Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Not-Fake Love

“Let love be genuine.”

Familiar verses describe the positive qualities of Christian love — that it is patient, kind, rejoices with the truth, is full of hope, and so on. Other qualities of Christian love are expressed by the New Testament writers as the absence of something bad — not arrogant, not rude, not selfishly insistent, not resentful.

Genuineness is a positive quality, but the word underlying Romans 12:9 is actually one of these Greek negations. We might translate it “not-fake”. Reflecting this, other translations go with “unfeigned”, “without hypocrisy” and “without dissimulation”, the last of which may be a little too archaic to be much use.

It reminds us that loving in truth demands we avoid insincerity.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (15)

In our early twenties, my cousin and I would get together once a week or so to study the Bible and debate theology. Our discussions were mostly amiable but a little frustrating for both of us. Because we attended churches that held very different views about the meaning of Bible prophecy and the future prospects of God’s earthly people, our underlying assumptions about the meaning of the texts we studied together were sharply at odds far too frequently for comfort.

One regular bone of contention was the meaning of the word “Israel”. My cuz used it figuratively, I used it literally, and back and forth we went. We never did resolve our debate. Funnily enough, I am still thrashing this out on a regular basis, just with different people.

And ... here it is again.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Anonymous Asks (151)

“Why do some Bible translations not capitalize pronouns referring to God?”

Much like personal choice of Bible translation and no small number of doctrinal issues, this is a question hotly debated among believers. People are rarely neutral about deity pronouns. The reasons for choosing to capitalize or not capitalize them may vary from publisher to publisher, but these three reasons provided by the publishers of the relatively recent English Standard Version are probably the most common.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Provided We Suffer

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Simon Peter didn’t want to suffer with Jesus.

Oh, he said he did. He thought he did. When he made his promises of loyalty, he wasn’t virtue signaling to the other disciples or pretending to love his Lord more than he really did. At least, it doesn’t read that way to me in the gospels. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” Emphatic statements made from the heart, and quite ingenuous.

Then, to his horror, Peter found he wasn’t up to the job. His aspirations exceeded his execution. Put to the test, he discovered he wasn’t really ready to suffer with the Lord Jesus after all.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (21)

We hear a lot in the current environment about how the powers that exist have been instituted by God, and that whoever resists them resists God’s ordinance. And that is certainly true, but only to a point. Scripture is full of men and women who didn’t simply go along with unlawful orders from tyrants, and who, far from incurring judgment, were blessed by God for resisting the expressed will of those very “powers that be”.

It falls to each one of us to decide before God at what point Romans 13 no longer applies to our circumstances. Invariably, some of us will make mistakes, either acting too hastily in defiance of authority, or else waiting too long to put up resistance. But if I’m going to be one of those acting in error, I think I’d prefer to be too quick off the mark than to drag my feet and regret it later.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Religion by the Numbers

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

Lyman Stone is a Lutheran believer who likes math. So he has built, in his words, “a complete annual dataset for every religious group in America as far back as I could get data”. That turns out to be 1925. If you want to know how your favorite denomination is doing demographically these days, especially compared to how it has done historically, Stone might well be the most informed guy on the block.

George Barna would be proud. Maybe. Assuming he doesn’t mind the competition.

Tom: You’ve mentioned before that you’re not a big stats guy, IC. What is it you don’t like about parsing data?

Thursday, June 24, 2021

It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over

The Lord is king forever and ever.”

The 2014 NCAA football championship final was an amazing game. The Florida State Seminoles and their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, high on a record-breaking season, were pitted against the upstart Auburn Tigers, recent defeaters of last year’s national champions. Florida State was touted as the prohibitive favorite — but as they say, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Auburn stormed out onto the field and took the Seminoles off guard. Their crafty game plan, superior aggression at the line and some stellar execution by their offense rapidly staked them to an overwhelming 21-3 lead. Meanwhile, nothing the Seminoles tried seemed to work, and Auburn’s every touch of the ball was golden.

But as they say, the game weren’t over yet.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Judgment and Clarity

I know a man whose whole view of God was shaped by his religious family’s reaction to the death of his mother from cancer early in his childhood. When she became ill, various devout family members offered speculation and conjecture about what the poor woman had done to incur God’s ire.

Appalled at their rush to judgment, the boy rejected Christians and everything we believe. Today, he still gets worked up if God’s name is mentioned even in passing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Putting It in Words

“They did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.”

Years ago I was blathering to one of my brothers about some girl who shall remain nameless, mostly because I can’t even remember who she was now; just another in a lengthy series of post-teen passing interests that remained unreciprocated, a blessing I appreciate more today than I did then.

Early in this conversation my brother told me to please shut up.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Anonymous Asks (150)

“Why did the Lord condemn Corban?”

The word korban comes from Hebrew transliterated into Greek, and has most likely made it untranslated into English by way of the 1611 KJV. The gospel of Mark tells us it means an offering, or “given to God”. Of course there is nothing wrong with the practice of giving things to God, and Jesus did not condemn the practice of Corban in any broad, general sense.

It was what the Jewish religious leaders had done with Corban that was the problem. As Jesus put it in quoting Isaiah, the Pharisees were “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men”. They had substituted their own tradition for the command of God, and in doing so were “making void the word of God”.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

You Don’t Know My Father

Let me tell you a story about my father.

Once upon a time (actually, more than once), a very badly behaved little boy sat in the back seat of the family car during a long road trip, deliberately provoking the driver by ramming his pointy little knees into the small of the driver’s back. It was a source of great pleasure to the boy, who disliked long car trips, had become bored and was looking for something fun to do.

From the front seat of the car came a series of calm responses something like this: “Stop that, please” … “I believe I told you to stop that” … “If you don’t stop that, there are going to be consequences”, and eventually, “The next time you do that, we’re going to have to pull over.”

Finally, after the third or fourth transparently intentional provocation, the car eased over to the shoulder of the highway, and child and parent made a trip into the woods together for some clarification as to who was in charge.

Keep this story in mind, if you will.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (20)

“Teachers told us
the Romans built this place.
They built a wall and a temple on
an edge-of-the-empire garrison town.
They lived and they died.
They prayed to their gods
but the stone gods did not make a sound.
And their empire crumbled
’til all that was left were
stones the workmen found.”

— Sting, All This Time

One of my favorite songs ever recorded by the ex-singer of The Police makes the point that empires rise and fall while the natural world goes about its business. “All this time, the river flowed endlessly to the sea,” goes the chorus. Being English, Sting singles out the Roman Empire, but he could as easily have written about those of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medo-Persians or Greeks.

Or, frankly, the Americans.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: A House Divided

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

Immanuel Can: Tom, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but a division seems to be forming within the Christian community generally, and within some local churches as well, over the issue of what we all should have done about the government’s lockdowns. In some cases, the debate is becoming quite heated. One side says “the powers that be are ordained of God”, and that as a duty to love our neighbor, all Christians should be very thorough in obeying the government’s dictates. The other side points out that love of neighbor is the second commandment, not the first, the first being to love God above all, and that all Christians have a duty to “obey God rather than men”.

Tom: Actually, I’ve written extensively about that very subject here and here, and I’ve recently been enjoying a few of the more radical “first commandment” folks online. As you point out, both sides have their scriptures.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Louder Than Words

“Words, words, words,” says Hamlet.

He’s not enthused. And rightly so. Sometimes there are just too many words.

The Bible says, “God is in heaven, and you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few.” It’s talking about prayer, of course, but the point carries more generally: even the smartest of us is pretty limited in knowledge. The Lord can use as many words as he wants, and every one of them will be right; but when we human beings talk too much, we make mistakes. Sometimes, we even roll right into sin.

So we’re encouraged to be careful, talk only about what we know, use our words precisely, and not to multiply them without due attention to what we’re really doing. After all, teachers receive a more serious condemnation if they do a bad job.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Falling and Standing

“Son of Adam, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.”

Ezekiel the priest had fallen on his face at the sight of the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. As a son of fallen Adam, that was where he belonged. That is where we all belong, naturally speaking. Down through history, whenever men glimpsed the glory of the Lord even in smaller ways than the spectacular view afforded Ezekiel, they have tended to keel over.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

An Essential Human Right

Early in June, Nigeria became the world’s ninth country to either restrict the social media website Twitter, or ban it outright. Being neither a tweet generator nor a tweet consumer, I consider that no great loss for Nigerians. Twitter naturally disagreed, declaring an open internet an “essential human right”. The irony, of course, is that the same company has had no problem censoring the Nigerian president’s own tweets, not to mention banning US President Donald Trump entirely.

When you make the bed ...

Monday, June 14, 2021

Anonymous Asks (149)

“Did Jesus know he was the Messiah?”

Nobody ever displayed a more definite sense of his purpose in this world than Jesus of Nazareth.

We see it in him long before his ministry began. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” he asked his anxious mother. This was not some generalized impression that the people of God ought not to forsake gathering together, but a specific sense that he uniquely belonged where God had placed his name. “I must be.”

He was twelve years old and “about my Father’s business”, as another translation puts it.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Serving and Being

“Have you considered my servant Job?”

The jargon believers use with one another often sounds a little unusual to those unfamiliar with it, something of which I was jarringly reminded during a conversation a few weeks back with an unsaved friend. I lapsed momentarily into incomprehensible Churchian and unthinkingly used a euphemism to describe a Bible teacher with whom we are both acquainted.

I called him a “servant of the Lord”.

Servant?” my friend remarked. “What a strange thing to say!”

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (19)

There is no such thing as a truly secular state. Man was made to worship, and if he will not worship the one true God, then he will worship false gods. If he does not worship false gods, then he ends up worshiping himself. But worship he will, one way or another.

The problem with alternatives to the worship of the one true God is that they are all futile.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Not Going Back

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

If you’ve been watching the numbers over the last few months, it should be evident to even the most Negative Nancy that the COVID-19 rates of infection and death are finally decreasing steadily. We may reasonably discount the weekly cries of the media alarmists about the latest terrifying variant; that’s just what they do when they’re all out of stories about dying polar bears.

Tom: And so we are beginning to hear tentative musings about reopening businesses and getting back to something approaching our pre-March 2020 way of living. As someone who worked in the office throughout the entire song and dance, I was more than a little surprised to read that I am not necessarily in the majority in my desire to see society normalize. Tim Kreider of The Atlantic has decided he’d rather stay in bed, along with untold numbers of others who would rather work from home forever ... or preferably not work at all.

IC, didn’t one of the ‘seven deadlies’ use to be the sin of sloth?

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Scales and Panes

I was chatting with a young man yesterday.

He considers himself a Christian. And maybe he is. I hope he is. But he’s certainly confused about something very basic to salvation; and maybe it will surprise you what it is.

He doesn’t really understand sin.

Now, understanding what it is we are saved from is pretty necessary to salvation, so I’m concerned. I want him to have a correct grasp of how sin relates to the holiness of God. And I’m troubled that his teachers have not taught him this.

So I’m going to try to do a short explanation for you. And I’m going to start with this question:

How bad is sin?

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

After the Fact

The Latin term vaticinium ex eventu is used by liberal scholars and critics of the Bible to describe a prophecy they believe was made “from the event”, or literally after the fact. For example, German scholar Ferdinand Hitzig objected to prophecies about the king of Egypt made in Jeremiah 44:29-30, calling them vaticinium ex eventu. The argument of men like Hitzig is that later writers forged one or more prophecies in Jeremiah’s name based on events which had already occurred, and grafted them into the existing text of Jeremiah, presumably in order to make his writings appear more credible.

Hitzig died in 1875, by the way, so obviously this is not a new issue. And he’s far from the only expert to make such claims.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

A Zero Sum Game

“Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.”

“Outwitted” is a translation of the Greek pleonekteō, which is closely related to another word that English translators consistently render as “covet”. So pleonekteō doesn’t really have all that much to do with wits or intelligence at all. Rather, it refers to a situation we may aptly describe with the phrase “zero sum game”.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Anonymous Asks (148)

“Did Ishmael become a great nation?”

The question is in reference to a promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 17 to bless the son he had with his wife’s Egyptian servant, Hagar: “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.”

It’s a compound promise with a few clear stipulations to it. Surely it’s worth a few minutes of our time to check and see if God made good on it, right?

Sunday, June 06, 2021

To Ask or Not to Ask

“When you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

“He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”

So then, which is it: are we to ask, or are we not to ask? How does one reconcile the two apparently contradictory ideas in these verses? Is it really possible to pray too much?

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (18)

In the Bible, the word lamentation refers to a dirge, song or hymn of mourning.

It is certainly possible to grieve privately and in silence. Often we do. But there are losses we share, and injuries of such scope and magnitude that they call for men and women to join their voices together in unified expression of misery. In 1997, songwriter Bernie Taupin repurposed his 25‑year old elegy for Marilyn Monroe into a tacky, maudlin and singularly appropriate pop culture farewell to Princess Diana that reinvigorated Elton John’s flagging musical career, sold 33 million copies worldwide and remained in Canada’s Top 20 for a full three years.

Some hearts were obviously touched around the world, and they sang along. That’s a lamentation.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Going Crazy

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

What could inspire a perfectly pleasant secular gay man to trumpet the virtue of belief on YouTube? Well, in this case, it’s a new Pew Research study which reveals that a staggering 56.3% of white, liberal women age 18-29 have been diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point.

Tom: The report also indicates conservatives of both sexes were only half as likely (16.3% vs. 33.6% and 27.3% vs. 56.3%) to be diagnosed with mental health issues as their liberal counterparts in the same age group, which understandably prompted Dave Rubin to start talking about the value of having a fixed set of beliefs.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

The Butler Did It

When John Milton, the famous 17th century poet and eventual author of the epic Paradise Lost realized in mid-life that he was going totally blind, he felt a rising sense of panic. How could a wordsmith be of any value, to God or anyone else, when he had not even the use of his own two eyes?

When the great night finally descended, he was reduced to dependency and darkness. And understandably, he agonized over why the Lord would allow such a thing. He recorded his struggles in a short poem — perhaps his most-quoted piece of work.

“When I consider how my light is spent …” he began. With half a life left to give, what point would there be in him losing the one great talent he had? It would remain, he worried, “lodg’d within me useless”, and yet his “soul [was] more bent to serve therewith [his] Maker”. How could he give an account to the Lord if he could no longer serve, and in fact, could no longer even see?

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Inbox: Millennial Musings

So I’m browsing through old emails, and I find this one from JR, naturally received in the middle of the night. He was up, I was up, and I guess these are the sorts of things we think about when we can’t sleep:

“Hey ... I’m just reading a book where the author is discussing Mt 16:19. He says that since the verse is talking about the kingdom of heaven, it is referring not to the church age but to the coming kingdom and that the verse is therefore referring to the church’s role in that kingdom (reigning with Christ). Keys speak of authority, etc. He further points out that if we interpret it in that context, the weird ideas that many have drawn from that verse evaporate.

I’ll have to give this some thought.”

Okay. Interesting.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Orderly Meditation: A (Very Late) Follow-Up

Quite some time ago, I wrote a post on the subject of the order of the books of the New Testament, which, as most of our readers are probably aware, is anything but chronological. I noted that I had decided to start reading the NT in the order it was written (as far as we are able to determine) on my next daily pass through the Bible “just to see how it goes”.

Time flies, and more than five years have passed since I wrote those words. I am just starting my eighth straight trip through the NT in chronological order, which seems as good a time as any to report on the experience.

I’m going to give it a big thumbs-up.