Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (5)

The majority of times the word “brother” is used in scripture, it denotes a male sibling, a family relation, someone swimming very close to another in the gene pool, a son of the same mother, father or both. In Hebrew, the word “brother” is 'ach, in Greek it is adelphos.

In this literal sense, Cain and Abel were brothers, Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, James and John were brothers. Little more need be said about that.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Anonymous Asks (86)

“How can I become more spiritually discerning?”

Great question. Discernment is something to which every Christian should aspire. Maybe the wisdom of Solomon is not a realistic goal, but each one of us can get better at making clear distinctions between things that please the Lord and things that don’t.

Let me suggest five ways we can start moving in that direction.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Inbox: To the Youth Group

Last week, a youth leader we know sent the following email to the young people in his local church. I thought it made a great point, and he was kind enough to allow us to share it here.

Good morning everyone,

Students, your March Break 2020 is drawing to a close. I wonder: if someone had asked you on Saturday, March 7th how you would describe your March Break today on Saturday, March 21st, would your description have been anywhere close to how it actually unfolded?

The dramatic shifts in just two weeks get me thinking that there is probably something in the Bible that can provide some wisdom for us to shape our lives to. Of course there is, so the tricky part is to limit ourselves to just two selections for now.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Time and Chance (29)

Much of Ecclesiastes is observational rather than directly instructive. The Preacher tells us the things he did, the things he has seen, and what he thinks about it all ... then leaves the reader to decide how he ought to behave in light of the information shared with him. The first six chapters of Ecclesiastes contain only three “do” or “do not”-type commands.

These next few verses of chapter 7 are a little more pointed.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Pagans Weigh In

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

You don’t have to spend much time in the company of Christians today before you start to hear questions like these:

“Wasn’t Easter a pagan holiday?”
“Isn’t the concept of a Christmas tree based on Odin’s sacred oak?”
“I read that the wedding ring originated in an old pagan superstition intended to protect a relationship from evil spirits. Should Christians really wear those sorts of symbols?”

Tom: Some of these concerns turn out to be baseless. Other accusations that a particular Christian symbol, practice or holiday actually had its origin in paganism are quite legitimate.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Christian, or just ‘christiany’?

When I was a kid, the local fast food place used to sell a little box of cookies as a sort of quick dessert once we had loaded up on their high-calorie burgers.

One day I was eating out with a friend and happened to notice that on the packet of these little items it said “Chocolaty Chip Cookies.” Not chocolate, “chocolat-y.”

“Why does it say that? What the heck is ‘chocolaty’?” I asked.

“Oh,” said my friend, “it’s not actually chocolate. It’s some kind of chocolate-like thing, and they can’t legally call it chocolate. So they stick the ‘y’ on the end to cover themselves.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The New Creationism

I’ve gotten far too used to seeing creationists adopt a more or less defensive posture, taking issue with what purports to be intelligent criticism from a scientific perspective, but usually amounts to nothing more than derisive sniping. The non-scientific media relentlessly harangue creationists over views they haven’t read and don’t understand in favor of secular views they also haven’t read and couldn’t coherently articulate in any case.

These apologetics are of some limited use; however, because they are almost completely defensive, they cannot do much to rehabilitate — let alone popularize — the creationist position in the public sphere.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Forgotten Virtue of Shame

“You’re body-shaming me,” lectures the tubby, well-propagandized primary school girl, heading off her mother’s forlorn attempts to get her to order a salad instead of yet another side of large fries.

“Fat shaming is dangerous,” opine the editors of Psychology Today. Well, we can certainly concede that certain forms of it are impolite.

Wikipedia says the term “slut-shaming” is a derogatory expression used by feminists to “reclaim the word slut and empower women and girls to have agency over their own sexuality.” I’m not sure that’s world’s most helpful agenda, but there you are.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Anonymous Asks (85)

“Does the Bible say to ask Jesus into your heart?”

If there is anything in the Bible that may have given rise to this very popular expression, it is probably the risen Lord’s generous offer to members of the Laodicean church in Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Obviously it is not literal. Eating symbolizes fellowship, fortifying and encouraging the believer and delighting the heart of Christ.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Biblical Procedure for Church Discipline?

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

From time to time we come across believers referring to this famous passage in Matthew as the “biblical procedure for church discipline”.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Time and Chance (28)

Many years ago I went for counseling. A man with a big white beard (I am so not making this up) asked me a number of questions, listened quietly to my responses, then assured me I was a good person and that I should not be down on myself.

Needless to say, I never went back. I can’t tell you whether he was right or wrong, but I can tell you he had taken all of twenty minutes to reach his conclusion. He was pronouncing on my life in utter ignorance. He could have made a more meaningful diagnosis of my situation by hurling darts at a dartboard.

Advice is only useful when it comes from people with actual knowledge. That is true whether we are talking about praise or criticism.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Garment Stained by the Flesh

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

Tom: IC, it’s been a long time. I’ve been on the road, and so have you, and we’ve both had family stuff to deal with. The easiest way to handle the unexpected interruption in our schedules has been to recycle a bunch of four-year-old posts, some of which were genuinely worth revisiting. Even when I got back to my normal routine, I didn’t reach out for a while because I was looking for something certifiably hot that we could lob back and forth. And you know, I think I just may have found it.

So how about this: Should your local church host a small group for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction? Pros and cons in one, two, three ...

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Youth Problems Part 1: Double Jeopardy

“I wouldn’t want to be a teenager today!”

I hear that a lot. And I suppose there’s something to it. It’s not easy going through those vulnerable transitional years today.

But then it’s never been.

It’s a really unnatural stage of life. Today, we may take it for granted; but we are losing touch with just how irregular, how unhealthy and how bizarre it really is. That’s because most of us were raised through a socialization process — including urban economic life, mass schooling, post-secondary training, late induction into adulthood, and so on — that took it for granted. We are out of touch with just how developmentally weird it really is.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Stricken Sheep

“Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, ‘Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done?’ ”

People who are characteristically righteous always have an outsized sense of their own relative culpability. That is probably a good thing. A tender conscience toward sin and a heart which always looks to get right with God are qualities to be valued and pursued. God is often more generous with his assessment of righteous men and women than they are with themselves.

But a preoccupation with our own personal responsibility can also be a bit like wearing blinders.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Commentariat Speaks (18)

Once in a while the commentariat speaks directly to me:

“Are you one of those people who say that there are actually two different Gog and Magog events?”

Good question. I may have looked into it before, but my last serious attempt to unpack Bible prophecy in detail was way back in the nineties. I wouldn’t attempt to answer a question like that without going back to the scriptures and refreshing my memory. So I begged off answering until I had time to take a more careful look at the text.

This week I had plenty.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Anonymous Asks (84)

“Does Christianity need to develop a new gospel adapted to today’s world?”

If the Christian faith was merely the invention of man, and if Christians were permitted to market it to the world in whatever way seems like it might work best, this could be a good idea. After all, brands grow stale over time and need to be refreshed. And in a consumer world, it’s whatever makes the sale for you. The customer is always right.

In this case, however, the “customer” is going to hell.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Satan Unleashed

A reader of the book of Revelation writes:

“Doesn’t the Pre-Mill version of Satan’s release seem weird? In it Jesus has physically ruled over the nations for a thousand years. Don’t you think they’d have learned something? And then Satan just waltzes out of his prison, goes, ‘Hi, it’s me, your old pal Satan!’ and EVERY nation goes, ‘WE LOVE YOU SATAN, LEAD US PLZ!!’ I mean, how long does it take to get to that point? A few weeks? A month? How does that work?

In the Pre-Mill view, doesn’t it also seem weird that the nations don’t go, ‘Wait, things are happening JUST like in that book Jesus has been talking about for a millennium. But hey, following Satan still seems like the best idea!’ How could they possibly get confused over this?”

The way a reader reacts to Satan’s release and the events which follow it in Revelation 20:7 very much depends on what he believes about the Millennium: its intended purpose(s), its governing conditions, and the people over whom Jesus Christ will rule.

Personally, I find the reaction of the nations in Revelation 20 all too plausible.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Time and Chance (27)

If we took the first thirteen verses of Ecclesiastes 7 on their own, we might initially think they belong in the book of Proverbs. They are fairly standard Hebrew proverbial couplets (with the occasional interjection).

This is not the first time the form is used in Ecclesiastes. There are a few couplets sprinkled through chapters 1, 4 and 5, and we will encounter more in chapters 8, 10 and 11.

What is different about the proverbs we find in Ecclesiastes in that they do not skip around from subject to subject with anything like their usual apparent randomness, but instead serve the book’s larger treatise. They are thematically linked to one another, to what comes before them, and to what follows them.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Break Out the Marshmallows

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

This is an interesting take. The Independent brings us the story of Joseph Atwill, who has written a book entitled Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus.

Atwill says Christianity is actually a “system of mind control” developed by the Romans to “produce slaves that believe God actually decreed their slavery.”

Tom: Who knew, Immanuel Can? Our whole faith is nothing more than the product of a first century propaganda campaign. Fortunately someone finally figured that out for us. Or not.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Divorce: What We Don’t Know

I’ve been thankful to see a few posts from Tom on the subject of divorce, and I’ve been encouraging him to research and write more. We, in the church, need information about this.

I’m afraid we’re not very wise on this. Time was when divorces were rare. Back then, what tended to happen is that if a person got divorced, they just left the church — end of story. Maybe one of the partners hung around … especially if he or she was presumed “innocent” in the event. But for the most part, divorce was just an uncomfortable subject, a Pandora’s Box that churches just didn’t want to open.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Commentariat Speaks (17)

A Baptist pastor weighs in on the question of when the church began:

“The church didn’t begin at Pentecost, it began when God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees. All who believe are descendants of his promise. Nothing has stopped his church for over 4000 years and nothing can.”

Reply to this sort of thing in 180 characters? You have to be kidding. It’s one reason certain social media platforms are inferior places for Christian discussion. They foster snappy rhetorical flourishes, but discourage nuanced analysis. That doesn’t make them useless, but it certainly limits their usefulness.

I suppose one might reply, “It depends how you define ‘church’.” That may get the attentive reader thinking. Or not. So let’s try something a little longer-form.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Not An Idiot

The books of Chronicles cover much of the same historical material we find in the books of Samuel and Kings, sometimes in near-identical wording. This provokes legitimate questions: Do we need both? Our Bibles are bulky enough already without including a whole lot of duplicated material. What do the books of Chronicles offer us that Samuel and Kings do not?

There are several possible responses to those questions, but the short answers are “Yes” and “Quite a bit.” I am working on a comparative study of the two sets of narratives and hope to get into that subject more extensively later this year in this space if time permits. Though more or less the same time periods are covered, there are numerous variations in content and wording that make each account useful to readers in different ways.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Anonymous Asks (83)

“Why isn’t the Bible in chronological order?”

If the Bible were nothing more than a history text, organizing it chronologically would be perfectly sensible. But when you have a book that contains history, law, poetry, wisdom literature, prophecy and moral teaching that interprets history for us, the question becomes considerably more complicated.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Under the Tower of Siloam

Individual guilt differs from corporate guilt, and individual repentance from corporate repentance, not just quantitatively but qualitatively.

That’s going to require a fair bit of explanation, especially for Christian readers born into our hyper-individualistic Western culture. Most of us only think about the matter of corporate guilt when we find ourselves summarily dismissing Progressivist ravings about race- or gender-based privilege. We rightly reject being held responsible for the long-term social impact of patterns of historical behavior in which we have never engaged and from which we do not personally benefit. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God,” we say.

Full stop, move along now.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Time and Chance (26)

The much-maligned Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush, once said this: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

That may sound like bafflegab, but it’s actually a fairly lucid breakdown of the possibilities.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Dwarves are for the Dwarves

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

The term “postmodern” is not actually all that modern. John Watkins Chapman used it in the 1880s in relation to art criticism. Umberto Eco has said that postmodernism is less a style or a period than an “attitude”.

The attitude comes out clearly in what is produced by postmodernists in their various fields: postmodern graphic design disdains traditional conventions such as legibility; postmodern music rejects beauty and sometimes structure; postmodern philosophers reject the concepts of subjectivity and objectivity. You get the general idea.

Tom: Immanuel Can, help me nail it down: what is postmodernism?

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Two Glories

It’ll soon be Sunday again.

Time to go and meet with the Lord’s people and think about him.

That’s good work, really. It’s just about the best thing we really ever do. The works we do here on earth end when the Lord returns. But some things continue into eternity. Paramount among those things is worship. It’s one of the few things we do that lasts forever. I think that makes it worth getting up for.

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

John Piper’s God

John Piper’s God is not someone I find particularly appealing.

Piper’s Calvinist determinism makes his version of heaven a scary place where every microscopic detail of human existence is examined, and from which God himself administers rough justice to his subjects on the spot as he sees fit, to believers and unbelievers alike, sometimes in the form of really bad weather.

A rash of tornados across the U.S. in 2012 prompted Piper to express his opinion in this post.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Of Generals and Foot Soldiers

Seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

Here is a tall order, no? How exactly do we seek God’s kingdom?

Oh, I know we all have some kind of mental picture in view when we pray “Thy kingdom come.” I certainly always do. During the eight years of Barack Obama’s stewardship of the U.S., I regularly imagined the man’s surprise at getting his just desserts one day. I look forward to all deceivers being shown to the world for exactly what they are: right, left and apolitical alike. I picture the enthroned Christ dispensing justice, the wolf lying down with the lamb, and ultimate truth, love and discernment dictating all aspects of world governance.

There are all kinds of ways we may picture the kingdom. But seeking it? That’s something else. It seems like the sort of aspiration in which one’s reach easily exceeds one’s grasp.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Anonymous Asks (82)

“Should I wait for God to bring me a boyfriend?”

Let’s apply this “wait for God” principle to a few of life’s other important questions and consider how much sense it makes, as well as the mostly likely outcome of waiting:

“Should I wait for God to deliver  dinner?” (Starvation)
“Should I wait for God to provide me with a job?” (Chronic unemployment)
“Should I wait for God to wash my car?” (An unspeakably filthy vehicle)

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Crazed Swine on a Gerasene Hillside

We do not have a whole lot of clear teaching in the Bible about demons and precisely how they operate. It is evident from the various accounts we have in the gospels that demons are capable of indwelling, tormenting and periodically controlling humans who become susceptible to them, but we do not know much more than this for certain.

Under what conditions do demons come and indwell a person? Where do they go when they haven’t got a human being to play with? Why do they so terribly fear the abyss, and what makes them crave human hosts while methodically working away at their destruction? None of these things are spelled out for us.