Thursday, May 31, 2018

Testimony in the Twilight Zone

I’m becoming a believer in snowblower evangelism.

I live in an area where big snowfalls happen several times a year. I mean the kind that are a meter or so (a few feet) deep, heavy and wet. If you’ve ever tried to shovel out a driveway in those conditions, you know it’s absolutely backbreaking work.

The Lord gave me a snowblower. I don’t mean he personally went down to the local John Deere store and picked it up for me, I mean that it came cheap and unexpected, as a kindness from one of the Lord’s people. I don’t deserve it, and I’m very grateful to have it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Recommend-a-blog (28)

Adam Ford is the guy who started the Christian news satire site Babylon Bee. If you’ve missed that so far, well, that’s probably okay, provided you have no sense of humor. If you do, it’s a little bit like having missed Monty Python’s Flying Circus (minus the occasional bout of virulent rudeness) in the early seventies. Except with the Bee, more often than not there’s a sharp spiritual point to go with the guffaws.

Adam sold the Bee a month ago to concentrate on his new project, the Christian Daily Reporter, a plain-Jane news aggregator. CDR is ... well, why don’t I let Adam tell you in his own words?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Brush Too Broad

Albert Mohler says, “The [Southern Baptist Convention] is in the midst of its own horrifying #MeToo moment,” and adds, “The judgment of God has come.”

It started with public outrage over some seriously bad advice in a years-old sermon illustration from the ex-president of an SBC seminary. Other comments made by Paige Patterson apparently objectified a teenage girl, and the list has since gotten longer, as The Atlantic documents here.

Naturally, sides have been taken, and the resulting scandal threatens to tear apart the SBC. No wonder Mohler is deeply concerned.

Monday, May 28, 2018

That Wacky Old Testament (11)

A hundred years ago the social safety net didn’t exist. The earliest U.S. government assistance program was conceived in 1910 and most of the rest were enacted post-1935.

Sure, there have always been rich parents that coddled their children through adulthood, handing them fully-operational businesses to destroy or trust funds to bleed dry. And there may even have been a certain number of less-well-off parents willing to sacrifice their meager savings on a dissolute youngster who stubbornly refused to pull his weight and bear his family responsibilities.

But beyond the family level, no institutions existed to provide for the welfare of society at large. There was no taxpayer-financed crutch available to help failed or unfortunate citizens get back on their feet.

Good thing times have changed. Or maybe not.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

On the Mount (32)

The world is brim-full of good causes. There’s no end of things with which a genuine altruist may busy himself in seeking to do good to his fellow man.

In the Christian life, few truly “good” works involve status or recognition, but those which do almost always attract the worst elements. Simon the magician was so entranced at the prospect of being able to confer the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands that he begged the apostles, “Give me this power also.” Likewise, the seven sons of the Jewish high priest Sceva got excited about driving out evil spirits.

You may remember both stories ended badly for the would-be doers of good.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (8)

How much time do you devote to becoming wise?

You may not put it that way, of course. Reading the Bible may never have presented itself to you as some kind of quest for understanding. You may think of it as just enjoying the word of God. Or you may have been trained from childhood to read your Bible every day “just because”, and so you keep doing it like a robot. You may do it grudgingly, conscious that your life is insanely busy and twenty minutes every morning is often an imposition. Or you may go to the word of God and dig through it regularly in order to better understand yourself, your world and, most importantly, your Lord and Savior.

Whatever your motivation, if you’re reading God’s word and trying to put its principles into practice, you are becoming more skilled at living life every single day whether you notice it or not.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: From the Pit of Hell

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

The man who would be president, former nominee Mitt Romney, is troubled that a minister from Dallas has been asked to open the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem with a prayer.

Romney’s objection?

“Robert Jeffress says ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.’ He’s said the same about Islam.”

Tom: Oh dear. Let’s talk a little bit about so-called religious bigotry, IC. What do you think: is “pit of hell” maybe a tad strong?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Bottom of the Ninth

I’m beginning to think that the ninth commandment is more important than I ever realized.

Traditionally, it reads, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (KJV), or more colloquially, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

Well … Duh!

“Okay,” I said to myself when I first read it, “that makes sense. In court, telling a lie about someone or something can get an innocent person into serious legal trouble. And to do that would be malicious. Fair enough.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

That Sinking Feeling

Nope, not thinking about Peter.

In Luke’s gospel we read about the Lord conferring to his twelve disciples power and authority over all demons and diseases. Thus equipped, he then sends them out to heal and proclaim the kingdom of God. Upon their return the disciples report to him all that they have done, which suggests at least a moderate degree of success in their mission.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

TLDR

Have you see that short form online? Know what it signifies? Your kids do, guaranteed.

“TLDR”, “tl;dr” and other variants simply mean “Too Long, Didn’t Read”. They are an admission of intellectual laziness delivered with trademark millennial bravado; a backhanded shot in the chops to a writer who probably labored over words about to be summarily ignored. They are also almost invariably accompanied by a disparaging comment about the thing not-quite-read.

Farhad Manjoo over at Slate has a fascinating piece about how people read online. The upshot: they don’t. Well, not very well at least.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Say Yes to the Dress

“The fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

The book is Revelation, and before us is the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Bride is a certain subset of God’s people (we shall not revisit that discussion in detail here), and others among God’s redeemed are present to celebrate. The Bride has clothed herself with “fine linen, bright and pure.”

It’s the most uplifting picture in several chapters of what is, at times, a very dark book, and it is the great hope of the Church.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

On the Mount (31)

Here’s one of very few Greek words that are easily understood without consulting a concordance: pseudoprophētēs, meaning “false prophets”. To call something “pseudo” or “pseud” these days is to see right through it and recognize it as phony. The prophētēs part kind of translates itself.

But we live in a day when, as C.S. Lewis put it, “The dwarves are for the dwarves.” We pride ourselves on being sufficiently cynical to see through everything, to the point where many of us see nothing at all.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (7)

Have you ever taken one of those biological age tests that are all the rage on the internet? (Warning: most are designed to pitch you something at the end.)

There is probably some marginal utility to such things. Obviously you have an actual age, and that age cannot change; the year you were born is the year you were born. But the medical reality at the root of these tests is that the number and intensity of stressors in your daily life tend to shorten it, while the absence of such stressors will, at very least, not make things any worse. Thus your “biological age”, as these folks define it, is something akin to your own personal doomsday clock.

Do you smoke? Lose five years. More than two drinks a day? Ooh, you’re in trouble. Hate your job or sleep too little? Another strike or two. Depending on your situation and habits, you may start to wonder why you haven’t keeled over already.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The Greatest Threat

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

Immanuel Can: Wow. Brian McLaren. I’m not the biggest fan of his work, to be sure. I read his book A New Kind of Christian, and thought it touched on quite a few important issues, but made the most unfortunate hash of them imaginable. But for charity’s sake, let’s assume that’s the ancient past, so full steam ahead.

“The greatest threat to Christianity is ... misguided Christians, just as the greatest threat to Islam is misguided Muslims and the greatest threat to Judaism is misguided Jews. Religious insiders can do harm to their religion in ways that outsiders never could. This is especially true in a pluralistic world, where religions are credible to the degree they bring benefits to outsiders.”
— Brian McLaren

What does he mean?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Brains With Feet

I was reading a book on apologetics, a collection of essays. It had one by Sean McDowell. Yes, that Sean McDowell, son of the more famous Josh McDowell. (How tired he must be of hearing that!)

Anyway, I’ve read a few McDowell books, and from the first moment I opened one, I remember feeling a vague sense of … what was it? ... a sort of vague ‘missing’.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Baiting and Switching

J.T. Wynn’s debut column at Stand to Reason certainly doesn’t waste any time getting around to the really big questions; in this case, What is Truth?

Strictly speaking, I suppose Wynn doesn’t answer the question, but that’s not really the point of his post. In any case, his account of two teachers who conflated truth with perception will definitely ring a bell with recent university or college grads, and with anyone who has watched more than a few minutes of Jordan Peterson on YouTube.

Redefining common words is a useful way to skew an argument, muddle an otherwise simple issue, or advance an agenda. Thus Christians need to be able to identify and counter the ol’ bait-and-switch when we run into it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Quote of the Day (39)

In his book Do We Need God to be Good? anthropologist C.R. Hallpike quotes mathematician Kevin Devlin:

“Whatever features of our brain enable (some of) us to do mathematics must have been present long before we had any mathematics. Those crucial features, therefore, must have evolved to fulfil some other purpose.”

This sort of statement is incredibly common among evolutionary psychologists and biologists, but “some other [undefined] purpose” is pretty much the best they have to offer the world. The gaping holes in their theoretical framework are orders of magnitude larger than the frame itself, calling their entire dubious intellectual structure into question.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Achan and Eve

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to sinning: Eve’s and Achan’s.

At Jericho, Achan saw treasure forbidden by the word of God, lusted after it, took it and hid it away, buried in the earth inside his tent. But I can assure you it would not have stayed there. Achan had never stopped to work out any sort of strategy by which he might benefit from his sin. That was just plain stupid.

At least the Eve Method — wicked, shortsighted and ultimately destructive as it was — had the advantage of being intellectually coherent.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

On the Mount (30)

The way is hard that leads to life. Ain’t that the truth. Maybe in more ways than we are usually inclined to consider.

Matthew 7:13 is generally read as having to do with a man or woman’s ultimate fate: eternity in hell on the one hand; eternal life in fellowship with God on the other. These are the highest and most personal stakes for which human beings have ever played. In the face of everlasting separation from God and all that is good, it should be obvious that the horrors of war, the nuclear arms race and our current inability to cure cancer pale into comparative insignificance.

Understandably, we will wish to choose carefully.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (6)

David Gooding has a knack for taking great wedges of ancient text and breaking them down into manageable chunks of related material, then dissecting those pieces line by line until we are able to think clearly about them. That’s not unique to Gooding of course — all decent Bible teachers do it — but I especially appreciate his sensitivity to the natural flow of poetry, narrative or argument. I have yet to find him analyzing a passage and think Boy, that structure he’s describing looks awfully artificial.

To the extent we are up to the job, it’s a useful trick to imitate.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Poisoning the Well

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

Rachel Held Evans hosts an ongoing discussion of Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian.

Tom: I’m not so much interested in rehashing the homosexuality aspect. That’s something I think both of us have dealt with elsewhere. But there’s an idea enunciated by Vines in his study of the Old Testament and reiterated by Held Evans in her discussion of his book that potentially applies more broadly; to things like the role of men and women in the church and the home and so on. That is this:

“We can accept Scripture as authoritative and true without accepting the patriarchal assumptions of the culture from which the Bible emerged”.

Immanuel Can, is there a sense in which you would agree with Held Evans’ statement?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The End of the Family Line

“With no complications,
  fifteen generations of mine
  all honoring nature.
  Until I arrived with incredible style.
  I’m the end of the line;
  the end of the family line.”
— Morrissey

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth …”

Relax, I’m probably not going where you think I am.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (7)

Growing up in a Christian home, I was occasionally chastened for misbehavior with the words “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Or I heard other Christian parents using it. Or my irate Sunday School teacher. Or somebody. The memory’s a bit fuzzy, to be honest.

In any case, the line was very familiar, though for some reason I wrongly associated it with Saul and Samuel rather than Moses, who actually said it to the emissaries from the tribes of Reuben and Gad who had proposed to settle their people in the land beyond the Jordan. They solemnly promised to first fight alongside the other men of Israel in order to bring God’s people into their inheritance.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Children, Fathers and Hearts

Concerning New Jersey’s largest city, Steven Malanga says, “An astonishing 60 percent of the city’s kids are growing up without fathers.” According to a recent UNICEF report, “Britain is the worst country in the Western world in which to be a child.” Theodore Dalrymple writes of a British woman with nine children by five different fathers, none of whom contribute consistently to their children’s upkeep.

Monday, May 07, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (5)

Dictionary.com says a proverb is a “short pithy saying”. Most familiar Bible proverbs are no more than one or two lines.

A proverb communicates a great deal in the fewest possible words, presumably as an aid to memory, and the reader is usually left to meditate on how best to apply it. The vast majority of biblical proverbs are universally relatable. Even the more obscure sayings ring with plausibility, though they may express truths unfelt or unexperienced.

Or so we might argue. But there are some people to whom the offer of objective truth holds no interest at all.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

On the Mount (29)

The so-called Golden Rule is not a new thing.

Infogalactic says, “The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a moral maxim or principle of altruism found in nearly every human culture and religion,” whether in its positive or negative form. From this ubiquity, one might reasonably conclude that the principle is inherently logical, intuitive or fundamental to human society; perhaps all of these.

Thus when the Lord Jesus laid out his own version in the Sermon on the Mount, it seems unlikely his audience had never heard this particular ethical statement — or at least something very much like it — before. History suggests it was a familiar concept.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Let the Others Weigh

Not too long ago, a grand old Bible teacher I remember fondly from my youth posted a rare thought on Facebook about teaching scripture on the Web. His concern: that the haphazard slinging of tangentially Bible-related opinion is a potential threat to the unity of local churches. Some form of oversight by seasoned teachers of the word of God is preferable. He cited Paul’s command to the Corinthian church: “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” in support of the principle.

Now, he’s not wrong here, and he’s not the first to note the problem.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Debby Boone Theology

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

“It can’t be wrong, when it feels so right.”
— Debby Boone, You Light Up My Life (1977)

Immanuel Can: Okay, Tom. Remember that song?

Tom: I hated the song, but I was wildly infatuated with Debby. I think I even had her poster on the wall in the basement bedroom I shared with my younger brother. I could just barely slide a female pop star (completely and decorously attired, I hasten to add, in a beige dress that did up at the neck and went down to her ankles) past my parents because “She’s a Christian!” Of course, I was all of sixteen at the time. Sadly, nothing permanent came of that little obsession: Debby has since married a fellow believer and, unlike many celebrities, has stuck with it going on forty years now. Good on her.

IC: Uh … right.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

The Era of the Gentle and Reverent Lie

This morning a new video appeared on YouTube.

To my surprise, it had arch-atheist Bill Maher in admiring conversation with Dr. Jordan Peterson, the pro-Christian conservative.

This is Bill Maher, who personally coined the insult “religulous” to describe all religions. But here he was, literally stumbling over himself to give a platform to someone who claims that understanding religion, and particularly Christianity, is vital to the survival and future well being of Western culture.

Amazing.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Agents of Change

Are you an agent of change in your local church? Maybe you should be — of a certain very specific sort, of course.

Several recent studies in other areas of the Bible have led me back into Revelation 2 and 3, the letters to the seven churches. And one thing we see the Head of the Church saying repeatedly to those he loves is that they need change of one sort or another: to Ephesus, get back to the first works; to Pergamum, stop subscribing to false teaching; to Thyatira, stop tolerating it; to Sardis, finish the job you started; and to Laodicea, be zealous and repent.

Change, change, change.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Recommend-a-blog (27)

The internet is a big place, and it’s easy to overlook efforts that are very profitable indeed. In fact, given the lame ways some Christians self-promote, you might never hear about most of us.

This is certainly a problem we’ve run into here at ComingUntrue. I’ve always had an aversion to Facebook and Twitter, the two easiest ways to draw attention to what you are doing online. But while they certainly enable a new initiative to reach out to the largest possible audience, they also data mine you to death and routinely suppress conservative news and expressions of opinion. Thus we have never bothered to set up ComingUntrue Facebook or Twitter accounts. Over the years, I’m sure we’ve lost tens of thousands of pageviews because of it.

Too bad. Oh well. Not a policy I’m likely to consider changing anytime soon.