Sunday, March 31, 2019

That Night

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread …”

Well, let me take you back to that night.

Around the table were all the disciples of the Lord, and in the midst of them, the Lord himself. It was a dinner party of sorts, a Passover seder, actually. Solemn in the Jewish calendar, but also a time of thankfulness.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (52)

Nobody likes being tested. Jordan Peterson talks about taking the LSAT:

“I wanted to become a corporate lawyer — had written the Law School Admissions Test, had taken two years of appropriate preliminary courses. I wanted to learn the ways of my enemies, and embark on a political career. This plan disintegrated. The world obviously did not need another lawyer.”

Admittedly, you have to read between the lines there, but it sounds like it didn’t go well.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Good, the Bad and the Godly

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

Plato is among the most influential figures in philosophical thought. He is an absolute giant, and it would difficult to overestimate the extent to which his writing has shaped the Western mindset.

That being understood, unless you have studied theology or philosophy, you may find it hard to understand how a 2,400-year-old dialogue has any relevance at all to the question of whether God exists. And yet one question posed by Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro is still bandied about online regularly.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Why Do Christians Disagree?

Religious skeptics, along with many sincere believers young and old, find the lack of agreement among Christians to be a most perplexing and off-putting fact.

Denominationalism is only one manifestation of its reality. Within virtually all denominations we can find numerous ‘minor’ convictions still considered significant enough by their proponents to justify breaches of fellowship with those who hold different views, amicably or otherwise.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Between Prissiness and Profanity

I’m never sure how sorry we should feel for Esau.

I’m not troubled by the way he lost his birthright by trading it to his brother for a bowl of lentils. That one’s all on him. Jacob was a savvy deal-maker to be sure, but there was nothing sneaky about that particular arrangement. The problem was Esau’s: he failed to value something very valuable indeed. He despised his birthright. That’s just not very bright, and certainly not very spiritual.

The stolen blessing was another story. That involved some serious connivance, misdirection and outright lying. Esau had every right to be furious.

The problem was that he was furious about the wrong thing.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Faith and Impatience

One of the major features of the middle chapters of Genesis is a plethora of good people trying to accomplish good things in the worst possible way.

Sarah trying to bring an heir into the world to fulfill the promises of God via the womb of her Egyptian servant. Her husband Abraham going along, though it means infidelity to his own wife. Scripture doesn’t tell us whether Hagar was an especially attractive woman, so let’s give the patriarch the benefit of the doubt and just say he unwisely capitulated to Sarah’s poorly-thought-out plan rather than to something less honorable, like garden-variety male lust.

Then we come to Rebekah.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Anonymous Asks (32)

“I’ve read many stories and testimonies of Christian brothers and sisters, including Jesus, and almost all SKIP a portion in their lives: the teenage years. So, how and what is an effective way to show, shine, and represent our faith as hormonally crazy teenagers??”

There’s a very good reason many personal accounts leave out the teen years: our teen years are frequently riddled with embarrassing incidents we would rather not even recall, let alone repeat to others, along with more than a few tales that might not be all that profitable in the telling. Most of us learn by failing, and some of us learn by failing repeatedly. Our very first attempts at anything are likely to be our absolute worst, whether it’s witnessing or asking a girl out on a date. Who wants to hear about that?

Also, people who write testimonies usually wait until they have lived a bit, which means they have also had time to forget the things that happened long in the past, or that did not directly and obviously contribute to the circumstances around their salvation.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

God, Logic and Nothing

Bestselling author David Berlinski has his own take on the famous philosophical question raised in Plato’s Euthyphro: What makes a good thing good? Two alternatives are posed: (1) the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy; or (2) the pious is holy because it is beloved of the gods.

Berlinski approaches the issue this way:

“To the question what makes the laws of moral life true, there are three answers: God, logic, and nothing. Each is inadequate.”

Now, you just know I’m going to disagree with that last statement, right?

Saturday, March 23, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (51)

Perhaps the theme of these ten verses is “things that don’t stop”. I can’t say for sure.

But it is certainly true that the simple don’t stop; they charge right in where their wiser peers do not. The loud neighbor doesn’t stop either. That’s why everyone hates him, despite his outwardly cheery disposition. The search for truth never stops, thank God, and, if we’re honest, neither does enmity in our present age. Finally, the eyes of mankind never stop in their endless quest for satisfaction.

We will not find what we are looking for in this world.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Evolution of Morality

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

Oliver Scott Curry, senior researcher at Oxford’s Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, believes morality evolved.

Tom: I don’t, and neither does Immanuel Can, which means we probably won’t be doing a lot of haggling with each other about this subject. For those interested, Curry’s seven “universal rules of morality” are: (1) help your family; (2) help your group; (3) return favors; (4) be brave; (5) defer to superiors; (6) divide resources fairly; and (7) respect others’ property. While we might all agree that life generally goes better within families and societies when these rules are observed, it is not at all obvious that they evolved.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

One Wild and Awful Moment

Hidden away in the deep wilderness of Canada’s Algonquin Park is a memorial plaque dedicated to a grandfather and a teenage grandson who lost their lives in a storm on one of the lakes.

How it got there is a mystery to passing canoeists. The location is quite remote.

The plaque itself is of considerable size and weight, apparently being made of bronze. Time has softened the edges of some of the letters and greened the surface; but the plaque has not been moved since it was put there half a century ago. It is solidly drilled into the rock face. Someone went to a lot of work to ensure that their loved ones would not be forgotten.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

No, But …

And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’

God said, ‘No, but …’ ”

Two lines out of context. Allow me to supply some.

Abraham is once again in conversation with God. This is the fifth time God has brought up the subject of his covenant promises. Months or years are passing between each remarkable event, but every time the Lord appears or speaks or encounters Abraham in a vision, he elaborates further on what he intends to do on Abraham’s behalf. In Genesis 12, he promises to make from him a great nation, give him a great name, bless the whole world through him and protect him from his enemies. Each new encounter provides details the previous ones did not.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Missing Backstop

It was I who kept you from sinning against me.”

Francis Thompson famously referred to the “Hound of Heaven”, his metaphor for a God whose hand is so relentlessly upon the affairs of a person’s life that the divine influence can be neither evaded nor ignored.

There have been times when I too had a very strong impression God was personally on my case, and that all my efforts to circumvent or evade his will were doomed to end in utter futility. At other times, his impact on my choices and the circumstances around them, if present at all, has been incredibly subtle. Absent evidence of God’s direct involvement, to ascribe any specific decisions I have made in this life to the influence of providence would be, I think, quite presumptuous.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Anonymous Asks (31)

“How do I know I’m saved?”

This is a question which occurs to nearly every young believer at one point or another. Some struggle with it more than others.

If you’ve run your question by fellow Christians, someone has probably quoted you Romans 10:9: “[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Less Different Than We Think

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”

“Rich” and “poor” are relative terms. Welfare recipients in Western society are not poor by the standards of East Africa. Likewise, many Africans would consider our Western middle classes incredibly rich, and yet hundreds of thousands around us are much better off than we are.

When James speaks of rich and poor, he specifies the sort of thing he means. The contrast between these two types of men is not merely a matter of degree; their lives are so different they might as well be different species. The very least of it is in how they present to the world. The poor man wears shabby clothing, and not because he didn’t bother to pick up a decent used Arrow shirt from the local Goodwill. He simply has nothing better. There are no welfare cheques in his future. The rich man across the way is decked out in fine garments and sports an ostentatious gold ring. He probably dressed down for the occasion.

That paints the picture for us just fine.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (50)

Today’s verses are vaguely linked by the unexpected: unanticipated changes in circumstances; sudden, radical changes in behavior; the moment when the thing on which you have glutted yourself loses its appeal; and the moment when you find you have become so hungry anything at all looks like food.

Hey, these things happen. We don’t always see them coming, but they happen.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The United Method

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

A few weeks back, the United Methodist Church voted to maintain its traditional stance against same-sex marriage and non-celibate gay clergy.

Tom: Now I’m not big on tradition for tradition’s sake, but I think this decision is probably worth remarking on just because it is so unusual for a large denomination these days. The progressives in every sizable group of Christians are always hard at work moving the window of acceptable discourse, faith and practice to the left, and have experienced great success over the last century or so. By way of contrast, “conservative” Christians have reliably failed to conserve very much at all. You’ve seen it, Immanuel Can, and I’ve seen it too.

Did you notice what made the difference this time?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Unbearable Heaviness of Individuality

“Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Then Menahem the son of Gadi came up from Tirzah and came to Samaria, and he struck down Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Pekah the son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty men of the people of Gilead, and struck him down in Samaria, in the citadel of the king's house with Argob and Arieh; he put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Then Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah and struck him down and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

Ah, the kings of Israel. Their history is very much like that of all the idolatrous nations around them. Somebody gets the kingship, then somebody else murders him and takes over. And each one is as bad as the last.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” as Roger Daltrey famously intoned.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Written On Their Hearts

“Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham …”

“Scripture imprisoned everything under sin …”

Yes, the scripture is indeed the word of God. All the same, I have great confidence in assuring you that scripture — graphē, if you prefer Greek — did not do a single thing described in these verses. Not literally. A piece of paper, papyrus or animal skin does not “foresee”. It does not “preach”. It does not “imprison” anyone.

It can’t. It couldn’t. Ink, paper, the printed medium — these things are inanimate.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Flooded Out

Secular historians advance the argument that the spate of flood myths found everywhere around the globe is the natural result of local peoples preserving stories about local floods. These do not, the experts say, provide evidence for the truthfulness of the Genesis flood account.

That line of reasoning makes a certain sort of superficial sense: there are lots of local floods, and some of the flood stories out there are surely a product of those. But some are not. When you actually examine the content of these flood stories more closely, you find that a non-trivial number of them have features in common with the book of Genesis, and therefore with each other, that no local experience and lore can explain.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Anonymous Asks (30)

“Is the unforgivable sin knowing the Holy Spirit and accepting his existence and then opposing him, or is it having Satan in you without you knowing about it and then claiming it’s the Holy Spirit, and vice versa?”

Well, that’s quite a mouthful. Let’s try to unpack that.

There are a couple of things about this question that show the person who asked it is at very least headed in the right direction in his thinking. For instance, he grasps that the unforgivable sin is closely related to the person of the Holy Spirit. That is definitely true.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Worst Myth Ever

When comparing the flood account from the Epic of Gilgamesh Tablet XI to that of the Genesis flood, I took a few paragraphs at the outset to establish that the two accounts are roughly contemporary: they were written and edited within a couple hundred years of one another.

The reason this is important is that secular historians commenting on tales of the miraculous reliably resort to the “primitive man” argument: the notion that in times past, men could believe in miracles because they were ignorant of the laws of nature, and therefore wrote about unusual — even impossible — events uncritically and unselfconsciously.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (49)

Did you know there are very few references in the Bible to domesticated dogs? Maybe the puppies under the dinner table in Matthew 15, but that’s about it.

Moreover, the Bible does not have much good to say about man’s best friend. I don’t have a real handle on canine history in the Middle East 3,000 years ago, but I can work my way through the entries in a concordance, and the picture isn’t pretty. There are no Shih Tzus in arms or Chihuahuas in purses. The average mutts on the street are scavengers or predators, more like wolves or jackals than Jack Russells. The word “dog” is both a Hebrew and Greek euphemism for a male cult prostitute or some other sort of really bad person. If you want to grovel, you refer to yourself as a dog, and if you want to really grovel, a dead dog.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: No Way to Hide Your Lyin’ Eyes

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

Tom: I had never heard the name Jussie Smollett before last week, IC. Had you?

Immanuel Can: No. To be blunt, his activities were of absolutely no interest to me, or to anyone I knew, before a couple of weeks ago. But he’s got my attention now.

Tom: I suppose we should briefly summarize the unraveling Smollett fiasco for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention … do you want to do the honors?

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Acting Christian

“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Most of the time I enjoy writing these posts.

Sometimes, not so much.

Like today.

Today, I feel the truth of what I heard a preacher say once: “When you point your finger at somebody else, there’s always three pointing back at you.” Or, as the scriptures would put it, “Not many of you should become teachers ... for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Flood Myth-takes

It is often said today that the flood account in Genesis is spiritual truth taught in the form of myth. Confronted with the claims of secular scientists about the age of the earth and of humanity, many Christians have beaten a hasty retreat from reading Genesis literally into reading it more like one of Jesus’ parables: it means something important, sure — just not quite what it says.

I say meh to that.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

A Tale of Two Floods

Scratched into twelve clay tablets in cunieform script, the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh is thought to be the oldest written story in existence. Well, parts of it anyway. It recounts the adventures of a quasi-historical king of Uruk believed to have ruled around 2700 B.C. Tablet XI of the Epic contains one of three surviving Babylonian flood stories, each of which has a number of elements in common with the Genesis flood account.

The Gilgamesh account is only one of many flood myths found in various ancient cultures around the world. Christians who discover the spate of other flood stories in circulation are alternately reassured and disconcerted: reassured because one might reasonably expect a genuine historical event to wind up recorded in more than a single place, even if grossly distorted by time, miscommunication and cultural baggage; disconcerted because not a few of these flood stories are alleged to be older than the story in Genesis.

Should we be reassured or concerned? Let’s consider.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Anonymous Asks (29)

“Does Jesus love us all equally?”

Equality is the signal obsession of our age. I’m not sure people living hundreds or thousands of years ago would have asked this question or even thought much about it.

So let’s ask another one: does it really matter?

We already know Jesus loves us. You probably learned it in Sunday School: Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so. And one of the most famous verses in scripture tells us that “God so loved the world …” God gave his Son for us, and his Son gave himself on our behalf. That’s love.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Lightning and Molasses

Last week I took issue with an argument made by the higher critics that Genesis 2 teaches that animals were created after mankind rather than on the fifth and earlier part of the sixth days, as described in chapter 1.

Their argument, if you recall, is based on a straightforward linear reading of chapter 2. The creation of man is described in verse 7, they say, followed by the creation of beasts, birds and livestock in verse 19, then the creation of woman in verse 22. That “contradicts” the order given us in chapter 1.

My response was that the narrative is not linear, and that all the events of chapter 2 are not given to us in consecutive order. There is no reason they should be.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (48)

Growing up, I knew teens who never skipped school, never called in sick for work just to goof around, and wouldn’t think of failing to do their chores when they got home. You probably did too.

Proverbs repeatedly highlights unhealthy ways to behave. That’s great if you and I are tempted by those habits or lifestyles: a timely warning to a wise man or woman is always a useful thing. But what if we are not subject to such temptations? Are proverbs of any use to people who seem like they came out of the womb already mature, competent and dutiful?

Absolutely.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Surveillance State

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

CNET reports that the Chinese government is now using surveillance cameras, facial recognition and smart glasses to score people on their social behavior.

Tom: Mariel Myers says, “China plans to give all of its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score, based on how they behave.” Not ten years down the road, or even five, but next year. The technology is already up and running. Get a low enough score, and you could be publicly shamed or denied all sorts of privileges.