Sunday, June 30, 2019

Immanentizing the Eschaton

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: when you hear that someone is trying to “immanentize the eschaton”, it’s simply educated jargon. It’s a more confusing way of claiming they are trying to bring on the end times. I expect it’s intended to leave us midwits scratching our heads in perplexity, but who knows? The accusation has been leveled against utopian secularists and evangelical Christians alike.

Most recently I found it in Infogalactic’s entry on Postmillennialism, which I was discussing in this space just the other day: “It [postmillennialism, especially reconstructionist postmillennialism] has been criticized by 20th century religious conservatives as an attempt to immanentize the eschaton.”

Saturday, June 29, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (65)

As we have noted in previous installments, there are different kinds of proverbs. One very common sort is the command. An example: “Do not add to his words lest he rebuke you.” Another is the warning: “The eye that mocks a father ... will be eaten by vultures.” A third is the appeal: “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” All these teach us in different ways.

Agur’s favorite type of proverb was none of the above. More than anything else, Agur was a keen student of the natural world. His proverbs are primarily observational. He may draw the occasional moral conclusion explicitly, but for the most part he simply tells us how things are and lets us chew on that for a bit.

It’s not a bad strategy. I’ve been enjoying it.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Whole of the Law

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

For those who have never heard of Aleister Crowley, a short bio culled from information available at Infogalactic.

Crowley was born into a wealthy Plymouth Brethren family in Warwickshire, England in 1875, and rejected Christianity to become an occultist, poet, painter and novelist. A practicing bisexual, he founded the religion of Thelema, promoted a form of Satanism, traveled the world, climbed mountains, experimented with hallucinogens and claimed to be a prophet of the Egyptian god Horus. In his day, he was referred to as “the wickedest man in the world”. In 2002, the BBC ranked him as the 73rd greatest Briton of all time.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Church Without Wings

In one of the towns in which I lived as a child there was a church that called itself “Berean”. I’ve noticed quite a few such establishments, and I wonder if many people know what it actually means.

It’s a reference to a group of ancient Jews who lived in a town called Berea, and who were among those who experienced the early ministry of the apostle Paul. They listened to the gospel Paul preached; and yet they didn’t just trust it. They checked it out for themselves, comparing his New Testament teaching with the word of God in the Old Testament. Acts says that they “received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Unhobbling Don Quixote’s Horse

In a couple of earlier posts this week I looked at some of the differences between the premillennial and amillennial schools of thought about Bible prophecy. You can find them here and here if you’re interested.

All beliefs about prophecy have practical implications of one sort or another, but the one most likely to ruffle feathers in the here-and-now, I think, is postmillennialism. That makes it worth chewing over a little.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

A Cup of Weak Tea

“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” Ben Shapiro is fond of saying. Unlike much of his recent book The Right Side of History, that statement is fairly accurate.

But facts also don’t care about your eschatology. Not a bit. Premillennialist Bible teachers and popular writers who make careers out of dogmatically applying specific prophecies to current events tend to find this to their chagrin — well-know date-setter Harold Camping being one recent example.

Facts take no joy in embarrassing the likes of Camping. They are not mean-spirited. They simply are what they are.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Anonymous Asks (46)

“Spiritual worship: like ghosts and stuff? I don’t understand it.”

No ghosts, but if you’re not familiar with the concept of worshiping God in spirit, maybe it can be a bit confusing.

Jesus said God the Father is looking for people who will worship him “in spirit and in truth”. That became possible when the Father sent the Son into the world to reveal God to mankind.

To understand the meaning of worshiping in spirit, we need to understand a little bit about the alternative.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Don’t Stop Now, You’re Almost There

The devil may be in the details, but far-reaching doctrinal errors are all in the broad strokes and almost never in the minutia. I’m becoming convinced of it.

My test case at the moment is the expanded edition of Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (2013), in the event you’re wondering. But I have found the same thing with several books I’ve read recently: they advance a fundamentally flawed major premise. Once you’ve done that, you can pile up the proof texts to highest heaven without successfully proving anything. Your original, glaring defect of thought makes them all irrelevant to the greater argument.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (64)

Psychology Today analyzes excuses for adultery. Here’s one of the more spectacularly trivial:

“Adultery may be the lightning conductor of modern indignation, but are there not other, subtler ways of betraying a person than by sleeping with someone outside the couple; by omitting to listen, by forgetting to evolve and enchant, or more generally and blamelessly, by simply being one’s own limited self?”

I must admit, that one’s a beauty: “My wife failed to evolve and enchant me, so I was compelled to explore my options. There was really nothing else for it.”

What do you think, gents? Have you been “evolving and enchanting” fast enough for your wife?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Screened Out

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

I don’t spend a lot of time browsing the The New York Times, but this article was worth a few minutes. Nellie Bowles describes an increasingly common phenomenon: screens everywhere you go, doing almost everything people used to be paid to do. Touchscreens provide a consistent user experience, don’t take sick days, don’t unionize, and the hourly cost of maintaining them is considerably less than that of employing a person. For all but the wealthiest couple of percentiles of society, technology has become the go-to substitute for human contact.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Mastering the Pastor Disaster

Her voice on the end of the phone was shaky. Clearly she was very, very upset about something. But she couldn’t bring herself to tell me what. Her words came out in a kind of extended groan that seemed to swell up from inside the depths of her heart, but could only leak past her lips. Something very bad had happened.

As our conversation continued, I gently drew more details out of her broken responses, and it became clearer. Not only she, but all her friends and her church, had been betrayed. A leader in their circle, much loved and widely admired, had turned the corner of a disastrous course. The first of the news had just broken; and she had called me less to tell me than to seek some kind of soothing for her aching soul.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Inbox: Is Socialism Biblical?

Jeff says:

“Hey, long time lurker of your site here. With all the recent debate in the US about the ‘Green New Deal’ and ‘democratic socialists’, I was curious about what your thoughts are regarding socialism and capitalism from a biblical perspective. I immediately think about the year of Jubilee in Leviticus 25:8-13 and about the early church described in Acts.”

Well, we love long time lurkers. We have a bunch. Thanks for a great question, Jeff. Here goes …

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The View from Eternity

God is very much misunderstood.

This is not without reason. God and man come at things from vastly different perspectives. Two of the most common features of online discourse about God are befuddlement and frustration. “How can a loving God permit this or that?” “How could God command genocide?” “Why animal sacrifices? Doesn’t God care about his creation?” “Why does the Law of Moses contain so many weird and apparently pointless rules if God was really behind it?” “Why would God say two people who love each other cannot be together?”

For older Christians these can be challenging questions.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Anonymous Asks (45)

“Do I have to be nice to everyone?”

It very much depends on what you mean by “nice”. Christians often confuse being nice with being good. But the word “nice” is never used in our English Bibles.*

There are solid reasons for this. “Nice” is an awkward word, very much open to being misinterpreted. I can understand why Bible translators would make an effort to avoid its potential ambiguities. Its original meaning (now obsolete) was “wanton” or “dissolute”. Later, it came to mean “fastidious” or “exacting”. (For example, to make a “nice” distinction was to make a distinction so subtle that a lot of people would fail to grasp it.) All these historic ways of using “nice” are various degrees of negative.

Today, “nice” has come to mean “pleasing”, “agreeable” or “polite”. That is probably the way you are using it. Let’s go with that.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Day of Big Things

A handful of times throughout our earth’s history God has made major public statements. Big things.

The Bible records a number of these great and unambiguous events: the Flood; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and Israel’s delivery from Egypt, passage through the Red Sea and miraculous conquest of Canaan. Even when Israel and Judah went into their various captivities, God still made appearances to miraculously shut the mouths of lions, walk around in fiery furnaces and write on the walls of pagan kings.

Then came the first century miracles of Jesus, and later his apostles. Big things.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (63)

I was originally planning to zip through these last few verses of Proverbs, but I find myself enjoying them too much to rush through them, even as I remain perplexed as to their full meaning in more than a few cases. I suppose it helps that they are among the least-examined verses of scripture I’ve ever encountered. New territory is always interesting.

So … horrors and marvels, here we go.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: When We ALL Get to Heaven

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

The Huffington Post headline reads “Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics.”

The Post adds, “Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists. During his homily at Wednesday Mass in Rome, Francis emphasized the importance of ‘doing good’ as a principle that unites all humanity.”

Everybody’s Home Free

Tom: It’s not quite universalism, but add a few good works in there and it seems everybody’s home free. If so, that’s pretty generous of Rome, wouldn’t you say? Do you know if he’s walked that one back yet?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Christ-Shaped Empty Space

Regarding last week’s post about spiritual narcissism, one further thought has been with me lately.

The attraction to following a single, charismatic, spiritually-talented man is an interesting case of misdirected spiritual longing. As human beings, and especially as sons of God, we are constituted for the destiny of eternal relationship with a Man. He is our legitimate spiritual leader and source of spiritual food, the rightful head of every direction we’re going, and the source of all our future hopes and blessings. To be given over to serving him is our highest and best destiny, and even now we have a longing for that — a longing God gives us, and which we must have.

It’s a longing for our Shepherd … the Good Shepherd.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

More Teaching Won’t Help

Yesterday I drew attention to what at first glance might appear to be an imbalance in the teaching of the book of Proverbs. Solomon gives many dire warnings about “women on the make” to young men, but no warnings at all to young women concerning the dangers of lustful men.

This was not because God is uninterested in maintaining the virtue of women, as we will see shortly. However, ancient Eastern societies, and especially Israel, had a culture of built-in familial and legal protections for ordinary women which made them difficult for men on the prowl to access or seduce, and this without imposing on them pillbox-style face-coverings and body bags.

And of course there was no internet in those days. Where temptation is concerned, that was far from a negative.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Discriminating Against the Adulteress

Modern readers flipping the pages of Proverbs would have to be incredibly inattentive to fail to notice that the warnings about lapsing into sexual sin are ... all directed at men.

In fact, where adultery is concerned, it could be argued that Solomon viewed women of a certain sort as cunning predators and men as their potential victims. Foolish and gullible victims, certainly. Unknowing and uncaring of the consequences of their actions, definitely. But victims all the same ... even though we know it takes two to tango, right?

Where are the parallel passages warning young Hebrew women against the prowling adulterer with lust in his eyes? Why, they are nowhere to be found.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Anonymous Asks (44)

“If you are not a Christian and believe that Jesus died on the cross to relieve us of our sins, can you still go to heaven?”

There is a significant difference between believing about someone and believing in someone.

The book of James points out that even demons get some of their facts right. They are strict monotheists, for one. Mark’s gospel records that unclean spirits repeatedly fell down before Jesus and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” In that respect, the demons were better theologians than the Pharisees, who hotly disputed that very issue.

However, believing something correct about Jesus — even something very important indeed — doesn’t mean demons are on their way to heaven. Far from it.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (13)

“Go, tell his disciples and Peter …”

The earliest manuscripts of the gospel of Mark end with a “young man” (read: angel) instructing three terrified women at the open tomb of the Lord Jesus to go and share the news that while Jesus of Nazareth had died and been buried, Christ the Lord had risen and planned to meet with his followers once more.

No wonder they trembled.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (62)

Entropy is pretty much the governing principle of our present universe. Systems and sub-systems are not independently or permanently functional. They require replenishing from other sources.

The earth cannot survive without sunlight. The sun could not warm the earth were it not fueled by both hydrogen and helium. And without the collapsing clouds of interstellar gas and dust we call nebulae, there would be no stars.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Church and Fatherhood

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

Tom: Last week I came across a U.S. federal government site designed to be a resource for fathers and families. While of course we applaud any such effort in a period when the family is relentlessly under attack from all sides, it seems obvious secular governments are not well-equipped to teach the more spiritual aspects of fatherhood.

Fathers do not exist simply to pay the bills and do the heavy lifting around the house. The last time we talked, we compiled a list of fatherly responsibilities from scripture, and it was not a short one. God did not intend fathers to be dispensable, whatever our society may think.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

The Pastor of Disaster

Andrew sat back and stirred his tea. “What kind of church are you in?” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “I was in a conservative evangelical group, but it seems perhaps I’ve been kind of bumped out.”

“What do you mean?”

“We were in one kind of church, but we had to leave; now we’re sort of in-between, looking for what the Lord would have us do.”

“I will tell you why you left.” His voice was even and certain. He leaned forward. “It was because of … that man.”

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

The Commentariat Speaks (15)

From Doug Wilson’s comment section at Blog & Mablog. S writes:

“Why is there not an option to fully bow out? Neither Heaven or Hell, just non-existence?”

Doug’s own response is brief and related to the need for God’s holy justice to be displayed. I agree, and I’m not sure I can offer anything more profound in terms of an answer, but I was sufficiently taken with the question that I felt the need to explore it a little here.

It’s my observation that the sorts of questions we ask about God often say more about us than they say about him.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Quote of the Day (40)

“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” The book of Acts begins with this question.

Jesus does not answer it directly. Instead, the Lord draws his disciples’ attention away from Israel’s earthly kingdom and redirects it to their mission promoting his spiritual kingdom in this present age. After this, he is taken up into glory.

Some read this to mean there will be no restoration to national prominence for the Jews. Others believe the restoration of the kingdom to Israel is fulfilled in the Church’s present ministry on earth.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Anonymous Asks (43)

“Does God know what we will do?”

More than a few Christians have a strong aversion to neo-Calvinist determinism. They don’t agree with the teaching that God micromanages the universe, controlling and pre-arranging everything that happens within it, including the choices made by all created beings.

I don’t blame them. I don’t like that idea much either, and I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of what the Bible teaches about either God’s sovereignty or human choice. Giving us a Bible full of commands seems an unlikely thing for God to have done if our responses to him are all predetermined.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

The Divine Memory

“I will not remember your sins.”

Some people teach that God’s knowledge is limited. They rely on verses like the one I have just quoted to make the case that there are boundaries to the Infinite, self-imposed or otherwise.

We may disagree with them, but they bring up a point worth examining, and that is this: What does it mean that God does not “remember” the sins of his people?

After all, it’s a promise, and we know we can put our confidence in God’s promises. That being the case, we might be wise to figure out what exactly it is that God is promising.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (61)

The remainder of Proverbs 30 is made up of a series of individual sayings irregularly interspersed with six lists of four things Agur has observed in the natural world and in the world of human interaction. As I have mentioned, these groups of four are often referred to as quaternions or tetrastiches. We have already encountered one in Agur’s introduction. The resulting verses are a peculiar arrangement; not entirely regular, but not quite random either.

Unlike some of Solomon’s longer assembled proverbs, Agur’s lists do not seem to have a single, powerful point to which they are building. The fourth item on each of his lists usually appears no more significant or insignificant than the others. As the Pulpit Commentary puts it, “the conclusion is wanting.” We must attempt to elicit one for ourselves.

Notwithstanding some of the more astute observations we find here, it’s a curious chapter, and one whose point always perplexed me as a child.