Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Doctrine Worked Out

Truth has implications.

Jesus Christ was manifested in the flesh, giving us a visible, tangible template for what godliness looks like in action, and an example to follow. He was vindicated by the Spirit, demonstrating that resurrection power is available to transform human lives. He was seen by messengers, meaning we can believe what we hear and take it to heart because it has been repeatedly substantiated. He was proclaimed among the nations, meaning that he does not play favorites with men, and neither should we. He was believed on in the world, meaning God’s plan for this planet does not merely involve taking people out of it, but transforming it. And he was taken up in glory, meaning that we can look forward to an eternity in which we will share that glory with him.

No theological point is without practical consequences.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Drawn Away

“But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.”

It’s not just young widows who need to worry about being drawn away from Christ by worldly passions, and it’s not just women more generally. The symptoms and objects of earthly desire vary from person to person, but the unshakable conviction that the grass on the other side of the fence is somehow greener than the grass on my side is a lie of the devil we must all contend with.

Here, the specific passion in view is not anything evil. In and of itself, the impulse to marry is not abnormal or unhealthy. Everybody wants to know and be known, to feel secure, to have someone to care for and to care for them.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Anonymous Asks (13)

“If the stars are so far away and it would take millions of light years for them to be seen from earth, why do we see stars?”

Ah yes, the perplexing problem that the appearance of age raises for creationists.

The standard difficulty is not about whether it would have been possible for God to cause starlight to provoke its usual reaction from Adam’s retinas in a nanosecond rather than taking light years to travel to earth from the moment the stars were created. Obviously someone powerful enough to speak the universe into being could make both light and human nerve endings dance to any tune he pleased.

No, the standard complaint is moral rather than practical; something like “Wouldn’t it be a bit deceptive of God to bend what we perceive to be the established rules of science?”

No.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Building Blocks of Reality

The Old Testament is full of hints, winks and nudges. Or so it seems to me.

For example, I cannot read Abraham’s words to Isaac, “God will provide for himself the lamb,” without marveling at the subtlety of the wording. It works as a double entendre in either Hebrew or English. Was Abraham a straight man or a prophet? I can’t tell you, but I love that line. From thousands of years down the road we look back and say, “He certainly did.”

That’s not a comment on our cleverness, of course.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (32)

Some proverbs are absolutely straightforward. Perhaps most were in their day. For example, when we read “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue,” it is all-but-impossible to misunderstand. Much might be said by way of application, and examples could be cited both from scripture and personal experience, but the basic concept is not the least bit enigmatic.

Others? Well, time, linguistic and cultural differences have a way of obscuring meaning.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The State of Theology

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

David B. was kind enough to forward us this link to a recent survey by Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research about what Americans believe about God, Jesus Christ, sin and eternity.

Tom: Apparently they are doing this every couple of years now. Having regular new data sets to browse can be useful in noting trends of one sort or another. We discussed the LifeWay 2016 survey in this space, if I recall correctly … yes, I do. That was the one where, based on the frequency of their heretical answers, my fellow writer Immanuel Can was inspired to refer to some of the respondents as not so much Christian as “ ‘Christian-flavored’, like a really, really bad kind of tofu.”

How’s the tofu this year, IC?

Thursday, November 08, 2018

A Bigger House

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

The household of God is his church. That should be an uncontentious statement. Paul says it plainly to Timothy.

Where we have difficulty is in defining what it is exactly we mean by “church”. Many modern teachers interpret Paul’s instructions to Timothy as if he has in view only church meetings; as if the church only really exists in the moments its members come together. This is useful if, like egalitarian Margaret Mowzcko, one is attempting to argue that 1 Timothy 2:9 refers to women praying out loud in public gatherings of God’s people, something that is not obvious from the passage.

It is also wrong.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Into the Crucible

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.”

If for some reason you needed to melt gold at home, you could actually do it with an acetylene torch, assuming you have the right sort of container to melt gold in. Gold becomes liquid at around 1,943°F (1,064°C). Once you’ve tried melting gold, silver is comparatively easy, melting between 1,640 and 1,762°F (893-961°C).

The process by which precious metals are refined and purified is intense. Going from solid to liquid can’t be much fun either. If we are to learn anything from the first two clauses of this verse, it is that our Father does not bring us to the place of crisis trivially, nor does he do it in order to leave us as he found us.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Everyone’s a Mark

Ever idly browsed the internet of an evening only to find your peaceful reading experience disturbed by an alarming pop-up notification to the effect that you have been diagnosed with a computer virus?

Thankfully, the folks dutifully alerting you to your imperiled status are willing to provide just what you need: for $29.99 — or considerably more — they will happily outfit you with downloadable software guaranteed to purge your hard drive of all current infections and keep the baddies away for 12 months, after which a further $29.99 — or considerably more — is required to guarantee your ongoing ability to browse in peace. Since you so obviously need it, you ought to consider that perfectly reasonable. In fact, they will retain your credit card info and simply treat your purchase as a subscription so you’ll never have to trouble your little synapses about computer security again.

Isn’t that sweet of them?

Monday, November 05, 2018

Anonymous Asks (12)

“Where did God come from before he created earth, animals and humankind?”

This is the kind of question that could be asked two entirely different ways. The first is out of curiosity. The second is out of an obdurate refusal to believe anything that can’t be stringently proved on one’s own terms.

Since I have no idea where this anonymous questioner is coming from in his current thinking, I’ll answer it both ways and trust he’ll take it appropriately.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Should Elders Give Orders?

Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity is a vitally important — even radical — reassessment of the church that attempts to encourage evangelicals out of clericalism and into something much more like what was taught by the apostles and practiced in the first century. Several summers ago, I examined it here, here and here.

There is much to be said for Viola’s vision of the church. He’s got so many things absolutely right that I struggle with critiquing him at all out of concern that in doing so, I’ll end up minimizing all the wonderful things he has to say. Viola condemns paid clergy, one-man domination of a congregation, professionalism, corporatism, passive pew-sitting, lack of congregational involvement and all kinds of bad practice that has crept into our churches from the corporate world and other faulty models — all things we have criticized repeatedly in this space.

There are, however, two areas in which I believe Viola has missed the boat, if only by a few seconds. One is the women’s role. The other is the authority of elders.

Specifically, one can come away from Viola’s books wondering if elders should ever give any orders at all; if the organic leadership model he champions precludes the giving of strong verbal direction of any kind. I will argue it does not.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (31)

The Western world has no lack of powerful people. Still, the rulers of today’s first world countries are constrained to a much greater extent than many of us think by the political systems in which they operate and by the vagaries of public opinion.

All Western leaders test the political climate with internal polling before making significant moves. Canada’s Justin Trudeau, for instance, rarely makes even a public statement without his entire inner circle weighing in. Donald Trump, often accused of being unilateral and arbitrary, accepts the rulings of lower court judges and the limitations of working through Congress.

I suspect the Israelites of Solomon’s day might not recognize our leaders as real “rulers” at all.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: How Do You Read It? (5)

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

Tom: We’re in the middle of batting around commonly misunderstood Bible verses. Here’s another frequently-quoted line for you, IC, this one from Proverbs:

“As he thinks within himself, so he is.”

I mentioned in another post a few weeks ago that I’ve often found other people understand individual proverbs very differently from the way I understand them. This one is no exception.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

An Islamic Court Finally Gets Something Right

Malaysia’s top court has ruled that non-Muslims can no longer use the word “Allah” when referring to God. This despite the long-standing trend of Christians and other groups using the same name to refer to God in scriptures, prayers, songs and normal conversation.

The word isn’t a local Malay one, but rather a borrowing from Arabic. However, some Malaysians have no other word in their current vocabulary to refer to the Supreme Being. But apparently the two-thirds of the Malaysian population that profess Islam are now going to have exclusive use. Authorities worry that failure to distinguish Allah as a unique understanding of Divinity could result in confusion and lead people to be converted away from their religion. So they’ve legislated away the confusion.

Sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Skepticism and Renown

Director David Lynch says this about U.S. President Donald Trump:

“He could go down as one of the greatest presidents in history because he has disrupted the thing so much. No one is able to counter this guy in an intelligent way.”

Lynch is not necessarily expressing approval here; note that his metric for presidential greatness is the ability to disrupt. That would not be everyone’s measure of a man, let alone a U.S. president.

What Lynch’s comment does point out, though, is that it is not the least bit outrageous for a man to mull over how a contemporary stacks up against the all-timers in his field, whether or not his verdict is a favorable one. This sort of comparison is made all the time, even when only a year or two have passed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Bad Ideas and Good People

A bad idea never once walked into your church on its own. Ideas don’t have legs.

No, bad ideas have carriers, much like the flu; infected people who transport them from location to location to allow them to spread. The carriers have smiles and good qualities and apparent wisdom in other areas of life. They have histories of service to God’s people, kids who are friends with yours, and wives who are sometimes even nicer than they are. They invite you out for meals, they volunteer to run the youth group, or they are found in the basement of the church building of a Saturday with plunger or mop in hand, cleaning assiduously.

Okay, I’ll concede that last one only happens with certain types of ideas ...

Monday, October 29, 2018

Anonymous Asks (11)

“How can I help a non-believer friend who is extremely struggling?”

I’m going to assume (with no evidence) your friend is a girl, since writing “he or she” a thousand times is tedious, but almost everything I’m about to say applies to young men as well.

I too have unbelieving friends who are struggling, so I feel the same deep concern for them you do. I think most Christians will relate to your question.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (10)

When the question arises as to what God will do about the “good people” in our world who have never heard the gospel, it is almost always sick babies or hypothetical aboriginals in jungles half way across the planet the questioner has in view, as opposed to his own mother-in-law who declines to give a moment’s consideration to the lifetime of Christian testimony with which she has been presented.

We also hear many more sermons on Genesis than Ezekiel, so when complaints about God’s justice are raised, it is usually Genesis to which we resort in response: Abraham’s conviction that God does not “put the righteous to death with the wicked”; the salvation of Noah and his family from the flood; Lot’s deliverance from Sodom.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (30)

Disappointment, despite, laziness ... if you take the verses I’ve chosen from Proverbs 15 as representative of the whole, you might get the idea that Solomon’s a bit of a wet blanket.

Thankfully, for nearly every sluggard he describes, there is an upright man. For every broken spirit there is a “tree of life” and a “healing tongue”. For every grieved mother there is a rejoicing father.

It all depends how you want to look at his instruction, and what you decide to take away from it.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Not Playing the Game

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

Immanuel Can: Hey, Tom, what’s all this I’m suddenly hearing about “NPC”?

Tom: Oh my, you sure know how to pick ’em. As you have surely noticed, there’s a big media brouhaha around that term, and Twitter has banned it outright as “hateful”. I’ll let writer Brandon Morse explain it:

“If you’ve ever picked up a video game that features other characters that are controlled by the computer, then you’ve run into non-player characters or NPC’s.”

When you call someone an “NPC”, what you are saying is that they are programmed with preset behavioral patterns decided for them by somebody else, be they professors, activist groups or the media. You are telling them they are unable to think for themselves.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Scales and Panes

I was chatting with a young man yesterday.

He considers himself a Christian. And maybe he is. I hope he is. But he’s certainly confused about something very basic to salvation; and maybe it will surprise you what it is.

He doesn’t really understand sin.

Now, understanding what it is we are saved from is pretty necessary to salvation, so I’m concerned. I want him to have a correct grasp of how sin relates to the holiness of God. And I’m troubled that his teachers have not taught him this.

So I’m going to try to do a short explanation for you. And I’m going to start with this question:

How bad is sin?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Digression About Possession and Oppression

On my way to work this morning I stopped in at my local A&W for a breakfast burger only to find a crazy person between me and the cash register — or at least he was behaving that way. The three uniformed employees were huddled behind the counter hoping not to get hit, the arms and spit were flying, and the words were coming high volume and a mile a minute. He kept repeating that he had come from jail and was on his way back there, and he made it all seem quite believable.

I suspect he was looking to intimidate the staff into giving him a free meal, but his demeanor had the opposite effect: nobody dared serve him for fear he would sit down and eat his breakfast right there, and they’d never get rid of him.

I gave him five bucks and he went away. Having a conversation with him was impossible. There was nowhere to fit the words in, and he wasn’t hearing anyway.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Anonymous Asks (10)

“How can we know that God is actually real?”

That’s an interesting question, and one that can be approached from a number of angles. The most obvious angle is scientific knowledge. Can we prove in a lab that God exists? Of course not. We can look into a microscope or up into a night sky and witness all kinds of evidence that points to a Creator, but can we demonstrate his existence from these things with 100% certainty to someone who doesn’t believe?

No, we should probably concede that we can’t.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Patriots and Propagandists

The lack of historical perspective and context among the general public is not a new problem. It might be at an all-time high today, though I doubt it; the earthly powers-that-be always have practical reasons for sowing confusion, and the spiritual Powers-That-Be even more so.

But even if ahistoricism is not setting some kind of new record, many of us have a legitimate concern that the media narrative currently being pushed on us is profoundly out of step with reality. Labeling modern conservatives “Nazis”, for instance, is either naive or remarkably devious.

Either way, it is politically useful. Not accurate, but useful.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Deprived of this Grace

I’ve been struck lately by the relevance of the Lord’s kingdom parables to the whole issue of John Calvin’s concept of election.

You may have noticed that the Lord’s disciples appear to be not entirely comfortable with the whole ‘parables’ concept. We know this because they have to ask the Lord to explain the parables to them, and enthuse about it when he does. They obviously find themselves on surer ground when he speaks “plainly” than when he tells stories that require interpretation.

But the Lord explains the reason for parables to them in this way:

“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.’ ”

On the face of it, this sounds terribly determinist, doesn’t it.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (29)

The book of Proverbs is one of the very few places in scripture where context is generally unimportant — even useless. For Bible students, that makes some of the more obscure individual proverbs a little difficult to parse: we are reduced to looking up the meanings of individual Hebrew words, comparing turns of phrase with other Old Testament books from the same period, or resorting to internet explanations of traditional rabbinical renderings.

Or making wild guesses. I don’t recommend that approach.

All the same, if we were to assume Solomon never groups proverbs together by subject for effect, we would be dead wrong.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: How Do You Read It? (4)

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

Tom: We haven’t done a post on commonly misunderstood Bible verses in a while, IC, so I thought that might be fun subject to get back to for a week or two. This one is a favorite, particularly south of the border:

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

To be fair, I’ve heard it prayed by Christians here too, beseeching the Lord that Canadians would suddenly and inexplicably vote to abolish abortion on demand, or oust Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal Ontario government, or whatever.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Butler Did It

When John Milton, the famous 17th century poet and eventual author of the epic “Paradise Lost” realized in mid-life that he was going totally blind, he felt a rising sense of panic. How could a wordsmith be of any value, to God or anyone else, when he had not even the use of his own two eyes?

When the great night finally descended, he was reduced to dependency and darkness. And understandably, he agonized over why the Lord would allow such a thing. He recorded his struggles in a short poem — perhaps his most-quoted piece of work.

“When I consider how my light is spent …” he began. With half a life left to give, what point would there be in him losing the one great talent he had? It would remain, he worried, “lodg’d within me useless”, and yet his “soul [was] more bent to serve therewith [his] Maker”. How could he give an account to the Lord if he could no longer serve, and in fact, could no longer even see?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Jews and Jews

I recently watched a comedian on YouTube trying to sort out what it is exactly that makes a Jew a Jew. Having only minimal familiarity with the Old Testament, and possessing almost no knowledge of modern Talmudic Judaism, the poor man was entirely at sea, and eager for somebody to explain it to him.

I don’t blame him. The term is used multiple ways by different groups with different things in mind. Sorting out the various claims to Jewishness is not easy, and I think it’s fair to say the vast majority of modern users of the term either get it wrong or use it in such an ambiguous and inconsistent way that nobody really knows what they are talking about.

The biggest contributors to this confusion, oddly enough, are a certain subset of … er … Jews.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Anonymous Asks (9)

“In the Trinity, we know the attributes of God and Jesus, but do we really know many about the Holy Spirit?”

No. Next question.

Kidding, of course. But the question spotlights a truth quite plain to us if we read our Bibles attentively, and that is that not every member of the Godhead gets equal time in the scriptures. This is, I think, by design, and has to do with the nature of the Spirit’s work. In fact, the Lord Jesus told his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Monday, October 15, 2018

Not About Me

Luke records a parable Jesus told about a persistent widow and an unrighteous judge. The point to be taken from it, Luke says, is that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart”.

I have been reading that same parable over and over for half a century as if it has to do with my personal needs of the day, or week, or month. Persist, we have been taught, and God will give you the thing for which you beseech him. Can we get an amen, brothers and sisters?

One of the things it takes some people fifty years of praying to learn is this: prayer is not all about me.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Other Cheek

Turning the other cheek is never all that much fun, but lately I’ve begun to see Christian restraint as something more than merely tactical.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus famously told his followers, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

He did not tell them why, but we may reasonably infer that, like the instruction to love our enemies, turning the other cheek displays our family resemblance to our heavenly Father. (And, of course, there’s the bit in there about reward, but the less said about that the better; we wouldn’t want to look mercenary, would we?)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (28)

One of the richer veins of wisdom that may be mined throughout Proverbs has to do with wealth: specifically, how to get it, how to keep it, and the dangers of being seen to have too much of it for other people’s tastes.

As Solomon puts it in Ecclesiastes, “Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.” Wealth is not the ONLY answer to life’s difficulties, and it’s certainly not the BEST answer, but in nearly every situation (even serious illness), money offers AN answer that those without it cannot allow themselves to even consider.

Without further ado, a sampling from this week’s chapter.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Atheists in Foxholes

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

David Rönnegard is 37. He has a PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics, and is a researcher and teacher in corporate social responsibility in Stockholm. But far too soon David’s friends and family will be using “had” and “was” rather than “has” and “is” to describe him.

Dr. Rönnegard has stage four lung cancer.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Preponderance of the Evidence

“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”
— Abraham

Anyone familiar enough with the Bible to know whether Abraham or Moses came first has almost surely also read Jesus’ story in Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus, so I won’t need to explain to you how Abraham, who lived and died more than 400 years before Moses, could speak intelligibly about what either Moses or the Prophets wrote.

In the Lord’s story, Abraham is speaking from Paradise to a dead man in Hades, across the great chasm that divides the two.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso: The Post-Game Show

Scripture cannot be broken,” declared the Lord Jesus. He meant the Old Testament, of course; the New Testament had yet to be written. Today, his words legitimately apply to our entire Bible, but we must be careful not to hurl around the word “scripture” too casually, or to knowingly go beyond what the Lord Jesus intended when he made this powerful and sweeping claim.

My goal in examining the Apocrypha at length was not merely to provide light entertainment by snidely dissing books other people have found spiritually helpful. At the outset, I expressed the hope that the exercise would help us better define what it is about the canonical Old Testament that “distinguishes it from all the other religious writings, folktales, stories and myths with which human history is replete,” and I trust we’ve made good on that to some extent.

Nevertheless, it’s sometimes useful to spell these things out rather than expecting people to read between the lines.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Anonymous Asks (8)

“If God doesn’t like suicide, isn’t what Jesus did kind of like that? Did God send His Son to be murdered?”

Hmm. Maybe I’ll go with the second question first.

Peter’s message to the Jews at Pentecost was: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” That puts the responsibility for Christ’s death squarely where it belongs, I think: God certainly delivered him up, but it was lawless men that crucified and killed him. We can argue that God knew in advance that his Son would be rejected and murdered, and this is certainly true, but everyone involved in putting the Lord Jesus to death made a personal choice, from Pilate to Herod to the soldiers who crucified him, most especially the Jews who cried out repeatedly for his death.

As for suicide, well, that’s another story …

Monday, October 08, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (12)

Throughout this series we’ve been examining ancient books that some non-Protestant Christians feel have been wrongly excluded from our Bibles. I’ve read, summarized and critiqued eleven of the most popular claimants to date, but there are plenty more out there, enough to keep me at it well into the next decade.

Tempting as that may be, I won’t go down that road for several reasons: (1) the further down into the Apocryphal jungle you travel, the feebler and less substantive the contestants become, such that anyone reading them with the least discernment starts to feel like the exercise of critiquing them is something akin to clubbing baby seals on the beach, as opposed to putting up a valiant defence against plausible error; (2) I promised to do a 12-part series, and I plan to keep that pledge; and (3) the reasons for excluding books from the canon begin to repeat themselves.

We wouldn’t want that. After all, figuring out which qualities make the canon the canon is pretty much the point of the exercise, right?

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Specific Enough for You?

Yahoo Answers fields a tough one:

“Were all bible prophesies [sic] written years after the events took place?”

Best Answer: Yes, the ‘prophecies’ in the bible are nothing that go beyond what a kid with knowledge about the world can’t predict. [I’m pretty sure he means “can” there — Ed.] Not to mention things that have always happened.”

That “best answer” is the sort of handwaving you often get from people who haven’t actually read and studied the later books of the Old Testament. The prophets of Israel and Judah frequently made predictions that go well beyond “things have have always happened”.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (27)

We are 27 posts into this series, and I should point out (a bit late, perhaps) that this is not going to be my attempt at a commentary on Proverbs. It’s quite a bit longer than I planned or expected, sure, but nothing remotely approaching comprehensive in scope. There are just way too many bits of sound advice in this book to touch on even a tenth of them. Most must await your own consideration and meditation to reveal their wisdom and impact your life.

The best I can hope to do here is offer a few thoughts and bits of research that seasoned readers of the Old Testament may not yet have encountered, and to offer the occasional incentive for younger Christians to make Proverbs part of their regular Bible reading regimen.

And of course I can tell you which verses jump out at me. Your mileage will surely vary.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Hmm … What Should I Wear to Church Today?

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

Tom: I like track pants and t-shirts myself. It’s what’s most comfortable, frankly. I’ve never liked suits. They’re expensive, and I don’t have any other use for them.

What do you think, IC? Can I sport my sweats in the pews?

Immanuel Can: Ha! You’ll scandalize the little old ladies. And the dour old men will be none too happy either. But I know of no scriptural prohibition on informality. You raise a good question: what is the Christian view of attire, particularly in regard to the meetings of the church?

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Faith of the Calvinists

Okay, I’m writing this post because I came across something so bizarre I didn’t even know what to say to it at first. You’re going to have to bear with me, because you’ll probably have trouble believing anyone could get anything so wrong. But I promise you this is the truth.

I was writing back and forth with one of my Calvinist friends. As you know, I’m not one of them myself, but that doesn’t keep me from liking quite a few of them as people.

Don’t ask. I like a lot of strange things.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (26)

If you’ve ever been part of a conversational Bible study, you’ll probably relate to this statement: One person’s initial take on a proverb may be vastly different from another’s.

Years ago in a small mid-week study, we went around the room over a number of verses in Proverbs sharing what we thought they meant. Now, differences of opinion are to be expected in situations where there exists no real context from which to more accurately pin down Solomon’s intended meaning. But as I digested the various subjective impressions about the text laid out for us, there were times I was convinced we weren’t all reading from the same book.

And of course if you really want to examine an entire range of possible interpretations to seek out the best one, ask a woman what she thinks.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Anonymous Asks (7)

“If Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel, shouldn’t those be the only people on earth? Because when Cain kills Abel, Cain is scared that someone will kill him. But at that time, no one else existed. So who was Cain’s wife?”

Okay, well, let’s start by acknowledging that the Bible doesn’t give us explicit answers to many of our technical questions about the early days of the human race, especially in areas of study that are not spiritually significant. So we cannot say with any biblical authority how Cain got his wife. No Bible student can.

That said, let’s not imagine that either the human writer of Genesis or those who told the story for centuries before him were unintelligent men and women. They were not.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (11)

Obsessive music fans know that every artist or band has a “canon” made up of albums recognized by fans, critics and record labels as official releases.

Once an artist becomes established, however, opportunists commonly flood the market with rough takes on familiar tunes, rejected songs from album sessions, cover versions played once for a lark, and bootleg live tracks of questionable sound quality. While these new offerings usually contain a few rare gems and often provide insight into an artist’s work process, they generally do not compare favorably to music released exactly as the performer intended.

The Book of Jubilees might well be called “Outtakes from Genesis”. At least, that’s what it reads like.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (9)

It’s funny how the visible man and the Lord’s man are often confused.

Years ago, I attended a church where the most noticeable, likable, impressive presence was a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman who greeted visitors warmly at the door week after week. His family was well known and he had been associated with the same church for decades, so his name was one with which Christians from other churches were always most familiar.

It took me a month or two to realize that almost all the spiritual energy in that church was coming from elsewhere.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Getting Kavanaughed

We used to hear about getting “Borked”, but I think it’s about time to retire that one. Robert Bork’s abortive Supreme Court nomination hearing was so long ago that you’d be lucky if 5% of your audience has even the slightest idea what you’re talking about when you trot that one out.

We should probably refer to getting “Kavanaughed” instead. The process is exactly the same, after all. The more things change, the more they don’t.

As the late Teddy Kennedy put it in 1987: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution …”

Sound familiar? Thought so.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Beatles Buddhism

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

Over the last 20 years we’ve seen all kinds of pontificating about the threat of global warming, or climate change, or whatever it’s being repackaged as this week. One thing we can be sure of is that in the current economic situation, climate change is not the first thing on the minds of most Americans. The number of U.S. citizens who consider it a source of great worry dropped to a new low of 31% in 2014.

Given that the dire warnings of the Warmists are going largely unheeded at present, there has been an increasingly intense effort to reframe the climate change issue as a moral one rather than merely a political or practical one.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Theism and the Skeptics [Part 2]

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Have you noticed that our age is great for pretending not to know what the Bible says it could and should know?

Honestly, it’s enough to make one cynical.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Anonymous Asks (6)

“How do you reconcile Ephesians 2:8-9 with James 2:24?”

Well, let’s take a crack at that. First, the apostle Paul in Ephesians:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Then James:

“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

I’m going to assume the bone of contention here is the two phrases “saved through FAITH” (i.e., not as a result of works) and “justified by WORKS”. These statements appear to be contradictory.

But are they?