Saturday, July 31, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (26)

In Genesis 3, when God cursed the ground on account of Adam, he assured Adam — and all those to be born of Adam — that under this new order of affairs which man had brought upon the world, his efforts to feed himself and his family would for the foreseeable future be accompanied by pain and sweat.

Naturally, being what he is, fallen man has spent the better part of the next six millennia trying to find ways to do an end-around God’s edict.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: See You in Court, Brother

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

Wow. Christians going to court with one another.

You’d think this issue would be put to bed speedily by even the most cursory glance at Matthew 5:25-26 or 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. But no, believers are keeping their lawyers on speed-dial in significant numbers. It used to be the primary reason was child abuse, but last year it was something new: property rights.

Tom: Here I thought we’d all be meeting in cell groups in homes sooner than later as a result of lawfare trial balloons from the transgender, feminist or gay lobbies. But no, this is even stranger: we’re doing it to ourselves, Immanuel Can; not just as individuals, but whole congregations. And most of it involves issues related to church buildings.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Worldviews: Question 2 — Endings

“… so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

“… we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

“… These [godless people] will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.”

Okay, we’re now on step two of my posts on Worldview Analysis. This is actually the third post on the subject, since the first was a general introduction. Before reading any further, may I suggest you return to the first such post and pick up the thread of thought, if you have not been with us all along. If you don’t, I’m afraid you could find what I say a bit out of context.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Bible Study 02 — Comparison [Part 2]

Another instalment in the re-presentation of our 2013-2014 series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here and the previous post here.

Last post I concluded with the idea that the best interpreter of scripture is more scripture, as opposed to culture, history, political correctness and other external sources of meaning that we are often tempted to impose on the word of God. Our first Bible study tool is comparison.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Bible Study 01 — Comparison [Part 1]

This is the first instalment in the re-presentation of our series about studying the Bible using methods deduced from the Bible itself. The series introduction can be found here.

Looking for Answers

A group of Sadducees once tried to convince Jesus by the use of an absurd hypothetical that resurrection of the dead is impossible. The Lord didn’t simply give them a lecture on his personal opinion or fall into the trap of answering their silly question. Instead, he referred them right back to the Old Testament that they professed to believe in order to correct their misunderstanding:

“Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.’ ”

“Have you not read what was said to you by God?” he asked, and proceeded to astonish them with a conclusion drawn from the use of the tense of the Hebrew equivalent of the verb “to be” in the book of Exodus.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Anonymous Asks (155)

“What is the difference between an archangel and a cherub?”

Whether we are talking about Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy or even the cults, religious tradition has plenty to say about the more powerful angelic entities, their roles, descriptions, names and history. Most of what is written is conjectural. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all wrong, but even accurate speculation is still just speculation. It has no authority for Christians.

So then, I will try to stick pretty close to the scripture on this one …

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Bible Study 00 — Introduction

Studying the Bible is good for you.

Forgive me for stating the obvious. The late Christopher Hitchens would probably have disagreed, famously insisting “Religion poisons everything.” I could bob and weave and insist that Christianity isn’t really a religion properly speaking, but Christianity was certainly one of the targets, if not the main focus, of Mr. Hitchens’ ire.

But Christianity, properly understood and practised, doesn’t poison anything at all.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (25)

One attitude that seems to characterize nations on the brink of being judged, conquered and dispersed in scripture is an all-but-universal denial of the inevitable.

Jesus himself prophesied judgment on Israel. And yet the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 was the direct result of the First Jewish Revolt against Roman rule, which had begun four years earlier. Large numbers of Jews simply couldn’t imagine losing to Rome despite the long odds. They were in absolute denial of reality. So the rebels gambled with the lives of their friends and families and lost, setting the stage for centuries of Jewish diaspora.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: ‘Apostles’ and ‘Prophets’

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

Everybody’s looking for greater certainty these days it seems, even Christians. Our own Immanuel Can has written at length about how the resurgence of Calvinism is evidence of it, and I’ve recently done some reflecting on how Christians often speak about the “call of God” to bolster their confidence in what in most cases are just their own decisions.

Tom: This, though, might take the cake, IC. A new and rapidly-growing charismatic movement mostly off the radar of other Protestants. Independent Network Charismatics (or “INC Christians”) find their certainty in alleged “prophetic” voices and the pronouncements of “super-apostles”.

It’s big-bucks too. Christianity Today notes that the Asuza Now conference in the LA Coliseum drew 50,000 people in the rain, and almost nobody knew about it outside the INC movement.

How’d you like to have the apostles and prophets back, IC?

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Worldviews: Question 1 — Origins

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth … God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

In my last post, I promised to say something further about worldviews. I noted that a thing called “Worldview Analysis” is gaining currency in Christian circles and well beyond. I said that I’ve found it a very helpful way of looking at life: one that provides some key answers to profound questions that all people have.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021


“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Remember pet rocks? Five million of those useless things were sold in 1975-76. They were marketed to people with a droll sense of humor and no time or energy to devote to a real pet. Like any fad they quickly disappeared, but for a brief period of time the pet rock craze made the people who came up with the idea some serious money.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Language of the Debate (4)

Professional magicians refer to the art of misdirection as “attention management”. I like that. The basic idea is to direct the eyes of one’s audience to one thing so they do not notice another.

That pretty much sums up how the word antisemitism is being used today. It has become the favorite attention management device of con artists and people with unsavory agendas.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Anonymous Asks (154)

“What is a reprobate mind?”

The phrase “reprobate mind” comes from the old English translation of Romans 1:28, where Paul declares that when men and women reject the knowledge of God and refuse to honor and give thanks to him, God gives them up to a “reprobate mind”.

The Greek word underlying the translation is adokimos, which means literally “not approved”, and refers to something that does not meet objective standards of acceptability; for example, a counterfeit coin, a metal alloy which doesn’t hold up when subjected to stress, or soil that looks normal but in which nothing can grow.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

In Due Season

The author, on one of his better days.

I get tired.

I’m a little tired right now, as a matter of fact. There are days and weeks when I seem to be doing the same thing over and over again, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. And I think, “Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?” I’ve asked the Lord about it, I’ve prayed for a resolution, and yet …

Yeah, you guessed it: every week, it’s just more of the same.

It’s a special sort of modern, western, slightly self-indulgent “tired”, when you think about it. Persecuted Christians get tired too, I’m sure, but in a very different way. Despair and exhaustion are a far cry from boredom and ennui.

But we in western Christian culture have the malaise of repetitive, often (apparently) ineffectual service to contend with nonetheless.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (24)

The Israelite legal requirement for multiple witnesses to any criminal charge goes back to the Law of Moses and the book of Numbers, but is itself restated many times in scripture. By the time we encounter it in the New Testament from the apostle Paul, there is a new twist on the “two or three” rule. “This is the third time I am coming to you,” he writes. “Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

Did you catch that? In this case the three witnesses are all the same person. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that’s not precisely what God intended.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Bad Reasons to be Nondenominational

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

Christianity Today reports that about one in six Christians now refer to themselves as “nondenominational”, which is about double the number who did so as recently as the turn of the century.

Tom: Gallup says:

“Increasingly, Christian Americans … prefer to either identify themselves simply as Christians or attend the increasing number of nondenominational churches that have no formal allegiance to a broader religious structure.”

What do you think about that, IC? It’s not all good news, is it?

Immanuel Can: No, probably not. Some of it is.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Worldviews: An Introduction

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world … Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going …’ ”

Jesus Christ was a person who really knew who he was. His critics (and there are more today than ever) say all manner of things about him and against him, but I have never heard one of them suggest that he had any confusion about his identity. Nor have they suggested he had any uncertainty about what he was doing. No one was ever more definite.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Little History and a Look Down the Road

The famous Phoenician seaport of Tyre has a long history intertwined with the history of Israel. When Canaan was first divided into tribal allotments under Joshua, the border of the territory assigned to the tribe of Asher ran right along Old Tyre’s city limits.

This immediate proximity to one of the greatest trading centers of the ancient world made it natural for the people of Israel to engage in commerce with their northern neighbor, so that when David needed to build himself a palace, the materials, carpenters and masons all came from the friendly king of Tyre.

David recognized in this act of friendship an indication that God had established his kingdom. He was not wrong.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Grace of Receiving

It is undoubtedly more blessed to give than to receive — I know, I didn’t exactly come to that conclusion on my own — but I suspect it may also be easier, at least for Christians.

When we become children of God, we receive a new nature like that of God himself. Paul urges the Ephesian believers to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Anonymous Asks (153)

“Do Jews go to heaven?”

Before we rush to give a pat answer to what seems an obvious question, we should stop to ask what the questioner means by “Jews”. The word is used several different ways today, and the answer very much depends on which sort of Jew the writer has in mind.

A discussion of how the term came to be used to mean so many different things to so many different people may be found here.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

A Thwarted Coup d’État

“And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’ ”

The synoptic gospels recount an incident where Jesus is informed that his family members have gathered outside his residence in Capernaum and want to see him. The Lord then turns to his disciples inside the house and asks them, “Who are my mother and brothers?”

Such a reaction may at first sound a little dismissive to us if we do not understand the circumstances. But of the three accounts, only Mark provides insight into the true motives of Mary and the Lord’s earthly siblings.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (23)

Who would eagerly anticipate and call for God to act in judgment? You might be surprised.

When injustice is rampant in society, those who are hurting tend to identify the beneficiaries of their perceived oppression and blame everyone in that targeted group regardless of personal involvement. In Germany it was the Jews. In Mao’s China it was the wealthy landowners. In Western society it is the “patriarchy”. In the Israel of Amos’s day, it was the rich.

So then, up goes the cry for judgment: If only God would deal with this fellow over here, or that group over there, everything would be fine.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Rightsizing the Church

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

On his blog, Karl Vaters considers new strategies for church planting and concludes the body of Christ might well function as effectively or even more effectively with 50 smaller churches than a single megachurch.

Tom: Interesting post, IC. He says a lot of things I agree with that not too many other evangelical pastors are saying, and also makes a few statements I find a little naïve or maybe misinformed. First off, it sounds as if he believes megachurches are planted like regular churches, and grow more or less naturally to their colossal size.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

In Need of Analysis: Wake Up and Smell the Potpourri

I’ve never really liked Christian bookstores.

They have that cloying sweetness typical of the boutiques my wife loves, the ones that sell knick-knacks, scented candles and throw pillows. There’s just an unreality to such places that hits you from the moment you step in the door, a sense that you are entering a zone that has nothing at all to do with the world outside, and where perhaps strange and delicate mythical creatures can thrive.

Okay, I may be exaggerating a little, but you get the idea. If you’ve been in such a store, you know: there’s just something terribly weird about the place. The divergence between the real world and the interior environment — and even its divergence from other store environments — is quite startling; and when you first walk in it takes you a moment to adjust.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Under the Science Bus [Part 2]

Before Christians join Michael Gungor and a growing number of fellow believers in throwing Noah, Adam, Eve, Jonah and a bunch of other Old Testament standards under the big ol’ scary Science Bus, I’m going to suggest we ask ourselves a few more questions about science:

5.  Are Scientists Infallible?

One only needs a quick glance at Wikipedia’s lengthy list of superseded scientific theories to recognize that they are not.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Under the Science Bus [Part 1]

I have a degree of respect for the intelligence of critics who dismiss scripture in its entirety on the basis that it is unscientific or incredible, though I don’t agree with them (and, in many instances, their arguments would be more convincing if they would take the time to actually read what they are criticizing).

At least, if wrong, their position is intellectually coherent.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Anonymous Asks (152)

“Should we worship the Holy Spirit?”

Long before the Word was made flesh, the Holy Spirit was present in the world and active on behalf of the Godhead. We find him in the second verse of Genesis, the fourth-last verse of Revelation, and everywhere in between. He is mentioned approximately 100 times in the Old Testament and well over 200 in the New. It has been demonstrated from the scriptures that he possesses the same attributes as both Father and Son.* His significance to us can hardly be overstated, since without him we would not have the written Word at all.

So it’s a good question: Why not worship the Holy Spirit? He’s certainly worthy of our worship.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

With One Hand Behind His Back

“This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you.”

It must be very frustrating to be Satan.

Picture this: you are bound and determined to thwart the will of God, to destroy his work, to make null and void his promises, to corrupt his servants and taint everything he touches, to remake the world in your own image and to make your name greater than his.

And God beats you every time. With one almighty hand metaphorically tied behind his metaphorical back.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (22)

Towards the end of Deuteronomy, when God is renewing the nation’s covenant in Moab with a new generation of Israelites, Moses sets a choice before the people. The choice is life and good, death and evil. One road leads one way, the other in the opposite.

Obey God’s commandments as your fathers did not, Moses says, and you will live and multiply. These commandments are synonymous with “good”. Goodness is not a matter of personal opinion. God has declared what it is. No discussion is necessary. “Choose life,” Moses strongly recommends.

Friday, July 02, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: EDM in the ‘Sanctuary’

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

Christianity Today notes a new trend in “worship”: electronic dance music. As writer Jeff Neely puts it, “layers of computer-programmed electronic backing tracks, quarter-note bass thumps, and cycles of musical ‘builds’ and ‘drops’, much of it set to a tempo around 130 beats per minute.”


Tom: That’s my sister’s response, Immanuel Can, and I think it’s entirely apropos. Some things are beyond the pale. But perhaps we can use it as a jumping-on point to discuss the role of enthusiasm in worship, what sort of place the arts might have or not have in the context of local church gatherings, and so on.

That work for you?

Immanuel Can: Certainly.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Command Performance

I’ve been thinking about the commandments.

People say that in the Old Testament, God is full of these things. Rabbis claim there are 613 of them, as a matter of fact — an odd number, to be sure. Why should God have an opinion on these particular items? Why not 614? Why not fewer?

And the nature of the commandments — everything from killing each other, to what people eat, to how they wash, to how they match their fabrics … and still the list is not exhaustive, for it leaves many aspects of life totally unmentioned and spends what we might deem far too much time on others.

Why does God care about all these particulars?