Monday, September 30, 2019

Anonymous Asks (60)

“How can I tell if it’s my own feelings or the Holy Spirit?”

Depending on the sort of feelings you are talking about, distinguishing between one’s own natural internal impulses and the promptings of the Spirit of God is not always perfectly straightforward. There are many emotional reactions that are completely in harmony with the Spirit.

This is true of the obvious ones like love, peace, joy and so on, but it is also true of emotions some Christians consider more questionable. It is not wrong, for instance, to be angry, vexed, disappointed, perplexed or even jealous when your feelings are aligned with God’s.

On the other hand, it is not the Spirit of God that makes us content to ignore sin in our lives and hearts, even if that feeling seems a comparatively peaceful one.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Gaming It Out

Nothing makes one explore the implications of one’s own mortality like choosing a beneficiary.*

Don’t get me wrong: the open casket of a close friend or family member always provides a moment or two of bracing clarity, but far too many of us are accustomed to granting the dead their expected tearful due, then moving on as expeditiously as is decently possible.

Sure, we hear the occasional grateful acknowledgement that there but for the grace of God go the rest of us, but most of us are disinclined to let the full implications of that reality really permeate.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Time and Chance (3)

The book of Ecclesiastes is often referred to as poetry. In a general sense I suppose this is true: there are numerous poetic passages within Ecclesiastes.

But if the inclusion of Ecclesiastes in the “poetic books” of scripture leads us to expect another Psalms, we will probably be disappointed. The majority of the book is made up of prose (usually arguments and observations of one sort or another) and proverbial sayings of various lengths that do not conform to any standard poetic structure even in the original Hebrew.

Modern English versions distinguish the obviously poetic passages for us by indenting them. We are going to look at one today.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The Emperor’s New Clothes

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Tracking True

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Which Sense Makes the Most Sense?

In my internet wanderings, I frequently come across believers who are utterly convinced that the spiritual not only trumps the natural but invalidates it entirely.

There is indeed something to the first part of that: the spiritual is bound to be more important to the Christian than that which is merely natural. If we must choose, for instance, between responding to the promptings of flesh or Spirit, of course Spirit wins every time ... or ought to.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Laying a Conspiracy to Rest

Aaron Brake at Stand to Reason doesn’t like conspiracy theories. He thinks most of them are false and that acknowledging we believe them may damage our Christian testimony.

In the process of trying to make his case, Brake quotes at length from homicide detective J. Warner Wallace’s book Cold-Case Christianity. Wallace argues that successful conspiracy theories are very difficult to execute and maintain.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Anonymous Asks (59)

“Is suicide a mortal sin?”

Some people — Christians included — are going through incredibly tough times; emotionally, physically or both. For a person in unrelenting pain, the temptation to take a pass on more of the same when there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel is very real indeed.

So since “mortal sin” is technically a Roman Catholic term, let’s ask them, at least for starters. I’ve always vaguely wondered what the official RC position was, but suicide is one of those issues I haven’t personally contemplated for almost forty years, and even when I did, I can’t say I was terribly serious about it.

A good long look at the tarmac from the top of a highway overpass will tend to dissuade all but the most committed. Turned out I was a dilettante.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Conspirators and Theorists

In a post entitled “Why You Should Resist Conspiracy Theories”, Stand to Reason’s Aaron Brake warns his fellow Christians about the dangers of falling for the counternarrative. Conspiracy theories, Brake says, are rarely true. If you believe them, you undermine your own witness, not to mention the case for the resurrection of Christ.

That’s a powerful statement to make, and it probably shouldn’t stand without a little closer examination.

I found Brake’s article extraordinary on a number of levels, so much so that I wandered around stewing about it for a couple of days before deciding to hazard a response. Oddly, I find that I mostly agree with his conclusions while disagreeing with almost everything he says on the way to getting there. More on that later.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Time and Chance (2)

More often than not, the Bible teacher who tells you the thing you are reading does not mean what it says in plain English is telling you sanctified fibs. Odds are he is explaining away the text rather than explaining it.

With a few notable exceptions (by which I mean the hacks who lend their expertise to Bible versions created specifically to push ideological agendas), translators are apolitical, honest and usually quite competent.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Nothing to Complain About

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Are We Teaching or Just Speeching?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

State o’ the Blog 2019

I was surprised to find that it’s only been about nine months since our last “State of the Blog” post. Seems like longer somehow. 2019 has been a busy year to date, with lots of changes in my own routine, and a few in IC’s as well.

It’s been a while since IC, Bernie and I could all be in the same room to chat about where we think we should be going with ComingUntrue. The most obvious issue that presents itself when we manage some phone time is that coming up on six years of daily blogging, we cannot help but notice our viewing stats are pretty flat over the last 12 months. Not tailing off, happily, but definitely not spiraling into the stratosphere either. Part of this may be down to my reluctance to pitch the blog on social media, part of it may be the esoteric nature of more than a few of our posts, and part of it may be — if we want to be honest with ourselves — stagnation.

Better to burn out than to fade away, said one of the prophets. Or maybe it was just Neil Young.

Anyway, none of us voted for working harder at stagnating, so that’s off the table.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Christ Where He Doesn’t Belong

Back in the days when my brothers and I were happily misbehaving in the back row of open Sunday School, we quickly learned how to answer questions for treats. Like performing seals, we tried to outdo one another for a pencil, badge or snack.

Horrible, really, when you think about it.

The idea was that when the superintendent asked a question, the kid who got his or her hand up first won the prize, which naturally encouraged all kinds of cheating. The most effective way to cheat was to stab your arm up into the stratosphere long before the question was finished, and sometimes before it started. The downside was that you really didn’t have a clue what you were supposed to be responding to.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Anonymous Asks (58)

“How can I witness to peers who have intelligent answers to all my arguments for Christianity?”

At some point we all hit the upper end of our capacity to effectively persuade others with dialectical arguments. Education, IQ, maturity, grasp of relevant facts, logical mindset, time spent in the word of God and life experience are all “ceilings” of a sort. Limitations in these areas, understandable or otherwise, create a barrier beyond which we become significantly less persuasive when we try to make the case for the gospel to people on the higher end of each spectrum.

Some of these barriers may be hurdled with sufficient time, prayer and hard work; others, like IQ, are pretty much hardwired whether we like it or not.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

It Ain’t All About You Either

Continuing an overview of the Song of Songs that is more about what the book is not rather than what it is. I’m looking for ways to interpret a rather unusual portion of scripture that do not result in an excess of speculation. Such esoterica finds its way into public teaching more than it ought to.

Wednesday’s post looked at four more-or-less traditional interpretations of the book. Today’s explores a fifth.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Time and Chance (1)

Ecclesiastes is a difficult book. Still, in my early twenties I kept coming back to it despite its apparent bleakness — or perhaps because of it. Its relentlessly frank take on the unhappy business of living in a fallen world was (and remains) refreshing, not in comparison to the rest of scripture, I now realize, but set against the bland and near-insensate Churchian conformity of post-hippie ’70s evangelicalism in which I was inadvertently immersed as a teen, and which had regrettably permeated my understanding of most of the New Testament and deadened my enthusiasm for its truths.

Happily, nobody in that crowd taught Ecclesiastes the way they taught Ephesians. Perhaps they forgot it was there.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: These Things Break Bones

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Mismeetings of the Christian Church

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

It Ain’t All About Me

Let me start with a couple of quotes that intrigue me. They may even be true:

“All the Scriptures, indeed, are holy ... but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.”
— Rabbi Aqiba

“If a manuscript of this little book were found alone, detached from the biblical context and tradition, it undoubtedly would be viewed as secular. The book has no obvious religious content.”
— Dennis F. Kinlaw

While every part of scripture has given rise to some level of disagreement as to its meaning and value over the years, it would be difficult to find two such extreme statements about many other books of the Bible.

Of course Kinlaw doesn’t say the book has no religious content, but that such content is not obvious. And he’s right.

Perhaps so is Rabbi Aqiba.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

From One End of Heaven

“He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

There are various schools of thought about what the Lord Jesus meant with this rather difficult statement. The phrase “from one end of heaven to the other” is admittedly an unusual one. A literal reading may lead us to think of people being plucked out of the skies all over the world and gathered to one place. For what reason, we wonder? And who exactly is this “elect” of which the Lord is speaking?

Monday, September 09, 2019

Anonymous Asks (57)

“Isn’t hell an unreasonable punishment for not believing in a specific set of truth claims?”

If not believing a specific set of truth claims is all there is to it, perhaps our questioner has a point. But is that really what the Bible teaches: that the ‘idealogically unsound’ will be banished from the presence of God for eternity?

Let’s consider ...

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Stepping Up

“Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them …”

“Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.”

It doesn’t always work this way in church. There are no guarantees. Sometimes the person who has done the hard work of contending for the faith in a particular area steps aside or is overshadowed by others who come along at the right time with the right gifts, experience and skill sets to be involved in the next step of any particular initiative.

And that’s okay when it happens. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth,” says the apostle. That’s the right perspective to keep about such things.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (75)

A 2009 University of Canterbury psychological study of long-term couples turned up an interesting fact: ‘marriage goggles’ are every bit as real as ‘beer goggles’. On average, men in happy marriages rated their wives as notably more attractive than their wives rated themselves. (If you’ve ever gone dress shopping with your wife, that will probably not surprise you.) Furthermore, notwithstanding the ravages of age, men in happy marriages consistently rated their wives more attractive than third parties rated them.

This may help explain why women who abandon their partners in their forties and fifties for an internet fling often wind up alone. Nobody will ever find them quite so attractive as their former husbands will. Even if they would like a do-over, there simply isn’t enough time left to them to build that sort of bond all over again.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: A Sticky Situation

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

College / University Survival Guide [Part 3]

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

That Wacky Old Testament (15)

If ... the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.”

Flogging is a barbaric practice, or at least so goes the conventional wisdom. It has been officially abolished for almost a century in most Western countries. Yet, as the above-quoted passage shows, public flogging was at very least passively sanctioned under the Law of Moses, a fact that may cause the occasional squawk of disbelieving protest from well-meaning liberal Christians.

Do they have a point? Let’s consider.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (15)

In the first century it was said without exaggeration that “from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him.” If you were interested in what Moses had to say, you could find out all about it in any city among the nations. Judaism was not some obscure cult religion. Its influence on the world was inversely proportionate to the relative insignificance of the Jewish people.

For the most part, it was not the conduct of the Jews among the nations that gave the Law its broad appeal and drew Gentile proselytes to it. In fact, Jews were often disliked and not infrequently persecuted.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Anonymous Asks (56)

“Will we have a second chance to go to heaven?”

There are at least three different reasons a question like this gets asked. One is very Catholic, a second very Protestant, and the third ... well ... universal.

The Catholic might best have his question paraphrased as something like “Is there a purgatory, and do we get to go to heaven at the end of it?” The Protestant is really asking “Is this ‘rapture’ thing I’ve heard about really in the Bible, and if I get left behind, do I get another shot?” The universalist is asking some version of “Surely hell cannot last forever, can it?”

But if you’re looking for an excuse to put off becoming a Christian so you can do it at a more convenient time, the answer to the question is going to be the same no matter what theological presuppositions underlie it.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The Examination Process

Not all tests are alike. Not all have exactly the same purpose or method.

Even God’s tests are not all designed to demonstrate exactly the same thing.

Some Old Testament examples may better demonstrate this.