Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Flyover Country: 2 Thessalonians

The day of the Lord remains a touchy subject among Christians. Some believers (I among them) look for its fulfillment at a future date. Others insist it occurred in A.D. 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem.

The book of 2 Thessalonians is part of this ongoing discussion, though not directly. Because it was written prior to A.D. 70, it cannot possibly settle the matter beyond dispute. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, both purported “fulfillments” were still future.

And yet, even well before A.D. 70, some Christians were claiming the day of the Lord had already come. That is the error Paul’s second letter was written to refute.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Anonymous Asks (73)

“Is born-again virginity possible?”

Infogalactic says, “A born-again virgin is a person who, after having engaged in sexual intercourse, makes some type of commitment not to be sexually active again ... whether for religious, moral, practical, or other reasons.”

Like many ideas floating around evangelical churches today, the concept contains elements of both truth and error.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Two Wrongs

I was sure I had written at length some time recently about King Saul’s attempted ethnic cleansing of the Gibeonites and the grisly complications it produced during the reign of his successor, but I see no evidence of such an exercise on the blog.

2,223 posts, and no significant exploration of the subject.* I promise I wasn’t intentionally dodging a bullet.

Well, let’s rectify that.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Time and Chance (16)

We all know people who we think work too hard. But what is “too hard” really? If we are honest, it’s a bit of a subjective call.

John the Baptist got by on locusts and wild honey, and was happy with one coat of camel’s hair and a leather belt. It’s pretty clear he didn’t have a day job. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, and while he certainly labored non-stop, it was not with a view to acquiring earthly possessions. Still, nowhere in scripture do we find the expectation that all should live life the way Jesus or John lived. In fact, one of the reasons both John and the Lord Jesus were morally free to devote their lives to their respective missions was that they had incurred no earthly financial obligations to others.

For most of us, life is a bit more complicated. Not better, necessarily, but certainly more complicated.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: What’s the Point?

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

Some people market Christianity like fire insurance, and others buy into it in fear of judgment. Then there are the folks like Joel Osteen who tell us being a believer will make us powerful and successful. Others who claim to represent Christ tell us that knowing Jesus will make us better human beings, improve our relationships or help us cope in bad times. Intellectual believers may say that in their search for truth, the Christian worldview best explains things about which they have always wondered.

Tom: Immanuel Can, there is a certain amount of rationality in most of these motives, but do they really get to the core of the Christian message?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Least Worst Option

With Christmas over for another year, it’s time for the usual abrupt swerve.

Christianity Today’s December 19 online edition contains an editorial unambiguously entitled “Trump Should Be Removed from Office”, in which Mark Galli takes aim at the President of the United States. I managed to miss it until now. Adam Ford did not.

While Galli’s strong stand will surely generate serious pushback from more than a few of his readers (after all, the president won 81% of the evangelical vote in 2016), CT’s editor-in-chief had already announced his upcoming retirement early in 2020. Thus, it will fall to Galli’s successor to manage whatever fallout his political posturing may produce.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

What We Don’t Know

There’s a fair bit we know about Christmas.

We know it’s the celebration of the day that the Savior of the world was born. We know he was later to become a great moral teacher. Most of us also know he was later to give up his life at Calvary, to pay the price of our sins and to redeem us to God. And many of us also know he was to be raised again and exalted to God’s right hand, a King to return and reign. This is all open to us, because we have the history of it. And while much remains for us to understand, still, much is revealed about all that. For the rest, we wait in faith.

But at this time of year we tend to think of Jesus Christ in a different way: not as a great moral teacher, nor as the “man of sorrows” suffering for the sins of the world, nor as the resurrected Lord and returning Judge, but rather as a baby.

And that’s a pretty baffling thing, when you think about it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

My First and Last Christmas Play

I really don’t care for Christmas plays.

Choral programs are tolerable because they at least have Christmas carols, and no matter how often those things get recycled you can’t begrudge people all their traditions. Anyway, some of those carols are quite nice.

But the plays! How many times must I witness people flouncing around in bathrobes, talking like no one in 1st century Israel ever did? How many rickety mangers occupied by plastic baby dolls must one endure? In some places they even parade up some recent mother from the congregation, towing along her screaming newborn, and the old ladies in the front row melt. Then there’s the angelic choir of five teenagers wrapped in shower curtains and crowned with coat-hanger haloes …

To employ the appropriate phrase, “Oy vey.”

Monday, December 23, 2019

Anonymous Asks (72)

“How is it fair that God tested Adam in Eden when he knew Adam was destined to fail?”

I am indebted to my co-writer Immanuel Can for the response that follows. He has helped me to see the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a little differently than I used to.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Trinity (and Other Committees)

Last week I spent a torturous hour and a half completing an online job safety training module. Since the company I work for has more than 15 employees, provincial law requires that we have a safety committee. So every time a new government rolls out a new initiative or an old one decides to ‘refresh’ their documentation (code for ‘same thing, new wrapper’), the byproducts of their boardroom discussions eventually filter down to me.

I suppose if you have to be on a committee, the Job Safety Committee is the one to volunteer for. Coffee and donuts monthly for doing … not much. Finding a spot to hang the first aid kit, I suspect. In case a paper cut really, really bleeds.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Time and Chance (15)

The expression “keeping up with the Joneses” may have originated with the 1913 comic strip of the same name, but more likely was coined in reference to a family of mid-19th century New York bankers known for their conspicuous consumption.

Either way, it means envy. If my neighbors have one, then I must have one too ... and preferably a bigger, better and glossier model. And to keep consuming, I need more money.

Solomon had this figured out long before there were any Joneses to keep up with.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Sexual Morality and Civilization

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

A friend recently sent me a link to this Kirk Dunston blog post on the importance of sexual morality to civilization. Dunston was struck by the relevance of Joseph Unwin’s research to our particular moment in time, as summarized in his 1934 book Sex and Culture.

Tom: Being a philosophy bug, I thought you might find this interesting, IC. I had certainly never come across Unwin’s research before. It sounds fascinating. Basically, as Dunston puts it, he “examines the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there is a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures.”

Few would attempt to argue our culture is currently flourishing.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Collective Madness

“They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name.’ ”

What is collectivism? It’s not just the belief that it helps to have others around, or that a group can do more than a lone person can. Rather, it’s the belief and practice of making a group more important than any or all individuals in it.

It requires us to define the value of each human being by the crowds to which we suppose them to belong — their cultural, racial, economic, educational, sexual and historical peer-groups. It’s a form of Marxism, really, but Marxism in new clothes, because the evils of Marxism are too well known.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The New New Atheism

Chris Hall of AlterNet has a special announcement to make: “Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris are old news. A totally different atheism is on the rise.”

This even newer New Atheism is all about social justice. Hall sums it up this way:

“The activists who insist that atheism address matters of social justice are not distracting the movement from its purpose or being divisive; they are insisting it deliver on the promises that attracted so many of us to it in the first place.”

If the most significant promise of atheism is social justice, I can’t wait to see atheism try to deliver. It seems to me that an absence of belief (or belief in an Absence), is in a pretty poor position to promise much of anything.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Flyover Country: 1 Thessalonians

I’m not sure we need another ongoing series of posts at the moment, but a couple of friends have been after me for a while to do a series where each post summarizes a single book of the Bible in one go; an overview that would serve to highlight their themes and most important feature(s).

I’ve resisted this initially because there are so many such things online already. Then I looked more closely and realized some are more useful than others. Some are so brief and random they might as well be tweets, and a few really are.

I’ll aspire to usefulness at least. Execution is another story ...

Monday, December 16, 2019

Anonymous Asks (71)

“Is God mad at me?”

Hmm.

The doctrinal portion of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans begins with these words:

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Why Didn’t Jesus Marry?

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in 2020. Bet you didn’t know that. I had to look it up.

For readers who weren’t around in 1970, this pithy summary from GotQuestions is pretty much on-the-nose: “It is an attempt to rewrite history. It makes the traitor Judas Iscariot a victim and reduces the Lord Jesus Christ to a burnt-out celebrity who is in over his head.”

I never saw Superstar back in the day, but a few of the older guys in my mid-’70s youth group loved the soundtrack and played it to death at our basement get-togethers. The experience was musically painful and theologically teeth-grinding.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Time and Chance (14)

There is a certain apparent randomness to hurricanes, cancer and car accidents. There is nothing at all random about oppression. Oppression is something one human being deliberately inflicts on another, and for which the oppressor will one day give an account.

A hurricane does not have to explain itself, or pay some future price for the havoc and misery it has produced. An oppressor certainly will.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Made for More of What?

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

Tom: Immanuel Can is sending me bad things again. And I’m not entirely sure how to respond. This time it’s Moody Publishers’ “Post Sunday”, in which Moody extols one of its new releases. This one is a Hannah Anderson special in which the author holds forth on the “lameness” of the church. Okay, I can’t stop there: the church is lame (according to Hannah) because she has crippled herself. In the words of Ms Anderson, we have failed to equip “Bible women” because we “don’t have a vision for how God could use them for His glory.”

Help me out here: what are “Bible women”?

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Change Is Gonna Come

Umm ... not effective?
So sang Sam Cooke.

I guess he’d know. He was writing his soulful anthems back in the ’50s and early ’60s in places like Mississippi and Chicago — not the easiest places for a young person of his particular shade of skin to be. But things were changing then, and in retrospect, those who didn’t know they were changing and who thought they could keep things the way they were forever were just spitting into the wind.

Yes, change is gonna come. And you can’t change that. You’ve just got to be ready and react smartly when it does.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bring on the Philistines

“Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.” ’ ”

A little Bible history may remind us what a mealy-mouthed, disingenuous endorsement this really is. At this point, David has been ruling as king over Judah in Hebron for a full 7-1/2 years, while the tribes of Israel now buttering him up have been engaged in bitter civil war against him, with Ish-bosheth son of Saul as their chosen king and the tribe of Benjamin as the power behind the throne.

Unfortunately both Ish-bosheth and his powerful and popular general Abner are now dead. They won’t be governing anyone or delivering them from their enemies.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Women in the Old Testament

Why were the lives of Old Testament women so wildly different from those of women today?

If you have never studied history in any serious depth, you might be forgiven for thinking that some of things that went on ancient Israelite households were absolutely barbaric, that wives and daughters were horribly oppressed, lacked agency, were regarded as mere chattel, and lived lives of virtual slavery.

Careful attention to the text of the Old Testament shows this was rarely the case.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Anonymous Asks (70)

“Does God love everyone?”

The answer to this question may initially seem so obvious as to render further commentary a bit pointless. If there is a better-known Bible verse than John 3:16, I cannot think what it might be. Maybe a line from Psalm 23.

In any case, as the Lord told Nicodemus, “God so loved the world.”

There you are. God loves everyone. Full stop.

Or does he? And if he does, in what sense does he love everyone, and what does that mean for the objects of his love?

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Other Side of the Story

One thing you will likely notice as you read through the Bible’s books of history is that they are not saturated with editorial comments. That is to say the Holy Spirit did not prompt the writers of scripture’s various histories to pass moral judgment on many, even most, of the events they recounted.

There are several notable instances in which he did.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Time and Chance (13)

What distinguishes man from other mammals?

Charles Darwin famously argued that the difference in mind between mankind and the higher animals is one of degree and not of kind. In other words, we have all the same basic intellectual material to work with. Humans just have more of it.

Indeed, this can seem like a tricky question if you’re asked it in the middle of watching a YouTube video of an elephant enthusiastically playing piano, or a setter and a pigeon who appear to be best pals. Not all this stuff is staged.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Friendship and Testimony

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

Earlier this season, TV host Ellen Degeneres took some serious flack for sitting side by side with former U.S. President George Bush at an NFL game in Dallas, especially because she and Bush appeared to be having a good time with one another. Twitter promptly erupted into the usual outrage-fest, with commenters calling Bush a “war criminal” and so on, obliging Degeneres to defend herself:

“I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”

Tom: No shortage of Christians expressed approval of Degeneres’ comments.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Change Is Gonna Do Us Good

Where is Kodak these days? Remember that company? It used to have its name on most of the cameras and film that you saw around. Kodak was an empire, an institution. Now where is it?

And how about Blockbuster Video? Seen any of those stores around lately? They used to be on every corner.

Laura Ashley clothing? Napster music service?

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Wikipedia vs. Baptism

Where does one begin on the subject of baptism?

If there is a more misunderstood Christian practice in all of the New Testament, I cannot think what it might be. I suspect even speaking in tongues can’t touch it with respect to the degree of confusion produced by the teaching about it currently circulating.

How widespread and how deeply rooted are the misconceptions surrounding baptism? I suppose one might look at different denominational opinions on the subject and assess them one by one, but I’m really more interested in what the man on the street (and perhaps even in the pew) thinks than in esoteric positions held by theologians that have failed to make an impression on the masses.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

On Incoherence

Ideological incoherence is the hallmark of the political Left.

The Right has its own problems with consistency, of course, and they are not trivial, but it is getting increasingly difficult to keep pace with people who maintain the right to life for murderers and roast beef sandwiches while upholding the right to kill human babies in the womb. What can one say about folks who maintain diversity is strength ... except when it is ideological diversity, of course. What can we say about people who argue for the supremacy of science ... except when genetics plainly tells us a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Then science is right out to lunch.

Well, we can say Christians are probably way too much like them for our own good.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Anonymous Asks (69)

“If it is true that ‘whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire,’ then why did both Jesus and his apostles call people fools?”

Normally the questions answered in this series of posts come from anonymous sources, all of whom are (at least to the best of my knowledge) actual people. Their problems may be real or hypothetical (or, in at least one case, just plain old trolling), but I answer them here because their writers make a decent effort to submit questions we have good reason to believe might be of concern to our readers or people they know.

In this case, I freely admit I submitted this one to myself just for the dubious pleasure of working it through.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

The Perils of Family Ties

Most books of the Bible have themes. Commentators generally do a decent job of teasing out the more blatant ones and turning them into book titles or pithy summaries. Thus Psalms is “the hymnbook of the remnant”, Hebrews is concerned with “an unshakeable kingdom” and Mark’s is said to be the “gospel of the Servant King”. To their credit, in many cases these diligent students of God’s word also identify and share with us less obvious recurring patterns that could easily be missed by first, second and even third time readers.

In the books of Samuel, one of these recurring patterns is nepotism. It might not rate the subtitle of a commentary, but it’s there all the same, threading its way through the stories of Samuel, Saul and David, chronicling the perils of family ties that are just a wee bit too tight, and their potentially injurious effects on the people of God.

Once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Time and Chance (12)

Where does the concept of a final judgment come from?

If you do a Google search or consult an online concordance, you can hardly fail to notice that the vast majority of Bible verses dealing with the subject are to be found in the New Testament. Men seem to have always taken for granted that some kind of ultimate reckoning was inevitable, but there is a surprising dearth of clear teaching on the subject in the earliest books of the word of God.

In fact, we do not find incontestable references to a final, general judgment appearing in scripture much prior to the 10th century B.C.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: How We Live and What We Believe

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

Colin Perkel of The National Post has an update here on our old friend Gretta Vosper, the United Church minister who believes in neither God nor the Bible. She is, in Perkel’s words, “prepared to fight an unprecedented attempt to boot her from the pulpit for her beliefs.” Or her unbeliefs, I guess.

Tom: The attempt by the United Church to give Gretta her gold watch and wish her all the best in her future endeavors may be unprecedented, but it’s hardly a surprise, except perhaps in that the United Church is taking some sort of stand here about atheism in their pulpits.

Immanuel Can, does “the idea of an interventionist, supernatural being on which so much church doctrine is based” belong to “an outdated world view”? More importantly, can we separate how we live from what we believe? Gretta thinks we can and should.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

In Need of Analysis: Wake Up and Smell the Potpourri

I’ve never really liked Christian bookstores.

They have that cloying sweetness typical of the boutiques my wife loves, the ones that sell knick-knacks, scented candles and throw pillows. There’s just an unreality to such places that hits you from the moment you step in the door, a sense that you are entering a zone that has nothing at all to do with the world outside, and where perhaps strange and delicate mythical creatures can thrive.

Okay, I may be exaggerating a little, but you get the idea. If you’ve been in such a store, you know: There’s just something terribly weird about the place. The divergence between the real world and the interior environment — and even its divergence from other store environments — is quite startling; and when you first walk in it takes you a moment to adjust.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Inbox: Qualified Omniscience

Qman points out that we have a pachyderm on the premises:

“The word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’ ”

It is apparent this type of statement does not present a problem to you but it might to the newcomer. It seems to contradict or at least not explain the presumption or notion of God’s omniscience. How can God regret something that he is, by definition, aware of from the beginning?”

Q’s email arrived just as I was sitting down to pick out a topic for today’s post. We may have to change his name to “On-Cue Man”. There’s more to his missive, including thoughts-in-progress about how such a conundrum might be resolved, which you can find here, at the original post.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Demons and Daily Living

Stand to Reason columnist Alan Shlemon writes:

“To be honest, I believe in Satan and demons, but my belief in them makes little difference in how I live. There are two reasons for that. One, I often feel awkward talking about them for fear that people might think I’m (spiritually) weird. Two, I don’t know exactly what they do and what I can do to affect their activity.”

I think this is fairly common among Christians. More than a few of us would confess that the oddballs who speak constantly of demonic oppression or the “works of Satan” spook us just a little a bit.

Does belief in demons affect how we live? Not really, at least not in any way we’d notice. Should it? That’s another question.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Anonymous Asks (68)

“Can Christians use essential oils and aromatherapy?”

Today’s question is about a couple of modern trends, but could well be about almost anything that is not intrinsically evil. “Can Christians dance?” “Can Christians listen to popular music?” “Can Christian girls wear Lululemons?” “Can Christians eat pork?”

The same biblical principles will help us with answering just about any “Can Christians [fill in the blank]?” question.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Grace to the Undeserving

“May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father.”

Jonathan, son of Israel’s first king, said these words to David, who would become Israel’s second king. If you know the story, it may initially appear he was laying on the irony so thick it required a backhoe, or at least a team of oxen. His father Saul had a history we might optimistically describe as checkered: initially anointed and blessed by God, but characterized by rebellion and self-will. Told that he was to be rejected from being king, he fought God all the way.

He never seemed to realize he was fighting a losing battle. That tells you everything you need to know about Saul.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Time and Chance (11)

In interpreting any given statement in Ecclesiastes, we are wise to look carefully at the Preacher’s current train of thought. Unlike the book of Proverbs, for the most part Ecclesiastes is not a collection of unrelated bits of wisdom. It is primarily an orderly series of arguments and observations.

Even where the direction of the writer’s thought flow does not immediately jump out at us and we are tempted to think he may have drifted off topic, he inevitably loops back to his theme. It is more than likely, then, that the meaning of any obscure thing the Preacher says may be at very least tangentially connected to his larger subject, as opposed to coming at us right out of the blue.

Knowing this is fairly helpful when we consider our next two verses.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Globalism and Censorship

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

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
[This post is slightly over four years old, but is starting to look a bit prescient in some respects and a little naive in others — Ed.]

Two legal rulings I came across this week have implications not just for this blog, but for all Christians on the internet.

The first is a ruling from European Union regulators that internet users in its member states have a “right to be forgotten”. Google has complied by instructing all its Blogger users worldwide to post a notice giving EU users information about the use of cookies on blogs originating in Canada, the US and everywhere else. In Europe, 90,000 requests for the removal of links and stories are already being processed and European regulators are now arguing the removals should be global, not just in Europe.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Ship of Fools, or The Titanic Arrogance of Postmodernity

We’re setting sail
To the place on the map
From which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of
the joker and the fool
By the light of the crosses that burn

Drawn by the promise of
the women and the lace
And the gold and the cotton and pearls
It's the place where they keep all the darkness you need
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby

You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow”
Ship of Fools, World Party (1986)

Those are pretty “Christian” lyrics, really.

Oh, they’re not genteel, kindly or polite, to be sure; but they’re real, they’re true and they’re accurate — at least when we apply them to our present society.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Better Idea

In theory, all genuine believers agree God knows best. How could he not? He made man from the dust of the earth. He knows us inside and out. Everything we encounter in life is the direct product of interaction with a system God created and which he actively maintains. The New Testament even tells us that we have a sympathetic advocate in the Lord Jesus, one who understands what it feels like to encounter temptation. Right and wrong are not mere abstractions to him; he knows the practical and emotional cost of choosing the good, every single time.

Of course he knows best. Who could possibly argue?

And yet, when the will of God is revealed to us, almost everyone at one time or another has a ‘better’ suggestion to offer. Our bright ideas do not all spring from exactly the same motives, but they are inferior all the same, sometimes appallingly so.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (4)

Sometimes Christians make arguments which are broadly correct, but wrong in the specifics. They reach the right conclusions, but do it by wrong reasoning. More often than not, they do this by inadvertently making false claims about the meaning of Greek or Hebrew words, usually for lack of careful research.

Now, it may be argued that perhaps this sort of error is not a big deal, since the listener gets to the correct place in the end regardless of the road used to get him there. Unfortunately, one of two things occurs: (1) the listener cannot navigate to his interpretive destination again without his misguided mentor, or (2) he can, and in doing so he too becomes a proponent of errors in method, if not actual errors in doctrine.

Either outcome is undesirable.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Anonymous Asks (67)

“Are intrusive thoughts sin?”

Intrusive thoughts can be distracting, distressing and very, very hard to get rid of. They keep us from focusing on things we know are more important, and things we really need to deal with. They raise issues we are eager to put to bed. They make us question whether we have truly forgiven others, and whether we even have full control of our own faculties.

Intrusive thoughts are certainly a pain. But are they sinful? Good question.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

You Could’ve Just Asked

Some people approach God as if he is mechanical rather than personal; as if checking all the right religious boxes will get you what you want out of him, after which you can happily go on your way until the next time you need something.

It’s not specifically a Catholic thing, an Orthodox thing, or a Protestant thing, but it’s definitely a thing. The tendency to view God as a stimulus-response Being on a cosmic scale can infect even the most theoretically-liberated evangelical heart.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Time and Chance (10)

What does it mean that God has “put eternity into man’s heart”? The statement is baffling and comprehensible in near-equal parts.

It is impossible to imagine mere human beings are capable of any substantive grasp of the transcendent or even the nature of our own being. That’s the baffling part. We are not fully equipped to understand ourselves, let alone anything more significant. We are more animals than angels: tiny, exceedingly finite beings concerned primarily with matters of comparative trivia.

The comprehensible part is that on some undefined level we all understand that the Preacher’s statement is true. We know it because we feel it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Nonsense That Remains Nonsense

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

Tom: C.S. Lewis has a line I love. He says, “Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” It applies nicely to lots of things.

I felt a little like that reading the Moody Publishers piece you sent me this week, Immanuel Can. The author of “Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars”, Stephen Miller, has written a short promotional piece entitled “Worship Leaders are Theologians”, in which he uses one extra-scriptural term to define another. My head is spinning trying to sort out all the modern church-speak.

How far away are we getting from the New Testament here, IC?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Force Farce

Last week we were talking about the charge made by so many non-Christians today that we are guilty of forcing our views on them.

At first blush, the charge seemed ridiculous. After all, Christians represent absolutely no threat of physical or political violence: even to imagine that is just paranoid, and completely misunderstands the fundamental necessity of faith. Moreover, Christians may sometimes choose to absent themselves from participating in or approving of worldly values, activities or lifestyles because of conscience, but that represents no threat of force: it’s simply a matter of personal conscience — the very thing that world is at pains to affirm.

So where does the charge of “force” come from?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Order in Disorder

The book of Judges records some of the most distasteful tales in all of scripture, and does so unflinchingly and without a great deal of unnecessary editorializing. There is much we can learn about human nature from the first few hundred years of Israel’s possession of the land God had promised to Abraham, almost all of it predictably bad. Few would dispute that the book ends on the lowest of low notes, with the oft-repeated declaration that “In those days there was no king in Israel” and the rare editorial conclusion, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

As we might expect, everyone’s “right” turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Point of the Exercise

It is God who confers authority, but he doesn’t do it for its own sake.

Sure, a position of authority often comes with side helpings: popularity, riches, dignity, power, a (usually temporary) legacy ... and (in Old Testament times at least) a bunch of wives. But these are baubles. They are not the point of the exercise. Other things come with authority too: abuse, rebellion, heckling and a horrible, frequently harrowing level of responsibility — but let’s not get into those.

My point is that it is always and only the WORK that matters to God, not the status or other benefits that authority confers.