Monday, August 31, 2020

Anonymous Asks (108)

“Why do we follow some Levitical laws and not others?”

Whenever we associate living the Christian life with following the Law of Moses, we run the risk of becoming very confused. Surprisingly, the relationship between Christianity and Old Testament Judaism is still much misunderstood today, even though the matter was conclusively sorted out very early in church history. It’s a situation made worse today by systems of theology that conflate the church with Israel.

But if we have our theology right, we will find Christians do not “follow Levitical laws” at all.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Incidentally …

An idle remark made in passing may tell us considerably more about its speaker than listening to him lecture for an hour on a prepared topic.

Likewise, it is often the case that the little “asides” made by the writers of the New Testament in the process of teaching are as interesting as — and sometime even more interesting than — the subjects themselves.

Nothing in scripture is simply there to fill up space. Even incidental comments are full of important truth.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Time and Chance (51)

Ah, vanity. That expression again.

As I have mentioned on more than one occasion during our study of Ecclesiastes, the list of things its writer characterizes as “vanity” in his thesis is lengthy. Over thirty different features of human existence are so described, a partial list of which you can find here, from hedonism to workaholism to discontentment and entropy.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Peasants Are Revolting

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

Joel Kotkin of The Daily Beast coins the term “Great Rebellion” to describe the phenomenon of eroding trust in elite opinion-shapers: scientists, politicians, economists, corporatists and the media. He’s not alone: Village Voice and even the Huffington Post have just run similar articles.

Tom: The peasants are revolting, Immanuel Can.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Merged into the Mob

It’s kind of breathtaking watching the news these days, isn’t it? So much mass craziness in such a little time!

Of course, there’s the hysteria surrounding COVID-19. First, we were told it was all a racist plot, then that it was an international pandemic, then that we were all going to die, then that we all had to wear masks ... or not ... and then go back to work and school ... then not ... that there will be a cure ... then that all cures are poisons ... that the economy is collapsing ... then that it must collapse, so we can all stay safe.

Who do you believe? Which side do you choose? What do you support? What do you do?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

No Standing

The argument may be made that John Glover Roberts Jr. is the most powerful man in America.

As the 17th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, when Roberts says no, even the current president reluctantly backs down. For that matter, lower court judges have blocked, delayed or nullified Mr. Trump’s initiatives over the last four years on any number of fronts.

Surprising, no?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Fake Piety

Fake piety is usually fairly transparent. Sadly, the fakely pious are the only ones who do not know it.

Christians sometimes caution one another to be careful what we confess, and this is not always a bad thing. A personal testimony full of interesting and semi-scandalous details can serve as a source of enticement to those who have little life experience, whose parents have sheltered them from the evils in the world.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Anonymous Asks (107)

“What does the Bible say about capital punishment?”

The law of God received by Moses at Sinai gave instructions to the leaders of Israel concerning the conduct of Israelites and the foreigners who chose to travel and live alongside them. The penalties for religious and criminal violations of the Law were identical for both nationals and foreigners.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Your Church Building is NOT the House of God

I’m hearing it all the time now in public prayer: “We thank you, Father that we are able to freely gather in the house of God” and other similar thoughts, where the words “house of God” are unquestionably being used to describe the building in which we are sitting.

A similar misconception is given voice by people who insist upon referring to the auditorium in which a church meets as a “sanctuary”, as in (from mother to child), “Don’t run in the sanctuary! Don’t make noise in the sanctuary!”

These are not new Christians. It makes me wonder if they really know what the house of God is or what the term sanctuary means. I think in many cases they do, but have through inattention lapsed into language that is potentially misleading.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Time and Chance (50)

Almost a year ago we started this weekly study in Ecclesiastes, and here we are in the penultimate chapter. I have been poking along a verse or two at a time, because it seems to me that this 3,000 year old treatise on the meaning of life deserves our concentrated attention and rarely gets it.

Hey, Christians and unbelievers alike quote from Ecclesiastes all the time. There’s some great stuff in there for funerals. But when was the last time you heard even a single sermon on the book, let alone a series? I can remember maybe two in my entire life.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Which Beer Do Christians Drink?

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

Everybody’s favorite political football Bristol Palin has written a column on the subject of the Guinness Beer Company and its Christian origins.

Tom: This is not the first time I’ve come across this story, Immanuel Can. In another generation, a Christian brewer turns out to have been the voice of moderation and societal self control. But in some evangelical circles today, Arthur Guinness would be taken to task for corrupting the faithful. I mean, he sold alcohol for a living!

Is there a less cartoonish and more biblical position to be taken on the subject of alcohol consumption, IC?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Who’s Holding the Scales?

I have to admit I’m appalled by the debates flying around the Internet these days. More and more, they seem like merely the propaganda of angry factions, not the rational pronouncements of people who think things through.

And the sanctimony ... oh, the sanctimony! Every faction sees its perspective as not merely just, but as the only side a reasonable, compassionate, fair-minded, informed, civilized or decent person could ever be on.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Resetting our Defaults

If only it were as simple as pushing three keys ...
What does your church do on Sunday mornings?

I’ve been thinking about platform ministry. Each church has its own default set of practices observed week after week (with the exception of churches that meet in living rooms and basements and don’t have platforms) and, other than in the case of brand new churches, the choices that go into how teaching and preaching get presented are rarely conscious ones. They are more often the result of time, tradition and imitation of formats perceived to be successful in other churches.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Recommend-a-blog (30)

Alan Shlemon at Stand to Reason has written a thought-provoking piece called “How 2020 Is Taking a Toll on Your Soul” about the effects of the internet in the last five months on society in general and Christians in particular. To nobody’s surprise, in COVID lockdown we have been spending record amounts of time online. In the UK, the highest percentage increase in time spent online is among those over the age of 54.

As a result, I’ve felt it and I’m sure you have too: that indefinable malaise and “inordinate pressure to say the right thing”. Shlemon argues it’s partly a consequence of the false sense of omnipresence and omniscience social media inspires.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Anonymous Asks (106)

“How can Christians say their religion is the only true one?”

Over fifty years ago, a Muslim who happened to hear my father preaching asked him a question very much like this one. After listening to Dad for a time, he inquired, “Are you actually telling us that Jesus is the only way to God?”

Ouch.

In a Bit of a Bind

My father was in a bit of a bind in that he was at the time a guest in a foreign country. His ability to continue freely preaching and teaching there depended to a certain extent on not rocking the boat unnecessarily. However, this was one of those questions that cannot be evaded, ignored or put off to a more convenient time when there might be fewer witnesses or a less potentially hostile environment. Faithfulness to his Master demanded a straightforward answer, and Dad gave one.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Acknowledging the Obvious

Why do we give God glory?

It’s a good question. I was introduced to the Christian faith as a small child, so the notion of people gathering together to sing praises to God, to raise their hands in the air, to pray fervently to someone they could not see, and say complimentary things about him to one another did not seem weird to me at all. It was what I was used to, and when I was old enough to know how to imitate what these folks were doing, I joined in too, even though at that point I had no personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.

It was expected, so we did it.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Time and Chance (49)

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon
It is said that every virtue carried to extremes becomes a vice, which is probably true. Every good thing indulged in to excess does much the same.

The previous few verses of Ecclesiastes 10 contrast a kingdom run by self-indulgent drunks and gluttons with a kingdom administered by wise, self-controlled princes and officials who know the proper place for leisure and pleasure in their own lives. Obviously the citizens of the second kingdom will have a better time of it than those of the first. The Preacher then comments that attending to only your own desires rather than the objective needs around you will end in disaster.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Religious Scrupulosity

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

Sometimes you come across something so odd you don’t know what to think about it. For example, when Immanuel Can sent me this link last week, I responded with, “Seriously? Is this real????”

Tom: Turns out it’s as real as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and probably worth making Christians aware of, assuming they have not encountered it already.

The post IC linked me to is not about OCD per se, but about a particular variety of OCD referred to in the article as “religious scrupulosity”. Like other forms of OCD, religious scrupulosity is a biochemical aberration. As we discussed last week, Christians who try to give spiritual help to a person suffering from a biochemical condition which affects their spiritual lives, and who dive into counseling them without acknowledging and accounting for these underlying physical causes, are likely to frustrate both themselves and the person they are counseling.

Maybe I should let you explain it a little bit, IC.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Fake News

The biggest news today is “fake news”.

What is “fake news”? Nobody seems to know. It could be the panicky blandishments of the liberal media. It could be the paranoid pronouncements of the extreme Right. But it could also be the confused babblings of the moderate centre. Nobody really seems to know. The only thing upon which all sides agree seems to be that there’s a lot of it out there somewhere.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Two Psalms

The Psalms are not only richly poetic but deeply personal. That may be one reason so many Christians relate to them on an emotional level. When saying goodbye even temporarily to someone we love, the natural instinct is to reach for a psalm. Psalms touch our hearts in ways much of the rest of God’s word may not.

Let me be very honest about that: I suspect much of the time the Psalms touch us so powerfully because we don’t really understand what they are about to any great extent. Figures of speech will do that; they universalize thoughts that may actually be quite specific. So we feel free to grab bits and pieces of the Psalms here and there to apply to our own experience without worrying too much whether we are violating some principle of exegesis.

They just feel right, and so we are at home with them. Even if at one level they are not really ours.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Knowing Our Limitations

A few days ago we ran a post about the will of God and the COVID-19 pandemic. In the process of researching what God’s will meant to the Lord Jesus and his apostles, I came across a verse that initially perplexed me, then later seemed to provide some interesting insights into the subject. I did not bother to mention it in the COVID post because it was one of those theological rabbit trails, heading off through the forest from where we were at the time to somewhere entirely different. But the questions raised by the verse certainly merit a full post’s worth of consideration, and then some.

I’ve been mulling it over ever since, so let’s lay out the problem that occurred to me and see where it takes us ... carefully, of course.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Anonymous Asks (105)

“What are the differences between a pastor, a priest and a preacher?”

If I were to discuss all the different ways some of these words have been used throughout history and all the ways they each are misused throughout Christendom, this might turn into a five-parter. So let’s keep it simple and just try to highlight what the Bible teaches about each as they exist in the church today.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Time and Chance (48)

Many years ago I had an older Scottish boss. Unstereotypically for a Scot with an accent so thick you could make peaks in it with a spatula, he had no problem with his staff reading a book, chatting, or idling away our shifts — but only under one condition: all the work in the shop must be finished and out the door first. If our salespeople failed to keep us busy, that was their problem. If we failed to deliver their work on time, it was ours.

So play by all means, but play after you work.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Christians and Mental Health

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

Immanuel Can: Let me tell you a story, a true story. It’s about a Christian man. Unfortunately for this poor fellow, he was also a diagnosed schizophrenic. He was taking medication supplied by the government, and so long as he was on his meds he was functioning normally. But then his program was discontinued and his medication cut off. Without it he became delusional, and in that delusion he came to believe that his son could only be saved by being killed.

Operating in that mindset, he attacked and nearly killed his own child.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Universal Human Rights: The Christian Legacy

Okay, let me say it right away:

There is only one reason we have human rights: God.

And it was a Christian who first discovered this and explained it to the world.

Eh?

Now, you might ask yourself this: if this is true, why was I not told? Why didn’t my teachers in high school, my instructors at college or my professors in my undergraduate explain this? Or if it’s true, then why is not every Christian trumpeting the fact from the rooftops?

The answer’s simple: Christians don’t know it, and other people don’t want to hear it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

COVID-19 and the Will of God

“It was God’s will.”

Ah, the magic phrase. You hear it said by devout people at funerals, usually with palpable resignation. “He was taken before we were ready, and we’re all hurting, but somehow we know — though we can’t quite see how it might be since he was such a great guy and will be so profoundly missed — that his untimely and painful death was God’s will.”

So that’s all right then. Even if it isn’t, really.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Marching as to War

“... making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel ... that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

This is not the only time Paul asks for prayer specifically for himself and for the work he was engaged in. Colossians 4 contains a similar request, as do both Paul’s first and second letters to Thessalonica. We may take it this was an apostolic custom. The writer to the Hebrews does the same.

I wonder why.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Anonymous Asks (104)

“Why is sexual purity so important?”

This is an excellent question for young Christians to resolve in their hearts and heads before it becomes emotional and personal, especially in a cultural climate where we are repeatedly told that pre-marital sex is not only not sinful, but healthy, normal human behavior. Chaste teenagers are currently considered more than a little defective. Heaven help you if your dedication to sexual purity lasts into your twenties.

So why have Christians always taught that sexual purity is so important?

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Thank You for the Failures

God wants to save “all people”, or so we are told.

Some readers understand that concept very broadly. They see that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”, and conclude from it that God would prefer it if every single human being on the planet were to turn from sin and self to Christ, who is God’s only way of salvation.

This may very well be true, though I don’t think it’s exactly what Paul was telling Timothy.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Time and Chance (47)

Not all fools are avowed atheists.

All serious foolishness begins with the assumption “There is no God.” But there are different ways of denying the existence of God in one’s heart. One way is to do it like Richard Dawkins, who says it with a lot of pseudo-scientific bother and fuss. He can’t stop thinking about it and trying to prove it. Then there is the functional atheist. He never tries to talk anyone out of their belief in God, and he certainly doesn’t write books about God’s non-existence. He may even concede that God might possibly exist, but he lives every moment of his life as if God does not.

Either way is foolish, but at least a Dawkins recognizes the existence of God as a problem for his worldview and is working away at coming to grips with it. The other fellow is perhaps in a worse state, as he never thinks about God at all.