Friday, July 31, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: No-Fault Separation

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

Immanuel Can: I’ve got something on my mind this morning, Tom.

I was reading this article. Now, this is an old and still-debated topic, and I don’t deny that the author probably has some good points. But what struck me about this article were several things.

The author asks why it is that people leave a church, and then he goes on to suggest three reasons. In order, they are: (a) our subculture (by which he actually seems to mean the larger, secular culture of consumerism); (b) expectations (and he emphasizes in particular the tendency to forget that the church is a “family”); and (c) the “fatal assumption” … that newer is better (which, by some sort of path, “leads the average church goer to hold the opinion that it is better to be served than to serve.”)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Blessed are the Hated

“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”

What? “Do not be surprised?”

Well, that is kind of surprising in our age. After all, we’re the “let’s get along” society. No culture in the history of the world has been so omnitolerant, so permissive, so inclusive and so welcoming of everyone and everything as modern, Western society. We are so morally earnest to make sure that nobody’s feelings get hurt, nobody gets excluded, nobody is marginalized or oppressed, that we bend over backward to accept absolutely everything.

And given that many Christians have also bought into the mindset that we must always be liked by our society and must do everything to be seeker-sensitive, welcoming, open, all-loving, and always, always of good social reputation, should it not surprise us if the world turns around and suddenly expresses hostility and hatred to us?

How could they do that? We’re so nice!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

On Knowing and Being Known

“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

To really know someone and to be known by them is one of the greatest pleasures a human being may experience in this life.

It is also absolutely terrifying.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Praying for Catastrophe

Etymology is a really cool thing. It simply means the history of the development of a word. An etymological study of language is one that investigates how the words we use came to mean what they mean today: where they originated, what they meant back then, and when and how they changed, expanded, diluted or sometimes even reversed their meanings to become what we understand by them when we use them today.

Lately I have been thinking about catastrophes. Did you know that originally a catastrophe was not necessarily a bad thing?

Monday, July 27, 2020

Anonymous Asks (103)

“What is one way you can worship God without using music?”

Must I pick only one?

Okay then, but first, a word about music as worship.

I’m very glad someone actually asked this question, because it hints at just how many evangelicals think of worship almost exclusively in connection with congregational singing, and have not given much thought to whether there are better ways to worship God than in the middle of belting out a cheesy modern melody and waving your arms around ... or worse, pummeling your drum kit.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

David’s Covenant and the Resurrection

On Tuesday we looked at the first six public messages in the book of Acts to consider how one’s audience ought to determine the content of a gospel message, a pattern well established by the apostles in their preaching.

It seems obvious that the apostles did not simply memorize a few key points to preach about in every situation. They did not utilize a predictable series of Old Testament proof texts. They were not merely checking boxes, but responded to the needs of the particular audience to whom they were preaching.

So now here we are in Acts 13.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Time and Chance (46)

All productivity comes with a certain element of risk.

This is true for code monkeys, spot monkeys and everyone in between the two extremes (the code monkey being a computer programmer at his keyboard; the spot monkey, a professional wrestler whose specialty is flying through the air and landing on people without killing them). Too much time pounding the keys can ruin your wrists, which everyone who has carpal tunnel syndrome will tell you is very painful and not easy to get rid of. Then again, a 360 off the top rope that ends on the ring apron instead of its designated target will probably break your neck, so maybe there are worse things than sore wrists.

For me the big job hazard is paper cuts. Lots of paper cuts. First world problems, I know.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Coalition of the Unwilling

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

The Gospel Coalition is an evangelical colossus, with close to 8,000 affiliated congregations across the U.S., 65 million annual website pageviews, regular live events, a full slate of in-house blogs and other media promoting its theological checklist.

Tom: But one very slightly unsettling feature of TGC’s ministry, Immanuel Can, is that they seem to have little interest in engaging in the exchange of ideas, as this Jonathan Merritt article very effectively documents.

You’re quite familiar with TGC. What do they stand for?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Multicultural Road to Hell

I’ve got a simple message in this post. Simple, yes, but not the less needed for all that.

What have you done with the gospel, Christian? Where is your voice these days?

I’m not telling. I’m asking. I don’t know you, or what you’ve done, or where you’ve been. Really, this is a question only you can ask yourself, and only you can answer.

Well, you and God, of course, because that’s the urgent point. God knows what we’ve done with the gospel. He knows whether we’ve been living like we believe it, or only saying we do, and living another way. He knows.

I don’t.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Gospel in Context

Ever preached from one of these?
Anybody who has browsed my Bible Study series is familiar with the conviction (not uniquely mine) that context may well be the single most significant tool for determining meaning available to English students of scripture. It has certainly been the most useful to me.

This is not about that. It’s about the importance of a different sort of context: situation and audience.

A few weeks ago Immanuel Can and I had occasion to discuss the subject of the gospel and what it actually is. The four Gospels themselves (of course) record the beginnings of the “good news”, but necessarily cannot fully elaborate on all its implications. It requires the rest of the New Testament to do that, but a very good starting point is a study of how the apostles actually preached it from the very beginning (up to and including Acts 13, at any rate, which is as far as I’ve currently gone in my study).

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

The Language of the Debate (1)

“Language matters because whoever controls the words controls the conversation, because whoever controls the conversation controls its outcome, because whoever frames the debate has already won it.” So says writer Erica Jong, though we should probably give George Orwell credit for the underlying concept.

Sad to say, debate is very much out of fashion in the world these days. Online or in the streets, we go straight from perceived outrage to mob rule with very little in between other than furious accusation, name-calling and intimidation. The time from the trigger event to the full-blown social media blame-and-shame frenzy may be measured in minutes. One errant tweet on a plane and you may find yourself disemployed by the time you hit customs. Be assured no discussion will be had.

Thankfully, that is not the way Christians do things. Not yet anyway.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Anonymous Asks (102)

“Do miracles still happen today?”

I guess the answer to this depends on one’s definition of a miracle. For example, some people who are enthusiastic about children refer to the “miracle of life”. I suppose if you are using the word in that sense, then the answer would have to be of course.

The more important thing is how the writers of the Bible use the word “miracle”.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Bad Ideas that Refuse to Die

What is it about bad ideas?

I’m not thinking of anything as egregious as false teaching making its way into the church, though that tends to happen on a regular basis too. No, I’m thinking more of the natural preferences and tendencies we have and assumptions we make that can hinder the work of God and drive a wedge in between believers.

The worst part about bad ideas is that, unlike many varieties of false or heretical teaching, they often come from good people, which makes them that much more sensitive to deal with. They are also not demonstrably sinful in most cases, making it more difficult to mount a case against them and disinclining those who harbor them to easily abandon them.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Time and Chance (45)

Governing is tough.

Even in traditional monarchies, governance has always required a team, the rough equivalent of a cabinet or executive; the right people in the right combination. A king needed experienced, mature, educated men to serve as his administrators and advisors; men able to make policy and to accurately estimate the short- and long-term consequences of implementing it.

Finding the right people to put in secondary positions of authority is a critical matter. It has tremendous consequences for a nation. Kingdoms have been lost because a ruler listened to the advice of the wrong man or men, or refused to listen to the advice of the right man.

Generally speaking, slaves don’t make strong candidates for such positions, as the writer of Ecclesiastes is about to tell us.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Disconnected?

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

Immanuel Can: Tom, let’s talk about elders, particularly in their shepherding (the meaning of “pastoral”, as you know) relationship to their congregations.

I’ve observed a consistent phenomenon: churches are usually required by law to have some sort of general annual business meeting (AGM). At that meeting there are always some members of the congregation who are unhappy with something that has been decided on their behalf. It may be something small, or something quite big.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Not Fade Away

When I was a kid I listened to a lot of rock music.

Most of it I got off the radio. I owned a few albums of my own, but was never the avid collector some of my friends were. I had some favorites, and I tended to stay with them for as long as they pleased me, then move on.

One thing I noticed right away, both on my albums and on the radio, was the “fade-out”. At the end of a song it was customary for the artist or producer to reduce the sound level progressively until the music sort of seemed to dim out in the distance — as if the artist never actually stopped singing, but just happened to be traveling away from me. Then there would be short silence, and then the next song.

I always thought that was weird.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Mystery Beasts and Inscrutability

The forty-first chapter of the book of Job has thirty-four verses in an English Bible. Thirty-two of those describe a mystery beast you and I have never seen and almost surely never will. The remaining two are about God.

I think those two are probably the point of the chapter, no? At least it’s as good a guess as any.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Quote of the Day (42)

It’s hard to believe how frequently “everything old is new again”, how often “what goes around comes around”, or how reliably “the past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes”.

Having studied the past only just a little, I have still seen enough to grudgingly second the truism that “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Even its slightly darker kindred observation, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” though wildly overused, has become cliché precisely because we have to acknowledge that people do this all the time.

We really must be nuts.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Anonymous Asks (101)

“If all my sins are forgiven, why do I need to stop sinning?”

The New Testament gives us a fair bit of insight into what forgiven people look and act like. Jesus once told a paralyzed man, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” The expression he used means something like “Cheer up!” That might be a little difficult for most paralyzed people.

But it gives us an idea what Jesus saw as the higher priority, and what is most important in life. If we had to choose between our health and being forgiven our sins, we would be immeasurably better off sick and forgiven than to be healthy and remain guilty in the eyes of God.

Forgiveness matters.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Redistributionism and Jubilee

The Great Isaiah Scroll. Wrong chapter,
but you get the general idea ...
Howard Bess is a retired Baptist minister from Alaska whose novel application of the Bible’s teaching about the Jewish Year of Jubilee to issues of social justice in twenty-first century America has attracted a lot of positive attention.

“Thank you — what a beautiful interpretation of that passage,” gushed one reader. “I love the sense of Judaism and Christianity out of which Bess operates. It immediately recommends itself to me as wholesome and authentic,” enthuses another.

But despite the alleged aura of wholesomeness and authenticity, it seems to me that Bess doesn’t so much reinterpret Luke 4 as miss its real meaning as completely as did the citizens of the Lord’s hometown of Nazareth, his original audience.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Time and Chance (44)

Unless we have studied ancient languages, identifying formal Hebrew proverbs in the text of Ecclesiastes is a bit beyond most of us. To make it easier, my edition of the ESV has displayed roughly a quarter of the 221 English verses in the book with hanging indents instead of regular paragraphing, so that the reader can distinguish poetry, proverbs or quotations from the Preacher’s ongoing narrative.

The highly subjective nature of this style treatment becomes evident when we examine the same verses in other translations.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Unpardon Me

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

Matthew, Mark and Luke all make reference to a sin that will, in Matthew’s words “not be forgiven”. Mark calls it an “eternal sin”.

The reference has been a source of distress down through the centuries to Christians who fear they may have committed it and be irreversibly destined for perdition.

Tom: Personally, Immanuel Can, I’ve always thought the unpardonable sin was lazy exegesis, but I haven’t got much scripture to back me up there.

Immanuel Can: Lazy exegesis? Bad, yes, but probably pardonable if you repent. Now, being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan … that’s a whole different category: expect perdition.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Vision, Inspiration and Leadership

“Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ ”

What makes a person give up everything in order to follow Christ?

What motivates a lifetime of obedience and service?

What makes men into real men, spiritual men, dedicated men, godly men, and what makes women into women of substance?

Well, let’s see what the Bible says about that.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Quotable Quotes

I’m pretty sure that is (used to be?) a regular feature in Reader’s Digest. Anyway, they won’t mind me nicking their title ...

I had promised about two years ago to update the links page for our semi-regular Quote of the Day feature. It currently links to 41 posts with another on the way shortly. The update was to include the names of each person quoted, which seems a fairly helpful thing to do for anyone who is trying to catch up on these after the fact.

At any rate, that has finally been done. You can find the index page here if you’re interested, or access it any time from the banner on the main page of the blog.

At your service,

Tom

Which Error?

“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.”

What is the “error of lawless people” to which the apostle Peter is referring, here at the end of his second letter? When an error threatens to carry us away and make us unstable in our faith, it would seem useful to correctly identify it.

That said, the answer is not necessarily straightforward. The possibilities, I think, are two.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Out in the Woods

Van life proponent and pseudonymic woodsman Foresty Forest comments on some well-known people’s conjectures about the nature of reality, and his own motivation for wandering the mountains and valleys of the more obscure parts of Canada:

“Elon Musk, who thinks that reality is all just a simulation ... what kind of processing power would you need to model all these rocks, texture-map them ... what kind of computer would you need for that? That’s the question.

I started losing interest in gaming, and getting into real life adventures.”

Monday, July 06, 2020

Anonymous Asks (100)

“Can I really do all things through Christ?”

The question is a reference to a familiar Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, which reads, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” It is often quoted by sports celebrities after a win in the big game, or in other situations where someone who has been successful wants to make sure he gives appropriate credit to God for his help along the way.

But is that what the verse is saying: that any Christian can become proficient in any realm whatsoever because God will make it happen? Not really.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Hide and Seek

“You will ... find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

“I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.”

Do those two statements sound the tiniest bit contradictory? They aren’t really. They might contradict each other if they were both promises, and both given to exactly the same people under precisely the same circumstances, but they are not. One is a promise; the other is simply an observation, though a singularly important one for those it affects.

Either way, the notion that God is out there to be found — and, even better, willing it to happen — is something about which we ought to rejoice.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Time and Chance (43)

The so-called “golden rule of Bible interpretation” is this: When the plain sense of scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. I have heard this line attributed to a few different people, so let’s give credit both to whoever came up with it and to those who have helpfully passed it on.

We often find this principle provoking heartfelt agreement among Bible teachers. It is slightly more unusual to find expositors following it with consistency.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Faith in the Crosshairs

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

The website GodIsImaginary is an interesting study.

As you might guess from the title, it’s the work of evangelical atheists attempting to lure gullible Christians into the spiritual equivalent of a Venus flytrap. The bait is a little bit of flattery: “I’m going to assume you are an educated Christian”, “You are a smart person. You know how the world works, and you know how to think critically.”

It’s quite a clever move actually. For once, they’ve dialed back the mockery and abuse atheists can rarely resist in the interest of catching more flies with honey.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

The Mercy of Fire

“Some bells cannot be unrung.”

So goes the saying when something has been done that cannot be undone. The ink has been spilled, the glass has been shattered, the clock cannot be rewound, the world has moved on. The arrow has flown, the words said cannot be recalled to the mouth, and “send” has been pressed. There is no going back, no fixing things “as they were”, or maybe “as they should have been”.

From now on, for good or for ill, things can never be the same.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Too Big for Its Boots

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

A “lofty opinion” is a theological argument that is too big for its boots. The Greek word from which we get the expression is hypsōma, which means an elevated structure. Rightly recognizing the apostle is speaking of metaphorical heights, other English translations use the expression “pretension” or “presumption”, “proud obstacle” or “speculation”.