Saturday, February 29, 2020

Time and Chance (25)

As I write this, I haven’t had breakfast yet. I will shortly. There’s food in the fridge, and money in the bank if I opt to step out for a bite.

That covers this morning, and this afternoon, and maybe even the rest of this week. However, if I were to stop going to work, I would have a problem before long. The refrigerator would be empty, and the bank balance would dwindle until it hit rock bottom.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Open Just A Bit Too Far

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

We’ve talked a lot about Calvinism here over the past two years. We have not talked very much about Open Theism, also referred to as Dynamic Omniscience, which might be said to be Calvinism’s very near-opposite.

By the time the Evangelical Theological Society adopted the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 2006, their decade-long internal debate over Dynamic Omniscience had pretty much petered out. ETS president Tom Schreiner says that for the ETS at least, the debate has “simmered down”.

And yet today the Global Christian Center still lists what it calls the “Open Theism Controversy” among its nine most important issues facing the evangelical church.

Tom: This particular idea about God is clearly not going away. In a nutshell, Immanuel Can, what is Open Theism?

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Old Guy with the Ponytail

The most recent version of this post is available here.

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

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

On Being Taken In

The most recent version of this post is available here.

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

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Mouth Almighty

The most recent version of this post is available here.

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?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

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.