Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Gotta Catch ’Em All?

A teen asks, “How can we know for sure that we have all the books of the Bible?”

That’s a very good question. But if I were to try to answer it as written, I’d have to ask the writer, “Which Bible do you mean?” The Hebrew Bible? The Catholic Bible? The Protestant Bible? The Orthodox Bible?

The word “Bible” comes from an old Greek word that means “book”, and in our culture merely describes a collection of ancient documents compiled by groups of men with religious affiliations over a period of a couple thousand years.

If we are being technical, they’re ALL Bibles.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Making Do

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

So a friend and I are out for lunch, and as usual we’re discussing the church. A recurring theme: the New Testament ideal vs. street-level reality. A plethora of genuine difficulties may arise when we seek to apply what was done in the first century in our modern church settings.

An example: shepherds and teachers. You need to have them or the flock simply doesn’t get guarded, guided, fed or cared for the way it should. But in smaller local gatherings, sometimes you just … don’t. For one reason or another, right now they’re not there.

That’s one kind of weakness. Definitely a problem.

Monday, July 16, 2018

An Unguarded Minute

Many years ago, a man who served the Lord in a local church I visited regularly (and whose lunchtime hospitality I had enjoyed at least once) suddenly and dramatically left his wife for a younger woman. He was sixty-something at the time, if I remember correctly, which struck me as a strange age for a man to succumb to a sexual sin of which there was no previous evidence in his life.

I puzzled that one over for a while. While it’s not impossible that the fellow’s heart and mind were full of secret lusts and unrequited fantasies going back years, I think it rather unlikely. Rather, it seems quite possible to me that he got blindsided by a temptation out of left field in an area in which he had little experience. Or, as Hall and Oates put it, “An unguarded minute has an accident in it.”

It seems to me we have biblical precedent for that.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

My Church is on Life Support

Two verses about possible futures:

“What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.”

“Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, ‘The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.’ For he thought, ‘There will be peace and security in my days.’ ”

Right. Now let me describe for you an increasingly familiar scenario.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (15)

There’s an old Monty Python sketch called “Nudge Nudge”, in which Terry Jones plays a man just trying to have a quiet drink while the stranger seated beside him pesters him non-stop. The chatterbox pours out a stream of apparently innocent questions loaded with subtext that might be overlooked if it were not for his knowing leer and constant barrage of lines like “Know whatahmean, know whatahmean, nudge nudge, know whatahmean, say no more?”

Eventually even the monumentally oblivious Jones has to ask, “Look ... are you insinuating something?”

I can’t read the next few verses of Proverbs without picturing that scene. One big takeaway from it for me is that it’s possible to make people think terrible things (in this case, the audience) without really saying very much at all.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The Social Gospel and Social Justice

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

Tom: Immanuel Can, I’m going to quote from my favourite source of lowest common denominator info, Wikipedia, to get us started.

Wikipedia calls the Social Gospel a “protestant Christian intellectual movement” that “applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools, and the danger of war. Theologically, the Social Gospellers sought to operationalize the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:10): ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ ”

You know how I love words like “operationalize”. But would you say that’s a reasonably accurate description?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Calvinism: Rotten TULIPs

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

I’m a no-point Calvinist.

I used to think I was a “three-pointer”, but that was only because I didn’t really understand what Calvinists actually thought their points meant. Now that I do see it, I’m a no-point Calvinist … as in “the Calvinists have no point”.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Getting Granular with “Good”

Yesterday I suggested that when God used the word “good” to describe his creative works, what is primarily in view is that each new thing God initiated was supremely suited to its conceived purpose, divinely calibrated to be absolutely appropriate to its intended use.

The end product was “good” in the sense that while it may be possible, for instance, to imagine other ways in which God might have constructed a goat — with three heads, five eyes and eight legs, perhaps — one would be hard-pressed to explain why the extra heads, limbs or eyeballs make the new form preferable to the original.

Mere innovation is not necessarily improvement.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ten Kinds of Good

Seven times in the first chapter of Genesis, God calls something he has made “good”. This is not news to the average Christian, who has heard or read the story many times.

Still, it’s an important word for the believing reader, not least because the only way the human writer could have known to use it was that he had heard it directly from the mouth of God. After all, no human beings were present when God brought the world into being.

But “good” has a wide range of meanings, doesn’t it.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Awfully Specific for a Parable

I find the account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 a little unusual for one of the Lord’s parables, if indeed it is a parable at all.

For one thing, it employs plain language rather than the symbolism consistently associated with parables. Secondly, is not called a parable. Third, there is no ‘such-and-such is like’ to introduce it. Fourth, there are some awfully specific details given: The poor man, Lazarus, is named, something I’m not aware of the Lord doing anywhere else. Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, appears. The rich man has ‘five brothers’, rather than just ‘family’. Finally, it seems unlikely to me that the Lord would use a real, historical Hebrew saint with whom he had — and continues to have — a relationship as a mere character in an otherwise-concocted narrative just to make a moral point.

Personally, I lean toward thinking of the anecdote as historical. At very least, ‘story’ seems a better word for it than ‘parable’.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (14)

Ah, ants and sluggards.

This next bit is one of my favorite sections of Proverbs, and probably my youngest brother’s least favorite. I recall quoting it to his prone form on at least one occasion as he lay blearily sprawled across his waterbed, the hour approaching noon. I have always been a very early riser (these days it’s usually somewhere between 3 and 4 a.m.) and found his inertia appalling in some indefinable, slightly jealous way. So I leaped on him fists-first and played the part of the proverbial bandit.

Not my finest hour or my most accurate application of scripture, but when your parents raise a bunch of boys together, these are the sorts of things that happen.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Noble Man, Noble Plan

“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing.”
— Milton Friedman

I’ve liked that quote for a while now. In our current political climate it seems apropos.

It can certainly be read optimistically: If you can’t get people of good character into positions of responsibility, at least there’s a chance that a determined populace might motivate the bad characters with real power to dance to the tune of public opinion.

Perhaps there’s some hope in that.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Facts and Opinions

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

The Pew Research Center — a moderately reputable outfit as these things go — just released study data that indicates three quarters of Americans are incapable of distinguishing fact from opinion. When given a series of statements like “Spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget” (fact, supposedly), and “Democracy is the greatest form of government” (opinion, surely), most participants were unable to determine which were which.

Tom: Somebody’s responsible for that, IC. Want to hazard a guess who it might be?

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Promiscuous Freedom and Enslavement

Imagine yourself sitting in the center row of a darkened theatre, in an evening performance of a show entitled Cabaret. Tonight’s offering is a musical, and yet it is a musical unlike most others. It’s almost entirely devoid of the kind of cheerfulness that is usually associated with that particular genre, focusing as it does on the excesses of the Weimar Republic in the days just before the outbreak of World War II. Such humor as the play has is heavily ironic, filled with innuendo, and ultimately black.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

The Egypt Option

Roughly a century before the fall of the great city of Samaria to its Assyrian invaders, King Jehu of Israel paid tribute to Assyria’s then-king, Shalmaneser III.

We know this not from the account of Jehu’s life in scripture, but from an inscription on the side of a six-and-a-half-foot obelisk currently making its home in the British Museum. It depicts a rather scruffy-looking Israelite monarch on his face at the feet of his Assyrian counterpart. The accompanying caption reads, “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.”

The black obelisk was carved approximately 2,800 years ago. As you may appreciate, there are not many such items around. Those that remain are highly valued by historians.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Threshing Sledge and Cart Wheel

To the best of my recollection, I have never planted anything in my life. In an urbanized society where everything green you will ever need is already on the shelves of the local supermarket, I never had to. The plants I have cared for around the house from time to time were bought already potted and needed little more than the occasional watering.

I killed a few of those too, but that’s a different issue.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Inadequate Remedies

Some people live in active denial of the trends around them, oblivious to the spirit of the age and to all intimations of God’s coming wrath. They are dull by choice.

For example, the Lord Jesus criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees for failing to correctly interpret the “signs of the times”. They were skilled at predicting the weather and ordering their workdays accordingly, but blind to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy all around them. More evidence would not be given to them because they willfully ignored the signs they had already seen.

This is not that.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (13)

The vast majority of the Bible aphorisms we call proverbs are comparatively short; a phrase or two at best.

Sayings like “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” are so very memorable precisely because they are concise. Those of us who grew up in Christian homes often know dozens even if we have never intentionally committed them to memory. They tend to pop into our heads at the most opportune moments.

Sure, more could have been said, but there’s no need. We get the point.