Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (11)

A censor librorum is a Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authority charged with the task of reviewing texts and granting to them a decree of nihil obstat, or their church’s authoritative approval. Nihil obstat is Latin for “nothing stands in the way”. If your commentary or explanation of church doctrine has that declaration on it, you are good to go in the Catholic world.

Not being Roman Catholic, and because my comprehension of Latin is pretty much limited to Veni, vidi, vici, I had to look that up.

All to say that back in 2004, a censor librorum declared the following explanation of Genesis 38:8-10 to be “free of doctrinal or moral errors”. Take that for what it’s worth.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (10)

In this series, we have been examining ancient books which Protestants almost universally exclude from our Old Testament canon.

So far, our Apocryphal entries have self-disqualified for five or six different reasons, including but not limited to historical inaccuracy and theological inconsistency (God is not a son of man, that he should change his mind). After all, if the Bible is God’s word, it seems obvious that documents for which inspiration is claimed must show some fundamental consistency with the accepted canon of scripture.

But today’s entry is neither historically dodgy nor theologically at odds with the rest of the Bible. It is one of our more credible contestants to date.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Word of Discouragement

“If you look at most successful people, somewhere in their background there is someone cheering for them and believing in what they can accomplish,” says Harrison Barnes.

“Have you ever been in a situation where you really needed someone to just say the words ‘It will be okay’? Until you reach that point, you might underestimate the power of encouragement,” say the people at SuccessStory.com.

Encouragement means believing in people, cheering for them and getting them to think positively about their chances of success at what they are doing. Or at least so goes the conventional wisdom.

Naturally I disagree, or this wouldn’t be much of a post.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (25)

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

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: The Christian Nation

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Theism and the Skeptics [Part 1]

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

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

Sorry. Not so.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Burden of the Lord

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Anonymous Asks (5)

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (9)

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

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

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Two Baptisms

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

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

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

Saturday, September 15, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (24)

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Too Hot to Handle: Enforcing Conformity

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Perfect Confidence

We were talking yesterday about the goal of perfection.

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

As Perfect as Me

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

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

His wife, apparently, backed him up on that.

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

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Anonymous Asks (4)

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (8)

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

Ah, the relics of my misspent youth.

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

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

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

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Misconceptions About Christian Forgiveness

From Psychology Today, on the subject of forgiveness:

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

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

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

Saturday, September 08, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (23)

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

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

Solomon contrasts living wisely and living foolishly.

Friday, September 07, 2018

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Untwisting God’s Words

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Forgiveness: This Age or the Age to Come?

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Anonymous Asks (3)

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

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

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

Monday, September 03, 2018

Apocrypha-lypso (7)

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

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

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

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Conditional Forgiveness in Matthew

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 01, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (22)

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

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