Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Very First Thing

The apostle John is in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. I will leave the reader to work out precisely what that means.

E. W. Bullinger was sure John is telling us he saw the prophetic “Day of the Lord”, and there is no doubt John did precisely that. Others who have grown up with the expression are convinced John means to say that the things he experienced occurred on a Sunday.

I don’t know that the distinction is worth fighting over. What strikes me instead is the disconnect between what John sees and the very first thing he writes about it.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: To Bee or Not to Bee?

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

Immanuel Can: I found this websiteand I’ve got to admit, Tom, I laughed. And then I thought to myself, “You know, that isn’t all that funny”. Actually, it’s quite common, and quite tragic.

But I guess that’s what irony does: it strikes us at first one way, and leaves us feeling another.

So let’s talk about having a sense of humour. Maybe I can begin with the obvious: God seems to have given us all a sense of humour; but how is a Christian to use it?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spirits and Spirits

The original Greek New Testament consists entirely of capital letters. It has no spaces, no punctuation, no accents or diacritical marks.

Before this morning I knew most of that, though not the bit about the capitals. There was, apparently, no functional equivalent in ancient Greek to our lower case letters, which leaves us at the mercy of translators when we try to make distinctions between concepts like “Spirit” (as in “Holy Spirit” on the many occasions when the word “Holy” is not supplied) and “spirit” (the human spirit, or possibly a spirit of another sort entirely).

I’m indebted to Tertius for many of the following thoughts …

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

One Wild and Awful Moment

Hidden away in the deep wilderness of Canada’s Algonquin Park is a memorial plaque dedicated to a grandfather and a teenage grandson who lost their lives in a storm on one of the lakes.

How it got there is a mystery to passing canoeists. The location is quite remote.

The plaque itself is of considerable size and weight, apparently being made of bronze. Time has softened the edges of some of the letters and greened the surface; but the plaque has not been moved since it was put there half a century ago. It is solidly drilled into the rock face. Someone went to a lot of work to ensure that their loved ones would not be forgotten.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

That Wacky Old Testament (2)

As a teenager I spent a fair bit of time at the home of a friend whose father grew up in WW2 England.

Back in 1940, the Germans did their best to cut off the English food supply. Submarines patrolled the English Channel and the Atlantic, sinking boats destined for the U.K. Less than a quarter of the millions of tons of food usually imported into England actually made it to its destination.

Rationing was introduced to make sure everyone got their share of what was available.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Happier in Exile

Tucked into a chapter of the Levitical law that gives detailed instructions about the limitations of the master/slave relationship, the sale and redemption of property, and borrowing and lending is a short statement of ownership given without amplification or explanation.

That statement explains, well, pretty much everything else.

And though these are instructions to Israel that have no force today for any number of theological and practical reasons, it’s pretty hard not to see the application to Christians.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

In the Power of the Evil One

The whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” says John the apostle.

That’s an intimidating thought, and there’s plenty of evidence to back it up. Today, just as in John’s day, there is not a single nation on earth that orders its politics and governance — let alone its popular culture — on principles consistent with the will of God and the character of Jesus Christ. Not one.

As a Christian, no matter who you are and where in the world you happen to live, you are in enemy territory.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Amping Up the Leafy Greens

In doing research for our “Wacky Old Testament” series (which exists to demonstrate that it isn’t wacky at all), I’ve already come across several different kinds of difficulties people run into when reflecting on the Old Testament laws.

You get people who claim to be Christian (or at least religious) and “just don’t get it”. You get people whose particular brand of systematic theology has confused them about the applicability of the Levitical law to Christians today. Their attempts to graft watered-down versions of God’s commands to Israel into a modern setting are labor-intensive, occasionally funny and more than a little sad.

Then you get people like Valerie Tarico.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Evolving Christianity

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

Billions of blue, blistering barnacles ...
Erik Jones asks the question “Was Christianity Designed to Evolve?

Tom: Now, Jones is Church of God, the Sabbath-keeping sect out of Texas that originated with Herbert Armstrong, so we’re certainly not going to find ourselves in agreement with their particular emphasis on law-keeping and Jewish holy days, a hint of which bleeds into Jones’ article.

We will also be unsurprised to find Jones’ answer to his own question is a resounding ‘No’.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Disappearing Platform

There’s something wonderful about finding like-minded souls with whom to share our beliefs and concerns.

Totalitarian regimes grasp this, so they make it difficult for their citizens to exchange ideas, however trivial those ideas may appear to be. Censorship in Nazi Germany was extreme and strictly enforced. Stalin sent fellow Russians to the gulags for up to 25 years simply for telling jokes about Communist Party officials. None of this was original to Hitler or Stalin: the second century Romans had their own secret police equivalent called the Frumentarii that not only covertly gathered military intelligence throughout the empire but even spied on the members of the emperor’s household.

If people can’t freely and comfortably exchange ideas, they can’t form effective political opposition, or so goes the thinking.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How Not To Be Forgiven

Forgiveness is the great equalizer.

In extending Christian forgiveness, we acknowledge our own ongoing sins and failures and accept back those who have sinned against us in the knowledge that we, too, will fail them tomorrow and will go on failing them until the Lord returns.

Forgiveness makes every person my equal and everyone my brother or sister in the only sense that equality can ever be attained on earth and in the only sense that, from a human perspective, really matters.

But some people will not be forgiven.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

That Wacky Old Testament (1)

Taken in isolation or viewed from a distance of several thousand years and from a completely different cultural background, almost any Bible instruction may initially seem a little alien.

People are generally uninterested in doing historical research or establishing cultural context before they start forming opinions. It’s a whole lot of work … and, let’s face it, it’s fun to mock things. It makes us feel intelligent or morally superior.

So taking a poke at certain of the Old Testament commands that God gave through Moses to the people of Israel as “weird” is becoming increasingly trendy.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Author of Confusion

Paul Mizzi is an evangelical pastor on the largely-Catholic island of Malta. His essays on various aspects of the Christian faith may be found on the website Truth for Today.

Malta got a visit from the apostle Paul in the first century that included a number of miracles of healing (and undoubtedly the preaching of the gospel to go with them). But despite the fact that Malta has had apostolic testimony for two thousand years, the structure and function of their evangelical churches today seems to have more in common with that of North American denominational Protestantism than with that of the church of the New Testament.

In Paul Mizzi’s church the distinction between clergy and laity is very well defined.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Myth of Ideological Neutrality

Hmm ... which one is neutral?
I remember a time very, very long ago when this sort of thing may actually have gotten traction between my ears:

“As an open-minded nonreligious parent, it’s important to me that my daughter make up her own mind about what to believe — independent of me, independent of her grandparents, independent of her friends and neighbors. I want her to learn about various systems of belief, and about science and evidence, and then decide what seems right to her. If she changes her mind along the way, that’s fine! As long as it’s her own inquisitiveness and independent thought that prompts each change of heart.

You’re with me on this, right?”

No, but Wendy Thomas Russell is not alone in her desire to step back and avoid unduly influencing the way her child forms her beliefs about religion.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

When Life Really Hurts

There’s a woman in my church — a lovely woman, a mother and a wife, and selfless servant of the Lord's people, one most highly esteemed. She has been a grief and addiction counselor, and has spent her whole life ministering to others in their moments of darkest sorrow. Her husband is also a wonderful person, and his career for several decades has been as chaplain to the elderly, caring for fragile souls on the doorstep of eternity.

This woman has just been diagnosed with aggressive, metastasizing liver cancer. The fatal kind.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Keeping It Controversial

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

Matthew Block at the National Post says it’s a bad time to be religious in Canada.

Now of course he’s looking across the religious spectrum, not just at Christians, touching on everything from proposed government training and certification of imams on to the Quebec government’s plan to ban ostentatiously religious clothing through to the resistance to Trinity Western opening a law school.

Evidently it’s not just terrorism the Canadian government is concerned about, and it’s not just Canada where religious restrictions are either being considered or have already been rolled out.

Tom: I’m not a fan of the hyper-regulatory state, Immanuel Can. Do you see any silver lining here?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Better Second Fiddle

Back in 1939, theorist Kurt Goldstein coined the term self-actualization” to describe the motive to realize what he called “one’s full potential”.

In Goldstein’s view this drive might take the form of creative expression, pursuit of knowledge or the desire to contribute to society in some personally-defined way. Goldstein believed self-actualization was any organism’s “master motive” and its most basic drive in life. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory built on Goldstein’s concept and is probably the most familiar expression of it.

Among others in Christian circles, Rachel Held Evans seems to have bought into Goldstein’s theories.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Look At Those Goalposts Move!

In addition to constantly meeting facts with feelings, you may have noticed that the religious left tries to avoid addressing opposing arguments directly — a canny strategy when one has little of substance to put forward.

Instead, by moving the goalposts, they reframe the question under discussion so that the other side finds itself inadvertently giving up intellectual or spiritual ground without ever having really lost it. The issue, or at least part of it, is conceded without any discussion at all.

The trick is to recognize goalpost shifting when you see it and refuse to reframe.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Twitterized Bible

How about that morning verse, eh?
Ben Irwin dislikes the ‘Twitterized’ Bible.

You know, the way Christians tend to quote scripture in tiny fragments. He’s concerned that in doing so we’ll lose the Author’s original meaning and not even realize it’s gone. Twitterizing is only one name for it. Others call it “using the Bible as a medicine cabinet” or “prooftexting”.

For the most part I agree with Ben, so I’m going to tread carefully here.

After all, I have harped here about context as the most critically important interpretive tool in the Bible student’s tool kit so many times I’ve lost track. Taken out of their original context, verses of holy writ may be misunderstood or have their meanings entirely inverted.

But not always.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Communicable Defilement

Yesterday I shared some thoughts about the Levitical laws having to do with uncleanness and ritual defilement, and I applied them to the subject of mankind’s relationship to its Creator.

Since nothing happened to Israel in a vacuum and precious few of their laws are without some practical application to the Christian life, today I’d like to look at the issue of ongoing defilement and uncleanness in the era beyond the Law of Moses.

But before we do that, we need to take one last look back at Leviticus.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Twelve-Year Illustration

The first two gospels tell the story of an unnamed woman who suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years.

Believing even the briefest, most ephemeral contact with Jesus would heal her of her condition, she crept up behind the Lord to touch the fringe of his robe. And we all know the rest of the story, including the “your faith has made you well” part.

Mark records that the woman had “suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse”. Having spent some time in the care of doctors, I can relate. I can more or less imagine what that might have meant for her medically.

The part of the story I never really thought about before is what it meant for a Jewish woman socially and religiously to be declared ritually “unclean”.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Inbox: The Worst Possible Answer

Bernie continues to muse about suffering from a biblical perspective:

“Some other things to consider:
  • Of the four identified types of suffering [see previous post], Christians get all four (yay!), non-Christians only get the first two.
  • Suffering of types two and three is not the mark of a failing Christian, it is the mark of a succeeding one. The more we do for God and the more we get serious about bringing Christ-likeness out fully, the more we will feel the knife — or, a better image — feel the weight of the cross. Opposition grows as we mature and become productive. This is (I think) why the people closest to God seem to suffer the most and endure the greatest hardships.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: Rules of Combat

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

Okay, I’ve got one for you, Tom.

I was having a discussion with a Christian academic over Calvinism. He leans toward it, though in a rather unorthodox way, and I … don’t. Here’s his perspective on the fact that doctrinal disagreements exist:

“I’ve been blessed by teaching and worshiping in schools and churches which take no stand on the [controversial] divide, all my life. I have become convinced that agreement on this will never be reached. As a Calvinist, I posit that this is the way God wants it. It is apparently best for the church and the world that there be both [sides], but that we find ways to love one another and to work together, without suppressing our different biblical understandings.”

Immanuel Can: Is it like that, Tom? Is an I’m-okay-you’re-okay attitude the way to deal with major doctrinal controversies in the local church?

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Inbox: Applied Grace and the Smoking Ruins of My Life

Bernie holds forth about four causes of suffering:

“I suggest the source of suffering is four-fold in a mature Christian view:
  1. Sin in me (bad choices I make to my own detriment) — God’s purpose is discipline and correction.
  2. Sin around me (sins of others / fallen environment) — God’s purpose is to produce a stronger faith and, in our dissatisfaction here, a longing for our true home.
  3. Satan against me (the opposition made to those who are seeking to be productive for God) — “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus ...” You know the rest. If you’re going to be productive for God, you’re going to get hit often and painfully.
  4. God for me (a loving Father conforming me — through suffering — to produce Christlikeness: “The fellowship of his suffering”).

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

I’ve Got What It Takes — Relatively Speaking

I can’t tell you what sort of ideological programming a child in Ukrainian or Polish or Argentinean or Nigerian society may be exposed to, but for years kids growing up in the Western world have been hearing that we can do or be anything we want.

“If you can dream it, you can do it,” Walt Disney is purported to have said. “If you think you can do it, you can,” confirms John Burroughs. “I don't think anything is unrealistic if you believe you can do it,” agrees Richard Evans.

In the absence of a plausible counter-narrative, children bombarded with such sentiments may absorb them uncritically.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Don’t Forget What You Never Knew

“Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 5-7)

Ummm …

What do you mean, “remind”?

Monday, April 04, 2016

Quote of the Day (20)

For anyone who missed it, after being waylaid by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, presidential candidate Donald Trump mused briefly about criminalizing the choice to abort a child last week, before doing an abrupt about-face once it became clear he’d stepped into a minefield and had, at least temporarily, united the pro- and anti-abortion crowd against himself.

Dalrock’s is the only explanation I’ve read so far that makes perfect sense.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Too Convenient

I was out last night with an unsaved friend.

I’ve written about him before. Like many others, he knows just enough about Christianity to think he understands it; just enough to think the decision that faith in Jesus Christ is not for him is a choice he has made intelligently on the basis of years of shrewd observation of Christians and our various failings. And believing his understanding adequate, he has little interest in hearing any more. He’s reluctant to get into the subject with me because he has a fairly good idea where I’ll be going.

He believes in God, he tells me, and I have no reason to doubt it. But his version of God is vastly different from the God of the Bible.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Punishment and Deterrence

One of those infamous recent “studies” found that 88% of America’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime.

I use scare quotes because virtually all such “studies” are commissioned by one side or another of a major public policy divide. The questions asked are rarely framed in neutral language. The expertise of those consulted frequently turns out to be unrelated to the area of study about which the inquiries are made. Such data as may result is rarely presented scientifically and impartially.

I take them all with a truckload of salt. Most “studies” are simply propaganda exercises.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Too Hot to Handle: To Debate or Not to Debate

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

Is there such a thing as too much discussion?
Kristin Howerton thinks evangelicals need to rethink our response to the gay marriage issue. “Is the debate over gay marriage what we want to be known for?” she asks:

“Do these squabbles speak love? Does the loud and passionate protestation about same-sex marriage draw others to Christ?”

Tom: Good questions, Immanuel Can. Is there any easy answer? Or is this a debate where both sides may have legitimate concerns?