Saturday, October 31, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (6)

It is of at least mild interest to certain commentators to note which names of God are used by the writers of various Old Testament books. For example, it is a notable feature of the book of Ecclesiastes that the personal name by which God makes himself known to Israel is never used there. Given the content of Ecclesiastes, this authorial choice makes perfect sense.

Can we deduce anything equally significant from the names of God used in the book of Jonah? You be the judge.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Worth Leaving Over

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

In principle, I’m not keen on leaving churches. It happens too often and too easily. But sometimes, there just isn’t any choice.

When Gretta Vosper became the pastor of a West Hill United Church in Toronto, Canada in 1997, she was not yet out of the closet about her atheism, a little bonus she didn’t disclose from the pulpit until 2001. Amazingly, quite a few congregants hung on until 2008 when Vosper did away with the Lord’s Prayer, at which point 2/3 of the flock made for the exits.

Tom: I’m not sure precisely where the line is, but I’d have difficulty faulting anyone who leaves a church with an atheist pastor, IC. From your experience, what are the ingredients that go into making for a “time to go” decision?

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Infinite Improbability and the Multiverse Hypothesis

I’m going to start this post with an apology. I’m sorry.

I usually don’t go all egg-headed and philosophical in this space. I think that usually truth can be spoken plainly and simply, and it’s my aim to do that. Every now and then, though, I run into something that is bugging a whole bunch of people — Christians among them — and that just can’t be treated without going off the grid. This is one of those issues. If I lose you, don’t worry; this probably isn’t an issue that’s come up for you, and it needn’t worry you. Tomorrow there may well be a post that suits you more directly.

On the other hand, if you’ve run into the arguments below, you might be very glad for some help with them even if it takes us into deeper waters. So I’m going to risk it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Recognizing Our Limitations

An anthropomorphism is the attribution of human motivation, characteristics or behavior to that which is not human; in The American Heritage Dictionary, an inanimate object, an animal or some natural phenomenon.

The Bible is full of such figures of speech. One psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God ... day to day pours out speech.” Another records, “The mountains skipped like rams.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Hyperbole and Analogy

When trying to understand individual psalms, three questions are helpful to ask:
  1. How was this psalm understood by its original audience?
  2. To what other circumstances might this psalm legitimately apply?
  3. Where is Christ in this psalm; and, conversely, where is he not?
The first and third questions are easily understood, even if it is sometimes tough sledding to find the answers to them. The second requires a little explanation.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Anonymous Asks (116)

“How can you worship a God who could send your loved ones to hell?”

There is a something about the generosity of spirit in this frequently-heard and more-frequently-unheard complaint that I would hate to disparage. Loyalty to friends and kin is commendable, and self-sacrificial loyalty — the sort that feels uncomfortable partaking of a good thing from which others are excluded — is more commendable still.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Worth Dying For

When King David wrote, “He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze,” the great warrior-poet was not reaching for an apt figure of speech to describe some vigorous spiritual exercise. He meant it absolutely literally. David had men on every side who were trying to kill him with bows, arrows, swords and spears. His enemies were not looking for a bracing intellectual argument; they intended to spill David’s blood, and spill it in copious quantities.

Moreover, God was not standing aloof from David’s very physical struggles. He was right in there equipping his servant to pierce, crush, injure and maim his fellow man.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (5)

The Hebrew word translated “presence” is literally “face” or “countenance”. It appears in every book from Genesis through Malachi, over 2,000 times in total. When used of God, as in “the presence of the Lord”, it refers to any location in which God chooses to present himself to human beings or any location in which he is said to make his residence.

That phrase “presence of the Lord” is used three times in the book of Jonah, all in this first chapter.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: The Numbers Game

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

Earlier this month, the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University released its 11th and latest detailed analysis of the results of its January American Worldview Inventory 2020 survey. In a long list of bullet points, CRC Director of Research George Barna noted that, among other disturbing trends, 44% of respondents who self-identify as Christian said they believe the Bible’s teaching about abortion is “ambiguous”, and that 34% said abortion is morally acceptable if it spares the mother from financial or emotional discomfort or hardship.

Tom: The Christian news website Not The Bee (“your source for headlines that should be satire, but aren’t”) took the survey at face value and pushed back hard with a salvo of scripture, and good for them.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

What You Don’t Know Can Kill You

He was a walking nightmare — tall, balding, all angles-and-bones, a vulture of a man. His beady eyes peered out predaciously over his hawk-like nose, and his battered tweed jacket emanated chalk dust clouds as he strode up and down the aisles. We students cowered in fear, praying he would not ask us the next question. Chances are we couldn’t answer it.

Hey, chances are we couldn’t even understand it, so high over our heads was his vocabulary.

But cowering would not save us. He would pick someone at random. “You,” he would say. “What does ‘ephemeral’ mean?” His respondent would not know. He would repeat the question, stepping closer to the cringing child. No answer.

He would persist: “Don’t you have a dictionary? … Can’t you ask anyone?”


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Third-Tier Faith

Once in a while when confronting others with the claims of Jesus Christ, Christians run into a response like “I truly wish I could believe that, but I just haven’t got the faith,” or “If only I could be sure what you’re saying is true ...”

Sound familiar? I’ve been thinking a lot about that excuse.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Denominations and Discernment

Discernment is a difficult quality to teach. Some people have a great deal more of it than others. It’s a quality that seems to me increasingly and depressingly rare.

It’s not hard to think of Christians who have known the Lord for years, yet remain more than a little gullible and sometimes require the protection of family and friends. You probably know some too. They like people. They think the best of everyone. They have a tendency to be so gentle and trusting that they fall for almost every new thing that comes along, provided it is presented with a smile. They mistake niceness for goodness and pleasant talk for the gospel truth.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Anonymous Asks (115)

“What’s the difference between being spiritual and being religious?”

The answer to this question very much depends on whether we come at it from the perspective of the man in the street, or from that of the scriptures.

The Man in the Street

The man in the street thinks a mystic is spiritual and a priest religious. He sees the religious person as a cog in the ecclesiastical machinery, observing traditions and doing his duty as part of a larger religious community. The “spiritual” person, on the other hand, is someone operating outside institutional religion; thought to be in harmony with the natural order, and communing with the universe or some such. The religious person would always be in church on Sunday (or Saturday), while the “spiritual” person may or may not.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Commentariat Speaks (19)

Moscow, Idaho is home to Christ Church, a conservative reformed evangelical gathering of about 900 people that has produced an unusual number of what Wikipedia calls “institutional projects”, including New Saint Andrews College, the Logos School, a Christian book publisher, a scripture translation group, a three-year ministerial training program and four spin-off churches in Montana, California and Myanmar.

Christ Church congregants form an active community of homeschoolers and Christian businesspeople within Moscow.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (4)

All names have some level of significance to the people who bear them, though you may feel free to disagree if you have been afflicted with parents who think calling a child Apple or Moon Unit is a bright idea. Thankfully those folks are comparatively rare.

In ancient languages, most names were not simply a pleasing combination of vowels and consonants chosen by moms and dads who were stuck for a name they could agree on; they also signified something else. The Lord renamed at least one of his disciples, and he did not do so without purpose. The name Simon, which means “to hear”, was changed to Peter, meaning a rock or stone. Much is said about that renaming in religious circles, not all of it accurate, but it is certain that the change was significant both to the Lord and to Peter. It redefined who he was.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Preaching or Peddling?

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

Mike Leake has a few words to say here about stewardship of the word of God. Leake says that preachers and teachers tend to approach their responsibilities one of two ways. In Scenario 1, like the servant in the parable of the talents. In Scenario 2, like Paul instructed Timothy, guarding “the good deposit”.

Tom: One approach attempts to improve on what has been given while the other simply attempts to retain what has been given.

What do you think of his analysis, and how do you approach the word of God when you’re responsible to share it with others, IC?

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Atheist’s New Clothes

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ”

Sometimes the Bible just hits the nail on the head.

You run into a lot of people who pride themselves in being atheists. They rattle on about how they are the only intellectual option … that every scientist is an atheist … that no one who has any sense would be anything else … and so on. Their smugness, their self-satisfaction, their certainty seem so great that the unprepared believer is often blown back on his heels.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

How Saved Are You?

Most of us associate our salvation with a specific incident: a conversation, a sudden realization, a moment in which it became clear to us that the Lord was speaking; that God was right and we were wrong; that we were sinners and that there was something we urgently needed to do about that. So in our own way we cried out to God: some with tears, some more tentatively, still not completely sure what might be involved. How much we may have fully grasped of the role of Christ in both salvation and in the government of our lives from then on almost certainly differed from person to person.

But my point is … it was a point in time. And if you say the word “salvation”, that event is primarily what we think of.

An event is good. If you have one to look back on, I’m glad.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Gap Anticipated

“All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible repeatedly claims to be God-breathed, both in its component parts and in its entirety. Statements to the effect that God has spoken are made several hundred times in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel alone, and they are sprinkled liberally through the rest of the scripture. Other writers and speakers in the Bible made similar assertions to that which Paul makes here: that the whole thing (Law, Prophets, Psalms, Letters, Gospels) is God speaking, right down its glyphs and diacritics in the original languages.

Stop and think about that a moment.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Anonymous Asks (114)

“Where did Jesus come from?”

Before there was ever a Jesus of Nazareth, there was the Word. This is one of the names the writers of the Bible use to describe the Pre-Incarnate Christ.

The Pre-Incarnate Word

John speaks of “the Word”, who “was with God” and who “was God”. The Word made all things that have been made, without exception, which means the Word existed not just at creation, but prior to it. Since nothing that was made was made without him, that must include Satan. Satan is not any old created being. He was the “anointed guardian cherub” who served in heaven before his fall. Thus it is evident the Word was operating in eternity well before the rest of creation was brought into existence.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Why Your View of Prophecy Matters

Does is really make much difference how you view Bible prophecy?

Most Christians would affirm that all scripture is God-breathed and profitable; that’s fairly fundamental. It follows that the study of prophecy is also profitable, though whether its details are easily deciphered or have immediate application to the lives of all readers is another question altogether.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (3)

“The word of the Lord” is an expression that occurs 242 times in the Old Testament. It is a claim that God has spoken and a demand that he be heard. It is not the only way that the writers of the Old Testament choose to convey the truth that God has something to say, but it is probably their most prominent and frequent way of expressing it.

The word of the Lord is unspeakably powerful. The psalmist records that by it “the heavens were made”. Sometimes the word of the Lord tells great men of great things to come. Other times it warns of  impending judgment. Still other times it appears to address and correct a small, technical injustice, or to establish a personal relationship. It may operate on a grand scale, or intimately and personally.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Making Tough Choices

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

Tom: Last month, IC, you and I had a conversation in this space about what might come after the COVID crisis for local churches, as well as for Christians generally in a transformed economic and social environment, and I don’t want to revisit the topics we considered at that time at any length.

But in the last week or two (assuming you are not reading this in Sweden), you are probably hearing about significant “spikes” and “surges” in the COVID-19 infection rate wherever you live. Some people are calling it a “second wave”. The U.K. has seen the worst surge, topping what they experienced in April and May, but Canada is looking ugly too, as are the U.S., France and especially Spain. (I’m using the World Health Organization (WHO) stats; graphs of confirmed cases and deaths day by day in each country are found by scrolling down below the maps.)

Thursday, October 08, 2020

A Sign From God

“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

Jesus Christ was a sign from God.

What is a sign? It is something that is not what it seems to be, but looked at correctly, points beyond the surface appearance to something else.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

A Unique Learning Experience

“That is not the way you learned Christ.”

Learning Christ is not like learning Marxism or Islam or Buddhism or Taoism. It’s not even like learning Christianity.

All religious and political movements have recognized founders whose words are studied, analyzed, memorized and followed dutifully, but their adherents are not “learning” Karl Marx or Muhammad ibn Abdullah or Siddhartha Gautama or Laozi; rather, they are learning propositions and theories these men set forth about life, the universe and the proper ordering of society.

Some religious and political leaders succeed, at least to a limited extent, in living out their own ideals. Others don’t do so well at that. Either way, it is pretty hard for us to learn them, even if we are determined to try.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Walking Before God

When Abraham, who was still called Abram at the time, was in his hundredth year on this planet, God appeared to him. He gave him a rather daunting challenge: “Walk before me,” God said, “and be blameless.”

Many good things would come of this. Years later, when Abraham was “well advanced in years” and the fulfillment of God’s promises to him was apparent, the patriarch would speak to his servant of “the Lord, before whom I have walked”.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Anonymous Asks (113)

“Does God give second chances?”

Absolutely. You might be having one right now.

By human standards of fairness, God gives people an inordinate number of chances. He is far more gracious when wronged than we are, and he is being wronged millions of times every moment of every day.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Mining the Minors: A Belated Explanation

Andy Stanley’s Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World (2018) was a bit of a grenade in the baptistery. In it, Stanley argued that modern, mainstream Christianity is fatally flawed, fragile and indefensible in the public square because we have anchored it to an “old covenant narrative and worldview”. Stanley contended Christians need to “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament to become relevant to the world.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Mining the Minors: Jonah (2)

Our Bibles do not tell us who wrote the book of Jonah. Tradition has it the account was written by Jonah himself.

Alternatively, similarities in the narratives lead some Bible scholars to conclude the story of Jonah was written sometime in the 8th century BC by men from the same group of Hebrew scribes credited with assembling 1 and 2 Kings from a variety of other documents; documents like the “Chronicles of Samuel the Seer”, the “Chronicles of Nathan the Prophet”, the “Chronicles of Gad the Seer”, the “Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite”, the “Visions of Iddo the Seer”, the “Chronicles of Shemaiah the Prophet”, the “Chronicles of Jehu the Son of Hanani”, the “Story of the Book of the Kings”, and so on. These earlier documentary sources, which may or may not have been inspired by God in their entirety, later served to provide the Spirit-led editors of Kings and Chronicles with the historical details from which they drew the spiritual lessons with which we are familiar.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Too Hot to Handle: Spare Some Change?

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

Last week we were discussing how we can best live out the truth that, denominations notwithstanding, the church of God remains one Body, not many.

Tom: I do think the number of available evangelical church options out there can be beneficial in some ways, especially for elders. For instance, when you find that great new couple who want to join your church but can’t restrain themselves from talking about the glories of speaking in tongues, or the blessed benefits of Reformed Theology, or why women ought to worship audibly, the multiplicity of options allows you to easily point them to the gathering in your neighborhood that might suit them better in that respect without a lot of hard feelings.

After all, it's not like you’re saying, “If you don’t like the way we do it, there’s no place for you in the Church.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Lies, Myths and Misinformation: Christianity Causes Wars

The most recent version of this post is available here.