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

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

Monty Python’s Eric Idle on their movie Life of Brian:

“Our movie is a kind of parody of a Hollywood biblical epic. And we realized we couldn’t really write about JC, because there’s nothing you can complain about. The man said, you know, ‘Blessed are the poor,’ ‘Feed and help people ...’ There was something more interesting about exploring what followers of a religion do, both to the religion and to the people they follow, and how unhealthy that becomes.”

Tom: Now, if we really wanted to be critical, IC, we could probably carp about Idle misquoting the Sermon on the Mount or being a bit flippant, but I found the point he was inadvertently making here much more interesting, and that is this: a troupe of comedians legendary for fearlessly spoofing everything under the sun drew a line in the sand at trying to make fun of Jesus Christ. And they did it themselves, not out of fear or respect, apparently, or even because of economic considerations, but rather because they came to the conclusion there were no legitimate laughs to be had at Christ’s expense. There really is nothing you can complain about in the life and character of God’s beloved Son.

Immanuel Can: No, indeed. It’s interesting that the Lord always seems to get a reaction nobody else ever gets, isn’t it?

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Are We Teaching or Just Speeching?

If you tell me, I forget.
If you show me, I remember.
If you involve me, I understand.
— Old Teaching Axiom

In his recent post on the subject of platform preaching, Tom writes, “For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that one-man platform ministry is the way to go, not because I believe it to be the most scriptural model, but because it’s what we’re all doing and I see little hope for wholesale change.”

He just doesn’t see any reasonable prospect that we can be induced to reevaluate our conventional church behaviors to the extent of questioning the value of platform ministry.

Well, Tom and I usually agree. But not on everything. Not on this.

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

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

In sharing Christ with others it is not unusual to come across an unsaved person who is honest, self-aware or willing to disclose where he is in his thinking. What is rare is to find all three in the same person.

Tom: I recently watched David Berlinski in a lengthy interview with Peter Robinson doing a very fine job of exposing the flaws in Darwin’s theory of evolution. The exchange prompted a whole train of thought on how subtle self-deception can be, and how easy it is to sidestep the most important questions a human being can ever ask.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Mismeetings of the Christian Church

“Blest be the tie that binds
 Our hearts in Christian love:
 The fellowship of kindred minds
 Is like to that above.”

So sang the congregation.

And they sang it every Sunday.

They sang it whenever it was announced that they had a visitor or new congregant come among them.

A nice gesture, wasn’t it?

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

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

Tom: A couple of posts back, Immanuel Can made this comment:

“I don’t think most people understand what ‘situational ethics’ means. What I find when I ask them is they have no idea of the theory, or even of who Joseph Fletcher was, let alone what he said: they just think that whatever it is, it allows them to do as they please, and still claim to be ‘ethical’ in doing it.”

I haven’t heard the term in a few years, but I remember it was regularly referenced when I was growing up. 83% of atheists claim to believe all ethics are situational. What does that mean exactly, IC? Maybe some of the atheists hurling the term around don’t know much more than your first year philosophy students ...

Thursday, September 05, 2019

College / University Survival Guide [Part 3]

My father always said he would prefer I never had a motorcycle. He had ridden when he was young, and he said it was very dangerous. He certainly was not going to buy me one. But I was fascinated with them, and by the time I was nineteen I owned one — a dirt bike.

I crashed it on my first day out; no real damage, just a good mud bath. After that, I got the hang of it, and was off. I never really crashed again. Sure, I came close a few times; but that was half the fun. Being young is about taking on those risks and seeing how far you can push your limits. That’s how you grow up and find out what you’re capable of.

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.