Thursday, February 27, 2020

Old Guy with the Ponytail

I saw an episode of The Fresh Prince of Belair recently.

Don’t ask.

Man, remember that show? At one time it was all the rage. The jokes seemed so clever, so cutting-edge. It seemed like suddenly every kid on the playground was sliding his pants down, turning his ball cap around, and trying to talk like Will Smith.

“Yo, yo, Homes … whaddup? How you gonna play me?”

** Cringe **

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

From the Cat’s Perspective

I’m sitting in the vet’s office with a very unhappy young feline. She was okay in the car; a little curious but not overly concerned. Now her tail is fluffed up like a feather duster and she’s growling, a sound I’ve never heard from her before. The instrument poking into her ears was bad enough, the prodding and squeezing of her abdomen was worse, and then came the rabies shot and the growling if you accidentally touch her where it now hurts.

To top things off, this is only the preliminary round. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s getting spayed in two weeks. That’s when things will really get ugly.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

What Scripture Doesn’t Tell Us

Yesterday in this space I mulled over the question of whether or not pets go to heaven. The post was mostly speculative. Why? Because, as is the case with so many other topics of interest to us in this life, the Bible simply doesn’t tell us. God chose not to weigh in on that one, at least not directly. Sure, there are hints and clues and principles in scripture which we can draw on to lead us to some more-or-less-satisfactory conclusion, but nowhere do we find plain teaching that settles the matter beyond controversy.

This is true of many, many other subjects of interest to Christians today.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Anonymous Asks (81)

“Will my pet go to heaven?”

As a pet owner and lover, I have no small vested interest in the question myself. That said, given what I know of God, if it turns out that my much-loved critters do not appear beside me in glory one day, I will not be turning to my heavenly Father to complain. There is simply too much about my own consciousness that I do not know with certainty for me to speculate with any confidence about animal consciousness and its eternal value.

Some things we simply have to leave to God. If there is a distinction to be made between the concepts of faith and trust, I would not be able to tell you what it is. Among Christians, then, who have already committed our own selves to Christ for salvation, a little trust on these smaller matters is in order.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Are the Critics Right?

Christianity has been called a crutch, an opiate, a panacea and “wish-fulfillment”. The prevailing theory among its detractors is that we are fragile flowers who can’t cope with life and surround ourselves with comforting platitudes to escape having to face up to harsh realities like “We are all alone in the universe”, “Nobody loves me”, “There is no such thing as justice” and “Death is the end of everything”.

Additionally, we are often told people cling to Christianity because they can’t think for themselves and need to be told what to do.

These are arguments that may initially appear to hold water.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Time and Chance (24)

King Saul had a burial.

When he fell in battle with the Philistines, his enemies decapitated him and fastened his body to the wall of the city of Beth-Shan, publicly degrading him in death. And yet, as willful, proud and chaotic as Saul’s reign over Israel had been, the courageous men of Jabesh-Gilead came, probably at no small risk to themselves, took his body, burned it, buried the bones and fasted seven days in memory of him.

As in most other nations, an ancient Israelite burial was not merely a matter of being dumped into a hole in the ground and covered by dirt. There were people who cared enough about Saul to make it evident to the entire nation — not to mention its enemies — that their king’s life, position and person were worthy of their loyalty and appreciation. So Saul received a proper interment with the customary ritual observances.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Five Questions About the Next Generation

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

We’re getting older. We’re not done yet, Lord willing, but more and more I’m realizing that nearly all the really knowledgeable Bible teachers and leaders I knew as a teenager have gone to be with the Lord and even the very average pulpit-fillers of the seventies and eighties have mostly given up their responsibilities to younger men. The missionaries we used to pray for have died on the mission field or come home to retire, and I don’t recognize many of the names I see replacing them. Even the average, decent pew-sitting Christian of my day seems to be getting longer in the tooth and less able to do the things he or she used to do in the local church. Some independent local churches I knew have now hired pastors and others have affiliated themselves with denominations. The local church of today is in many ways less and less recognizable to me.

Tom: To top it off, Immanuel Can, I’m not sure I identify much with the coming generation. They are so different from the young people of my own day. I’m not sure I can picture what the average local church may look like in twenty or thirty years. And yet we have an obligation to those who seek to follow Christ in the days to come. What IS the right strategy to prepare Christian young people to take on the world?

Thursday, February 20, 2020

On Being Taken In

“ ‘You see,’ said Aslan, ‘they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.’ ”
— C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

“You are not going to fool me with that religion stuff.”

That seems to be the position of many people in our modern world. There are many religions, they observe, and they disagree about all kinds of really basic things, like who God is, what morality should be, and what the point of life itself is. And since they all disagree, there’s got to be a lot of tommyrot and humbug out there.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Things That Are God’s

Most people use the expression “Render unto Caesar” as a slightly more literary way of saying “Pay your taxes.” The phrase is so universally recognizable it has served as the title of an episode of the Hercules TV cartoon, at least one book of teen fiction, and a whole quest in a popular videogame.

Not everyone could tell you the line comes from the Bible. Fewer know it was Jesus who said it. A smaller subset still can actually quote it in full: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

It’s funny how easily that last bit tends to get forgotten.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Analyzing the Narrative

Detail from Meister Francke’s Resurrection, ca. 1424
I read a lot of fiction. I always have. And, like most avid readers, I can tell the difference between a good story and a bad one; between a narrative account that holds water and one that is flimsily constructed or implausible.

The stolen body hypothesis is one of the latter, one that has been around from the very beginning. Matthew points out that the chief priests and elders paid to circulate the rumor as soon as it was clear the Lord’s body was no longer in his tomb.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Anonymous Asks (80)

“What are valid reasons to break up?”

If you are talking about breaking up a marriage on a permanent basis, the only possible valid reason given in scripture is a spouse engaged in a sexual perversion. Usually this is limited to adultery, but the Greek term the Lord used in Matthew is a fairly broad one, and there could be several other sorts of perversion that qualify.

Sorry, that’s a bit grim, but there you are. However, I suspect you are inquiring about a dating relationship or perhaps an engagement. In that case, I believe the Bible’s answer would be a little different.

Frankly, almost anything qualifies.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Metaphorical Mites

You remember the widow, right?

I know, I know, there are more than a few widows in the Bible. I mean the one at the temple in Jerusalem in the gospels. The Lord remarked on the gift she deposited in the temple treasury. He specifically drew the attention of his disciples to it when he said that she put in “more than all those who are contributing.”

If you only read Luke you might be forgiven for thinking this incident occurred at random, but Mark makes it clear that the Lord “sat down … and watched the people putting money into the offering box.” That may seem an odd way to occupy your time, but I think he was waiting for a certain poor widow to come along.

So her two mites matter, and maybe not only for the reasons you might think.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Time and Chance (23)

Work is not in itself a product of the Fall. God made man to “have dominion”. Even ruling is not a passive undertaking; it requires doing something from time to time. God put Adam in the Garden of Eden not to be a man of leisure but “to work it and keep it”. Apparently it would not keep itself, even in an unfallen world. There is no suggestion this was in any way unpleasant, but it was man’s lot up until the Fall.

However, when Adam sinned, God declared, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” Work got a whole lot harder. The word “pain” appears for the first time in the respective curses. This was the new “lot” of mankind, and coming to grips with it required serious reflection.

Back in Ecclesiastes 5, the Preacher has given it some.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Positively Negative

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

Karen Wolff at Christian Books for Women gives some tips for the Christian on maintaining an upbeat attitude that are almost generic enough pass for the musings of whatever secular positivity guru happens to trending on the shelves in Chapters this week. She says obeying Paul’s injunction to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” involved purposefully replacing any negative thoughts we have with positive ones.

Tom: Such a thing is not always easily done, and I’m not even sure we have a scriptural warrant to pursue it. Certainly Wolff provides none, simply assuming the validity of her own premise. But her thoughts on the subject are similar to other believers I’ve encountered over the years.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Mouth Almighty

Mouth almighty, that is what I’ve got,
 Mouth almighty, telling you
    what’s what.
 Mouth almighty.
 I wish I’d never opened my mouth
    almighty …
— Elvis Costello (1983)

Some years ago, I was working at a Christian summer camp.

By all evidence, it had been an excellent year — many children’s lives touched, many young people growing in knowing God, good friendships formed, spiritual growth on every side, and a safe and successful physical program.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Commentariat Speaks (16)

Done properly, Bible translation is really just the search for truth. It attempts to represent the original text in another language to the very best of expert ability to reconstruct it from the available manuscript evidence.

Some English versions are painstakingly literal, attempting as closely as possible to represent each original Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic word with an English equivalent (an impossible task, if you know anything about syntax and semantics). Others are more dynamic and literary, attempting to convey the overall feel and sense of the original as the translators understand it, rather than trying to force the receptor language to awkwardly mimic the sentence structure of the original language. Some Bible versions are based on a single, familiar text tradition. Others synthesize multiple traditions in an attempt to get at the most precise possible reading.

Either way, truth is usually the governing standard. It is rare that anyone deliberately sets out to produce a #fakebible.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Courting Judgment

It is estimated the kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 722 BC. The kingdom of Judah came to its own rather ignominious end 126 years later, in 586 BC — but it did not fall to Assyria. Rather, it was the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem and carried its people into exile.

This was not for lack of trying on the part of the Assyrians. The Assyrian Empire was a massive undertaking, lasting 300 years, spanning the Middle East and beyond. It has been referred to as “the most powerful empire in the world”.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Anonymous Asks (79)

“Is being depressed a sin?”

One of our guest authors dealt admirably with the question of the alleged “sinfulness” of grief back in 2014, and much of what she said then applies to depression.

All other things being equal, experiencing depression is not a sin. Elijah, Jeremiah and other prophets all described or experienced feelings that seem awfully familiar to a modern depressive.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Authority and Example

Those of you who have been reading here for a long time may remember that I have struggled with the idea of Bible history being authoritative. Many things were done by many people during the roughly 4,000-year period during which the history of mankind is explored in scripture, some of them good and some of them bad. We can learn from all of those stories, but that doesn’t mean we ought to imitate the conduct of everyone we find in them. Abraham makes a better role model than Ahab, but even Abraham was far from perfect.

Accurate history simply records what happened. Telling you what you should conclude about it — or, much more importantly, what you should do about it — generally requires some sort of editorial comment or authorial aside. As Hume famously put it, you can’t get ‘ought’ from ‘is’.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Time and Chance (22)

A significant number of baby boomers are blowing their way through their kids’ inheritances, and they’re doing it guilt-free. Some do it with the blessing of well-off children who don’t need anything, but the justification is usually something along the lines of “Hey, you only live once” or “We worked hard for it! Why should someone else enjoy it?”

You can argue the morality of such a move both ways. On the one hand, giving certain children a pile of unearned money is like throwing it into a black hole. Neither you nor they are really benefiting long term.

On the other hand, there is a venerable tradition of putting something aside for the coming generations. That time-honored custom did not develop for no reason.

Friday, February 07, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: I Have My Doubts

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

In a poem entitled “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”, Robert Browning wrote these words:

“That way
Over the mountain, which who stands upon
Is apt to doubt if it be meant for a road;
While, if he views it from the waste itself,
Up goes the line there, plain from base to brow,
Not vague, mistakeable! what’s a break or two
Seen from the unbroken desert either side?
And then (to bring in fresh philosophy)
What if the breaks themselves should prove at last
The most consummate of contrivances
To train a man’s eye, teach him what is faith?”

Tom: Wow, I can relate. Immanuel Can, are Christians supposed to admit we ever have moments when we struggle with doubt?

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Do You Want to Go Out?

That’s what we used to ask back in the day.

Yeah, I know that was a hundred years ago, before the era of shacking up and then the era of hooking up, and today’s era of everything’s up.

Bear with me: I’m old.

Well, old-er. I’m not giving up my happy delusions of youth just yet. And I’m not so old that I can’t remember what it felt like to ask a girl out. Oh, yes: it was misery … the obligatory lump in the throat and sweaty palms, the tension in the air and the vertiginous moment when she made up her mind … and then … the answer.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Getting It Done

King Joash noticed God’s temple in Jerusalem was in disrepair.

At the time Joash reigned over Judah, Solomon’s temple had only been standing for a little over 150 years. So this wasn’t a signal to bring in the wrecking ball and start from scratch; the temple was carefully, durably and very expensively built. It didn’t need wholesale reconstruction. But it had definitely seen better days.

Something needed to be done, and it was the king who identified the problem and set about solving it.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The Best Rhetoric

Treachery, O Ahaziah!”

Treason! Treason!”

Twice in the space of three chapters in 2 Kings we find very bad people complaining about the conduct of those around them. “Treachery!” exclaims King Joram of Israel, as God’s anointed fulfills his destiny by shooting him between the shoulderblades. “Treason!” shrieks Athaliah, as she confronts a seven-year old boy she accidentally overlooked during her murderous rampage through the king’s nursery.

It’s always a bit of a lark when wicked people whinge about being hard done by.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Anonymous Asks (78)

“Is what I feel love or lust?”

That’s a very binary question. There are a few other possibilities worth exploring.

Some people enter into a relationship looking for neither love nor lust. I know of several women who, in their mid-thirties, settled for a man they neither loved nor lusted after primarily because they wanted children and didn’t want to raise them alone. Mostly, they felt out of time and out of other options.

Not ideal, but those are definitely real feelings. And there are lots more.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Problems That Don’t Go Away By Themselves

Upon being anointed king of Israel, Jehu wasted no time getting to work fulfilling the prophecies made about him. Not only did he kill the king of Israel, he threw in his unfortunate ally, the king of neighboring Judah, for good measure. He then orchestrated the deaths of the queen mother, the seventy sons of Ahab, all Ahab’s close friends and priests, and even a group of visitors from Judah who had come to see them. Finally, he called together the worshipers of Baal, had them executed to a man, demolished the house of Baal and turned it into a latrine.

A pretty clean sweep, you might say. Bloody, but definitely comprehensive.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Time and Chance (21)

It is estimated Solomon wrote 3,000 proverbs, so it’s not surprising a few would show up even in the middle of the book of Ecclesiastes, which is what we might fairly call an observational treatise. He certainly had proverbs to spare.

Two of these next three are the usual two-clause parallelisms, the last antithetical, but even then they do not quite fit the standard proverbial template. The “this also is vanity” clause in the first proverb throws off the expected rhythm. The second is a fairly rare proverbial form in which the final clause extrapolates rather than reinforcing or contrasting.

It’s no surprise to see the Preacher making use of his favorite literary device, but forcing it to operate only in the interest of servicing the overall message of his book shows unusual restraint.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Discipline of Discipline

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

Immanuel Can: The only verse in the Bible that everyone today seems to know is “Judge not lest ye be judged.”

Tom: Sounds about right.

IC: Okay, so that verse seems to people to be conveying something important. Maybe it needs some closer examination.

Tom: Fair enough. Well, it seems to me there’s an obvious incentive on the part of those who use it to rebut any potential critique of their own behaviors — or the behaviors of those for whom they choose to be advocates. I mean, quoting a verse to an unbeliever would carry no weight at all, so it’s clearly a device to disqualify dissenting Christian opinion and shut down any debate before it begins.

It’s saying to you and me, “Aha, see, you’re not allowed to have a view on this.”

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Authentic Me

I’m not wading into the moral train wreck that is the Bruce Jenner situation. There are some things about which the less said the better. But I am interested in the language that has come out over and over again in regard to it. I note the recurrence of a theme that bears serious consideration for a Christian.

It’s the idea of authenticity. In the parlance of the world, it’s supposed to explain or excuse a very great deal. It is generally taken for granted that to be “authentic” is an absolute moral duty — in fact, it might be the only universal moral duty that the liberal left actually recognizes. And somehow Jenner has achieved this highest value by his recent act of selecting to go half woman.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Flyover Country: 3 John

The most enthusiastic reception I’ve ever gotten at a local church was the day I set foot in a small congregation of Christians whose nominal affiliation with (reputed) sectarian purists turned out to be no predictor of the warm welcome they uniformly showed to visitors from the “other side” of the theological divide.

I broke bread with them after an introductory conversation that took approximately thirty seconds, just long enough to discover what I thought of Jesus Christ. I think very well of him indeed. That was sufficient cause for a hearty introduction, several good conversations and multiple invitations home for a bite of lunch.

Good for them, I say.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

More Than One Blessing

“Have you but one blessing, my father?”

Mature Christians will tell you the answer to every problem in life is Christ. They are not wrong. The most complex interpersonal disasters, the most dysfunctional families, the biggest crimes and misdemeanors and all the fallout that comes from them — in one way or another, Jesus Christ is the answer to all these things.

When you have smashed all the dishes, Christ is the answer. But he will not mend them for you and put them back on the shelf. When you have blown up your marriage, Christ is the answer. But he may not magically transform your ex-husband into your best friend. When you have raised an ungrateful, spoiled, crazy child, Christ is definitely the answer. The child may still decide to go to hell.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Anonymous Asks (77)

“Is my baptism still valid if I sin?”

I cannot think of a single person in the New Testament who was ever baptized twice as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Now, there were a few believers in Corinth who received a second water baptism, but only because their first baptism had been a baptism of repentance preached by John. This was insufficient; they needed to be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

But baptized twice as Christians? Never.* That in itself should strongly suggest it is impossible to invalidate one’s baptism.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Breaking Your Own Compass

By the oddest of coincidences, the standard of the
Nineveh Protection Units looks like ... a compass.
“I did it my way.”
— Paul Anka

“I’ve got my own way. I can find my own way.”
— Duran Duran

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
— Judges 21:25

Ah, the conscience.

The Function of Conscience

On one hand, each individual’s conscience must be the final arbiter of his or her choices; a moral compass. While there is plenty of direction out there in the word of God to provide sound guidance for life, in the end, how that is applied and whether or not it is followed is down to each one of us. It can be no other way.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Time and Chance (20)

One thing I have neglected to point out over the last two weeks of posts in this series is that the first seven verses of chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes are different from everything that has come before them. They are the very first commands we have encountered in the Preacher’s writing.

Everything up to this point has been description; the Preacher looking around at his world and telling us what he observes in the absence of divine revelation, most of which he finds disappointing and confusing. But chapter 5 commences with a short series of what we might call prescriptions. The Preacher has actually begun to issue the occasional instruction. “Guard your steps,” he says. “Be not rash with your mouth. Let your words be few. Do not delay in fulfilling your vows.”

Friday, January 24, 2020

Disappearing Comments

Our reader WiC informs me issues he was having with his comments to our blog posts disappearing into the ether seem to have been unexpectedly resolved. If I recall, this happened most frequently to readers with Mac laptops.

Is it time? Is it Blogger? Who knows. Either way it’s good news.

So, if you have felt like commenting on a post here or there but have given it up for impossible, now might be a good time to give it another shot.

Too Hot to Handle: Majoring on the Majors

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

Tom: There’s a line I keep hearing these days that goes something like this:

“We should keep unity for the sake of the gospel. Major on the majors, and not on the minors. We shouldn’t fight over secondary issues.”

Immanuel Can, some things are worth fighting over. Jude urges his readers, who appear to be a very general believing audience, to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

So what’s really worth contending for, and what should be set aside for the sake of unity? In short, what makes something “major” or “minor”?

Immanuel Can: Ah. What do I mean, or what do most other people I meet seem to mean? Can you clarify?

Tom: I take it there’s a significant difference then.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Just Get Up

Sammy came to visit me yesterday.

I shouldn’t call him that, actually. He’s not a kid. He’s close to thirty now, I would guess; he’s done with college, done with establishing a career, and while he’s not yet married (if he ever chooses to be), he’s a highly successful entrepreneur who owns two flourishing businesses.

But when I knew him he was “Sammy”. I coached him in his teens, you see.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Semi-Random Musings (19)

“[T]he one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death.”

Tough times, when prophets are anointed in blood.

Not literally, of course; let’s not be grotesque. But the Bible’s first mention of Elijah’s successor tells us he would cause death, and he needed no sword to do it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Is Christianity a Religion?

Depends on your definition, doesn’t it.

As a unit of language, the word ‘religion’ has acquired so many nuances that it is almost useless. Everyone has his or her own idea of what religion means, but they often differ drastically from one another. It has become one of those words that just doesn’t really communicate much anymore.

If I ask, “Are you religious?” and you say “Yes”, I have actually discovered very little indeed about what you believe.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Anonymous Asks (76)

“What does the Bible say about insecurity?”

The answer to that would very much depend on the type of insecurity in question.

For example, King Saul was extremely insecure about his position as king of Israel, so much so that he tried to kill the man he suspected would follow him on the throne. He had very good reason to be insecure, and there was no obvious cure to be found for his insecurity. He had sinned, and was under the judgment of God. His kingdom was to be taken away from him and given to another.

In short, he was trying to defend something to which he had no right. Living in that sort of untenable position will always make us feel insecure.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Agnosticism and Folly

“Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”

Solomon, wisest man of his day and the greatest king of Israel — at least by the world’s standard of measurement — talks about two alternatives we all face in life, picturing them by extended metaphor as a pair of women offering invitations.

On the surface there are similarities: both women are offering food of a sort to those who are simple, naïve or untaught, just as we all are when we come into the world.

But the similarities end there.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Time and Chance (19)

Over the Christmas season, you often get to observe people giving thanks for a meal who wouldn’t do it ordinarily. You can tell it’s a special event because they refer to it as “saying grace”, as if it’s some kind of annual sacrament rather than just another in a thrice-daily series of simple, grateful responses to God’s generosity. Often the head of the family feels compelled to do the honors.

Now, from time to time it happens that the person drafted to perform this duty has given little or no thought to the question of God’s existence one way or the other. He is now put on the spot. It can be fun, and a bit awkward, to watch someone pretend to address a Supreme Being they don’t truly believe in. Their whole “grace” thing usually gets mumbled out strung together like it’s one word: Forwhatweareabouttorecieve ...

Hey, it helps to have a familiar liturgical formula to recite. Anybody can pull that off, believer or no.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Making Merchandise

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

As long as there has been a people of God in the world, there have been those who looked to take advantage of them. The Israelites had their false prophets, and Peter warns the young church to expect their share of false teachers. He says, as the translators of the King James Version so eloquently put it, “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you”.

Tom: But of course the trick is always identifying such people, isn’t it, Immanuel Can? I mean, what does that look like in the real world?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Unforgivable Sin

Over the holidays I was browsing a bookshop, and by chance happened to pick up a copy of Søren Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death (1849).

Now, I’m not saying it’s a book everybody’s going to find easy to read. I don’t think it’s one that an unbeliever — no matter how bright — is really going to be able to understand. Nor do I think an average believer will find it straightforward. But if you’ve got the will and the ability, and especially if you are a person of some theological background and an interest in the welfare of Christians generally, I most highly recommend it.

It’s blowing my mind.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Text and Me

Marg Mowczko writes about a woman who wept when reading the many masculine pronouns in 1 Corinthians in her 1984 NIV. She asked, “Where am I in the text?

Marg herself admits to a similar issue with nouns: “Masculine nouns, such as ‘brothers’ when the meaning is ‘brothers and sisters,’ effectively distance women from the text.” She finds the book of Hebrews much less personally relevant when she reads it in the ESV.

Accordingly, Marg prefers the TNIV, which uses more gender-inclusive language, giving women the prominence in the text which it is thought they need and deserve.

But since the question of distance from the text is being raised, let’s explore that a bit.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Nouns and Pronouns

Pronouns are noun-substitutes. They save us from cluttering up our sentences with unnecessary repetition. A long string of names can be easily replaced with a four-letter pronoun like “they”, saving all kinds of space.

I’m not telling you anything new here. We learn this in grade school.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Anonymous Asks (75)

“Does God know when I will die?”

Yes. How’s that for a quick and direct answer?

We find David reflecting on this exact subject in a psalm about God’s incredible knowledge of each of his creatures: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” The words “every one of them” tell us that not only does God know the content of our experiences, but each individual time-fragment that makes up those experiences. Every single day.

Not only is God able to count the days of our lives, he has made a formal record of each one.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Times and Dates

The phrase “unto this day” or its equivalent occurs 92 times in scripture by my count, 86 times in Hebrew and six times in Greek. Well over a dozen Bible authors use it. When I was much younger and more solipsistic, I read it — don’t laugh — as if it meant up until the late twentieth century, as if “this day” meant the day I was reading it. It seemed rather cool to me that so many landmarks in Old Testament history could survive so long.

Later it dawned on me that of course it really means up until sometime between the first moment the writer put quill to papyrus and the moment he finished editing what he had written. No more, no less.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Time and Chance (18)

The “house of God”. What does that mean exactly? When you see the expression in your Bible, it does not always mean precisely the same thing, though all its uses have a common element.

When Jacob first coins the expression in Genesis, he is referring to what he saw in a vision while camped about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. He dreamed of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, on which the angels of God traveled up and down, and the Lord standing above it, speaking to him. He concluded he had slept on the doorstep of God’s heavenly dwelling, and he called the place Bethel, which means “house of God”.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Biocentrism and Reality

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

The soul: it’s a heavy topic, and one that not everyone agrees about. Dr. Robert Lanza is a biologist who says that consciousness creates the universe rather than the other way around. He’s what is called a “biocentrist”. His is a relatively new theory, having come into play around 2007. The fundamental notion behind it is that the much sought-after “Theory of Everything” scientists are looking for cannot be found until biology is placed at the head of the sciences.

Tom: It’s interesting, Immanuel Can, to see the spiritual dimension of life acquiring some scientific credibility. Do you want to take a shot at explaining Dr. Lanza’s theory?

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Living Under the Blade

Damocles, R. Westall, 1812
The ancient writer Cicero has an anecdote about a man named Damocles, a boot-licking courtier to the ancient despot, Dionysius II. Damocles foolishly thought he’d like to see what it was really like to be a king, and so the king granted his wish.

Damocles quickly settled himself into Dionysius’ luxurious couch and began to enjoy the pleasures of rule — being fanned, having serving maids feed him, issuing commands, and so on. But in order to make the experience truly authentic, Dionysius gave one further order: that above Damocles’ head a shining sword would be suspended by a single horse-hair, so that he might be ever conscious that at any moment it might fall and carve the presumptuous pseudo-king in half.

Of course, Damocles soon begged the king to be allowed to return to his former position.