

I deal with legalese every day.

Our company has lawyers for clients, often dozens at a time. We also have templates that enable us to produce a lot of legal documentation very quickly. Sometimes the language in these templates differs from the instructions provided by our clients.

To deal with these apparent conflicts in authorial intent, the company has established a very basic principle of interpretation, and it is this: when the lawyers contradict the template, the lawyers always win. Why? Because instructions directed specifically to the current situation always trump instructions of a more general nature, which have often been written with other documents, other readers and different legal situations in view.

There is a similar principle at work in the interpretation of scripture.

Monday, February 01, 2016

One Bad Argument Deserves Another

Sometimes better to add nothing ...
The creation/evolution debate goes on, but maybe a little less publicly than before.

In my lifetime, evolution has become the preferred ideology for those seeking election to public office and the only broadly acceptable “scientific” explanation of origins. Even an increasing number of evangelicals are buying in.

As Neil Carter puts it, “Scientists are no longer debating the topic of common ancestry nor the age of the earth. That ship sailed a long time ago”.

Which is too bad, really. Truth does not cease to be truth because people have stopped discussing it and, for the most part, abandoned the search for it.