Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Flyover Country: 2 Thessalonians

The day of the Lord remains a touchy subject among Christians. Some believers (I among them) look for its fulfillment at a future date. Others insist it occurred in A.D. 70 at the destruction of Jerusalem.

The book of 2 Thessalonians is part of this ongoing discussion, though not directly. Because it was written prior to A.D. 70, it cannot possibly settle the matter beyond dispute. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, both purported “fulfillments” were still future.

And yet, even well before A.D. 70, some Christians were claiming the day of the Lord had already come. That is the error Paul’s second letter was written to refute.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Anonymous Asks (73)

“Is born-again virginity possible?”

Infogalactic says, “A born-again virgin is a person who, after having engaged in sexual intercourse, makes some type of commitment not to be sexually active again ... whether for religious, moral, practical, or other reasons.”

Like many ideas floating around evangelical churches today, the concept contains elements of both truth and error.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Two Wrongs

I was sure I had written at length some time recently about King Saul’s attempted ethnic cleansing of the Gibeonites and the grisly complications it produced during the reign of his successor, but I see no evidence of such an exercise on the blog.

2,223 posts, and no significant exploration of the subject.* I promise I wasn’t intentionally dodging a bullet.

Well, let’s rectify that.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Time and Chance (16)

We all know people who we think work too hard. But what is “too hard” really? If we are honest, it’s a bit of a subjective call.

John the Baptist got by on locusts and wild honey, and was happy with one coat of camel’s hair and a leather belt. It’s pretty clear he didn’t have a day job. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, and while he certainly labored non-stop, it was not with a view to acquiring earthly possessions. Still, nowhere in scripture do we find the expectation that all should live life the way Jesus or John lived. In fact, one of the reasons both John and the Lord Jesus were morally free to devote their lives to their respective missions was that they had incurred no earthly financial obligations to others.

For most of us, life is a bit more complicated. Not better, necessarily, but certainly more complicated.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: What’s the Point?

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

Some people market Christianity like fire insurance, and others buy into it in fear of judgment. Then there are the folks like Joel Osteen who tell us being a believer will make us powerful and successful. Others who claim to represent Christ tell us that knowing Jesus will make us better human beings, improve our relationships or help us cope in bad times. Intellectual believers may say that in their search for truth, the Christian worldview best explains things about which they have always wondered.

Tom: Immanuel Can, there is a certain amount of rationality in most of these motives, but do they really get to the core of the Christian message?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Least Worst Option

With Christmas over for another year, it’s time for the usual abrupt swerve.

Christianity Today’s December 19 online edition contains an editorial unambiguously entitled “Trump Should Be Removed from Office”, in which Mark Galli takes aim at the President of the United States. I managed to miss it until now. Adam Ford did not.

While Galli’s strong stand will surely generate serious pushback from more than a few of his readers (after all, the president won 81% of the evangelical vote in 2016), CT’s editor-in-chief had already announced his upcoming retirement early in 2020. Thus, it will fall to Galli’s successor to manage whatever fallout his political posturing may produce.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

What We Don’t Know

There’s a fair bit we know about Christmas.

We know it’s the celebration of the day that the Savior of the world was born. We know he was later to become a great moral teacher. Most of us also know he was later to give up his life at Calvary, to pay the price of our sins and to redeem us to God. And many of us also know he was to be raised again and exalted to God’s right hand, a King to return and reign. This is all open to us, because we have the history of it. And while much remains for us to understand, still, much is revealed about all that. For the rest, we wait in faith.

But at this time of year we tend to think of Jesus Christ in a different way: not as a great moral teacher, nor as the “man of sorrows” suffering for the sins of the world, nor as the resurrected Lord and returning Judge, but rather as a baby.

And that’s a pretty baffling thing, when you think about it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

My First and Last Christmas Play

I really don’t care for Christmas plays.

Choral programs are tolerable because they at least have Christmas carols, and no matter how often those things get recycled you can’t begrudge people all their traditions. Anyway, some of those carols are quite nice.

But the plays! How many times must I witness people flouncing around in bathrobes, talking like no one in 1st century Israel ever did? How many rickety mangers occupied by plastic baby dolls must one endure? In some places they even parade up some recent mother from the congregation, towing along her screaming newborn, and the old ladies in the front row melt. Then there’s the angelic choir of five teenagers wrapped in shower curtains and crowned with coat-hanger haloes …

To employ the appropriate phrase, “Oy vey.”

Monday, December 23, 2019

Anonymous Asks (72)

“How is it fair that God tested Adam in Eden when he knew Adam was destined to fail?”

I am indebted to my co-writer Immanuel Can for the response that follows. He has helped me to see the tree of the knowledge of good and evil a little differently than I used to.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Trinity (and Other Committees)

Last week I spent a torturous hour and a half completing an online job safety training module. Since the company I work for has more than 15 employees, provincial law requires that we have a safety committee. So every time a new government rolls out a new initiative or an old one decides to ‘refresh’ their documentation (code for ‘same thing, new wrapper’), the byproducts of their boardroom discussions eventually filter down to me.

I suppose if you have to be on a committee, the Job Safety Committee is the one to volunteer for. Coffee and donuts monthly for doing … not much. Finding a spot to hang the first aid kit, I suspect. In case a paper cut really, really bleeds.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Time and Chance (15)

The expression “keeping up with the Joneses” may have originated with the 1913 comic strip of the same name, but more likely was coined in reference to a family of mid-19th century New York bankers known for their conspicuous consumption.

Either way, it means envy. If my neighbors have one, then I must have one too ... and preferably a bigger, better and glossier model. And to keep consuming, I need more money.

Solomon had this figured out long before there were any Joneses to keep up with.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Sexual Morality and Civilization

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

A friend recently sent me a link to this Kirk Dunston blog post on the importance of sexual morality to civilization. Dunston was struck by the relevance of Joseph Unwin’s research to our particular moment in time, as summarized in his 1934 book Sex and Culture.

Tom: Being a philosophy bug, I thought you might find this interesting, IC. I had certainly never come across Unwin’s research before. It sounds fascinating. Basically, as Dunston puts it, he “examines the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there is a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures.”

Few would attempt to argue our culture is currently flourishing.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Collective Madness

“They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name.’ ”

What is collectivism? It’s not just the belief that it helps to have others around, or that a group can do more than a lone person can. Rather, it’s the belief and practice of making a group more important than any or all individuals in it.

It requires us to define the value of each human being by the crowds to which we suppose them to belong — their cultural, racial, economic, educational, sexual and historical peer-groups. It’s a form of Marxism, really, but Marxism in new clothes, because the evils of Marxism are too well known.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The New New Atheism

Chris Hall of AlterNet has a special announcement to make: “Hitchens, Dawkins and Harris are old news. A totally different atheism is on the rise.”

This even newer New Atheism is all about social justice. Hall sums it up this way:

“The activists who insist that atheism address matters of social justice are not distracting the movement from its purpose or being divisive; they are insisting it deliver on the promises that attracted so many of us to it in the first place.”

If the most significant promise of atheism is social justice, I can’t wait to see atheism try to deliver. It seems to me that an absence of belief (or belief in an Absence), is in a pretty poor position to promise much of anything.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Flyover Country: 1 Thessalonians

I’m not sure we need another ongoing series of posts at the moment, but a couple of friends have been after me for a while to do a series where each post summarizes a single book of the Bible in one go; an overview that would serve to highlight their themes and most important feature(s).

I’ve resisted this initially because there are so many such things online already. Then I looked more closely and realized some are more useful than others. Some are so brief and random they might as well be tweets, and a few really are.

I’ll aspire to usefulness at least. Execution is another story ...

Monday, December 16, 2019

Anonymous Asks (71)

“Is God mad at me?”

Hmm.

The doctrinal portion of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans begins with these words:

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Why Didn’t Jesus Marry?

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in 2020. Bet you didn’t know that. I had to look it up.

For readers who weren’t around in 1970, this pithy summary from GotQuestions is pretty much on-the-nose: “It is an attempt to rewrite history. It makes the traitor Judas Iscariot a victim and reduces the Lord Jesus Christ to a burnt-out celebrity who is in over his head.”

I never saw Superstar back in the day, but a few of the older guys in my mid-’70s youth group loved the soundtrack and played it to death at our basement get-togethers. The experience was musically painful and theologically teeth-grinding.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Time and Chance (14)

There is a certain apparent randomness to hurricanes, cancer and car accidents. There is nothing at all random about oppression. Oppression is something one human being deliberately inflicts on another, and for which the oppressor will one day give an account.

A hurricane does not have to explain itself, or pay some future price for the havoc and misery it has produced. An oppressor certainly will.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Made for More of What?

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

Tom: Immanuel Can is sending me bad things again. And I’m not entirely sure how to respond. This time it’s Moody Publishers’ “Post Sunday”, in which Moody extols one of its new releases. This one is a Hannah Anderson special in which the author holds forth on the “lameness” of the church. Okay, I can’t stop there: the church is lame (according to Hannah) because she has crippled herself. In the words of Ms Anderson, we have failed to equip “Bible women” because we “don’t have a vision for how God could use them for His glory.”

Help me out here: what are “Bible women”?

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Change Is Gonna Come

Umm ... not effective?
So sang Sam Cooke.

I guess he’d know. He was writing his soulful anthems back in the ’50s and early ’60s in places like Mississippi and Chicago — not the easiest places for a young person of his particular shade of skin to be. But things were changing then, and in retrospect, those who didn’t know they were changing and who thought they could keep things the way they were forever were just spitting into the wind.

Yes, change is gonna come. And you can’t change that. You’ve just got to be ready and react smartly when it does.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Bring on the Philistines

“Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.” ’ ”

A little Bible history may remind us what a mealy-mouthed, disingenuous endorsement this really is. At this point, David has been ruling as king over Judah in Hebron for a full 7-1/2 years, while the tribes of Israel now buttering him up have been engaged in bitter civil war against him, with Ish-bosheth son of Saul as their chosen king and the tribe of Benjamin as the power behind the throne.

Unfortunately both Ish-bosheth and his powerful and popular general Abner are now dead. They won’t be governing anyone or delivering them from their enemies.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Women in the Old Testament

Why were the lives of Old Testament women so wildly different from those of women today?

If you have never studied history in any serious depth, you might be forgiven for thinking that some of things that went on ancient Israelite households were absolutely barbaric, that wives and daughters were horribly oppressed, lacked agency, were regarded as mere chattel, and lived lives of virtual slavery.

Careful attention to the text of the Old Testament shows this was rarely the case.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Anonymous Asks (70)

“Does God love everyone?”

The answer to this question may initially seem so obvious as to render further commentary a bit pointless. If there is a better-known Bible verse than John 3:16, I cannot think what it might be. Maybe a line from Psalm 23.

In any case, as the Lord told Nicodemus, “God so loved the world.”

There you are. God loves everyone. Full stop.

Or does he? And if he does, in what sense does he love everyone, and what does that mean for the objects of his love?

Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Other Side of the Story

One thing you will likely notice as you read through the Bible’s books of history is that they are not saturated with editorial comments. That is to say the Holy Spirit did not prompt the writers of scripture’s various histories to pass moral judgment on many, even most, of the events they recounted.

There are several notable instances in which he did.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Time and Chance (13)

What distinguishes man from other mammals?

Charles Darwin famously argued that the difference in mind between mankind and the higher animals is one of degree and not of kind. In other words, we have all the same basic intellectual material to work with. Humans just have more of it.

Indeed, this can seem like a tricky question if you’re asked it in the middle of watching a YouTube video of an elephant enthusiastically playing piano, or a setter and a pigeon who appear to be best pals. Not all this stuff is staged.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Too Hot to Handle: Friendship and Testimony

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

Earlier this season, TV host Ellen Degeneres took some serious flack for sitting side by side with former U.S. President George Bush at an NFL game in Dallas, especially because she and Bush appeared to be having a good time with one another. Twitter promptly erupted into the usual outrage-fest, with commenters calling Bush a “war criminal” and so on, obliging Degeneres to defend herself:

“I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”

Tom: No shortage of Christians expressed approval of Degeneres’ comments.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Change Is Gonna Do Us Good

Where is Kodak these days? Remember that company? It used to have its name on most of the cameras and film that you saw around. Kodak was an empire, an institution. Now where is it?

And how about Blockbuster Video? Seen any of those stores around lately? They used to be on every corner.

Laura Ashley clothing? Napster music service?

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Wikipedia vs. Baptism

Where does one begin on the subject of baptism?

If there is a more misunderstood Christian practice in all of the New Testament, I cannot think what it might be. I suspect even speaking in tongues can’t touch it with respect to the degree of confusion produced by the teaching about it currently circulating.

How widespread and how deeply rooted are the misconceptions surrounding baptism? I suppose one might look at different denominational opinions on the subject and assess them one by one, but I’m really more interested in what the man on the street (and perhaps even in the pew) thinks than in esoteric positions held by theologians that have failed to make an impression on the masses.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

On Incoherence

Ideological incoherence is the hallmark of the political Left.

The Right has its own problems with consistency, of course, and they are not trivial, but it is getting increasingly difficult to keep pace with people who maintain the right to life for murderers and roast beef sandwiches while upholding the right to kill human babies in the womb. What can one say about folks who maintain diversity is strength ... except when it is ideological diversity, of course. What can we say about people who argue for the supremacy of science ... except when genetics plainly tells us a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Then science is right out to lunch.

Well, we can say Christians are probably way too much like them for our own good.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Anonymous Asks (69)

“If it is true that ‘whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire,’ then why did both Jesus and his apostles call people fools?”

Normally the questions answered in this series of posts come from anonymous sources, all of whom are (at least to the best of my knowledge) actual people. Their problems may be real or hypothetical (or, in at least one case, just plain old trolling), but I answer them here because their writers make a decent effort to submit questions we have good reason to believe might be of concern to our readers or people they know.

In this case, I freely admit I submitted this one to myself just for the dubious pleasure of working it through.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

The Perils of Family Ties

Most books of the Bible have themes. Commentators generally do a decent job of teasing out the more blatant ones and turning them into book titles or pithy summaries. Thus Psalms is “the hymnbook of the remnant”, Hebrews is concerned with “an unshakeable kingdom” and Mark’s is said to be the “gospel of the Servant King”. To their credit, in many cases these diligent students of God’s word also identify and share with us less obvious recurring patterns that could easily be missed by first, second and even third time readers.

In the books of Samuel, one of these recurring patterns is nepotism. It might not rate the subtitle of a commentary, but it’s there all the same, threading its way through the stories of Samuel, Saul and David, chronicling the perils of family ties that are just a wee bit too tight, and their potentially injurious effects on the people of God.

Once you see it, you can’t stop seeing it.