Saturday, September 22, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (25)

If you live long enough, you will find there are times when a soft answer just doesn’t turn away wrath. We are living in times like that today.

Watch carefully the next time the social media point-and-screechers descend en masse upon an unfortunate public figure accused of violating some new PC piety. No apology, no show of contrition and no amount of craven deference slows down the social justice juggernaut once it has a full head of steam. It pours out its bile until a tastier snack inadvertently presents itself.

That doesn’t make Proverbs 15:1 incorrect. After all, it’s a proverb, not a prophecy or a doctrinal statement.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The Christian Nation

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

In America is not a Christian nation: The dark capitalist roots of our country’s most destructive myth, Andrew Aghapour quizzes Princeton professor Kevin Kruse about the “Christian nation myth”.

As with most things in the media these days, the title is a bit sensationalist and the substance of the article a little less dramatic. Basically, it’s what it purports to be: the assertion that America is not and never has been a Christian nation, with a bit of window dressing that suggests a mini-conspiracy by businessmen and evangelicals to spread that myth.

Tom: Immanuel Can, I think we can agree that America is demonstrably not a Christian nation today. Has it ever been?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Theism and the Skeptics [Part 1]

In two previous posts (The Atheist’s New Clothes and What You Don’t Know Can Kill You), I pointed out that Christianity’s two skeptical critics, atheism and agnosticism, are essentially irrational and explained why they just cannot be taken seriously.

In this post and the next one, I’m answering the obvious first comebacks. These are what I get from the atheists and agnostics themselves, or from those who have been trusting in them. Theism, they say, must surely be susceptible to exactly the same criticisms I have raised against atheism and agnosticism — and perhaps, they venture, even more susceptible: for their supposition is that if their own positions are weak, then surely anything “religious” must be even less well thought out.

Sorry. Not so.

I can show them, but they usually don’t like it much when I do.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Burden of the Lord

In the years leading up to the Babylonian captivity, God spoke many times through his prophets to the people of Judah and their religious leaders. However, the message he sent them was not to their taste. The leadership, especially the false prophets and priests, were disinclined to accept any correction of their way of life, but were understandably reluctant to be seen to defy God in any obvious way.

Then they discovered a rather ingenious solution. Instead of prefacing their own declarations with “Thus says the Lord” or some other claim to God’s final authority over the message they brought to the people, they began instead to speak of something they called the “burden of the Lord”. This “burden”, they claimed, came to them in dreams, sufficiently foggy and amorphous that it was necessary for them to explain it in their own words rather than God’s.

This approach enabled them to claim sufficient heavenly authority to maintain their prestige and position without obliging them to say anything difficult or truthful that might offend their audience. It was the perfect compromise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Anonymous Asks (5)

“How do I stay close to God when there is nothing bad happening?”

A fire extinguisher is a great thing to have in your kitchen if you have accidentally ignited the grease on the stovetop. But when you don’t have a five foot pillar of flame shooting up to blacken the kitchen ceiling — which is 99.99% of the time — a fire extinguisher is a little awkward. It’s big enough that it kind of disrupts the décor, but important enough that you don’t want to stash it at the back of a cupboard where you can’t find it when you need it.

You may appreciate your fire extinguisher when it saves you a visit from the fire department, but you don’t have a relationship with your fire extinguisher.

Need I point out that God is not like a fire extinguisher? But a lot of people treat him that way.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (9)

I once came across an online critic of the gospels who attempted to demonstrate his Bible savvy by pointing out that one gospel records a miraculous feeding of 5,000 while another tells of only 4,000 being fed.

“Aha! Contradiction!” cried the elated skeptic, hoping for one of those “gotcha” moments we all enjoy from time to time.

Of course if you’re familiar with either the books of Matthew or Mark, you’ll recall that they each contain references to both feedings. Worse (for the critic at least), Mark records a conversation between Jesus and his disciples that explicitly compares the two events right down to counting the post-dinner leftovers. Jesus fed huge crowds of hungry men, women and children on at least two occasions. Two careful writers noted it.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Two Baptisms

Matthew’s 3rd chapter records Christ’s baptism by John; that moment inaugurates Christ’s public ministry.

The background is simple enough: John was performing a baptism of repentance and many queued up to take their turn under the water. The baptism John offered was meant to signify that the recipient had confessed and turned from his or her former sinful choices, and was now committed to God-honoring conduct.

A baptism of repentance demonstrated in a very public way, to a large crowd of onlookers, that you were a penitent sinner.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (24)

Most proverbs are by their very nature generalizations. Two-liners are too pithy to cover every eventuality. Really, they just give you a good sense of what the odds are that Behavior X will produce either a favorable outcome or a bad one.

Now, for any individual sub-optimal way of doing things, there are almost always a few rare favorable outcomes. Exceptions to the rule. People love to point to these oddities as if they somehow invalidate the wisdom of the sages who warn us about the consequences of bad behavior:

“My dad drank all day, every day for 40 years and his liver is just fine!”

Hey, sure, there are probably a few dads around like that.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Enforcing Conformity

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

In an opinion piece entitled “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana”, Frank Bruni of the New York Times says what much of our culture is thinking about Christians these days.

Riffing on the ‘Memories Pizza’ story from back in 2015, in which a pizzeria in Indiana was forced to closed its doors by a barrage of online threats after its Christian owner answered a hypothetical question about catering same-sex weddings, Mr. Bruni starts with the statement that “Homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Perfect Confidence

We were talking yesterday about the goal of perfection.

Christians sometimes expect this of themselves, and some even claim to have attained it. And we have to admit that since we serve a perfect God, it is most natural to jump to the conclusion that he expects perfection of us. And in a sense, he does: no one who is not perfect is fit for fellowship with God. But we ended on a hopeful note (I hope), since we saw that the work of making us perfect is not ours but God’s … and to him be the glory for it.

However, a question surely remains: If God’s going to do it, just how? Surely he expects some effort from me — he doesn’t want me to go on sinning like a wretch, while blithely waiting for him to sort me out in spite of myself; or worse, just presuming that because perfecting me is his work, and salvation is forever, I can live like a complete moral wreck and imagine God is obligated to take me in whatever state I end up. That can’t be the upshot.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

As Perfect as Me

“Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

A few years ago, I remember hearing about an evangelist who claimed he’d managed to conquer sin absolutely, and eliminate it from his life. In fact, he said he hadn’t committed one in twelve years.

His wife, apparently, backed him up on that.

Now, if you’re a woman that has lived with a man for any period of time longer than fifteen minutes, you probably suspect the wife has gotten into the cooking sherry. It’s just not reality. Sinless perfection just isn’t possible on this earth. And if you meet someone who says he’s achieved it, he probably needs to take a second look — if at nothing else, at the sin of pride.

But I don’t need to tell you that. You know from your own experience. As I do, from mine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Anonymous Asks (4)

“Does God not accept or dislike the genders in the LGBTQ+ community?”

Interesting question, and it requires that we define our terms a bit first, as certain groups are currently playing fast and loose with the word “gender”. The following is a little bit of linguistic history nicked from Infogalactic:

“Sexologist John Money introduced the terminological distinction between biological sex and gender as a role in 1955. Before his work, it was uncommon to use the word gender to refer to anything but grammatical categories. However, Money’s meaning of the word did not become widespread until the 1970s, when feminist theory embraced the concept of a distinction between biological sex and the social construct of gender.”

I believe this is more or less accurate. Let’s go with it.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (8)

“One of these things things not like the others
  One of these things just doesn’t belong ...”
— Sesame Street

Ah, the relics of my misspent youth.

I hated school. Hated it with the burning rage of a thousand suns, or one of those other overwrought metaphors my kids use.

I loathed it so passionately that in order to avoid it, I spent an inordinate amount of time home “sick”, usually on the pullout couch. Daytime TV just doesn’t get much better than muppet Ernie and the “One of These Things” song.

And once in a blue moon there’s even a spiritual application ...

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Misconceptions About Christian Forgiveness

From Psychology Today, on the subject of forgiveness:

“Most psychologists recommend mustering up genuine compassion for those who have wronged us and moving on from the past, instead of allowing bitterness and anger toward others to eat away at us.”

Read that quote carefully and consider: is that the way you think about forgiveness? Would you conclude forgiveness is complete when the person who has been wronged is finally able to feel the prescribed emotions about their victimizer?

If so, what happens if despite best efforts you are unable to “muster up” the appropriate emotions? What if your feelings absolutely refuse to play along?

Saturday, September 08, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (23)

“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”

They say there is no free lunch, but Wisdom and Folly are out advertising one. Their message is delivered in the same venues: the highest places of the town, where everybody can hear them and see the long-term results of responding to one or the other. They have the same ad campaign, and they target the same hungry demographic. They reach out to those in need of a set of principles by which they can order their lives. Both metaphorical “women” offer to meet that very common need, but only one can really do so, for reasons that will shortly become evident.

Solomon contrasts living wisely and living foolishly.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The New Atheists are Scared (or Angry)

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

Scared or angry, take your pick. Far be it from us to put words in their mouths: the New Atheists are saying it themselves.

The former opinion comes from the writer of this piece in The Guardian, the latter from an atheist in its comments section. What scares (or angers) the Champions of Unbelief is the dawning recognition that while their anti-faith was briefly trendy in the middle of this century’s first decade, it is not quite as intuitive as they thought and it doesn’t seem to be catching on quite the way they’d like. In fact, things seem to be trending the other way.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Untwisting God’s Words

Tertius once told me about something that happened to him many years ago, when he was a young Christian. He had started to study the Bible with a friend who had a particular mainline church denominational background.

One day he received an angry letter from his friend’s priest, who was upset about the idea that two lay people were attempting to read and understand the word of God without his “professional” help.

“No prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation,” declared the priest, quoting part of 2 Peter 1:20. From this, he expected Tertius to see that it was just wrong for a person not approved and trained by church authorities to dare to read and understand for himself.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Forgiveness: This Age or the Age to Come?

“And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

Whew. Okay. I’m not going to talk about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit today. I have something else in mind entirely.

So here goes. There are two spheres in which God’s forgiveness operates: “this age” and the “age to come”. That’s a pretty important distinction for you and me to be able to make when we read our New Testaments, otherwise very likely we’re going to be doing a fair bit of squirming about our own personal situations.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Anonymous Asks (3)

“Is feeling same-sex attraction a sin? Is it even a choice?”

This is a highly relevant pair of questions. The Left, which includes most of our media, celebrates and unrelentingly promotes homosexuality. To the first question, most would answer, “Of course not!” This is primarily because they do not believe in sin in the first place, and those who do believe in it insist that intolerance is the worst sin of all. Homosexual attraction doesn’t even rate a mention on their list.

As to the second question, the Left, popular culture and the media offer us no consistent answer. Though many argue for the existence of a “gay gene” (for which solid evidence has yet to be produced but is felt to exist somewhere), others insist that at least for some, sexuality is fluid, and their choice in that area is a basic human right.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (7)

Even if you have grown up with email rather than snail mail as your primary means of personal communication, you are probably aware some bits of correspondence have more value than others.

The criteria change depending on your current needs. When you are feeling lonely, a love letter from your spouse probably means more to you than an old “Honey-Do” list. On a cold February night at 3 a.m., instructions about how to restart your silent furnace mean more than a list of upcoming summer concerts.

All these bits of correspondence may be equally factual. Accuracy is not the issue. The question is whether or not they contain something that really matters, and that matters to you.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Conditional Forgiveness in Matthew

Can we be saved if we refuse to forgive someone? Rose says:

“No, we cannot. The Bible tells us that unless we forgive, including ourselves, we cannot be forgiven in the Kingdom of Heaven, through Our Heavenly Father.

Forgiving is not to condone someone who has wronged us, but for our own salvation, so that we may be forgiven, saved.”

Now, this is certainly a response we might expect to hear from a young Christian (the “including ourselves” is a bit of a giveaway; our alleged moral obligation to forgive ourselves is a relatively recent fiction), but it’s not really the sort of answer you’d expect to find in an evangelical Bible commentary.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (22)

The book of Proverbs was written almost three thousand years ago and preserves truth gathered well prior to that. It is genuinely ancient, and comes out of a cultural setting (or really, cultural settings, plural) with which we can only pretend to be even slightly familiar.

Thus, even if we study and research until the cows come home, we should not be the least bit surprised to find that there are occasional words and phrases in Proverbs that we just can’t parse properly. We can make educated guesses. We can eliminate ridiculous suggestions (of which there are more than a few). But in some cases we will have to content ourselves with being less than 100% sure what a particular word, phrase or sentence really means.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Facts and Opinions

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

I read it in the New York Times. And frankly, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. The Times distinguishing between fact and opinion in a rational way? The Times pointing out the deficiencies in modern education?

Who’da thunk it?

Tom: As in the wee hours of every Friday, I have with me career educator and teacher of philosophy Immanuel Can. IC, is it your experience that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts?

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Failure to Launch

Stock characters are those fictional roles we recognize instantly: you know, the incompetent police officer, the clueless secretary, the crooked lawyer, the rebellious teen, the uptight schoolmarm … and so on. You see them on TV all the time.

There’s a new one going around lately: the adult child. This is the mid-twenties son or daughter who still lives in his parents’ basement, having his meals cooked and his laundry done for him, blithely confident that the world outside — the world of careers, responsibilities and independence — is overrated. His harried, weary parents pray for him to move out and make his way in the world or for some nice girl to come and snap him up. But he knows very well that for now he has it good. Being too old for his parents to control but too needy for them to abandon, he is free to devote his time and assets to playing video games, going to clubs, flirting with girls and hanging out at the beach. A periodic trip to the employment office is all that is necessary to convince his parents of his helplessness.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Novelty for Novelty’s Sake

Everybody loves novelty — even Christians. Not infrequently, to almost everyone’s regret, Bible teachers feel compelled to give it to them. Nothing gets the attention of a jaded or even a mature audience like a new twist on an old theme, or flipping a well-known phrase so that it jars the ears.

Have you heard about the “Prodigal Father”? No prizes for correctly guessing which parable of Christ is getting a pair of truly original online treatments this time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Anonymous Asks (2)

“If your father tells you to kill someone and you say ‘no’, would that be considered a sin?”

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: It might be useful to consider some of the things the Bible says about authorities and how Christians are to respond to them. There are things your father could demand of you that are less obviously evil than murder. It might be interesting and instructive to consider an order from Dad like “You can’t date THAT girl!” or “We had you baptized as an infant. Don’t you DARE think about getting baptized again!”

Sound like fun?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (6)

The Old Testament is home to more than a few really long books.

Jeremiah (33,000+ words), Genesis, Psalms and Ezekiel stand out from the crowd. Exodus, Isaiah and Numbers form a second tier. At just shy of 20,000 words, Luke is the longest NT book, well down the list. And as far as apocryphal writings go, Ecclesiasticus weighs in at a staggering 26,741 words, longer than all but five canonical books.

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking,” wrote King Solomon. We rightly make an exception to that rule when we know a writer was carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The question is, was Joshua ben Sira “carried along”, or was he just unusually verbose?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Non-Negotiable Nomenclature

Jesus can be referred to many different ways.

It started before he was born. For example, one well-known prophet said, “call his name Immanuel.” During his ministry some called him Rabbi, as Jewish teachers were often known. Later, the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ?” As for his disciples, both before and after his resurrection they referred to him almost exclusively as Lord.

The list of his names and titles is lengthy and something significant would surely be lost if we dismissed even the least of them. That said, there are three without which we cannot possibly preach a complete gospel or maintain a balanced, accurate perspective on Jesus.

You might call them non-negotiable nomenclature.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (21)

I will say this, and I will say it again: there is no substitute for the prayerful, meditative, daily reading of scripture. None. You cannot be the functioning, useful, growing, joyful, discerning Christian that God means you to be without it.

Sure, in every generation there are plenty of Christians around the world who can’t read, and there have been plenty throughout history who have had much smaller portions of God’s word to mull over and put into practice than are available to us today. But none of that matters to you or me, does it, because we CAN read.

And of everyone to whom much is given, much will be required. That’s our problem in a nutshell.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Story Time with Harmonica

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

I’m not even sure how to describe this, but I’m going to give it a go.

Publishers Weekly’s ShelfTalker, “In which children’s booksellers ponder all things literary, artistic, and mercantile,” has a piece on a hot new trend sweeping the nation’s libraries: story time with a drag queen.

Mixed groups of three- to eight-year-olds are invited to come and enjoy a spoken word performance from men like “Harmonica Sunbeam” dressed as women (there is a picture with the article but — fair warning — it can’t be un-seen).

Tom: IC, is it possible to normalize something so bizarre and decadent, even with the power and budget of big corporations and the education system fully committed to it?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Saints and Ain’ts

Are there any better words in all of scripture than this? Personally, I don’t think so.

Many people have a fondness for John 3:16, or Romans 8:35, or Ephesians 2:8-9 … all very great passages, I’ll admit; but for me, nothing anywhere comes close to the freedom, joy and consolation of the words above.

Maybe today I can tell you why.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Anonymous Asks (1)

“The Old Testament is full of stuff that causes controversies and makes people who agree with it look bad: slavery, plagues, genocides ... an angry God. We’re Christians. We worship Jesus. Why not get rid of those books and concentrate on the New Testament?”
— Anonymous

Excellent question, touching on issues many struggle with. But as difficult as the Old Testament may be for some, there are at least three compelling reasons we can’t afford to overlook it, minimize it or reject it outright.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (10)

Disagreeing with other Christians online is a bit like pulling off a Band-Aid® stuck to the hairiest part of your arm.

There is what I call the “Big BUT” disagreement. This kind starts slowly, with a spate of complimentary disclaimers — “Now, I love this Bible teacher, he’s a great guy and I admire him immensely” — and always ends with a great big “BUT ...”

Or there’s the exquisitely self-effacing “We’re All Just Learning Here” disagreement, which makes every biblical issue a matter of opinion and gives you a convenient way of escaping with a few shreds of dignity intact if it turns out everyone thinks its your interpretation that’s out to lunch.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (5)

In 2017, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld published a work of fiction entitled Hitler in Hell, in which he speculates about what Adolf Hitler might have thought of things like the post-WWII development of Western society, the internet, feminism and the eternal destiny of dogs. In the same book, van Creveld also provides one of the most perceptive and comprehensive military overviews of WWII I have ever read.

It’s a clever device: packaging a truthful historic account in a form sure to be a good deal more widely read than a college textbook.

Who knows, maybe today’s candidate for biblical canonicity was written with similar aims in view.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (20)

We now find ourselves with an interesting and hotly contested portion of Proverbs to consider.

Unitarians argue that it describes for us the origin of God’s Son, the Logos, or the Christ. Their conclusion is that the Son is not, therefore, equal to God, but rather his greatest creation. Likewise, Jesus Christ is said to be not uniquely God’s Son, but only one son among many.

And here I didn’t think there was all that much in Proverbs to “hotly contest” until we get to chapter 31 ...

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Irrationalization: Call No Man Father

There are two ways for, let’s say, a flabby, aerobically-inadequate middle aged blogger to approach a task like getting over a six foot hurdle. One way is to recognize that he is horribly out of shape and begin regular exercise and training.

The other way is to lower the bar … or maybe even remove it entirely.

I have always been fascinated by our ability when reading the Bible to explain away that which would be perfectly clear if understood in its natural sense. Sadly, doing so is almost always a recipe for spiritual disaster. A much safer practice is to confirm that the word of God says what it says, even when it condemns us. To let God be true and to let every man be a liar, and let the theological chips fall where they may.

All to say, I happened across a spectacular piece of religious rationalization this morning.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The “No Harm” Argument

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

You’re all familiar with this one. It’s a defense for something traditionally considered immoral that usually begins with a variant of “if two consenting adults want to …”

We could call it a “no harm” argument. It’s the idea that if nobody’s demonstrably hurt, nothing wrong happened. But even the New York Times recently poked holes in it.

Tom: Immanuel Can, is it possible to have a sin without a resulting injury?

Immanuel Can: The short answer? No, I don’t think it is.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Getting Reading Right

So I got talking with a guy the other day.

Those of you who know me know I’ve made my career among secular people. Philosophy being my thing, I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of different sorts of people — many very far from Christian. But in this case, I was talking to a youngish Christian who had been pulled sideways by reading too much of the Unitarians and various Gnostic sects before getting his grounding in scripture. He’s got shaken about the general reliability of scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and a variety of other issues, and he’s working his way through them.

I asked him what he thought was the touchstone of truth. He’d already expressed doubts about large sections of scripture, so I wanted to know what he was relying on to show him what was reliable and what wasn’t.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

God’s Sovereignty vs. the Idiocy of Man

What happens when, as Christians, you or I make a mess of our lives in very serious, potentially permanent ways?

I ask the question not as someone with a theoretical curiosity, but as someone who has a habit of doing so.

So, really, where is God when, as his servants, we make complete and utter idiots of ourselves?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (4)

This week, our journey through ancient Hebrew and Greek literature produces what looks like a first among our candidates for Old Testament canonicity: a letter.

The New Testament is full of letters. Acts and Luke are early candidates, and once we hit Romans, almost everything else is too. The Old Testament preserves a few missives to or from various dignitaries in its books of history, but to the best of my knowledge the book-length letter is a New Testament phenomenon.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tom Doesn’t Take a Breather

Once in a blue moon one of our readers (usually the ones who don’t know our writers in the real world) expresses the desire that we write something a little more personal. The closest I probably ever get to that are these annual “state of the blog” posts to notify you all that I’m going on vacation and you’re about to be bombarded with a bunch of recycled posts for two weeks.

Not all that personal, really, I suppose. Also, we’re not about to bombard you with ten straight oldies this year ...

Sunday, August 12, 2018


“If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.”

This is Paul’s fourth-last sentence in his first letter to the Corinthians. It’s a pretty decisive concluding statement, and I’ve always wondered about it just a little.

I mean, it’s awfully strong language, making it difficult to argue that the apostle is merely using rhetoric to make his point. It is literally, “Let him be anathema,” meaning “doomed to destruction”.

One might well ask the question, “Is that exactly fair?” For a lack of love?

Saturday, August 11, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (19)

When the U.S. congress passed The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) in 2007, it is highly unlikely they anticipated triggering a cereal grain price jump of 67.4%, or that the rising food prices that resulted from the passage of the bill would end up plunging nearly 70 million people into extreme poverty.

What prompted the EISA? In theory at least, it was the desire to reduce dependency on foreign oil, scale back greenhouse gas emissions and keep the price of gas down. None of these are bad ideas. While I am as easily attracted to conspiracy theories as the next guy, I doubt the average elected representative planned on starving the third world to reduce U.S. gas prices.

But the unintended consequences of the Act have caused and continue to cause near-incalculable damage. This is where wisdom comes in.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Your Bible Is An Anachronism

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

Juan Cole at has bucketloads of fun in an article entitled “If the Christian Right Wants to Get Worked Up About Sexual Controversy, They Should Read These 5 Bible Passages”. He goes to town on Solomon’s 300 concubines, Abraham and Hagar, etc.

In a forlorn attempt at evenhandedness, Mr. Cole tosses in this disclaimer: “Ancient scripture can be a source of higher values and spiritual strength, but any time you in a literal-minded way impose specific legal behavior because of it, you’re committing anachronism.”

Tom: Immanuel Can, one of things I love most about Mr. Cole is the unquestioned assumption that each scripture he cites is a “gotcha” moment to the religious right. Like none of us have seen these passages until his article came along …

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Mean Girls and Mean Theology

The teen film Mean Girls (2004) is sort of a cult classic with the kids at the school where I teach. Everyone knows the story, even though the film is getting a bit old now. The star (Lindsay Lohan) is certainly no teenager anymore, as any number of her recent escapades in the press will attest. But somehow the plot line still works. On April 28th, the anniversary of its release, the Toronto Sun, that bastion of fine journalism, proudly proclaimed it “still the ultimate teen movie”.

I sure hope not.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

The Commentariat Speaks (14)

Wherein Jill destroys my most recent post by condensing it to a tiny fraction of its length and adding all the stuff I should probably have written in the first place:

“I think we do have needs for human connections that our spouses can’t be expected to satisfy. That is the joy of same sex friendships. A husband may be willing to reassure you once that your haircut wasn’t a disaster; your woman friend is willing to talk about it until you feel okay.”

Sometimes Avoidance IS Purity

Aimee Byrd has a new book out entitled Why Can’t We Be Friends? The subtitle, Avoidance Is Not Purity, pithily advances her thesis: that because evangelicals view ourselves as “time bombs on the brink of having an affair — or of being accused of having one,” we miss out on the joys of friendship between the sexes, fail to give expression to our “siblingship” in Christ, and are a less-than-optimal testimony to the world.

For a thesis, maybe it’s not the worst idea ever. But it’s right up there.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Help

Adam had a job to do.

Further, he had his job before Eve was in the world, and before the need for her was ever established. The Genesis account reads, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” While God undoubtedly had other things in mind when he created man, the very first task to which he set his new creation was the working and keeping of a garden.

Adam’s sole recorded bit of moral direction from God in the unfallen world also preceded Eve’s arrival.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (3)

As we have seen repeatedly in the first two installments of this series, the standard Protestant Old Testament is not the only version of the Bible out there. Other versions exist, most of which contain a wider and more varied selection of religious books than our own Bibles.

For Catholics and those in Orthodox churches, no consideration of the relative value of the Apocryphal or Deutero-canonical texts is necessary. Their episcopate takes a position on their behalf and says to them, in effect, “Here’s your Bible.”

Protestants, on the other hand, have no central governing body to decide such issues, and I have yet to come across any local church’s statement of faith that addresses the canonicity or non-canonicity of these “extra” books. Which means it’s up to us to either evaluate them for ourselves, or else opt to put our trust in the folks who made decisions about such things in years past.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Joshua Twice

If you’ve had occasion to visit many Christian homes, you’ve almost certainly seen this phrase prominently displayed in a frame somewhere near the front door:

“… as for me and for my house, we will serve the Lord.”

It’s a great aspiration for any Christian home and worth recalling frequently — so it’s certainly suitable as a wall hanging. However, as is common enough with many pleasant-sounding snippets taken from the pages of the Bible, the original context is obscured by its popularity.