Saturday, August 31, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (74)

How can you tell whether a woman fears God? It’s not a trick question, but it does strike me that the fear of God tends to work itself out in different ways depending on the role and responsibilities of the person in whom it is found. It will not always look the same from individual to individual.

For example, a father and husband who fears God prioritizes financial provision for his family. A child may display his fear of God through obedience to his parents. A wife and mother? Well, care for the affairs of her husband and family is certainly one way, but so also is her composure and self-control. Taken together with other character qualities, these things point to a healthy respect for the will and glory of God.

Continuing our look at the character qualities of the proverbial “excellent wife” ...

Friday, August 30, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Not Even Once Through

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

Immanuel Can: I recently came across this quote, which might be worth a little back-and-forth:

“My wife and I are both voracious readers (two to three books a week), so there is little of intellectual interest that I do not enjoy. And of course, the Bible is perhaps the single most interesting book ever written, though it's not really ‘a’ book, is it? I have long been bewildered by the fact that so many people claim the Bible as their authority, but have never bothered to read, much less study it, even once, all the way through. Doesn’t that amaze you?”

Tom: Doesn’t that amaze me? Well, it does and it doesn’t ...

Thursday, August 29, 2019

College / University Survival Guide [Part 2]


What can a Christian do to maintain his or her faith on campus in the presence of a fairly discouraging atmosphere of indifference?

There’s actually quite a lot. Let me suggest that just as learning requires habits of study, staying strong in your faith requires a sort of ongoing maintenance program that counteracts the corrosive effects of secular indifference.

What’s in the survival program? Okay, let’s look at that. I’m going to put things in four categories: “preparing” (i.e. what to do right now, in order to get ready), “arriving” (i.e. what to do immediately upon getting to the campus), “surviving” (i.e. basic priorities to get you through the first year and beyond), and “thriving” (i.e. how to employ your faith to enrich your academics and actually give you a strategic advantage). How’s that?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Testing, Testing ...

“After these things God tested Abraham ...”

Once upon a time — okay, it was tenth grade actually — I wrote world’s worst exam. I doubt the test itself was unusually difficult, but I was uniquely ill-prepared to write it, having spent the first few months of my Fall semester reading novels in math class and ignoring my homework assignments with impeccable consistency. I had done so well in Grade 9 math that I had acquired the mistaken notion that paying attention to the course material was optional, and that I could figure it all out if and when I needed to.

Apparently it isn’t, and I couldn’t. I turned in the exam with exactly one line filled in: my name.

That was the tiniest bit embarrassing.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Inclusion by Exclusion

In June of this year, the popular knitting website Ravelry banned support of U.S. president Donald Trump from the platform with the following statement:

“We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry. We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy.”

Interesting. It’s inclusion by exclusion. And it’s trending; the gaming forum RPG.net had previously banned expressions of support for the president in October 2018, explicitly referring to his “open white supremacy” as “evil”.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Anonymous Asks (55)

“Why is envy one of the seven deadly sins?”

The “seven deadlies” date back to the late sixth century and Gregory the Great. At the time, he was engaged in reducing Roman Catholicism’s list of most odious offenses a person could commit to something more manageable. The former list had included such questionables as sadness and acedia, which is basically apathy.

In short, the list of seven deadly sins is a human construct, not something taught explicitly in the Bible. Opinions as to which sins should be considered the very worst tend to vary, obviously. For example, the ninth and most awful circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno is reserved for the treacherous, who didn’t even make Gregory’s list.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Ideal and the Reality

“There will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess ...”

“There will never cease to be poor in the land.”

It is impossible to argue that the glaring contradiction between the quotes above can be explained away by assigning them to different dispensations (or covenants, if you prefer), by pointing out that they were written by different writers at different times for different audiences, or even (if we’re totally desperate to be done with the issue and silly enough to throw inspiration under the bus), by contending that one or another of them is mistaken.

None of the usual explanations work.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (73)

On my way home from work I try to keep an eye out for people begging in the street. I don’t mean on the sidewalk, but literally in the lanes of traffic at almost every red light, on foot and in wheelchairs, sometimes panhandling so aggressively that you could easily run them over if you weren’t paying attention.

As it turns out, coming right up to within inches of a seated driver locked in traffic and staring down at him is a considerably more effective motivation for charity than holding out a plaintive hand to passers-by on the sidewalk, who can easily escape by foot. Women driving alone are especially intimidated by grimy, glowering teens wielding squeegees, and quickly (and unwisely) reach for their purses, probably hoping to save their vehicles from a kick, a scratch or a flying blob of spit.

That’s a long way of saying not all giving is inspired by generosity.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Atheism by the Numbers

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

A short list of statistical data about atheists compiled by Pew Research Center:

94% approve of LGBTQ lifestyles
91% believe in evolution
87% approve of abortion
83% believe ethics are situational
78% are white
78% have no children
69% vote Democrat
68% are men
65% never discuss religion
54% feel wonder at the universe
43% have a college degree (vs. 27% general public)
40% are ages 18-29
40% have never married
  9% proselytize weekly

Tom: Some of these things I knew, some I didn’t. Anything you find surprising there, IC? I’ll admit to raising an eyebrow over the claim that only 9% are out there regularly commending their view of the universe to others. It sure seems higher than that online.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

College / University Survival Guide [Part 1]

It won’t be very long now until universities and colleges in North America begin gearing up for the year. And with this, a whole new cohort of Christian young people will enter post-secondary life for the first time.

Are they ready?

Parents often worry about that. Everybody knows that university can be a challenging place in which to hold to your faith. It’s full of new ideas — most of them secular, and not a few genuinely anti-Christian — and new experiences — not all of them perfectly healthy and safe. But it’s also a tremendously exciting time for many young people; and when we consider it part of a natural process of moving from parental control to full independence, then there’s every reason to be positive about it. (And parents, when you consider the alternative, what’s better?)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Sons and Supplicants

“You are the sons of the Lord your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead.”

Even today there exists a fair bit of confusion around the Mosaic prohibition against Israelite men — priests especially — shaving their foreheads, beards or temples. There are a variety of rabbinic views on the issue.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

These Things Happened

Stephen De Young attempts to reconcile myth and history:

“In reality, the Old Testament historical texts are of the genre of mythic history. This term is not an oxymoron as there is no innate contradiction between myth and history. Myth constitutes the story of the spiritual reality which accompanies and underlies events in the material world. Mythic history, therefore, tells the entire story of an event. Myth as such speaks of beings and events in the invisible, spiritual world. History in the modern sense speaks of people and events in the material world. Mythic history explains the union of both and makes the events of history participable through ritual.”

It’s a neat little trick that doesn’t quite work. Or perhaps it’s simply too late.

Points for giving it a shot, though.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Anonymous Asks (54)

“How do biblical texts apply to modern society?”

Does scripture address hot-button topics like immigration reform, gay marriage, abortion, eugenics, internet porn and gun control? More importantly, in the event the Bible does not give us answers to the major questions of our day, does that mean we are free to do whatever we please in these areas?

These are relevant questions.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Taking Canaan by Degrees

“The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you.”

For the believer, victory often comes in increments.

That goes against our natural instinct about how things should be, doesn’t it? After all, occupying enemy territory in the Christian life is not just desirable, it is morally imperative.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (72)

As mentioned in previous posts, the specific details of the wife’s labors in Proverbs 31 are largely unimportant. It is the character qualities they show us that matter most. The fact that these verses speak of fields and vineyards does not limit wifely excellence to the spouses of farmers. Let’s not discourage ambitious, creative married women living in modern urban settings. An excellent wife today might write or edit books, give music lessons, provide after-school care for neighborhood children or popularize her own YouTube channel.

Okay, maybe not YouTube. These days, anything excellent on YouTube is guaranteed to get demonetized.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Five Bad Reasons (2)

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

Liberal Christian blogger Benjamin Corey claims more believers — especially older ones — are becoming “LGBTQ-affirming”, and this Pew poll appears to back him up. Whether this is due to social pressure, a fear of being thought intolerant or just plain old battle fatigue remains to be seen.

Tom: Corey lists five reasons he believes Christians are changing their minds about homosexuality. Immanuel Can and I are fisking his arguments for orthodoxy. We’re not finding much ...

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Command Performance

I’ve been thinking about the commandments.

People say that in the Old Testament, God is full of these things. Rabbis claim there are 613 of them, as a matter of fact — an odd number, to be sure. Why should God have an opinion on these particular items? Why not 614? Why not fewer?

And the nature of the commandments — everything from killing each other, to what people eat, to how they wash, to how they match their fabrics … and still the list is not exhaustive, for it leaves many aspects of life totally unmentioned and spends what we might deem far too much time on others.

Why does God care about all these particulars?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Right Thing to Do

My job involves the occasional visit to another office. I make a fair number of new acquaintances this way. Names on the system become real, flesh-and-blood co-workers with delightful qualities, quirks and the occasional less-appealing feature, depending on the individual and the sort of situation we have to deal with.

Generally speaking these are good experiences. It’s hard to relate to people you don’t directly interact with.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Faith of the Gospel

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”

These “opponents” were primarily Jews.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Anonymous Asks (53)

“Why should I pray if God already knows what will happen?”

Before we begin, I should point out that knowing what will happen is not the same as wanting it to happen, nor is it the same as making it happen. In fact, some people even argue that God does not know absolutely everything that will happen. I’m not one of them, so we won’t waste a lot of time considering that possibility.

Nevertheless, the distinction between God knowing and God causing is worth keeping clear in our minds when we talk about prayer.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Recommend-a-blog (29)

Evangelicals are under attack. The bigger the denomination, the more resources and congregants they have, and the more formally they are constituted, the more enthusiastically the enemy is coming at them.

The Southern Baptist Convention (15 million members) is currently hardest hit, but that makes a certain sort of sense: they are the second-largest Christian denomination in the U.S., and the largest Protestant denomination. Get effective control of that behemoth and you’ve really accomplished something.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (71)

As mentioned in the previous two posts in this series, the description of an excellent wife in Proverbs 31 is frequently dismissed by its modern critics as anachronistic. They point to words like “distaff” and “maidens” and mockingly inquire whether all Christian women ought to have a loom in the house and servants to call on.

It is true that the excellent wife’s described routine is that of a fairly well-to-do Hebrew woman some three thousand years ago. That said, it should be evident that our habits and routines declare to the world what sort of person we are. A wife who habitually falls asleep on the couch at 2 a.m. after a few cocktails and a movie, then struggles out of bed bleary-eyed around noon to lounge by the pool gossiping with her girlfriends is not simply operating on a slightly different schedule than the home-schooling mother of three down the street. Her habits are making a statement about her values and character.

Good character remains good character whether we see it displayed in the daily activities of 1000 BC or in those of AD 2019.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Five Bad Reasons (1)

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

More Christians are becoming “LGBTQ-affirming”, says blogger Benjamin Corey, basing his claim on this Pew poll.

This comes right on the heels of a Harris Poll commissioned by GLAAD which appears to indicate — much to the chagrin of LGBTQ advocates — that affirmation of same-sex relationships by unsaved millennials is trending in the opposite direction.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Sailing the High Seas

An old friend sent me an email a while ago. He was concerned:

“My daughter is going off to university next year, and she wants to take English Literature as her major! I’m worried about her: could you talk to her?”

I had to smile. Sure, I could talk to her. After all, I had been through all that, and I had survived just fine, thank you.

But why the panic?

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Under the Microscope

“... so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

It matters what the church is and how it conducts the business of God. It matters because the multifarious wisdom of God is revealed both in what we are and in what we do. We may choose to obscure that wisdom, or we may choose to hold it up in the light to be seen and marveled at throughout the universe.

In short, what we are and what we do matter because we are being watched. God’s ways are under the microscope.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Kissing Jesus Goodbye

Joshua Harris, pastor and author of 1997’s moderately controversial I Kissed Dating Goodbye, on doing much the same thing to the man he once called Lord and Savior:

“I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practise faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”

Put bluntly, Mr. Harris has apostatized.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Anonymous Asks (52)

“Why is the Bible so weird sometimes?”

I’d love to know what specific sort of “weird” the writer of today’s question was thinking about. An example or two would’ve been great. Unfortunately, when your questions come from people who have chosen to keep their identities secret, it’s a bit of a trick to get them to clarify.

That’s okay. I’m pretty sure every reader of this column can think of some story in the Bible, or some command in the Law of Moses, or some principle taught by some church somewhere that seems weird to them. I can think of dozens.

There’s lots of “weird” in the Bible, but the problem is not always the Bible. Most of the time it’s us.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Sheep Without Shepherds

The first and last recorded requests Moses ever made of his God are almost identical. Both may be summed up in the words “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

The first time he said it, it was very likely out of a justifiable sense of personal inadequacy. He was a mere man — a lowly shepherd, of all things — confronted with the spectacle of flaming foliage in which burned the presence of the Eternal God. For Moses, “Please send someone else” really meant “Surely, O Lord, you must be able to find someone more qualified than I am.” Moses wasn’t a lazy man by any stretch, but the scope of the task with which he was presented was breathtaking.

Not everyone might have answered God exactly as Moses did, but any sensible soul would have felt his legitimate apprehension.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (70)

A few more general comments before we get to the meat of the chapter.

The Oracle of King Lemuel (Proverbs 31:10-31)

Poor, much-maligned wife of the last chapter of Proverbs! Google her and see. After you get through the usual spate of citations from major commentaries, much of what you find is Christians complaining.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Over the Target

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

Immanuel Can: A thought occurs to me this morning. If there is one thing I could do for the people of God, I would want it to be this: I would want them to start talking again as if being a Christian really matters.

What I mean is that I’d like to provoke people to start saying things like, “Well, that’s the natural perspective, but how does the Lord fit into this situation?” or “What does the Lord have to say about the choices I have to make?” or “How do I get my kid to be more spiritual?” or “What will happen if I do X, in view of heaven?” You know the kind of thing … talking and debating as if something’s at stake there.

Tom: Okay, I can see that ...

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Wedded Blitz

Every summer, couples line up to tie the knot.

There was a time in my life when it seemed like every summer weekend was occupied with somebody’s nuptials. Now, however, like most middle-aged men, I’m quite content to leave that to the younger set, and if I’m roped into one or two such ceremonies during a summer that’s about my limit.