Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Things Prepared

To have had truth made known to you is not the same as understanding truth.

Parents will grasp this instantly. You’re correcting your five-year old, and he asks why, so you explain. He can process the words. He can retain the words. They have been “made known” to him, and they have become part of his experience. They reside in his memory, where he can access them and make use of them when he grows into them.

But your words are not of much practical use to him in the moment, because he doesn’t yet fully comprehend them.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The Golden Age

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

A few weeks back we spent some time considering eternity as described in our Bibles, and the various misunderstandings that exist about it even among believers.

Tom: I promised at the end of that exchange that we would put together some thoughts on the subject of the Millennium, the coming thousand year reign of Christ, a subject explored mostly in the psalms and the writings of the Hebrew prophets and touched upon only briefly in the book of Revelation, where we are told that Satan will have no part in it, having been consigned to the abyss.

So let’s talk about this golden age a little, IC. Why have a Millennium at all? Why is it so important? Why not transport Christians straight into our promised eternity with Christ?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Attack of the Killer Reason

“Chaaaaarge!”

A half-dozen knights leap over a hill to attack a rabbit.

Unexpectedly, the little white bunny turns and attacks the knights, killing some and wounding others.

“Run away! Run away!”

Scattering shields and armaments, the terrified knights clamber back over the hillock, and duck in shame.

*   *   *   *   *
It’s a famous scene called “The Killer Rabbit” from the 1975 comedy feature film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m reminded of it every time I talk with a Calvinist.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

All the Time You Need

“Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.”

How long does it take to get saved?

Some people spend their whole lives working at it. They go to church, they provide for their families, they confess their sins, they contribute to religious causes, they try to treat people well, they “do unto others”. Some follow laws and religious regulations year after year.

But it’s not a trick question, nor a particularly complicated one.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Leaders and the Led

What does biblical leadership look like?

The answer in many quarters these days is “servanthood”. The term “servant leadership” is said to have been coined by Robert Greenleaf in a 1970 essay, allegedly after reading a story by Hermann Hesse. Greenleaf’s concept has since been promoted by numerous evangelicals, including John Piper and the Acts 29 network of churches, of which ubiquitous YouTube presence Matt Chandler is president.

At one level, who can argue? “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

Pretty unambiguous, really.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Rest of the Psalm


So said the exiles of Judah in Babylon, and they wept as they recalled it. Their real home was far away. They belonged in Zion, and their present status was, to all appearances, quite degraded. Had things gone as they should, God’s people would have been singing psalms in the temple courts of the great city of Jerusalem, not sitting in servitude by the waters of Babylon.

But there they were all the same.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

On the Mount (23)

I like to think of wisdom as applied reality: taking one’s knowledge of the actual nature of things and working that knowledge through in a very practical way in the circumstances of life.

That sort of discernment is pictured for us metaphorically in scripture. It is not that the Lord Jesus came so that men and women might pay lip service to a particular series of moral data points, but that we might make use of those facts to act in our own best interests, in the best interests of others, and ultimately and most importantly, in accordance with the will of God.

The metaphor the Lord uses to describe applied reality is light: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Being able to see where we are going is exceedingly practical, and has tremendous value.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Call and Response

Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline is not the most intuitive choice for a hockey arena anthem. It goes over so well for one reason: audience participation.

NEIL: “Sweet Caroline ...”

18,000 FANS: Bah bah bah

NEIL: “Good times never seem so good.”

18,000 FANS: So good, so good, so good!

You get the idea. It’s call and response, and people love to join in. The “response” part was not built into Diamond’s original lyric; it seems to have evolved over the years as fans got increasingly comfortable with the nightly routine of familiar tunes and started improvising on them.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Kissing Through the Fence

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

Let me give you a scenario that plays out over and over again.

I’m a young Christian man, say … or maybe I’m a middle-aged Christian woman. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. But let’s go with the young Christian man for a minute.

I have always been told that, for some reason, it’s bad for a believer to partner up with an unbeliever. But now that I’m in the situation myself, I can’t quite see why.

Immanuel Can: After all, girl X (my intended) is a lovely person. She’s just like me. We have great conversations. She thinks exactly like I do about practically everything that matters. We have wonderful times together. And I have deep feelings for her.

Tom: “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right …”

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Time to Face the Music

Did you know that some famous pop songs are about to go bottoms-up?

Yep, it’s true. Our culture has changed so rapidly in the last couple of decades that some tunes simply don’t make sense anymore.

Back in the ’70s we had Jim Croce’s “Operator”. We don’t even know what one of those is today. A little later, we had Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” and the Boomtown Rats’ lyrical reference to a telex machine. (Now, there’s an obscure one!) More recently, we stepped up to Maroon 5’s “Payphone”, or Brand New’s “Mixtape” (apparently not so brand new after all). Or what about all the references to pagers and beepers in ’90s rap songs? Gone and forgotten.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Five Lessons We Can Learn from Jordan Peterson

In an excellent recent post entitled “Masculinity Without Permission”, Doug Wilson happened to name-check Jordan Peterson as someone who, despite not being a Christian, is actually more biblical on the subject of masculinity than many evangelical elders.

I won’t belabor that point; it’s Doug’s, and he said it better than I can. But I will go him one better: I think there are at least five things I’ve learned from Peterson that it would benefit my fellow evangelicals to consider seriously.

So here goes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Heretics and Coffee

What is a heretic, really, for practical purposes?

her·e·tic, noun, one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine

No, no. If we’re going to sling around religious terminology, we’d better consult the experts:

“Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same …”
— The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2089)

We use the word pretty casually in Christian circles when someone says something a little off the spiritually-beaten track, but mostly we mean it frivolously.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Third Row from the Back

You’ve all met Joe, right?

Joe’s been coming to your church forever. He and his wife sit at the end of the third row from the back, a holdover from when their kids were small and he or Cheryl might have had occasion to escort one or the other out discreetly mid-service.

It’s fifteen years later now; the boy is off to college and the daughter is about to be. And Joe and Cheryl still sit in the third row from the back.

More importantly, to all appearances fifteen years have changed nothing substantial in Joe’s relationship with the Lord, and definitely nothing about how he relates to the Lord’s people.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

On the Mount (22)

Towards the end of the children of Israel’s multi-century sojourn in Egypt, they were enslaved by a king with no appreciation for the history his people shared with the Hebrew minority living among them, and no understanding of how Israel’s presence in his land had been of unprecedented benefit to his nation. So Pharaoh used force to put God’s people to work, and they built him his legendary treasure cities, places where the king could store up his excess goods against the remote possibility of bad times.

The irony is that it was Joseph, a son of Israel, who had first taught the Pharaohs the principle of laying up excess wealth as insurance against those all-too-frequent “evil days”.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Recommend-a-blog (25)

John’s Gospel is my favorite.

Those of you who think we shouldn’t have favorite books and especially favorite Gospels are, of course, welcome to make the requisite harumph-ing noises, but a greater number of readers are probably quietly affirming, “Yeah, me too.” And of course in finding particular delight in John, I am not in the least disparaging Matthew, Mark or Luke, all of whom wrote with specific purposes, intended audiences and special emphases, and each of whom is tremendously edifying in his own particular way.

But John is just different.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Crashing and Burning

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

We’ve all seen it, and seen it many times: a Christian in the public eye crashes and burns. He (or she, recently) confesses to the commission of one sin or another, usually an affair of some sort, and follows the confession by taking a time-out from the affected area of service (or leaving it altogether), announcing that the family needs “healing time”, and so on and so forth.

Tom: I bring this up because it’s happened again, IC. I’m not going to mention the name; the details are unimportant and likely unprofitable to pore over. But you and I have discussed the situation a little, and I wondered about your thoughts on how such things should be handled biblically. There aren’t many apostolic scandals recorded for us in the New Testament, are there …

Immanuel Can: No, there aren’t.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Horrific Hymnology

A year or so ago I wrote three posts on music (you can find them here, here and here). My point — then and now — was that we all have a responsibility to be discerning and to choose our music based on biblical principles rather than personal preference. And so that I would not be taking that responsibility away from anyone, I talked about the key principles rather than particulars of which musical pieces might be indicted or approved by a discerning observer.

Moreover, if anyone did not agree with me about their selections for congregational singing, I did not want to pass any judgment on them. After all, we all stand or fall to our own Master. So if the hymns and songs somebody else’s congregation wants to sing don’t square with the sort of list I would choose, I say, “No hard feelings”. I am not the last word in musical orthodoxy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Who’s Got the Microphone?

One natural follow-up question from Saturday’s post on the subject of roles is this: “Did women ever prophesy in New Testament church meetings?”

I ask it largely out of curiosity: even a crystal-clear scriptural example of a prophetess addressing both men and women in a congregation (assuming we could find one, and we can’t) would not really help us toward working out our own roles in a day in which we are no longer able to prophesy in the specific sense in which Paul uses the word.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Future Harvest, Present Grace

Fox Business says one reason a significant number of Millennials struggle to find work is that self-control is still considered a major workplace asset. Rightly or wrongly, employers tend to associate that quality with older workers.

Self-control is the ability to subdue our impulses in order to achieve longer-term goals; to do the necessary things even when our emotions get in the way — not a priority much stressed in the last few generations. Karl Moore notes, “Millennials value emotion. They are taught in high school and university a Postmodern worldview which puts thought [and] emotions on nearly the same plane.”

Well, if how I feel is going to dictate what I do today, I should not be surprised to find at the end of the day that I haven’t got a whole lot done. And that is a problem.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Evil in Unexpected Places

“No one gives up on something until it turns on them.”
― Thomas Ligotti

Ligotti’s statement may or may not be true, but there is something to be said for people who live consistently.

Those who have become disillusioned by the behavior of Christians are among the most intensely disillusioned people I have ever met. How do you initiate any kind of dialogue with someone completely convinced he has taken the measure of your faith and found it wanting?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

On the Mount (21)

It’s going out of style now, but in times past a man proposing marriage would get down on one knee in front of his intended and ask for her hand.

As anyone who has ever googled “Marriage proposals gone wrong” can attest, that sort of thing can be risky business. The man usually makes the sacrifice of purchasing an expensive ring, then goes about proclaiming his love, most often in public, making himself visibly (not to mention emotionally) vulnerable and taking the chance that his request may be denied and his efforts come to nothing.

Sacrifice and humiliation. Interesting combination. But if you want something badly enough, maybe a little humiliation is no big deal.

Old Testament fasting was a little bit like that.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Mind the Ditches

The folks at the assemblyHUB website have embarked on an initiative to reexamine the biblical roles of men and women in the church, the world and the home (WAMS 2018). To date, Bernadette Veenstra (twice), Crawford Paul and others have weighed in on issues like complementary gender roles, women usurping authority and women’s silence in the churches.

For reasons I will get to shortly, I find myself less than delighted.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Eternity In Their Hearts

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

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon makes the argument that God has put a longing for the eternal into the human heart, yet seems to have provided less revelation about eternity than some of us might wish. And notwithstanding the fact that we’ve had plenty more prophetic revelation since the book of Ecclesiastes was written, we still have a tendency to speculate about what lies in store for us at the end of history as we move into eternity.

Tom: We’re discussing a recent Todd Billings post at Christianity Today entitled “The New View of Heaven Is Too Small”. What was your last point, IC?

Immanuel Can: Serious Christians need some kind of counter to the common misconception that the eternal state involves a lot of unrelenting, undifferentiated, disembodied, white-clad, purposeless hanging about on clouds …

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Big Gamble

When I first entered my profession, I was in my mid-twenties. As a brash young man, I remember being irritated by the requirement that I should begin to save for retirement. For one thing, I was young, and young people never think much about being old. I thought I might well even be dead long before my investment came back; I certainly had no assurances I would not. But more importantly, as I was starting out in life, I knew I could make good use of that sizeable portion of my income that was going to be carved out for the retirement plan, and there was no way to get at it.

I would have if I could have.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Broken Window Sins

All sins create distance between man and God.

Still, even before the sun rises tomorrow, the proud man can stick a pin in his swollen ego; the narcissist can begin to learn empathy; the drunkard can put the bottle down before his liver finally packs it in; the liar can start telling the truth; and the thief can commit himself to making his victims whole. John the Baptist taught wholesale, on-the-spot lifestyle modification to all he baptized. When you just stop doing certain things and start doing the opposite, all kinds of wonderful stuff can happen.

Then there are the “broken window” sins.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Opportunity and Desire

One of Chuck Snyder’s readers shares a not-so-unusual problem:

“I believe the Spirit of God is upon me to teach the Word of God with love, accuracy, patience and discernment to a lost and hurting world and to all who hunger for the truth. Several years of schooling and formal study took place in order to prepare and to show myself approved. Now, in my home church, I am given every job and project under the sun to be responsible for, except ‘teaching the Word of God.’ ”

I hear this sort of thing all the time: “My church doesn’t let me use my spiritual gift.”

Monday, March 05, 2018

Sojourners and Citizens

Not everything about sojourning is to the sojourner’s taste. That’s part and parcel of being on the road. As someone with no vested interests in the society around you — as someone just passing through — you have to kind of accept the way the locals live and occasionally look the other way, even if what they do is more than a little cringeworthy at times. When in Rome and all that …

In the Bible, sojourners were more refugees than tourists. Like Naomi or Jacob and his family, they were where they were because their own nation was experiencing famine, drought or invasion. Or, like David, Moses, Jacob (again) or Joseph and Mary, they were on the run because their king, their own people or even their family members would have been happy to see them dead.

The Christian, too, is far from home. All believers are.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

On the Mount (20)

The reciprocity principle is not a new thing. It’s said to be found in some form in nearly every religion.

Perhaps the earliest written formulation occurs in the Egyptian story of The Eloquent Peasant. “Do to the doer to make him do,” the god Maat is supposed to have said, which has been generally interpreted to mean something not wildly dissimilar to the so-called Golden Rule (though we can hardly overlook the obvious self-interest in the Egyptian version). The story predates the Law of Moses, in which Israel was commanded to love their neighbors as themselves, by a couple hundred years.

Ah well, all truth is God’s truth, as the saying goes. In any case, ancient Egyptian wisdom is not circulating the way it used to.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

One Bad Idea

Left uncontested, one bad idea can do astonishing damage.

When humanity fell, taking all of creation with it, the cause was a woman who defied the revealed will of God … and a man too weak to either call her on it or to take responsibility for his own sin.

A bad idea went uncontested. Today, generation after generation pays through the nose.

Again: assuming the Muslims are correct and that Ishmael is legitimately an ancestor of Muhammad, virtually every rocket launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip since 2001 can be attributed to a woman who proposed another really bad idea … and a man too weak to call her on it.

Abraham and Sarah, the Golan Heights sends its thanks.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: An Undersized Eternity

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

Tom: Earlier this week I poked around the subject of Christian hope a little. My sister had kindly linked me to Todd Billings’ recent post at Christianity Today entitled “The New View of Heaven Is Too Small” in which Billings talks about Michigan deer hunters who expect to continue enjoying their favorite pastime in heaven.

I’d rather not spend more time debunking other Christians’ cherished heavenly speculations, so I’ll trust that my own post didn’t completely fail to make the case that a New Testament view of our hope in Christ is rich, multifaceted and real.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Zombie Church

I’ve always really liked Caspar David Friedrich’s painting, “Cloister Graveyard in the Snow”. In it, we see a crumbled cathedral with only a bit of the porch and chapel remaining amid twisted, dark trees. But if you look closely, in the middle ground, you’ll see a trail of monks still marching into the ruins, presumably to continue their monkish duties.

The painting has both a positive and a negative message about religiosity. On the one hand, it suggests faith can persist even when, socially speaking, religiosity is generally perceived be in ruins; but on the other hand, it also reminds us that ritual can persist even when the life of a church is gone.

I guess the message you take depends on the perspective with which you view it.