Friday, April 30, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: That Sync-ing Feeling

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

The Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University (“CRC”) has released yet another study on the beliefs and values of the American public. We have commented on and critiqued a few of these polls before in this forum with respect to their findings, and our concerns about possible shortcomings in the methods employed by the data gatherers.

Tom: I don’t really want to get into all that again, IC. But there is a word that came up in their first press release concerning this new batch of data that interested me greatly, because I believe it’s a pretty accurate way to describe the general direction of the evolution of public thought over the last century or more.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Two or Three Mistakes

“Where two or three are gathered …”

I’ve heard this little phrase quoted for years in churches all over the place. I’ve almost never heard it quoted correctly, meaning in its context and referring to the situations to which it actually applies.

When I’ve heard it quoted, almost invariably it is used to suggest that any local gathering of the church, no matter how small, is important enough to the Lord that he will, in some spiritual way, be present and involved with that situation. And really, I can’t say that isn’t true. But I can say for sure that that isn’t what this particular verse was given us to teach us.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Two Suppers

The differences between the things that are and the things we perceive are probably too great to enumerate.

In North America many of us live in suburbia alongside what appear to be perfectly pleasant, civil human beings. And by the standards of our day they are. Sure, like everyone they have secrets — desires that they wouldn’t express during a family get-together and things they have done about which nobody is aware — but by and large these are pretty normal, civic-minded, responsible individuals.

Have they sold their souls to Satan? We would say it’s unlikely, even absurd.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Thought Experiment #4: The Serenity Prayer

Alcoholics Anonymous uses an abridged form of what is called the Serenity Prayer as part of its 12‑step program. There are different versions of the prayer, but the one most people are familiar with goes something like this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I generally dislike trite formulations, but there is a certain biblical wisdom to this one, which should not surprise us given that the prayer is attributed to a 1930s theologian named Reinhold Niebuhr.

Also, it begins with the word “God”, always a good starting point.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Anonymous Asks (142)

“How can we redeem the time?”

The word “redeem” in our English Bibles translates the Greek exagorazō, meaning to “buy up” or to “buy back”. The instruction to “redeem the time”, which we find in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5, acknowledges that much of our time is in someone else’s control, and that if we do not do something active to acquire control of it for ourselves, those moments will slip away from us and be lost forever.

I don’t know about you, but that describes my experience of life these days pretty well. Gone are the lazy afternoons of childhood when my brothers and I might occasionally complain about being bored or having nothing to do. Time has taken wing, and there is never enough of it to do everything that needs doing.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Devotion of Youth

“I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride ...”

Bible students familiar with the books of Exodus and Numbers, in which Israel’s failings during their period of wilderness wandering are thoroughly documented, may be excused if they find these words from Jeremiah unlikely and supremely generous. I suffer a similar bout of cognitive dissonance when I read Peter’s words about Lot: “That righteous man lived among them day after day ... tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard.”

Really? The guy who slept with not one but both his daughters? The guy who voluntarily chose to live among the Sodomites? The guy whose wife was so in love with that corrupt society that she turned back and became a cautionary tale so memorable that “pillar of salt” references still appear in secular literature from time to time almost 3,700 years after it happened?

That Lot?

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (12)

When I was in my early twenties I had a job at a local gas station. One of the first things I learned was how to tally up cash, cheques and credit card chits (remember those?) at the end of my shift. If it turned out the number of gallons of gas pumped during those eight hours was different than the number of gallons paid for, any shortage came out of my pocket.

Seemed a little rough to me, but it was a lesson in accountability. I’ve found myself up against equivalent practices in every job I’ve held that placed me in a position of trust.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Unhinged Racism

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

Jonathan Merritt contributes to The Atlantic and has been named one of “30 young influencers reshaping Christian leadership” by Outreach Magazine. All good so far, provided you don’t mind your “Christian leadership” flavored with a big honkin’ tablespoon of social justice.

Tom: He also just called Doug Wilson an “unhinged racist”, and Doug has sensibly called foul right here in one of the funniest posts I’ve read in a long time.

IC, these accusations of “racism” are getting so common today as to be almost meaningless.

Immanuel Can: Yes, along with the words, “sexist”, “homophobic” and “Islamophobic”, they comprise today’s “Four Horsemen of the Horse Manure”.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Limits of Toleration

“When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him while he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ ”

“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ ”

We live in a society that enshrines “tolerance” as its highest virtue. At least, it thinks it does.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Saving America

Personally, I don’t think America can be saved. As a Canadian, I think we’re toast too. I believe both those venerable entities are bound for history’s wood chipper. We are on borrowed time, enjoying the last dregs of the benefits conferred to us from previous generations. Our own generation’s lazy, haphazard defense of the blessings we have inherited has pretty much guaranteed they will not survive us.

That’s pretty negative. But don’t check out yet.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Civilly Disobedient

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.”

We’re all doing it. You know you are.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Anonymous Asks (141)

“Should someone start attending a church if he or she doesn’t believe in God?”

I will add a couple more related questions: Should someone read the Bible if they don’t believe it? Should someone pray if they are not sure there is anyone out there to hear them?

And then I will answer them all the same way: Absolutely.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Breaking Point

There is a lot of talk these days about Christian COVID “conspiracy theorists”, the spectrum of which ranges from anyone who does not accept lock, stock and barrel the ever-evolving mainstream media narrative about masks, vaccination and the efficacy of social distancing, all the way to the full-blown “George Soros and Bill Gates set up the whole thing” crowd.

A not-insignificant movement is underway to encourage these whispering saints to please curtail their speculations before they manage to ruin the collective testimony of the people of God by making us all look whack-a-doodle.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (11)

One of the subtler themes of the book of Amos is this: that God hates strongholds.

That probably requires a little explanation. Chapters 1 and 2 are full of references to these fortified places. There are the strongholds of Ben-hadad in Syria, the stronghold of Gaza in Philistia, the stronghold of Tyre, and so on. Each of seven strongholds mentioned is slated to be devoured by fire, the judgment of God poured out upon them. Then in chapter 3 the word “strongholds” is used four times, and it is Israel’s strongholds, particularly Samaria, which are in view.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Rainbow Unicorns and Cosmic Heat Death

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

I’m hearing this all the time now: Just a couple of days ago, our Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Russia has a chance to get on the “right side of history” and help negotiate a political end to the reign of Syrian strongman Bashar Assad. Former president Obama loved the expression, and Bill Clinton used it more than 20 times in his speeches. Writer Ben Yagoda says the phrase — whether it’s “right side” or “wrong side” — has been in use for over a century.

Tom: I can vaguely understand what a Christian might intend by the use of the expression, Immanuel Can. But what on earth does “the right side of history” mean in a post-religious, thoroughly secular context?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

True Revolutionaries

Welcome back to our two-part treatment of the (post-)modern attitude to truth.

A little while back, we were observing that the concept of an actual objective truth has gone out of fashion these days. More and more, the average person of today tends to disbelieve that anything can be, in any final and universally binding sense, “true”. Truth has been banished because there are so many voices shouting so many messages that most of us don’t know where to find it if it did exist. We’re overwhelmed by multiculturalism, media overload, the speed of modern life and the decline of the formerly-solid touchpoints of religion and tradition, even if we know nothing about the theory behind it, or about the new skeptical “hermeneutics” being taught in the contemporary academy. We’re all just pretty confused about truth.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

A Little Bed Rest

“They rest in their beds who walk in their uprightness.”

If we are thinking this verse from Isaiah describes the peace of mind that accompanies righteous living, we need to look a little closer at the context. He’s not talking about the proverbial “sleep of the just”. The “rest” Isaiah has in view is of the rather-more-permanent variety.

There are lots of ways to exit this world, but departing quietly in one’s sleep has got to be among the best. There are nobler ways to go, sure, but they tend to come with their share of heart palpitations.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (14)

Garrett Jones wants to straighten out a very important scriptural misconception.

Perhaps you have read that the Lord Jesus will one day “rule the nations with a rod of iron” and have always understood the rod metaphor to convey irresistible might and the instantaneous crushing of all rebellious impulses.

That’s an immature take, says Garrett, a caricature of God’s intentions for our world, the equivalent of your kid’s refrigerator artwork. You are reading the passage as if it speaks of an angry God who is going to “spank everyone with a long metal stick”, in ignorance of its real meaning.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Anonymous Asks (140)

“Does God want humans to sin?”

Years ago I used to leave pocket change lying around the house where anyone could see it. My father, concerned for the constant temptation loose coins posed to his then-six-year-old grandson, suggested I should put them somewhere less obvious.

It wasn’t a bad thought. After all, I didn’t want my son violating his conscience, did I? Why tempt him unnecessarily?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Everywhere a Sign

The apostle John has a thing about signs. You might say it’s one of the dominant themes of his gospel.

Every gospel mentions that the Lord Jesus performed signs (or miracles, depending on your translation), but John leaves the rest of them in the dust. In connection with the earthly ministry of the Lord, he references the word on sixteen separate occasions. Compare that to Matthew (three), Mark (one) or Luke (four) and you’ll see what I’m saying.

Unlike the old song, in John, signs don’t block out the scenery. They are the scenery.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (10)

God doesn’t enjoy punishing people, even when they are unusually wicked. He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, preferring that they change their ways and prosper rather than get what is coming to them. This is a well-established principle of scripture; both prophets and apostles testify to the fact that our God lets us off the hook every single time he can possibly justify it.

As the psalmist put it, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Friday, April 09, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Spreading the Infection

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

France is getting ‘woke’, or at least so says the New York Times. Young people on the other side of the Atlantic from an entirely different cultural background and with an entirely different history than their counterparts in the U.S. are mobilizing, protesting and even rioting over the treatment of blacks, over gender issues, over colonialism — you name it, they’re up in arms about it. What’s interesting is that, as French president Emmanuel Macron puts it, all this fuss and bother is “entirely imported”. It is the product of American universities and American media.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Bottom of the Ninth

I’m beginning to think that the ninth commandment is more important than I ever realized.

Traditionally, it reads, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (KJV), or more colloquially, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

Well … Duh!

“Okay,” I said to myself when I first read it, “that makes sense. In court, telling a lie about someone or something can get an innocent person into serious legal trouble. And to do that would be malicious. Fair enough.”

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Theological Triage and Hills to Die On

“It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
— Johnny Cash

Two recent posts at Stand to Reason nicely illustrate the difficulties that confront Christians in working out which theological “hills” are worth dying on when witnessing to unbelievers.

In fact, both posts use that very expression (“hill to die on”) to describe a non-negotiable; something we absolutely cannot concede in our ongoing dialogue with those outside of Christ.

Maybe we can get a little something out of setting the two posts against each other.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Straddling the Fence

The blogosphere is forever.

Well, maybe not forever exactly. Writers whose posts I would be happy to share with the world are being deplatformed every day, it seems, to the point where I have taken to archiving anything I really enjoy, fully expecting it to disappear the moment it attracts the attention of our new, self-appointed internet censors. And sometimes it does.

That said, when you post something online you had better be very sure you stand behind it, because there is a better than average chance it will never go away, Exhibit A being this much-maligned effort by Doug Wilson from 2018 counseling a (hypothetical) church elder’s wife about how to leave her husband.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Anonymous Asks (139)

“Were animals created carnivorous?”

We know from Genesis 9 that mankind was not originally carnivorous, and from Genesis 1 that animals too were originally herbivores. If that were not enough, two plain statements in the New Testament about the introduction of death into our world make conjectures about carnivorous animals in the original creation order a bit … er … hard to swallow.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Be Careful What You Wish For

What are the limits of the patience of God? More importantly, how many of us are wise enough to discern those limits and stop short of them?

Anyone familiar with the gospels recognizes that testing the patience of God is dangerous. Satan once took the Lord Jesus to a pinnacle of the temple and reminded him of the promises of God in the Old Testament about the protection of those who make the Lord “their dwelling place” in the hope that Jesus would jump in order to make a point. The Lord responded by quoting the Law of Moses: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (9)

Actions have consequences. Some things follow inevitably from others. In his third chapter, Amos takes a series of illustrations from the natural world and uses them to demonstrate that when presented with the evidence of one’s eyes and ears, certain conclusions ought to be drawn. He does this by asking seven questions to which every answer is an obvious “No” or “Of course not.”

It may be that the content of the questions is less important than the rhetorical flourish they achieve cumulatively; that each statement is intended to build upon the previous one and together reinforce the certainty of the prophet’s concluding statement. However, when we look at the content of each line more closely in the light of other Old Testament scriptures, it does not seem unreasonable to view them as different ways of illustrating the inevitability of Israel’s coming judgment.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Let’s Get Together

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

Recently asked on an Internet philosophy site:

“If God is everywhere, why do Christians have congregations?”

We Christians may think the question a bit clueless, but to someone who doesn’t know the first thing about the Church or about God’s purposes in establishing it, it’s not unreasonable to consider.

Tom: Immanuel Can, the man has a point. God IS everywhere. You and I can call on him anytime from anywhere, and we’re awfully grateful for it. So why exactly do we get together?

Immanuel Can: In a word, relationship.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

The Era of the Gentle and Reverent Lie

This morning a new video appeared on YouTube.

To my surprise, it had arch-atheist Bill Maher in admiring conversation with Dr. Jordan Peterson, the pro-Christian conservative.

This is Bill Maher, who personally coined the insult “religulous” to describe all religions. But here he was, literally stumbling over himself to give a platform to someone who claims that understanding religion, and particularly Christianity, is vital to the survival and future well being of Western culture.

Amazing.