Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Witnessing and Misdirection

Most falsehoods don’t come with handy labels
Put them on the spot, and people won’t always tell the truth.

They may throw up smokescreens, use cover stories, ask questions they don’t really want answered, tell outright lies — engage in every variety of misdirection.

This comes as no surprise to anyone with the gift of evangelism, or anyone without it who tries to talk to people about the Lord. Where the subject of faith is concerned, it takes wisdom and experience to discern what really matters.

At least initially, people tend to be least candid about the things that mean the most.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Marching to Where?

I’m a bit cautious about the practice of grabbing verses out of the Old Testament and some parts of the gospels for the benefit of Christians living in the Church Age.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is centuries of historical precedent for appropriating Israel’s promises to ourselves in hymnology and liturgical language, this practice is quite unnecessary: the church has its own unique place and promises in the plans of God.

Generally speaking, when we replace our own promises with those made to national Israel, we are trading down.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Anonymous Asks (112)

“What’s the difference between reincarnation and resurrection?”

The concept of reincarnation is a component of many religions, the four largest of which originated in India: Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. Greek philosophers like Plato, Socrates and Pythagoras promoted something similar, as do Spiritists, Theosophists and numerous smaller, tribal societies, as well as some of the more obscure sects of the Abrahamic religions.

Obviously then, not all believers in reincarnation believe precisely the same things. Forgive me if I generalize a bit.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Seeing What We Want to See

Christians cannot agree across the board about what the Bible teaches. If we could, there would be no need for denominations, and there would be a single, clear, accepted interpretation of every verse of scripture.

Wouldn’t that be nice? But it ain’t so, and we all know it.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (1)

“You can’t survive three days in the stomach of a whale,” complain the critics. “It’s impossible.”

Christians may be sorely tempted to concede their point, or at least to downplay the necessity for a historical Jonah. As a result, students of the Bible have taken many different positions with respect to the historicity of the book of Jonah, and with respect to its intended meaning. William R. Harper, editor of the October 1883 edition of The Old Testament Student, has provided an outstanding summary of ten of these positions here.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: He Ain’t Baptist, He’s My Brother

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

Tom: Quick quiz, IC: How many different local churches have you been part of? I’m not counting churches you’ve visited, but just those you would have considered “my church” for a period of time; churches in which it would have been notable to others if you weren’t there.

Immanuel Can: Um … rather more than most people, I suspect. I’ve been regarded, for some time, as a regular attendee of … I make it 14. I might be missing one or two. My youth and early adult years were marked by a lot of moving around, so it wasn’t a product of unhappiness in most cases. How about you?

Tom: Eight. Second question: How many of those churches were in the same town as one of the others?

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Between Museum and Megachurch

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Language of the Debate (2)

The Christian media urgently wants Christians to stop believing — and even more importantly, to stop circulating — what it calls “conspiracy theories”. I previously came across and responded to one of the earliest of these calls to cease and desist back in September of last year, and lo and behold, here are a whole bunch more folks writing almost exactly the same thing Aaron Brake wrote at Stand to Reason, and maybe even more so.

Interfaith Now says Christians “have to do better”. Christianity.com says, “Let’s unite together in spreading God’s truth, not rumors!” Relevant magazine argues that Christians only believe in “conspiracies” because they need to feel like they are in control. Christianity Today insists, “Gullibility is not a spiritual gift.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

My youngest son has an amazing memory for detail. If you play him a song he’s familiar with, he can tell you when he first heard it — year, month and sometimes day — where we were and what we were doing at the time, and probably what video game was released that week.

I, on the other hand, can go back into the ComingUntrue archives, read a two-year-old post, and wonder “Who wrote that?”

It was usually me.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Anonymous Asks (111)

“How often do you need to say ‘amen’?”

This is kind of a different question, because it’s really more a matter of etiquette than morality.

Amen is one of those weird words that is exactly the same whether you’re looking through a Greek or a Hebrew concordance. It’s a Hebrew word that Greek-speaking Christians in the early church picked up and used to mean the same thing it meant within Judaism. In the King James it is often translated as “verily”. It is an affirmation of agreement. It simply means “indeed”, “so be it” or “absolutely”. Sometimes it means Yeah, me too. I feel that exact feeling, I think that exact thing and I want exactly that to happen. “Amen” is convenient shorthand for all that.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Time and Chance: The Post-Game Show

The heavens declare the glory of God and God’s invisible attributes have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made; our Old and New Testaments are in absolute agreement on this. Even if the Creator had never uttered a word to his creatures, men would be without excuse.

We would also be hopelessly confused, frustrated, and conflicted, grasping for an explanation of meaning and purpose that forever eludes us, feeling the pull of eternity in bodies destined only for the grave.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Time and Chance (54)

We have arrived in our study of Ecclesiastes at what the Preacher calls “the end of the matter”. The matter under consideration, if you have a long memory, was this: “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” What is the point of man’s existence? Why are we here? This was the question he set out to answer.

Through twelve chapters, the Preacher has undertaken the task of examining the experience of being human from every possible angle in hope of gaining insight into its meaning and purpose, always using only what he could observe and infer from the input of his senses. What he discovered was that when you approach the big questions of life in that way, the experience is frustrating and the answers elusive.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: After COVID

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

Immanuel Can: I’m noticing a very common theme springing up in news organizations and on the internet right now. There are lots of articles talking about the changes to society that will persist after the COVID-19 crisis is over. For instance, ABC says the major things that will remain different will be: more automation and more work-from-home options in employment, increased telemedicine, stricter travel regulations and precautions, and more virtual education. Another media source predicts masks everywhere, no more handshakes, loads of anxious parents, closer cliques, more centralized government control, smaller cities ... and a whole bunch of other things. All that’s speculation, of course. But some of it’s probably going to turn out to be right.

It seems what’s missing from such articles, Tom, is any reflection on what all the shifts will do to local congregations of Christians. Of course they will be subject to the same changes as anyone else, for starters. But are there any special concerns that Christians should take note of? What trends do you see as either opportunities or ominous possibilities for Christians after COVID?

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Three Reasons to Get Going

The most recent version of this post is available here

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (13)

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

The commendably-honest Sarah Frazer acknowledges she once believed this familiar promise in Psalm 37 meant “I can have anything I want.” If so, that would be quite a promise, but it would reduce God to a mere term in a larger equation, where if you treat that term a consistent way, you can always expect a predictable outcome.

Nice deal if you can get it, but quite a comedown for the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe to be reduced to a component of your personal math problem.

Let’s suggest that might not be the verse’s intended meaning!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

That Guy Outside Starbucks is NOT Jesus’ Brother

God bless the poor.

In fact, I don’t even have to ask him: we’ve been told he will; at least inasmuch as their poverty is primarily one of the spirit.

But we should pray for the poor, of course, and share as we are able. We should care, we ought to avoid partiality and we need to act. Our faith does not amount to much if it does not make us compassionate in a very practical way toward those in need, and toward those who may have started life at a huge disadvantage, or have encountered trials and troubles we have never experienced.

But that guy outside Starbucks who invades your space — the one with the tatty green or brown jacket, bad breath, body odor and uncomfortable social habits — while he may be made in the image of God and deserving of whatever we are able to do for him for that reason alone …

Sorry, that guy is just not Jesus’ “brother”.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Anonymous Asks (110)

“What should a believer do before he dies?”

Some denominations prescribe rituals to be administered by the church in a man or woman’s final moments on earth, and perhaps this week’s question is coming from someone with that sort of ecclesiastical background.

If religious routines are what the dying are calling for, we would not wish to rob them of their comfort, but I should probably point out that we do not find any commands at all about “last rites” in our Bibles. The Christian is neither obligated to perform them nor to have them performed. It may even be that the practice encourages a false sense of security about one’s relationship to Christ and one’s eternal destiny.

That would be very unfortunate indeed. In any case, it’s not the sort of preparation we are going to discuss today.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Act Like What You Are

Clean living requires an act of the will, and acts of the will require a changed mindset — at least if they are going to stick for any length of time. Down through the centuries, men and women who sought to control their natural appetites have attempted to “live clean” with different goals in view.

Plato taught the suppression of fleshly desires in order to free the soul to search for knowledge. The Stoics disciplined themselves to manage their emotions in order to uphold what they believed was the essential dignity of human nature. Kant advocated moral asceticism in hope of cultivating virtue. Monks of various religious orders idealized poverty, fasting and celibacy as ways of expressing devotion to their gods.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Time and Chance (53)

With the advent of the internet, we have become all too used to people sharing their opinions with us.

Editorializing is far from a new activity — human beings have engaged in it for millennia. What’s new is the sheer scale of useless bloviating made possible through social media. More information is fine, but information bereft of both authority and coherence is not worth the effort it takes to process.

Back in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher is about to tell his readers something similar.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Christian Globalist

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

For the last fifty years, the media has quietly endorsed it. Politicians in every country in the world have worked tirelessly to build public support for it. Mega-corporations love it: who wouldn’t like to have the entire planet to choose from when optimizing for low taxes, inexpensive manufacturing and cheap labor?

Tom: Globalism is officially out of the closet, Immanuel Can. The Economist declares: “The danger is that a rising sense of insecurity will lead to more electoral victories for closed-world types. This is the gravest risk to the free world since communism. Nothing matters more than countering it.”

“Nothing matters more.” That’s pretty clear. So tell me, IC, is it possible to be a Christian globalist? Can we hold such an ideological position coherently and biblically?

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Inbox: Was Christ Actually ‘Good’?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

If It Happens Again I’m Leaving

Doug Wilson is not the only Christian blogging about the phenomenon of people leaving a church over the issue of compulsory mask-wearing, but he’s probably more quoted on the subject than most. Responding in a recent post to questions from believers frustrated by the stand their own elders have taken over the issue, Doug has (perhaps inadvertently) opened a larger can of worms than the mask issue itself, which is the authority of elders to bind the consciences of those under their care over matters about which scripture is silent.

And the mask issue is certainly that.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Inbox: ‘Systemic’ Racism

Israel had the greatest system in the history of our planet.

God gave a plethora of laws to Moses on Sinai, yet they did not make for a perfect society because people are not perfect. Individuals observed those laws from time to time, and in doing so, benefited from them. But on a national level, Israel would not — nay, could not — follow those laws, notwithstanding the fact that they were morally excellent, decent, orderly, and taught lessons humanity absolutely needed to learn, not to mention they pointed to Christ. So God gave them, man received them, and the result was systemic failure.

Or was it?

Monday, September 07, 2020

Anonymous Asks (109)

“If God loves the world, why does he make people choose between loving him back or spending eternity in hell? That sounds more like an ultimatum than love.”

I agree: that choice does sound a bit like an ultimatum. The Bible also frames it as a command.

Why is that? Why is there no third option where God simply leaves me alone to do my own thing, and I leave him alone to do his? Surely a policy of benign indifference would be more loving than condemning millions of people to a lake of fire.

I wonder what simply leaving humanity to its own devices would look like ...

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Semi-Random Musings (21)

Most of our readers would not be aware that I have been at the office almost non-stop these last few weeks as a consequence of a plethora of COVID-related staff absences. That’s not because even a single employee of hundreds across the globe has contracted the coronavirus — so far as I know, they are all healthy as horses — but because almost nobody currently working from home has any enthusiasm about returning to work in the current environment, and the corporate powers that be are even less enthusiastic about ordering them to do so. The vast majority of my co-workers seem content to hunker down in their basements doing not too much of anything until sometime in Spring 2021.

Yeah, sure … that’ll be the end of it. Right.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Time and Chance (52)

Just this week, a friend of mine took his three-and-half-year-old grandson hiking through a local terraced cemetery. As they climbed, they stopped to read a gravestone together at every level. Recognizing the shape of the recurring word forms, the little boy soon began to repeat phrases like “In loving memory” and “beloved wife”.

When the two returned home to tell Grandma what they had been up to, her agitated response was, “I hope you didn’t tell him what the numbers mean.”

Yeah, those numbers …

Friday, September 04, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Chosen

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

The Chosen is a largely-crowdfunded, independent, ongoing video series which debuted on YouTube in April 2019 with the goal of retelling the gospel stories mainly from the perspective of their minor characters and emphasizing the life-changing nature of their interactions with the Lord Jesus. In the words of Josh Shepherd at Christianity Today, its creators aimed for it to be “faithful to the biblical text while gritty in tone”.

Tom: Hmm. In my opinion, the grit is definitely visible, but not necessarily off-putting.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Who Your Friends Are

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials.”

In my youth I had two friends with whom I was particularly close. Both were highly talented, creative, driven and smart. It was only a matter of time until both made good in the world and became successful, wealthy and celebrated.

But when I met them all that was yet to come. It wasn’t apparent yet that they were going anywhere. They were in a high-risk career line, trying to catch that key break that many folks thought might never come. “Get a haircut, and get a real job” was the advice they heard a lot.

Too bad for the naysayers. Both hit the big time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Inbox: What’s Right with It?

The most recent version of this post is available here.

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

A Sheet of Glass

Now and then when I’m unable to write a new post for one reason or another, I’ll recycle something from our archives, generally without comment. But I couldn’t help but notice that this end-of-2014 post about the suddenness with which change comes to our world was definitely NOT inadvertently prophetic. Not one bit. Really.

Last week, Matt Drudge linked to an article in The Guardian that informs us “we are safer, richer and healthier than at any time on record”. In “Goodbye to one of the best years in history”, Fraser Nelson wraps up 2014 by reminding his readers that while it may have escaped our notice:
  • our lives now are more peaceful than at any time known to the human species;
  • global capitalism has transferred wealth faster than foreign aid ever could;
  • global life expectancy now stands at a new high of 71.5 years;
  • traffic deaths are down by two-thirds since 1990; and
  • there has never been a better reason for people the world over to wish each other a happy and prosperous new year.
While Mr. Nelson may have overlooked one or two little atrocities here and there in his glowing report on the human condition, he makes an effort to substantiate his claim that relatively at least we are doing pretty well as a species.

Terrific for us, until things change. And change is coming.