Wednesday, March 31, 2021

When Analogies Fail

We do the best we can when we try to explain the word of God to others. It’s not always an easy task, and frequently we are in over our heads.

Sometimes we come up with our own illustrations to try to clarify a scriptural concept for our audience; to put it in terms to which they may find it easier to relate. I have heard the occasional helpful analogy over the years. I have also heard plenty that had the potential to leave a listener with entirely the wrong impression.

For instance, even with the best of intentions, the apostle Paul and the other writers of holy writ are not aptly compared to word processing programs or keyboards.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

A Mistress Forever

Isaiah 47 is a harsh message from the Lord for the “tender and delicate” virgin daughter of Babylon.

Stop and think about that imagery for a bit. If you know anything about the Chaldeans and the city of Babylon from either history or the Bible, the picture of an attractive, chaste young woman is not exactly what it brings to mind. From the never-completed Tower of Babel in Genesis to the “Fallen, fallen” of Revelation 18, Babylon is associated with predatory mercantilism, false gods, colossal hubris and even murder. In Babylon the great is the blood of prophets and saints.

Where symbols go, the “great prostitute” seems more apt than the virgin daughter.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Anonymous Asks (138)

“Was Jesus black?”

Great. Thanks a lot. This is almost guaranteed to get controversial …

A little history: the traditional way of classifying the various nations that make up the human race, which was based primarily on biological commonalities (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid, Australoid), has recently fallen out of favor, mostly for political reasons. It is politely referred to as outdated and impolitely referred to as racist.

Nevertheless, because the old system was biology-based rather than ideology-based, it remains in use among anthropologists and in learning disciplines where observing distinctions between people groups is a meaningful exercise. If you are going to try to answer the question “Was Jesus black?” at all, it remains the only sane way of framing the issue for discussion.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Rest is Detail

The gospel is a funny thing.

At least the way we often define it is a bit odd, particularly when we include the word in the phrase “gospel meetings”. You know, those very simple, explicit “Come-to-Jesus” messages promulgated in evangelistic tent meetings and in gospel halls all over North America for the last century or more.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I mean, there isn’t, really. It just isn’t the whole gospel picture, is it?

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (8)

Relationship is the foundation of all appropriate correction.

Where there is no set of mutual obligations established, and no agreed-upon standard to be abided by, we are generally fairly careful about playing judge — or at least we ought to be. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” asks the apostle Paul. Of course; it is before his own master that each servant stands or falls. It is quite appropriate for a father to punish his own children when they misbehave, a little less so for an uncle to do it, even less so for the neighbors, and wholly inappropriate for strangers to interfere with someone else’s children.

I try to apply this principle in my interactions with other people’s kids, no matter how irritating they may be. After all, nobody likes busybodies and meddlers.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: The ‘Construct’ Argument

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

Immanuel Can: Tom, a week ago we did a post called “Virginity as Social Construct”. But I’m wondering if there aren’t perhaps a lot of Christians who have heard somebody in school or in the media say that this or that thing is “a construct”, and maybe wondered what that actually means. Does everybody know?

Tom: Good question.

IC: It’s become a very important word lately, so maybe we should talk a bit about where it comes from, what it means, and perhaps why Christians should be especially alert when somebody claims that something is “a construct”. Should we spend some time on that?

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Foulness is Downstream

I like to fish.

I’m very fortunate. In the town where I live, a river runs nearby. It starts above the town, and it meanders its way through, coming out at the far end and continuing for some distance. I live in the upstream end, very near the river. In a few moments I can be out fishing on any summer’s day; and the fishing is pretty good. The river’s clean, flowing and healthy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Time of Their Visitation

In August 1914 after 24 days on the open sea, a German schooner crew with a cargo of oilcake aboard sailed casually into a Scottish harbor — and found themselves under arrest the moment they docked.

Their surprise was understandable. It was long before the invention of the cellular phone or even the wireless, so the crew had no way of knowing that they had picked an exceptionally poor time to visit the UK. Britain had declared war on their homeland as they crossed the North Atlantic. They were at war and didn’t know it.

Many of our neighbors and coworkers today are — no pun intended — in the same boat.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Colorblindness, Privilege and Inspiration

Dependability is a great thing.

Whenever I find myself with nothing obvious to write about, it’s a huge relief to know that in a pinch I can always rely on Rachel Held Evans to have written something worthy of polite dissection. Today is no exception.

The inimitable Ms Evans holds forth here on the subject of her own “sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity” after an unfortunate non-PC slip of the tongue at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Anonymous Asks (137)

“Does the tree of life still exist?”

Many religions have stories about symbolically-important trees, but these trees rarely symbolize precisely the same things. The Buddhist tree, for example, is associated with enlightenment, while the Mayan tree serves as a connection between underworld, earth and sky. The Taoist tradition is closest to the biblical depiction of the “tree of life”. It tells of a tree that produces a peach every 3,000 years, the eating of which confers immortality.

Just like the one in the garden of Eden … minus the peach reference, of course.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

When the Holy Spirit is Silent

We love building narratives, don’t we.

Sometimes the tales we tell each other represent reality. Other times we are simply reading our own impressions, default assumptions and prejudices into the text of scripture.

I was in a conversational Bible study recently. Our subject was Acts 15 and the “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas over whether or not John Mark, who had previously deserted them in Pamphylia, should accompany them to encourage the believers in Asia where they had planted churches and preached Christ. The disagreement, if you recall, was sharp enough that Paul and Barnabas parted ways. Barnabas took Mark and went with him back to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (7)

In making his case against the nation of Israel through his prophet Amos, God has first laid out the reasons for which Israel is about to come under God’s judgment: their ongoing oppression of the poor, systemic injustice, culturally-pervasive sexual immorality and rampant religious hypocrisy.

Most importantly, God’s people have rejected all his previous efforts at course correction. They refused to hear his prophets and corrupted his Nazirites. The way they have treated one another is bad enough, but when God’s voice can no longer be heard, then the time for judgment has come.

Now the prophet moves on to the form this coming judgment would take.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Virginity as Social Construct

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

Christians who frequent the major social media sites are finding it difficult to miss the sudden and precipitous increase in closed accounts, shadowbannings and deplatformings of Christian, conservative and even centrist voices. When so many are being abruptly silenced, it is not unreasonable to wonder which opinions are still acceptable in the public square.

Wonder no more. A mother of five girls is using her TikTok account to try to put an end to the “social construct” of virginity, which she claims is “designed by men to control women’s bodies and ultimately make women feel bad about themselves”. [Caution: coarse language in link.] She says she is raising her daughters to believe there is no such thing as virginity.

Well, not in her home at any rate.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

If There Were No Christians

Nag, Nag, Nag …

My friend WiC has been after me for some time to publish a list of the things Christians have achieved for modern, Western society and for the world in general. I think he has the idea that it would be handy for many of us to have easy access to such a list. And I have stalled as long as I can. Lest he wear me out with his insistent asking, I am now capitulating to his request. I trust his conviction that many of you will find it helpful will prove true.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Indirect Evidence for Inspiration

In an era when not just politicians, lawyers and Muslims but average men and women increasingly play fast and loose with truth, one may forgive a little scepticism when someone makes a claim.

All scripture is breathed out by God”, Paul once wrote to Timothy.

That is a pretty significant assertion, and it is not one that can be substantiated by direct evidence. Christians cannot produce Polaroids of Paul or David in the process of writing the words of God surrounded by a nimbus or with an angel handing them a scroll. Nor can eyewitnesses confirm the presence of any Spirit Being overshadowing, indwelling, controlling or directing the authors of scripture. They are all long gone, if such witnesses ever existed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Right to Costly Speech

Douglas Wilson is hard at work making the case for the right to free speech from a Christian foundation, and I give him full credit for grappling with the abstract with all the enthusiasm of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

But in explaining his position, Doug is making an undefended assumption — or at very least one he does not attempt to defend in this particular post — which may sound perfectly reasonable to many Christians: that biblical law ought to serve as a foundation or framework for modern society.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Anonymous Asks (136)

“Where is the true church?”

When Jesus told his disciples, “I will build my church”, we now know that he did not have in mind Judean sects, institutions, denominations or even faithful local gatherings of God’s people. Still less was he talking about a literal building of any sort. All of these may possess or reflect the truth to some degree, and any of these may have at various times faithfully represented God to the world, but none of these nouns truly captures the scope of what the Lord Jesus meant to do. He intended to take Peter’s accurate testimonial statement, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, and to build around it a community of individuals set apart from the world to himself, a heavenly nation that would span from the first century to our present day and beyond, and from Judea to the farthest corners of the world.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Escapism in a Time of Trouble

Christians are sometimes accused of escapism, primarily with respect to the doctrine of the “rapture” (or parousia) taught in the New Testament.

After all, why should a bunch of Gentile believers expect to get a free pass on the judgment of the world? Doesn’t that seem just a little unfair?

Not all those who dislike the idea of Jesus Christ making a special trip to this planet specifically to carry away his people to be forever with him object to the notion for exactly the same reasons. Some feel believing in a parousia is elitist. Others see it as baseless and wishful. Still others, like Kurt Willems, are troubled by the idea that Christians with a psychological safety net like the “rapture” will give up trying to make society a better place — or worse, will mislead others about what Willems believes are God’s plans for this world. He says, “Our world’s future is hopeful. Let’s tell that story and not the escapist narratives that many of us grew up with.”

Nice idea. Tough to see where he gets that “hopeful” bit from these days though.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (6)

Ten of twelve spies sent into Canaan by Moses came back complaining about the presence of giants. The Philistine Goliath, slain by David, may have descended from the same race that produced the oversized Amorites to which Amos refers in his denunciation of Israel. But Goliath maxed out at about 10' 6", and could easily have been a foot shorter, depending on whether you use the 18" or 20" cubit as your standard of measurement.

This is not an unrealistic height. Robert Wadlow [pictured right], the tallest man measured in the twentieth century, was 8' 11", which is not so far from the low-end biblical estimates of Goliath’s height. The Amorite giants described by the spies may even have been slightly taller, having lived several generations earlier.

Whatever their actual size, these Amorites scared the ten spies silly. They towered over the Israelites.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: The Fat Lady Sings

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

Preparing to cut loose at
your church and mine.
David B. is a regular reader/commenter here. A few weeks back he (politely) asked Immanuel Can, “Why do you choose to fellowship in a church where you clearly disagree with how they operate?”

IC responded, “Maybe I’ll do a post on that …”

Tom: Maybe that time is now, IC, not least because I feel like it might be a useful topic for a number of our readers who have found themselves in similar positions.

As you suggested to David in your response, churches do not suddenly become heretical overnight. It’s my experience that almost anything can be smuggled into a local church provided it is done incrementally.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Magination Run Wild

Ah, liberal Christians.

How they do let their Maginations run wild sometimes.

You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

First, a little history ...

Lining Things Up

The Maginot Line was a massive French fortification that ran 943 miles between the Alps and the English Channel. The brainchild of Minister of War André Maginot, it was designed to repel attacks from Germany. The horrors of the trench warfare in the first “War to End All Wars” had persuaded the French of the need for better national defenses. The Maginot Line had everything going for it: super thick concrete, steel-wedge gun turrets that were impervious to bombardment, large, air-conditioned living areas for troops, supply storehouses, its own railway …

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Recommend-a-blog (31)

Do you have difficulty with the concept of hell? Or, even if you are personally okay with the idea, would you have difficulty defending the reasonableness and fairness of eternal damnation to the unsaved?

Tim Barnett at Stand to Reason has written an interesting and thoughtful post on the subject called “Hell: A Solution, Not a Problem” in which he points out that the existence of hell solves two problems: the problem of evil, and the problem of our existential longing for justice. I’m glad he took the time. It’s worth a read if only to prompt our own reflections on the subject and to consider how we too might make such a case.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Burning Sons

God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering on a mountain in Moriah. Most of us know the story very well.

And yet over the generations since the account was written down, readers continue to express outrage and doubt, both about the character of a God who would make such a demand, and especially about the character of any man who would comply with it. Even Søren Kierkegaard had great difficulty with the passage, referring to the act as an “ethical rupture”. More recently, James Goodman writes, “Could there be better evidence that God is a tyrant, Abraham a sycophant and Isaac an utterly abused child?”

Monday, March 08, 2021

Anonymous Asks (135)

“Do Christians need a marriage license?”

Kurt Russell is 70. Goldie Hawn is 75. While working on a movie together in 1983, the two actors spontaneously spent the night in a hotel room (details thankfully not disclosed) and have gone on to live under the same roof — by all accounts faithfully — for the last 37 years, producing two children over their years together. Both were previously married, but their current very deliberate non-marriage has outlasted both their original “legitimate” unions combined, has soundly beaten the U.S. average marriage duration by almost 30 years, and seems to have made them both a good deal happier than any previous relationship. Neither Kurt nor Goldie expresses any desire to legalize the successful partnership they currently enjoy.

As a Christian, would you want to publicly critique that? I sure don’t, not with the limited information I have about it.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Strangers and Sojourners

Abraham was a sojourner, as were Isaac, Jacob and their children. Moses too was a sojourner. They acknowledged themselves to be “strangers and exiles”, and thus their history provides a useful and familiar illustration of the relationship of believers to the world in which we live. Jesus said of his disciples, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” The apostle Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven” rather than in any earthly nation. The Hebrews were urged to “go to him [Jesus] outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured”.

That’s one side of the story. There is another.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (5)

Evil takes various forms, as does God’s judgment.

For example, Paul tells Timothy, “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” There are obvious sins and there are secret sins. Many of these await judgment in a future “day of wrath”, as Paul tells the Romans. The self-seeking and disobedient will indeed receive their due, not always during their lifetimes but upon being resurrected to judgment at the end of the age.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: The Wrong Set of Chromosomes

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

Bill C-16 amends the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. It also amends the Canadian Criminal Code to protect any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression against “hate propaganda” and to increase sentences accordingly against those who violate it.

Tom: The bill was rammed through Parliament with little discussion, no public consultation and no recorded vote. Thank you, Justin Trudeau! Last I heard it’s before the Canadian Senate for final approval. If the bill becomes law, people who say they’re transgender become a specially protected class of citizens in Canada.

How do you feel about that, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, March 04, 2021

A Profound Apology

So I was supervising some young Christians, along with at least one unbeliever. They were viewing an apologetics video. It was one that had been professionally produced — you know, the kind that had enough money put into it to reasonably approximate Hollywood or TED Talk production values. Their local church had made it available, off that Christian video-streaming service that some churches seem to like.

The topic was “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Tragedy?”

What a great topic, I thought. Whether you’re a Christian or an unbeliever, that’s got to be something you’ve asked yourself, because you don’t live long in this world without running into some kind of suffering. If you’re fortunate, it’s small; but it’s astonishing how huge the things some children face can be.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Foreigners and Citizens

The Law of Moses has much to say about how the people of God were to treat foreigners.

Though there is some overlap in the Hebrew terminology, context makes it clear foreigners were of two very different types. There was: (1) the person of foreign origin who resided among the people of God, often referred to as a sojourner; and (2) the true foreigner, whose place of residence was elsewhere.

The latter term is sometimes translated “alien” or “stranger”.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Responsive Law

Much is made of the fact that Christians are not obligated to keep the Law of Moses, and those who have come to understand the freedom believers experience in Christ are immensely grateful that the unbearable burden of compliance with its innumerable regulations has not been placed on us as a condition of salvation.

That said, disconnecting from the concept of law altogether, as certain modern evangelical preachers encourage us to do, is an impossible task.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Anonymous Asks (134)

“Do I have to believe the Bible is inerrant to be saved?”

I believe the Bible is the product of men who “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”; that all scripture (as the Christians of the first century understood the word “scripture”) is breathed out by God and is not only profitable but fully sufficient to equip those who seek God for everything he will ever require of them. I believe the scripture cannot be broken. Its own writers claim repeatedly that God was speaking through them and that what they wrote and said was trustworthy.