Friday, May 29, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: To Debate or Not to Debate

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

Is there such a thing as too much discussion?
Kristin Howerton thinks evangelicals need to rethink our response to the gay marriage issue. “Is the debate over gay marriage what we want to be known for?” she asks:

“Do these squabbles speak love? Does the loud and passionate protestation about same-sex marriage draw others to Christ?”

Tom: Good questions, Immanuel Can. Is there any easy answer? Or is this a debate where both sides may have legitimate concerns?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Stuck in the Middle with You

“Clowns to the left of me,
  Jokers to the right,
  Here I am
  Stuck in the middle with you.”
— Stealers Wheel, 1972

Doesn’t it seem these days like the world has divided right down the middle? We’ve got Conservatives and Liberals, Democrats and Republicans, Brexiters and Europhiles, open borders advocates and controlled immigration people, social justice warriors and free speech advocates, the politically correct and the deliberately controversial, individualists and collectivists … and on, and on, and on.

Iron and clay, maybe.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Anatomy of a Genocide

Serious efforts to exterminate Jews have happened more than once, and the word of God assures us they will happen again. The book of Esther is the story of a relatively early attempt.

The Medo-Persian empire was not Nazi Germany, and it is not Armageddon, but there are still a few interesting things to be observed about genocides, how such things can even come about at all, and what a persecuted (or soon-to-be-persecuted) minority can learn from them about how best to conduct itself in the face of overwhelming numerical opposition.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Sound and Unsound

It is difficult to miss the adjective “sound” in the first couple chapters of Titus. In fact, it occurs more times in Titus than anywhere else in the New Testament. In instructing his younger associate, the apostle Paul refers repeatedly to both “sound doctrine” and being “sound in the faith”, the latter being the result of the former. Soundness was the apostle’s desire for the Christians in Crete, and indeed for all believers everywhere.

In Greek, the word “sound” is hygiainō, which means “healthy”. It has the sense of fitness and functionality. In Luke it is contrasted with both sickness and injury.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Anonymous Asks (94)

“Is it possible to go a whole day without sinning?”


Shortest Anonymous Asks ever.

Okay, I suppose I could elaborate a little. It is only possible to imagine you have gone a whole day without “sinning” if your definition of sin is grossly deficient, if you are stupifyingly un-self-aware, or maybe if you happen to be in a coma.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Good Applications and Bad Ones

Billy Graham noted that the character of our loved ones, friends, and acquaintances may change. Jesus does not.

TL Osborn says that because Jesus Christ does not change, you can count on being healed from sickness, just as he healed the sick in the first century.

A commenter at Christian Forums says the fact that Jesus Christ never changes means dispensationalism is false teaching.

We all agree that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” However, it is evident we do not all agree about precisely what that means.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Time and Chance (37)

Last week we encountered the term “vanity” for the umpteenth time in the book of Ecclesiastes, and considered another entry in the Preacher’s list of realities he found frustrating, and which he could not hope to understand without direct revelation from God. In this case, he had observed that there is a species of wicked people who move freely in polite society and who, far from being punished for their crimes, are more often politely indulged ... and sometimes even celebrated.

He continues this thought in the next couple of verses, in the process adding yet another “vain thing” to his list of conundra.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Getting Relevant

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

I heard that most young people drop out of church today, either for a short or indefinite time, around age 18-19. I was concerned: after all, if we lose the next generation, what’s going to happen to the church? But then I found this glossy new resource, and it’s really helping me to understand what today’s young adults are going to find relevant by way of spiritual stuff. I’m sharing it with you, Tom, because I know you’ve got young-adult children of your own.

Just in time, eh?

Tom: Uh, thanks, IC, I think. Why is it that some Christians seem to think that being “relevant” actually means “pandering” or “condescending”?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Contradictions and Contradistinctions

Yesterday I was listening to a secular scholar again. (Okay, it was JP.)

He was speaking about the Bible, its value as a text and its importance in human history. At the same time, he was expressing disbelief about how it had persisted. It’s a “strange old book”, he said. It’s “contradictory” and “cobbled together”. He puzzled over how it was possible it could ever have “such an unbelievable impact on civilization”. But at the same time, he concluded, “However educated you are, you are not educated enough to discuss the typological significance of the biblical stories.”

And then he went on to try.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Everything Louder Than Everything Else

Ian Gillan of the seventies metal band Deep Purple reportedly once asked the sound engineer mixing the band’s live album, “Could we have everything louder than everything else?”

I’ve always loved that line. It just sounds like a title for the perfect rock and roll anthem.

But when you think about it for half a second, the request is absurd. If the bass is louder than the high hat, the high hat cannot simultaneously be louder than the bass. If you mix the snare drum louder than a guitar cranked up to eleven, you cannot make that guitar louder in the sound mix without reducing the volume of the snare. It’s absurd.

“Everything” cannot be louder than “everything else”. It doesn’t work.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Diagnosing the Problem

“Behold, we are slaves this day ... behold, we are slaves.”

“We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.”

You can’t solve a problem unless you know what it is.

John 8:33 records a very strange statement, the second one I have quoted above. It appears to have been made not specifically by the Pharisees or Sadducees (though there may have been some of these present, of course), but more generally, by men who had just made a public confession of belief in Christ.

The statement was this: “We have never been enslaved to anyone.”

Monday, May 18, 2020

Anonymous Asks (93)

“Is it wrong to wish for something?”

There was a time when the Lord Jesus wished for something with all his heart. Luke says he prayed for it earnestly, in agony, to the point where “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground”.

Here is what he wished for: “Father ... remove this cup from me.”

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Lost Light

How does the word of God go missing among God’s people? How does the plain teaching of scripture get overlooked for months, years and even centuries, only to be suddenly rediscovered? You would think it impossible if we didn’t have both historical and biblical evidence that it happens, and happens with sad regularity.

For example, in the days of King Josiah, the Book of the Law was found in the house of the Lord and taken to the king and read to him. When Josiah heard the Law read, he tore his clothes, humbled and stricken by the degree to which the people of God had departed from his commandments and the wrath they had incurred because of it.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Time and Chance (36)

As mentioned in earlier studies in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher uses the term “vanity” repeatedly. This is usually read as an expression of disgust, as if Solomon is saying, “Pointless, pointless ... it’s all futile and pointless,” as if the order God has set in place since the fall of man — and it is very much evident he believes God is behind it all — is not worth further investigation.

And yet, on he goes investigating anyway. Can’t be all that pointless, can it?

Friday, May 15, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Stinkin’ Selfish

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

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley inadvertently opened a can of worms with comments he made in a sermon earlier this month:

“When I hear adults say, ‘Well, I don’t like a big church. I like about two hundred’ or ‘I want to be able to know everybody’, I say, ‘You are so stinkin’ selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids or anybody else’s kids.”

Now of course he quickly and abjectly apologized the moment the predictable blowback started, but Stanley’s not backtracking on his dislike of traditional-sized churches, just the ill-conceived and insulting way he expressed it.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What’s Behind Faith?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
— Hebrews 11:1

“I consider rationality (in a nutshell) to be: ‘an accurate apportionment of belief in a statement concerning the objective nature of reality, with respect to the available evidence.’ I can think of no better definition of faith than the exact opposite of this: ‘A grossly inaccurate apportionment of belief in a statement concerning the objective nature of reality, with respect to the available evidence.’

However, I invite those who have faith, and profess it as a virtue, to submit their definition of faith.”
— Joseph Dorrell, Ted Talks, 2012

Okay, Joseph. Let’s play.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Stating the Obvious

When you make a life-long habit out of reading other people’s mail, strange things tend to become commonplace.

I should probably unpack that a bit.

I’m enjoying the book of Hebrews once again, as I make my way through the New Testament in my morning reading. But the problem with having been acquainted with the scriptures since before I could read them for myself (and it’s not the worst problem in the world to have) is that arguments which should puzzle any modern, thinking, Gentile reader seem perfectly normal to me. My familiarity with the passage makes it difficult for me to be surprised by it, though it should surely surprise me.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Crossing the Gulf

“... with patience, bearing with one another in love.”

Easily said, isn’t it?

“Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed.” So said Abraham to the rich man suffering the torments of hades. That chasm is not crossable. “They which would pass from hence to you cannot.”

Speaking naturally, there is also a great gulf fixed between you and me. Not all of you, of course, but certainly some of you. Cross it we must. Our first step is to recognize it is there.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Anonymous Asks (92)

“Are soul mates for real?”

When Jonathan watched David slay Goliath, he recognized a kindred spirit.

Like David, Jonathan was a brave man who trusted in God almost to the point of recklessness. Climbing a hill fully exposed to enemy arrows in order to take it to an enemy whose numbers dwarf your own seems like a crazy stunt, but if the Lord has given the enemy into your hands, it’s a cinch. Jonathan and his armor bearer had prevailed against 10:1 odds.

It’s holy conjecture, but I suspect if his father had allowed it, Jonathan might have taken on Goliath himself. But Jonathan knew that would never be permitted. Why would the king of Israel risk his own crown prince in what he believed was an unwinnable duel? It would have been a huge PR win for the Philistines and a political disaster for Saul.

David was comparatively expendable. Saul couldn’t even put a name to him when asked.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Semi-Random Musings (19)

I have always wondered about the purpose of the book of Esther.

Of all the books in the Bible, Esther seems to have the least to do with 21st century Christianity. It is basically a book of Jewish-centric history which tells how the nation of Israel (for the umpteenth time) survived extermination at the hands of its enemies. God is not even mentioned in its pages. The national feast inspired by the events in Esther (Purim) is nothing like the God-ordained celebrations of Leviticus 23. Purim commemorates the “days on which the Jews got relief from their enemies”, and is (or at least originally was) more like today’s secularized Christmas celebrations than any of the seven feasts of Jehovah, all of which were rife with rich spiritual symbolism, speaking to generations about the meaning of the death of Christ and its consequences for mankind.

So why is Esther in our Bibles?

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Time and Chance (35)

Let’s back up and remind ourselves where we were last week in Ecclesiastes 8, because the subject under discussion in the first five verses continues just a little longer.

The Preacher was considering the temptations and opportunities that face people under authority in the performance of their duties; in this case, servants of the king. There are really only two possibilities: either the servant is doing the will of the king, or else he is using the king’s authority as cover to promote his personal agenda, or to advance some ideological position.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Evaluating Virtual Church [Part 2]

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

Yesterday’s post opened with a little chart that appeared to indicate that the longer the COVID-19 lockdowns go on, the fewer Christians are interested in playing virtual church — at least, the way we’re currently doing it. If YouTube views are any sort of legitimate proxy by which we can measure the interest of believers in the preaching of the word of God by members of their local congregations, then we’re in trouble.

Tom: So what are we doing wrong? Well, one possibility we have been speculating about is that with all those Christian YouTube videos up there, one can always find a more interesting subject, a more lucid speaker, or something that tickles our itching ears.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Evaluating Virtual Church [Part 1]

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

If church is a big enough part of your life that you normally go every Sunday, in all probability it will not have escaped your notice that your congregation has started meeting online after some fashion or other. Most churches I have ever been part of are doing it, and because a bunch of them are posting their virtual Sunday morning services on YouTube, it’s given me opportunity to check out the ministry of believers I have not seen personally in years.

Tom: In the process, I noticed something interesting and perhaps worthy of discussion.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

The Haunting of the Past


Ah, that most New York-ese of all New York expressions!

There are things you can sort out, and things you can’t. Go back and fix your mistakes if you can; but if you can’t, there’s only one thing you can do.

Learn how to forget about it.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Beyond the River

The book of Ezra is written in Hebrew, but one of its most frequently-used expressions is not Hebrew but Aramaic.

The words `abar nĕhar are translated “beyond the river” or “this side of the river” in most of our Bibles. They occur in the sections of Ezra that contain letters written by the enemies of the returning Jewish exiles in Jerusalem to kings of the Medo-Persian empire, and by the functionaries of these kings in response, since Aramaic was the language in which royal edicts were issued. The expression also occurs, probably for the sake of consistency, in the Hebrew narrative portions of Ezra which have to do with the contents of the letters.

Basically, “beyond the river” means the biblical land of Israel and any of the surrounding nations over which Israel, at the height of its powers, had influence.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Anonymous Asks (91)

“How can I honor an abusive parent?”

Well, they say third time’s the charm. Let’s test that theory.

This is my third attempt at answering a question which is more than loaded: subtext hangs over the post like giant flapping leather bat wings blotting out the sun. It also doesn’t help that I probably misread it first time round. I took it to mean “In what ways should a Christian child honor an abusive parent?” (a relatively easy one), when the author is far more likely asking “How can anyone possibly expect me to give honor to someone who has mistreated me so egregiously?”

Different question, right? And not so quick and easy.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

A Nature Like Mine

James says a remarkable and encouraging thing about one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament: a man who had conversations with God; a man who stood for God at a time when the nation of Israel had given up the worship of Jehovah for the worship of Baal and was in a state of moral decrepitude, ruled over by a king who was just about as wicked as they come; a man who ascended to heaven in a chariot rather than dying like the rest of us; and a man who would later appear and talk with the Lord Jesus on the mount of transfiguration.

What he says is this: “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours.”

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Time and Chance (34)

When we try to get some practical help for daily living from scriptural reflections 3,000 years old, it is obvious we are going to have to do a little bit of thinking: first, about whether these things can be applied to our own situation at all; and secondly, assuming they can be, what reasonable conclusions we might draw from them about our own situation.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Get Happy

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

Shocked at the plethora of mental health issues she discovered among her students while eating with them daily, Yale University professor Laurie Santos developed a popular new course about the nature of happiness which Yale now offers free online.

Tom: Santos says it’s not bigger houses or better spouses that make human beings happy. It’s little things like “making a social connection, or taking time for gratitude, or taking time to be in the present moment”. What do you think, IC: might she be on to something there?

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Smeagol on a Leash

The title?

Ah, yes. Well, to get that, you’ll have to have seen the blockbuster film Lord of the Rings, or have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s original trilogy. There’s a scene in there involving a loathsome little creature named Gollum or Smeagol. He’s a kind of nasty little creature of the dark, a sinister and malevolent little dwarf, who is taken captive by two of the adventure’s heroes, as an alternative to having to kill the homicidal little maniac on the spot.

Smeagol doesn’t take well to being ‘rescued’ in this fashion; and his obstinacy and treachery compel the heroes to put a rope around his neck and lead him where he is bound and determined not to go. The subsequent convulsions of wheedling and drama are truly magnificent. You can see his performance right here.

So now you’ve got an idea of my central metaphor for the day.*

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Hope, and the Problem with People

Yesterday we were talking about hope. I hope you found it hopeful.

Our key text was 1 Corinthians 13:7: “Love hopes all things.” And we were pondering the exposition given to it by the Danish Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. If you didn’t read that one, I really encourage you to go back and read it before forging ahead. Some of what I will say depends heavily upon it.

The big realization with which we left off was this: Christian hope is not ever to fail. It is to persist all the way to its fulfillment in eternity. We are to hope until we see the object of our hope, the blessing, the justice and the righteousness guaranteed to us by God, in eternity. All of life is to be lived in hope.

Now, let me mess that up.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Quitting Before the Final Whistle

“It’s not over ’til it’s over” — so goes the famous saying in the world of sport. Pity the poor competitor who thought his team had secured victory, began celebrating, and forgot the last-ditch home run, the injury-time goal, the buzzer-beating long shot, or didn’t quite get into the end zone before spiking the ball. Apparent victory suddenly turns to horror and shame.

Who would choose to be that man?

In scripture, we find this observation: “Love hopes all things.” A hundred times, perhaps, I have seen and heard this phrase … from the pulpit, on plaques, on the radio, and of course, in every wedding ceremony since Adam. Never have I thought much about what it means.

“Love hopes all things.” Sounds nice. So what?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Anonymous Asks (90)

“Why should I talk about my faith at school?”

Here’s a thought: maybe you shouldn’t. Or at least, maybe you shouldn’t make some kind of formal policy out of it.

When I was growing up, we recited the Lord’s Prayer in public schools. There was something close to a common consensus that the Christian faith encouraged character qualities which, if not practiced by everybody you knew, were at least almost universally acknowledged as values we’d like our kids to have. And if helping your children learn the merits of honesty, loyalty, hard work, persistence, hope, patience and kindness could be accomplished by telling them stories about Jesus, most parents were okay with sending their kids off to Sunday School too.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Point of Faith

“I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Imagine for a second that at the time you came to Christ you had been told that your life from this day forward was to be characterized by people throwing rocks at you, telling lies about you, betraying you and letting you down, calling you names, hitting you, throwing you in jail and trying to kill you. Moreover, in addition to all the abuse you could expect as a matter of course from your fellow man for the sake of your testimony to Christ, you could also expect more than your fair share of all the nasty, apparently random things that happen to people the world over: getting mugged, having to work hard, getting no sleep, getting sick, suffering chronic pain from old injuries, lacking food and having your transportation fail regularly in spectacular and dangerous ways.

Would that have changed anything? Might a bout of frantic back-peddling have ensued?

In some cases, maybe.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Time and Chance (33)

Once upon a time, one of the richest, most powerful and wisest men in all of human history set himself the task of discovering the meaning of life. He found himself frustrated. He also recorded his search step by step for us in the book of Ecclesiastes. He added one observation to another seeking to uncover what he calls “the scheme of things”.

In doing so, oddly enough, he found himself repeatedly looking not just at the created world, or at society, but at individual men and women. In their own existential thrashing about, the more alert unbelievers today do exactly the same thing: they look around at others in hope of finding lives well-lived and lifestyles worth emulating — people of integrity and consistency — and, informing those qualities, perhaps some coherent explanation of our place in the universe that will satisfy their thirst for meaning and purpose.

After all, you are not terribly likely to discover a coherent worldview in a brothel or under a barroom table, are you?

Friday, April 24, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: A Methodist to Their Madness

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

The Cottage Grove location of Minnesota’s Grove United Methodist Church, 30 years old this year, is closing for renovations. But it’s not the building that’s being renovated ... it’s the congregation.

Small, initially financially unstable and told by their denomination that they did not warrant a pastor’s salary, the church first merged with a larger Woodbury church in 2008, then switched to lay ministry a few years ago, and has settled in to a comfortable routine with somewhere between 25 and 35 regular worshipers. That’s not good enough for the Woodbury leadership, who have hired a church-starting specialist with $250,000 from the Methodist’s regional Annual Conference, and are planning to “reset” the Cottage Grove location to appeal to a younger audience — in the name of Christ, of course — and preferably without the thirty members currently meeting there.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Ten Commandments That Failed

It seems morbid, perhaps, to be raising the topic of 9/11 going on two decades later. It was a sad, bitter moment, one that we might all wish to forget.

But wisdom does not always come quickly, and events of this magnitude take a very long time to understand. There are some things which are best left unsaid in the heat of the moment, but are better brought slowly to the surface when due time has passed. Such is the case with what I am writing today.

Even now, the fall of the World Trade Towers is not an easy subject.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Fifth Business

Facing pressure from his publisher to explain the meaning of his new book’s title, Canadian novelist Robertson Davies cooked up the following phony quote:

“Those roles which, being neither those of hero nor Heroine, Confidante nor Villain, but which were none the less essential to bring about the Recognition or the denouement were called the Fifth Business in drama and Opera companies organized according to the old style; the player who acted these parts was often referred to as Fifth Business.”

I read the otherwise-rather-grubby novel in my teens and the only part of it that stuck with me was the term Fifth Business. It seemed like a very apt description of a lot of people’s lives, I thought at the time.

They used to be called bit players. Nowadays we give them awards and call them character actors.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Above My Pay Grade

“That’s above my pay grade,” said the former senator.

It was 2008. The subject was abortion. Presidential candidate Barack Obama had been asked, “At what point does a baby get human rights?”

At bare minimum, his response indicated an aversion to being pinned down on the subject and a desire to avoid conflict over the issue as he campaigned to be president of the United States of America. There were “larger issues” at stake, he undoubtedly thought. He was prepared to let evil slide for the sake of what he perceived to be the “greater good”, which presumably included his assumption of the presidency.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Anonymous Asks (89)

“Is physical healing part of Christ’s atonement?”

There is a sense in which it is. Revelation speaks of the leaves of the tree of life, which are “for the healing of the nations”. We also read that in the New Jerusalem, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Without the sacrifice of Christ we would have none of this to look forward to. All our hopes for eternity are tied up in him. Everything we have now and ever will have is a direct result of his death on the cross.

But that’s obviously not what’s being asked.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

91 and 19

You will surely remember Psalm 91. That’s the one which begins, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty ...” It’s often attributed to Moses, and is famous for being very comforting — I heard it read at a funeral recently — and even more so for being quoted by Satan in his temptation of the Lord Jesus.

It also includes two statements which we might be inclined to try to apply to nasty little flu viruses that kill people, among other things: “For he will deliver you from ... the deadly pestilence” and “no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” On a quick reading, it sounds as if dwelling in the shelter of the Most High and making God our refuge is the ticket out of most of the unpleasant and disturbing things that can happen to us in this life — not just new and virulent diseases, but war and wild beasts and even unfortunate accidents — as well as being the absolute guarantee of a long life. What a sweet spot to live in!

But does 91 really apply to COVID-19? Can Christians reasonably claim its promises in connection with the current pandemic? I hate to be a party-pooper, but a careful reading of scripture does not allow us to appropriate this familiar psalm for our own comfort quite so freely.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Time and Chance (32)

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

I have a feeling that’s an old Clint Eastwood line from somewhere. At any rate, the next six verses of Ecclesiastes are all about human limitations in a fallen world. Verses 19 and 20 have to do with mankind’s moral limitations, verses 21-22 with our interpersonal limitations, and verses 23-34 with our philosophical limitations.

Basically, we are sinners who don’t get along. Moreover, outside of God’s word, we are incapable of coming up with any reasonable explanation why that might be. We don’t act right, we don’t socialize right, and we don’t think right. That’s a fairly hefty indictment.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Days of Programs Past

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

Immanuel Can: The Young People’s group in my local church seems defunct. It wasn’t lack of leadership — they had a stellar, unselfish, thoughtful leader, who had had great success in the past, most recently with a large and active cohort that had just moved on to college / university / career plans. But when the older class graduated, nobody came in to fill the ranks. It seems that the new generation of early-teens were involved with other things: sports, computers, other programs. Not only that, when asked, their parents seemed to see no particular reason their kids ought to be meeting with other Christian kids for spiritual or social activities. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a generation of parents that isn’t totally convinced that getting their kids involved with other Christian young people is very important to their development.

So that’s new.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Dose of Worldliness

What does it really mean to think or to speak “like a Christian”?

Does it mean to be able to make inside spiritual jokes, or to speak bluntly about the human situation? Does it mean to think only from individual experience, or to have a view of the world? Does it mean always to have tidy answers, or to be willing to speak unflinchingly about difficult questions? Does it mean presenting oneself as the self-satisfied fount of all knowledge, or as an earnest learner, a work-in-progress still growing into new answers?

Here are two sets of song lyrics from the same year. One song is nominally Christian and the other is not. Can you guess which is which?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

God’s Photo Album

The Bible is full of pictures.

Now, illustrations — whether they are symbols, metaphors, or even when they come in the form of full-blown parables — are not reality, and it does us good to keep that in mind. They are useful snapshots in which we may catch glimpses of ourselves, of God, and of spiritual truths we might otherwise miss. To ensure we don’t, God has given them to us in a form we can easily process and relate to, one which often stirs an emotional reaction that can bring us to repentance, awe, appreciation or some other good state. For example, Nathan’s story about the poor man’s ewe lamb drove David into a righteous rage ... until he realized the story was all about him.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Can a Mormon be Saved?

In a recent post, Amy Hall at Stand to Reason entertains the possibility that some Mormons may be saved. It’s a thoughtful piece, and Hall describes several conversations she’s had with LDS members that are enlightening as to the differences between Mormons and Christians in terms of our hopes, goals and understanding of Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. In the end, she concludes a saved Mormon is theoretically possible but doubtful.

I found myself more or less agreeing with Hall: LDS theology is pretty far removed from the Christian faith in many respects. It would be difficult to imagine attending an LDS gathering for any great length of time without cluing in to that fact.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Anonymous Asks (88)

“What should I say when someone morally offends me?”

When you set out to correct people, one of several things may happen: (1) they reject your advice and never think about it again; (2) they reject your advice now, but take it to heart later when they have time to reflect; (3) they accept your correction politely, but only in order to get you to stop talking and go away; or (4) they accept your correction politely and actually learn from it.

It also happens occasionally that your intended target rejects your advice, but other people come to know of it and benefit from it. That is not the ideal outcome, but it is still a pretty good one.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Fate of the Coward

We are living in scary times. People are afraid.

Biblical fear can be good or bad. Perfected love banishes it, but in a fallen world, fully mature love is a rarity and fear still serves the occasional valid purpose in God’s dealings with us. For one, Christians are encouraged to bring our pursuit of holiness to completion “in the fear of God”. For another, fear sometimes gets your attention in a busy world when nothing else will.

Our modern translations tell us one of the things the miracles of Christ regularly produced was awe, usually accompanied by giving glory to God. The word for “awe” in Greek is phobos, more commonly translated “fear”. This is fear at its most useful.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Time and Chance (31)

Anecdotal evidence is not conclusive in any court, but it’s still evidence. What you have observed in this life has a profound effect on what you believe. What you think you’ve observed may have an even greater influence on you.

So what is it that really matters? What sort of life would your neighbors call “good”? There are very few people out there who haven’t yet decided. Some of them are making very silly choices, but they are still making them. Having “seen everything” (in their estimation), they are now deciding what course of action makes the most sense for them. If you ask them nicely, they will often tell you why.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Crippling the Response

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

Ah, the coronavirus! I was so determined not to go there in this space. Then it threatened to go on and on and on, and then it became such a feature of our current media experience as to be utterly inescapable. After that, it changed the way we do most everything, at least for the foreseeable future. And still we left the subject alone; after all, if you want the latest on COVID‑19, you can get that absolutely anywhere, right?

Tom: But then The New York Times started blaming evangelicals for “crippling our coronavirus response”, and there you are: turns out it was time to start talking about it here. Not being an expert of any sort, I don’t want to discuss the virus itself, where it came from, how it is spreading, and what might be done about it; nor do I want to speculate about what the total bill for fighting this thing will be. I simply want to talk about the church and its response to the crisis.