Thursday, February 28, 2019

When Life Really Hurts

There’s a woman in my church — a lovely woman, a mother and a wife, and selfless servant of the Lord’s people, one most highly esteemed. She has been a grief and addiction counselor, and has spent her whole life ministering to others in their moments of darkest sorrow. Her husband is also a wonderful person, and his career for several decades has been as chaplain to the elderly, caring for fragile souls on the doorstep of eternity.

This woman has just been diagnosed with aggressive, metastasizing liver cancer. The fatal kind.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The “Two Creations” Myth

I keep reading that there are two different creation stories in Genesis. More importantly, the argument is made that the stories are not just different but mutually contradictory.

This was news to me when I first heard Jordan Peterson say it, and I have been reading Genesis regularly over the course of my entire life. At first I wondered if the problem was that I hadn’t been reading carefully. Yet, even poring over the text repeatedly, I find I simply don’t see the issues that prompt the higher critics to assign Genesis 1 to the Babylonian captivity and most of Genesis 2 to a different author at a different historical period.

So why do the critics insist the narrative from Genesis 2:4 on forms “a second account”?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Extinction Agenda

A follow-up to last Sunday’s post, inspired by this article from CNN:

“A small brown rat which lived on a tiny island off northern Australia is the world’s first mammal known to have become extinct due to ‘human-induced climate change,’ the government says.”

As a Christian, I must confess the demise of the Bramble Cay melomys greatly disturbs me. Sure, it’s only a “small brown rat” on some obscure South Pacific isle nobody’s ever heard of, but the media is obviously convinced this particular small brown rat matters. After all, the little guy has been front and center on every major news outlet for several days now, eclipsing even the latest alleged faux pas from the media’s perpetual nemesis, President Trump.

So, even though he looks like every other species of dun vermin I’ve ever seen in my life, let’s mourn this late little fellow’s unique and special contribution to our ecosphere.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Anonymous Asks (28)

“How did people know about God before the Bible?”

Good question. Most of human history was a Bible-free zone.

The Bible as we know it — the 66 books with which Protestants are most familiar — is actually a relatively new thing, which is probably what the writer of today’s question is getting at. Roughly speaking, the individual books found in our Bibles today were written over a 1,600 year period beginning about 3,500 years ago, which means almost half the history our Bibles record took place millennia before anything “official” was done to preserve it.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Cake on a Fence

Theistic evolutionists attempt to reconcile the claims of secular scientists with the claims of the Bible. The idea is that by allegorizing or mythologizing the early chapters of Genesis, Christians can retain the important moral teaching of scripture without losing their audience.

It is an increasingly popular position, though hard numbers of Christians who hold it are difficult to come by. On the low side, a Gallup poll taken for the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday showed only 24% of frequent church attendees believe in evolution. On the high side, a more recent study claimed almost 50% of Roman Catholics believe it.

That’s an apples/oranges comparison, of course, but the actual percentage of Christians who feel comfortable acknowledging some form of theistic evolution probably falls somewhere in between those two numbers.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (47)

Our Bible is full of moral lessons taught with food. The fruit of a very special tree in Eden. Manna and quail in the wilderness. The leeks and garlic of Egypt. The widow’s jar of flour and jug of oil. Five loaves and two fishes. The bread of heaven. The leaven of the Pharisees.

And honey. Why not? Honey is loaded with carbohydrates and natural sugars. It takes approximately seventeen minutes of brisk walking to burn off the 64 calories your body gets from eating a single tablespoon. In Israel, honey was the … er … gold standard for a luxury food item. Canaan was, after all, the land of milk and honey.

All today’s proverbs are about food, and two are about having too much of a good thing.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Abandoning Evangelism

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

Relevant Magazine says the results of this new study by Barna are shocking.

Tom: I’m more inclined to nod sadly at the obvious, I guess, which is this: 47% of millennials believe evangelizing others is … wrong.

I’m not sure why anyone is surprised. We live in a society that prizes tolerance, inclusivity and a sort of pseudo-respect for the traditions and culture of others above all else. On top of that, the vast majority of Christians have allowed their children to grow up in an environment that propagandizes them from 9:00 to 3:15 five days a week for most of their formative years.

What exactly did we think would happen, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Atheism’s Answers

So … what if atheists took themselves seriously?

So seriously, as a matter of fact, that they actually tried to live out the rational implications of their own rejection of all possibility of God or gods? What then?

As I said in yesterday’s post, getting answers to this question turned out to be more difficult than it might initially appear.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Asking About Atheism

I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking with atheists.

You might wonder why. You might say, “People have to be open to the voice of God, or they hear nothing at all. ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear,’ said the Lord. A man whose ears are already shut gets nothing — and, if we follow the Lord’s example — should get nothing, for he does not unite his hearing with any measure of faith. And without faith, it is impossible to please God.”

Even secular common sense accepts this. “A man convinced against his will remains an unbeliever still,” goes the axiom.

So why bother to talk to people whose minds are already made up? A fair question.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Calling a Spade a Spade

Popular science fiction author China Miéville is troubled by how the media refers to the … er … troubled.

When asked about the 2011 riots in London, England, his primary concern seems to be the language used to describe those who assaulted pensioners, burned people out of their homes and threw bricks at responding firefighters:

“For a long time I’ve been struck and horrified by the incredible cultural spite we’ve got in the UK towards young people. The constant use, for example, of the term ‘feral’ to describe troubled children should be a matter of utter shame: that our culture has normalised that adjective is an expression of our culture’s moral degradation, far more than children’s.”

In Miéville’s view, the moral degradation of modern British culture is epitomized in its failure to speak kindly of its most debased element.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Anonymous Asks (27)

“How do I talk to an atheist about Jesus?”

A Christian believes a set of intellectual propositions about the nature and origin of the universe. He takes these on faith. An atheist believes a set of intellectual propositions about the nature and origin of the universe that he too takes on faith.

The real difference is in the object of faith. The atheist believes in an abstraction, which he calls science. The Christian believes in a person. Abstractions do not love their devotees back, do not have relationships with them, do not care what they tell their friends, and do not actively equip them to do it more effectively.

The object of Christian faith, on the other hand, is a real, living, all-powerful, relationship-oriented Person who is hugely invested in the outcome of any discussion between believers and unbelievers. Moreover, he is fully able, if we are willing, to equip us to speak effectively on his behalf.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

A Symbol of a Symbol

Conscious he would soon be passing from this scene as we all do, Jacob blessed his son Judah.

That blessing is poetic, prophetic and open to interpretation on multiple levels, the most significant of which is that he is speaking in some measure of Jesus Christ, who was descended from Judah. One of the things Jacob says of Judah’s offspring is this: “He has washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes.”

This is the first time any of the Bible’s writers associate wine with blood, though in this instance probably neither word is to be taken literally.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (46)

“These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.”

So begins the fifth major division of the book of Proverbs. It is made up of approximately 110 more bits of Solomonic wisdom of varying lengths.

As you are likely aware, Hezekiah king of Judah was no contemporary of Solomon. Solomon reigned over Israel from 970-930 B.C. or thereabouts, while Hezekiah did not appear on the scene until well over 200 years later. He died a little over 100 years before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, but for 73 of those 100 years Judah was ruled by evil men. Some of these were merely weak, others truly depraved, but one way or the other, wickedness was pretty much the defining characteristic of Judean rule leading up to Judah’s captivity.

It’s a fair bet nobody copied Solomon’s proverbs during those years.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Goodness of Abortion

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

In the last two weeks we’ve seen first New York then Virginia begin to rewrite their abortion laws.

Tom: In their new Reproductive Health Act, the State of New York removed abortion from the State’s criminal code and expanded access up to birth and the third trimester in what Governor Andrew Cuomo called “the most aggressive abortion law in the country.” Lawmakers and bystanders literally applauded. Not to be outdone, a Virginia Democratic lawmaker promptly proposed a bill that would make it possible for a mother to retroactively “abort” her child minutes after he or she is born.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Don’t Forget What You Never Knew

“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

Ummm …

What do you mean, “remind”?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Flesh and Spirit

“If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

There can be no doubt Jesus Christ was active in the world for thousands of years prior to his incarnation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Baptism and Freedom

Two Sundays ago in a post on biblical symbols and the spiritual realities to which they point, I promised to take a further installment or two to consider the symbolic acts of Christianity. People refer to these meaningful gestures as ceremonies, rituals, rites, sacraments or ordinances. What we call them is not terribly important provided we recognize their value and participate in them.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Anonymous Asks (26)

“Why is God so morbidly violent in the Old Testament?”

This is certainly God’s Old Testament reputation among unbelievers and the aggressively anti-Christian, isn’t it? I love to quote Richard Dawkins on this subject, since his description is possibly the most vitriolic I’ve ever encountered: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Well, at least he said “arguably”. Good. I’m going to argue it.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Invisible Chains

“For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”

“We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.”

There are few things more pathetic than a slave who doesn’t realize he’s a slave. But denial is a powerful thing.

In one of the Pauline epistles, there’s a sad little instruction to slaves not to pilfer. Well, I find it sad.

Think about it. Why would a slave bother engaging in petty theft?

Saturday, February 09, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (45)

Way back last April of last year when we started looking at Proverbs, I mentioned in passing that the book falls into seven fairly obvious divisions. We have now arrived at the fourth of these, which is a short group of lengthier “do” and “don’t” instructions prefaced with the words “These also are sayings of the wise.”

Translated literally from Hebrew, verse 23 begins, “These words belong to the wise.”

Friday, February 08, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Words are Immaterial

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

Tom: Clint Bryan at Christianity Today has a post up about something called the Hillsong Church. I’ve heard the name and vaguely associate it with religious music and the “worship team”-style presentation, but I know very little about the Hillsong phenomenon, and I don’t think I could hum even a single one of what Mr. Bryan says are very hummable tunes. If you tell me that’s a not-very-subtle indication I’m not exactly at the nexus of mainstream evangelicalism, IC, I suppose I’ll have to take the rebuke with grace, but I thought maybe we could talk about Mr. Bryan’s article since it touches on a subject you’ve written about a fair bit.

Immanuel Can: Yep, okay. Where do you want to start, Tom?

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Who Reads Anymore?

I’ve heard that Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time may be the most famous book people have never read.

That’s right: Never.

People sure do talk about it.  It’s sold ten million or so copies. Lots of people cite the title of the book, laud it, and claim to have found their opinions confirmed by it — but few of these have actually ever read it.

In a way, maybe that’s understandable. It is, after all, a fairly challenging book. For a mathematician, it’s a good read, perhaps; for the average person it’s a quick road to Slumberland. Even though it’s pretty short it only takes a few pages to render most folks unconscious.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Spirits in Prison

Yesterday I pointed out that the apostles use the word “gospel” in slightly different ways at different times, emphasizing certain aspects of what we might consider an acceptable presentation of the good news and omitting others entirely.

Never is this more evident that in the third of Peter’s four references to the gospel found in his first epistle. His use of the word, and the context around it, open up what may be described as a theological can of worms.

Or perhaps later commentators on 1 Peter opened that can all by themselves.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The Gospel According to Peter

We all know what “the gospel” is, don’t we? Or at least we think we do.

If we searched the internet for a summary of the gospel, we might come away a tiny bit confused. John Piper, for instance, presents his gospel in six points. Bible Gateway reduces Piper’s six points to five. Phil Johnson goes with four, not one of which is identical to any of Piper’s, but all of which come directly from the apostle Paul.

For the new Christian, these differences in content and emphasis may be a bit hard to process.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Anonymous Asks (25)

“In dealing with authority, how can I explain things or make a point without sounding argumentative or disrespectful?”

The circumstances are not spelled out for us here. Is this a young man who wants to correct a Sunday school teacher, boss or professor on a point of fact? Is this a daughter who finds her father’s house rules restrictive and hopes for a little more freedom? Is this a sixteen year old pulled over in dad’s car for being five miles an hour over the speed limit who would like to know how best to negotiate his way out of a ticket? We do not know.

Fortunately, I think the biblical answer is not wildly different either way.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

The Symbol Is Not the Point

An ex-evangelical turned Catholic priest named Dwight Longenecker has, in his current religious incarnation, become a fan of ritual and symbolism.

“The most difficult thing for an Evangelical to accept in a conversation about the sacraments is that God actually uses physical means and liturgical ceremonies to dispense his grace and administer salvation. The typical Evangelical is heavily conditioned to dismiss all physical components of religion as useless and distracting ‘man-made traditions.’ ”

Hmm, let me think: Could I be one of Mr. Longenecker’s heavily conditioned, typical evangelicals? Possibly.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (44)

Two of our final five entries in Solomon’s Thirty Sayings speak about the future. Their point? That those who act wisely have one, while evil men do not.

The Hebrew word translated “future” is 'achariyth. It means an end, a latter time, or a posterity. In brief, the idea is that Someone Transcendent is governing time and watching over the world. Nothing done or not done adds up to nothing. All is being tabulated and will have its consequences down the road.

It therefore makes sense to govern ourselves accordingly, no?

Friday, February 01, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Locating the Thought Police

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

Immanuel Can: This is super interesting.

Tom: Do tell …

IC: It’s a chart measuring what proportion of two-sided debate and its opposite, so‑called “social justice” indoctrination, is being practiced at the various university campuses in Ontario, Canada.