Saturday, November 30, 2019

Time and Chance (12)

Where does the concept of a final judgment come from?

If you do a Google search or consult an online concordance, you can hardly fail to notice that the vast majority of Bible verses dealing with the subject are to be found in the New Testament. Men seem to have always taken for granted that some kind of ultimate reckoning was inevitable, but there is a surprising dearth of clear teaching on the subject in the earliest books of the word of God.

In fact, we do not find incontestable references to a final, general judgment appearing in scripture much prior to the 10th century B.C.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: How We Live and What We Believe

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

Colin Perkel of The National Post has an update here on our old friend Gretta Vosper, the United Church minister who believes in neither God nor the Bible. She is, in Perkel’s words, “prepared to fight an unprecedented attempt to boot her from the pulpit for her beliefs.” Or her unbeliefs, I guess.

Tom: The attempt by the United Church to give Gretta her gold watch and wish her all the best in her future endeavors may be unprecedented, but it’s hardly a surprise, except perhaps in that the United Church is taking some sort of stand here about atheism in their pulpits.

Immanuel Can, does “the idea of an interventionist, supernatural being on which so much church doctrine is based” belong to “an outdated world view”? More importantly, can we separate how we live from what we believe? Gretta thinks we can and should.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

In Need of Analysis: Wake Up and Smell the Potpourri

I’ve never really liked Christian bookstores.

They have that cloying sweetness typical of the boutiques my wife loves, the ones that sell knick-knacks, scented candles and throw pillows. There’s just an unreality to such places that hits you from the moment you step in the door, a sense that you are entering a zone that has nothing at all to do with the world outside, and where perhaps strange and delicate mythical creatures can thrive.

Okay, I may be exaggerating a little, but you get the idea. If you’ve been in such a store, you know: There’s just something terribly weird about the place. The divergence between the real world and the interior environment — and even its divergence from other store environments — is quite startling; and when you first walk in it takes you a moment to adjust.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Inbox: Qualified Omniscience

Qman points out that we have a pachyderm on the premises:

“The word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.’ ”

It is apparent this type of statement does not present a problem to you but it might to the newcomer. It seems to contradict or at least not explain the presumption or notion of God’s omniscience. How can God regret something that he is, by definition, aware of from the beginning?”

Q’s email arrived just as I was sitting down to pick out a topic for today’s post. We may have to change his name to “On-Cue Man”. There’s more to his missive, including thoughts-in-progress about how such a conundrum might be resolved, which you can find here, at the original post.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Demons and Daily Living

Stand to Reason columnist Alan Shlemon writes:

“To be honest, I believe in Satan and demons, but my belief in them makes little difference in how I live. There are two reasons for that. One, I often feel awkward talking about them for fear that people might think I’m (spiritually) weird. Two, I don’t know exactly what they do and what I can do to affect their activity.”

I think this is fairly common among Christians. More than a few of us would confess that the oddballs who speak constantly of demonic oppression or the “works of Satan” spook us just a little a bit.

Does belief in demons affect how we live? Not really, at least not in any way we’d notice. Should it? That’s another question.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Anonymous Asks (68)

“Can Christians use essential oils and aromatherapy?”

Today’s question is about a couple of modern trends, but could well be about almost anything that is not intrinsically evil. “Can Christians dance?” “Can Christians listen to popular music?” “Can Christian girls wear Lululemons?” “Can Christians eat pork?”

The same biblical principles will help us with answering just about any “Can Christians [fill in the blank]?” question.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Grace to the Undeserving

“May the Lord be with you, as he has been with my father.”

Jonathan, son of Israel’s first king, said these words to David, who would become Israel’s second king. If you know the story, it may initially appear he was laying on the irony so thick it required a backhoe, or at least a team of oxen. His father Saul had a history we might optimistically describe as checkered: initially anointed and blessed by God, but characterized by rebellion and self-will. Told that he was to be rejected from being king, he fought God all the way.

He never seemed to realize he was fighting a losing battle. That tells you everything you need to know about Saul.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Time and Chance (11)

In interpreting any given statement in Ecclesiastes, we are wise to look carefully at the Preacher’s current train of thought. Unlike the book of Proverbs, for the most part Ecclesiastes is not a collection of unrelated bits of wisdom. It is primarily an orderly series of arguments and observations.

Even where the direction of the writer’s thought flow does not immediately jump out at us and we are tempted to think he may have drifted off topic, he inevitably loops back to his theme. It is more than likely, then, that the meaning of any obscure thing the Preacher says may be at very least tangentially connected to his larger subject, as opposed to coming at us right out of the blue.

Knowing this is fairly helpful when we consider our next two verses.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Globalism and Censorship

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

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
[This post is slightly over four years old, but is starting to look a bit prescient in some respects and a little naive in others — Ed.]

Two legal rulings I came across this week have implications not just for this blog, but for all Christians on the internet.

The first is a ruling from European Union regulators that internet users in its member states have a “right to be forgotten”. Google has complied by instructing all its Blogger users worldwide to post a notice giving EU users information about the use of cookies on blogs originating in Canada, the US and everywhere else. In Europe, 90,000 requests for the removal of links and stories are already being processed and European regulators are now arguing the removals should be global, not just in Europe.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Ship of Fools, or The Titanic Arrogance of Postmodernity

We’re setting sail
To the place on the map
From which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of
the joker and the fool
By the light of the crosses that burn

Drawn by the promise of
the women and the lace
And the gold and the cotton and pearls
It's the place where they keep all the darkness you need
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby

You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow”
Ship of Fools, World Party (1986)

Those are pretty “Christian” lyrics, really.

Oh, they’re not genteel, kindly or polite, to be sure; but they’re real, they’re true and they’re accurate — at least when we apply them to our present society.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Better Idea

In theory, all genuine believers agree God knows best. How could he not? He made man from the dust of the earth. He knows us inside and out. Everything we encounter in life is the direct product of interaction with a system God created and which he actively maintains. The New Testament even tells us that we have a sympathetic advocate in the Lord Jesus, one who understands what it feels like to encounter temptation. Right and wrong are not mere abstractions to him; he knows the practical and emotional cost of choosing the good, every single time.

Of course he knows best. Who could possibly argue?

And yet, when the will of God is revealed to us, almost everyone at one time or another has a ‘better’ suggestion to offer. Our bright ideas do not all spring from exactly the same motives, but they are inferior all the same, sometimes appallingly so.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (4)

Sometimes Christians make arguments which are broadly correct, but wrong in the specifics. They reach the right conclusions, but do it by wrong reasoning. More often than not, they do this by inadvertently making false claims about the meaning of Greek or Hebrew words, usually for lack of careful research.

Now, it may be argued that perhaps this sort of error is not a big deal, since the listener gets to the correct place in the end regardless of the road used to get him there. Unfortunately, one of two things occurs: (1) the listener cannot navigate to his interpretive destination again without his misguided mentor, or (2) he can, and in doing so he too becomes a proponent of errors in method, if not actual errors in doctrine.

Either outcome is undesirable.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Anonymous Asks (67)

“Are intrusive thoughts sin?”

Intrusive thoughts can be distracting, distressing and very, very hard to get rid of. They keep us from focusing on things we know are more important, and things we really need to deal with. They raise issues we are eager to put to bed. They make us question whether we have truly forgiven others, and whether we even have full control of our own faculties.

Intrusive thoughts are certainly a pain. But are they sinful? Good question.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

You Could’ve Just Asked

Some people approach God as if he is mechanical rather than personal; as if checking all the right religious boxes will get you what you want out of him, after which you can happily go on your way until the next time you need something.

It’s not specifically a Catholic thing, an Orthodox thing, or a Protestant thing, but it’s definitely a thing. The tendency to view God as a stimulus-response Being on a cosmic scale can infect even the most theoretically-liberated evangelical heart.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Time and Chance (10)

What does it mean that God has “put eternity into man’s heart”? The statement is baffling and comprehensible in near-equal parts.

It is impossible to imagine mere human beings are capable of any substantive grasp of the transcendent or even the nature of our own being. That’s the baffling part. We are not fully equipped to understand ourselves, let alone anything more significant. We are more animals than angels: tiny, exceedingly finite beings concerned primarily with matters of comparative trivia.

The comprehensible part is that on some undefined level we all understand that the Preacher’s statement is true. We know it because we feel it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Nonsense That Remains Nonsense

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

Tom: C.S. Lewis has a line I love. He says, “Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” It applies nicely to lots of things.

I felt a little like that reading the Moody Publishers piece you sent me this week, Immanuel Can. The author of “Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars”, Stephen Miller, has written a short promotional piece entitled “Worship Leaders are Theologians”, in which he uses one extra-scriptural term to define another. My head is spinning trying to sort out all the modern church-speak.

How far away are we getting from the New Testament here, IC?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Force Farce

Last week we were talking about the charge made by so many non-Christians today that we are guilty of forcing our views on them.

At first blush, the charge seemed ridiculous. After all, Christians represent absolutely no threat of physical or political violence: even to imagine that is just paranoid, and completely misunderstands the fundamental necessity of faith. Moreover, Christians may sometimes choose to absent themselves from participating in or approving of worldly values, activities or lifestyles because of conscience, but that represents no threat of force: it’s simply a matter of personal conscience — the very thing that world is at pains to affirm.

So where does the charge of “force” come from?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Order in Disorder

The book of Judges records some of the most distasteful tales in all of scripture, and does so unflinchingly and without a great deal of unnecessary editorializing. There is much we can learn about human nature from the first few hundred years of Israel’s possession of the land God had promised to Abraham, almost all of it predictably bad. Few would dispute that the book ends on the lowest of low notes, with the oft-repeated declaration that “In those days there was no king in Israel” and the rare editorial conclusion, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

As we might expect, everyone’s “right” turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Point of the Exercise

It is God who confers authority, but he doesn’t do it for its own sake.

Sure, a position of authority often comes with side helpings: popularity, riches, dignity, power, a (usually temporary) legacy ... and (in Old Testament times at least) a bunch of wives. But these are baubles. They are not the point of the exercise. Other things come with authority too: abuse, rebellion, heckling and a horrible, frequently harrowing level of responsibility — but let’s not get into those.

My point is that it is always and only the WORK that matters to God, not the status or other benefits that authority confers.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Anonymous Asks (66)

“Did Jesus have brothers and sisters?”

I’m going to answer this as if it reads “earthly brothers and sisters”. In other words, literal siblings, children from the womb of the same mother. We all know of situations in which the words “brothers” and “sisters” are used figuratively in everyday language, particularly in a religious context. In this case we will not bother talking at length about New Testament figurative uses of “brother” or “sister”, as the answer is obvious enough to make this a very short post indeed.

So let’s get the metaphorical usage out of the way quickly.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Semi-Random Musings (16)

How many significant lessons have you absorbed from the history of neighboring provinces or states back in the 1640s, and how often do you reference them when making important decisions today? My guess would be not too many, and not very often.

At the Red Sea, shortly after the final vanquishing of the Egyptian army, Moses and the people of Israel sang these words to the Lord: “The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia.” Perhaps at the time that was more anticipatory than precisely accurate: Philistia was all the way across the Sinai Peninsula. It seems unlikely the news of Pharaoh’s stunning defeat could have traveled so far so fast.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Time and Chance (9)

The first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3 are among the most famous in all of scripture. Go ahead, name another #1 U.S. single with 3,000 year old lyrics. Even today, I find myself singing them in my head rather than merely reciting them. They so obviously reflect reality that one wonders they even need to be stated, but such is the nature of poetry. If we did not use these words, we would need others instead.

Still, there are probably one or two dusty old hippies around who might be shocked to learn Pete Seeger was not their author.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Diluting the Faith

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

Salvation Army founder William Booth once said, “I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be: Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.”

Author Daniel Sweet believes American Christianity is already there. One of the problems Sweet identifies is the dilution of the faith almost exactly the way Booth described.

Tom: What do you think, IC? Any of Booth’s formulations ring true to you? I’d argue politics was always without God, but other than that …

Thursday, November 07, 2019

A Disturbance in the Force

“Stop forcing your beliefs on me!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that cry when debating with unbelievers. In fact, I’ve heard it so much that I’ve begun to think there might be something behind it. After all, when many kinds of people from many kinds of backgrounds and situations seem to be arriving at the same kind of sentiment, there must be some cause for it, right?

But for a long time I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what it is. The problem is the wording: “You’re forcing …”

Am I? Really? How is that?

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

His Own Place

“Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

I have often wondered what the apostles meant by saying that Judas went to “his own place”.

I’m not the only one. For example, I’ve heard at least one Bible teacher say from the platform that the apostles (or perhaps Luke, the writer of Acts, in summing up their prayer in his own words) were sort of hedging their bets; discreetly avoiding passing judgment on Judas’ fate since they could not be 100% sure what had really happened to him. In this — or at least so it is alleged — they are modeling for us Christian virtue.

I find that explanation weak tea.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

They Did Not Know

“Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.”

“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

The first of these two editorial comments from the writer of 1 Samuel sheds a little light on an otherwise inexplicable feature of Christendom: that a non-trivial number of people who make their living from full-time religious service are vile human beings. They care only for themselves, and in catering to their own desires do great evil to their fellow men and women, even casting doubt on the reality of Christ and the salvation he offers.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Anonymous Asks (65)

“How can I satisfy my sexual needs and desires outside of marriage?”

This is certainly a loaded question. We need to be quite clear that there is one — and only one — legitimate Christian outlet for sexual energy: a Christian marriage. The apostle Paul is quite explicit about this. Marriage to a fellow believer is God’s remedy for the temptation toward sexual immorality of all sorts.

As stated, our question of the day can only be answered one way: You can’t. If that sounds a tad draconian, perhaps a little perspective is in order.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Inbox: Demon Possession and the Church Age

A friend emailed me some thoughts on demon possession worth passing along:

A couple weeks ago someone asked me for my thoughts on demon possession and the role it plays today [he had been reading something written by Derek Prince]. This led to the following thoughts, and I’d appreciate yours.

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Time and Chance (8)

Christians work not just because we are commanded to, or because we enjoy it, or because we think toil is intrinsically meritorious. We work because work serves a higher purpose.

One example: the apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonians, “[W]e worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” Paul, Silvanus and Timothy were deeply concerned about the example they set for the people to whom they preached, and so they labored ceaselessly to make sure their actions were consistent with their words, and thus validated the principles and precepts they taught.

They did this, Paul says, out of affectionate desire. Their hearts were full of love, and so their toil was joyful and purposeful rather than vain and frustrating.

In this, Christians are more than a little unusual.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: The New Social Engineers

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

In this four minute YouTube video on the subject of gender, race and identity, Douglas Murray has a word to the wise about Google, Facebook and Twitter: Big Social is actively trying to change how you think about these issues through a variety of means, including the results you see when you use a search engine online. Spoiler alert: corporations do not have your best interests at heart.

Tom: It’s rarely an effective strategy to announce to your audience, “Here’s a big plateful of tedious propaganda. Chow down.” Our would-be societal engineers are a little smarter than that, aren’t they, IC?