Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Semi-Random Musings (22)

I have seen the future of the church. It is non-institutional, non-sectarian, untraditional, discreet, highly portable and deadly serious. These are all good things.

That’s my conclusion after a week away up north with a group of 11 Christians of varied backgrounds, denominations and convictions from all over our province. What drew us together was a pair of mutual friends and our love of Christ, not any particular theological compatibility or shared history.

Here is my concern, and it’s a big one: in our movement toward what sure looks like the inevitable next phase of church life in North America, we are in danger of leaving our leadership behind.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Anonymous Asks (160)

“Has science disproved the miracles of the Bible?”

A question like this one reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of both science and miracles.

Here are a couple of modern definitions of science. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language calls it “the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of natural phenomena”. The Collaborative International Dictionary of English calls it “Accumulated and established knowledge, which has been systematized and formulated with reference to the discovery of general truths or the operation of general laws”.

So then, science deals in generalities and natural phenomena. It attempts to explain the way the world normally works, all else being equal.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

What Constitutes Biblical Evidence?

“The Bible gives clear, direct guidance on many topics of morality, but not on birth control. Thus, any inferences from the Bible are opinions and not Biblical evidence.”

Where the subject of the morality of birth control is concerned, this quote from the Christian Bible Reference Site is probably as good a place as any to start.

The question it raises in my mind may be framed different ways. One way: Are direct commands from God our only real source of unambiguous moral guidance? Another way: Do inferences drawn from established biblical principles really constitute such an ephemeral and debatable source of spiritual direction that God may as well have given us nothing at all to go on?

In short, what exactly constitutes legitimate biblical evidence?

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (30)

From time to time, unbelievers (and occasionally believers) accuse certain groups of Christians of plotting to bring about the end of our present world order — of trying to “immanentize the eschaton”, as they put it.

Now, it is certainly true that disciples of Christ look forward with hope to a future in which our Lord is Lord of all; in which the principalities and powers of the spiritual realm will have their nefarious activities curtailed; in which their human servants who survive Armageddon will be stripped of earthly authority and judged for their crimes; in which the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the meek will inherit the earth.

Yes, it is certainly fair to accuse us of believing in such a future, of waiting eagerly for it and of praying, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s actually our job.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: What Gives?

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

Once again, Christianity Today has the sort of article everybody who serves the Lord Jesus and loves the Body of Christ should be reading and thinking about. I don’t agree with everything they have to say by a long shot, but they regularly provide a starting point for serious discussion of major evangelical issues. Kudos to them for that.

Tom: In this particular piece they’re talking about missions and what makes that whole thing tick. Immanuel Can, did you find anything CT had to say interesting?

Immanuel Can: Oh, plenty. This is something I know a fair bit about.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Tolerating Evil: Moral Relativism and the Slippery Pole to Hell

This is the third in my series on relativism.

I began by pointing out the two types of relativism, epistemic and moral, and showed that epistemic relativism is irrational. After that, I did a post showing that whether we are thinking of science or religious belief, we really know things only probabilistically … and that this is okay — that high-certainty belief is much better than low-certainty belief, and that in any case, being a Christian means knowing God both as an evidentiary probability and as a relational Person, which means with pretty great certainty; better, even, than a scientist can offer. So it is true that truth exists, and it is true that we can know that truth exists.

So far, so good.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (16)

Learning to love yourself is not the greatest love of all, but you wouldn’t know that if you ask non-trivial numbers of evangelical Christians:

“[God] has given us permission to love ourselves.”
— Alonda Tanner

“We can’t fully love God or anyone else unless we love ourselves.”
— InTouch Ministries Daily Devotion

“It’s impossible to love your neighbor as you love yourself if you don’t know how to love yourself.”
— Kristine Bolt

Each of these assertions depends on a linguistically-indefensible interpretation of a familiar statement made by the Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Bit in Between

It has long been noticed that of the four gospels, Matthew’s is the most distinctly Jewish.

This being the case, it may surprise you to find that the Gentile Luke actually mentions the temple in Jerusalem — the very heart of Judaism — more than Matthew, a Jew. Matthew mentions the temple explicitly in only five of 28 chapters, and the majority of these references are quite incidental.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Anonymous Asks (159)

“Why did King Saul consult a witch?”

The account of King Saul and his visit to the witch of En-dor in 1 Samuel 28 is one of those passages that gives rise to all manner of questions. Short summary: Unable to hear the voice of God and about to enter battle with the armies of the Philistines, Saul seeks direction from the dead prophet Samuel by consulting a medium, a practice forbidden by God and outlawed earlier in his reign by Saul himself. A spirit appears to the medium and confirms that Israel will lose the battle, and that Saul and his sons are to die the very next day.

Not the most encouraging tale, but one that arouses considerable curiosity among readers of the Old Testament.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Bible Study 12 — Context [Part 6]

The final 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.

The second Bible study tool we are discussing is context. For justification, see the first post on this subject.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (29)

How does man end up negotiating with God?

Human reasoning cannot account for it. God, who knows everything, has already determined the most effective, just and reasonable course of action in every conceivable instance. He needs no advice or input from humanity. There is absolutely nothing created beings can contribute to the process by which a sovereign God works out his sovereign will. The idea is preposterous.

And yet it happens all the time in scripture. God deliberately seeks out man’s opinion, or else man expresses it and God allows him to have his say, even indulging his choices.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Witnessing as Hate Speech

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

What constitutes “hate speech”? A fairly standard definition goes something like this: “Speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation.”

Tom: Now, personally I’d consider even that arguable, not least because the word “attacks” is nebulous, which leaves hate speech to be defined by the party claiming injury (a bad idea), not to mention it takes for granted that “sexual orientation” is a valid concept even though science has not yet demonstrated it is anything more than a personal preference.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Relativism: Facts, Foolishness and Faith

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ ”

In my last post, I talked about relativism. I pointed out that there are two kinds — epistemic relativism and moral relativism — and that they need separate treatment, because they deal with very different issues. Then I started with epistemic relativism, the doubting of the existence of any facts, and showed how it is completely irrational.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Bible Study 11 — Context [Part 5]

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.

The second Bible study tool we are discussing is context. For justification, see the first post on this subject.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Bible Study 10 — Context [Part 4]

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.

The second Bible study tool we are discussing is context. For justification, see the first post on this subject.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Anonymous Asks (158)

“Why did God make some people less attractive than others, and what can those of us who got the short end of the stick do about it?”

I told this story here back in 2016, but it is meaningful enough to me that I’ll tell it again. In my early twenties I spent a week helping out at a Christian camp — as did my tall, handsome cousin. It was a nice gesture on his part to come along, but I quickly found myself gritting my teeth every time he was around.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Bible Study 09 — Context [Part 3]

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.

The second Bible study tool we are discussing is context. For justification, see the first post on this subject.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (28)

Friends recently commented on the length of our current series (hence my choice of visuals for this post). Let me assure you we are coming down the home stretch. Amos is about to relate a series of five visions from the Lord (groups of three and two), punctuated with a historical interval.

But before we get to that, he has three final verses of invective for the rich, self-indulgent, out-of-touch idolators in Israel.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Nominally Protestant, Leaning Catholic

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

Faith alone. Scripture alone. 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s historic declaration of these biblical truths — truths fundamental to Protestantism and, more importantly, to a clear and consistent understanding of what God has spoken to mankind in his word.

Tom: This piece ran in Christianity Today earlier this year, Immanuel Can, in which Sarah Zylstra argues (based on the findings of a Pew Research poll) that many of the estimated 560 million Protestants around the world today no longer believe justification with God depends on faith alone or that scripture is the only final authority for Christian faith and practice. They are nominally Protestant, but leaning Catholic.

If true, that would seem a little discouraging.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Tolerance and Relativism

“What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”

So wrote Sir Francis Bacon, the father of the scientific method. The man was not just a scientist, but a devout Christian as well. For him, the two were of a piece — truth in scientific inquiry was a road to knowledge of the Creator. So he wrote as much theology as science, and he stands as but one evidence of the long interaction between Christianity and scientific advancement.

In his 1601 essay “Of Truth”, he pointed out the embarrassing relativism of Pilate’s attitude. Pontius Pilate was standing next to the very One who could tell him definitively any truth he wished to know. He could have asked how planetary motion worked. He could have asked about the origins of life. He could have asked the meaning of our existence. And obviously, he could have asked what God required of him personally. He could have had forgiveness. He could have had salvation. He could have had life. And yet he walked away. And so he is remembered as one of history’s great fools.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Bible Study 08 — Context [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.

The second Bible study tool we are discussing is context. For justification, see the previous post on this subject.

1. QUOTATIONS

It should come as no great surprise that the Bible is full of quotations, most of which are from some other book of the Bible. New Testament writers especially tend to reinforce their points with quotations from the Old.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Bible Study 07 — Context [Part 1]

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.

The second Bible study tool we are discussing is context. Our previous study led us to the conclusion that interpreting in context is foundational to any genuine understanding of the word of God.

Monday, August 09, 2021

Anonymous Asks (157)

“Are visions of Mary real?”

Now, here is an interesting question, and I will admit right up front that I can’t possibly answer it as asked.

When we ask whether a thing is real, we may be asking any of several different questions about it. We may be asking “Did this person actually experience what they say they experienced, or is their claim fraudulent?” Or we may be asking “Assuming they did experience something, was it something that originated with God, or are they deceived about its origin?” Finally, and most importantly, we may be asking “Is what they say they saw authoritative in any way? Does it mean anything to me, or is it just an interesting story?”

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Bible Study 06 — Comparison [Part 6]

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 parts 1 through 5 can be found herehere, here, here and here.

The first Bible study tool we are discussing is comparison, specifically comparison of words and phrases in the original language.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (27)

Proximity to God comes at a price. God is holy, and those who speak his name and identify themselves with him invariably put themselves in the gravest danger. C.S. Lewis had it right: Aslan is not a tame lion. Judgment begins with the house of God.

That said, where God is concerned, there is no better place to be than as near as possible. “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Just bear in mind that when you take God’s name on your lips and broadcast your association with him to the world, you make yourself accountable for everything you do and say afterward. God is holy, and cannot allow his name to be associated with sin unrepented.

Israel forgot that. The prophet Amos was sent to remind them that the name of God is holy, and the consequences of defaming it are both inescapable and dire.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Witchcraft Using Christian Language

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

Christianity Today has an interesting piece on Benny Hinn’s nephew Costi, who no longer preaches the prosperity gospel like the rest of his family.

Tom: Costi’s description of the financial benefits of preaching the gospel and performing “healings” is a bit jarring, especially for those who’ve grown up in the family of a full-time Bible teacher. I don’t recall the 10,000 square foot mansions, the Benzes, the exotic vacations or the summer homes.

What do you think, IC? Was my dad doing something wrong?

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Worldviews: Question 3 — Life

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Ah, the doing. Talking about what we believe about distant issues like our origins and even our future destiny is comparatively easy. Since neither is pressing in the present, we can speculate idly if we wish, for hours.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Bible Study 05 — Comparison [Part 5]

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.

The first Bible study tool we are discussing is comparison, specifically comparison of words and phrases in the original language.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Bible Study 04 — Comparison [Part 4]

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.

The first Bible study tool we are discussing is comparison, specifically comparison of words and phrases in the original language.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Anonymous Asks (156)

“Is everything in the Bible true?”

In what is often referred to as the high priestly prayer of John 17, Jesus speaks to his Father on behalf of his followers. “Sanctify them in the truth,” he requests. Then he adds these words: “Your word is truth.”

Now, the Bible is the word of God. That’s not simply a nickname Christians have given to our favorite book so we can impress unsaved people with its authority; that’s something the scripture calls itself. The phrase “word of God” is used 48 times in the Bible, and the phrase “word of the Lord” another 255. These expressions are used about the Law of Moses, the Psalms and the Prophets, taking in the entire Old Testament. They are used to describe both the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, which became the basis for our New Testament. They are used as a synonym for “scripture”, which includes both, and about which Jesus himself declared, “Scripture cannot be broken.” So then, the Bible itself claims to be truth from cover to cover.

But it should be obvious that not everything in the Bible is true in exactly the same sense.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Bible Study 03 — Comparison [Part 3]

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 first post here.

The first Bible study tool we are discussing is comparison, specifically the comparison of words and phrases in the original language. The last post on this subject dealt with the limitations of word study.