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]

The most recent version of this post is available here.

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?

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

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]

The most recent version of this post is available here.

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 d├ęcor, 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

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Perfect Confidence

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

As Perfect as Me

The most recent version of this post is available here.

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)

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Untwisting God’s Words

The most recent version of this post is available here.

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.