Thursday, September 30, 2021

Finally! An Elected Official We Can Believe In

When I was a little kid, I have to admit I wasn’t much of an athlete. Having been raised with different games and sports than were popular in the country to which my family had returned, I had only opaque knowledge of the rules, and little practice at executing the conventional skills. So I was equally lousy at football, baseball, basketball, soccer and even volleyball, and only marginally competent at hockey.

It would be years before I caught up to my peers who had been raised with those games. Nevertheless, I tried. And I played, whether I was good or not.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Flyover Country: Philemon

As someone who does a fair bit of writing, one of the features of the Bible that most persuades me of its authenticity is the staunch refusal of its writers to satisfy our curiosity about details.

An authentic historical account written for people familiar with the relevant culture and events naturally leaves out all sorts of facts its original audience would be expected to already know and understand. It cuts directly to the chase. This is what we find in scripture’s books of history. Likewise, an authentic letter does not read like a narrative or polemic conveniently disguised in another literary form. It is not an info dump. It is marked as much by what it doesn’t include as by what it does.

In short, each genre of scripture reads just as we might expect it to. Philemon is a fine example of this.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Thought Experiment #5: Praying for Personal Safety

Once or twice in the last year and a half I’ve heard a Christian say something to the effect that they are trusting the Lord to keep them safe from the coronavirus. I suppose that is true of all of us to one degree or another, but the comment got me thinking: How high a priority should our physical safety have in our prayers?

Let’s dismiss binary thinking on this subject right at the front door. I cannot see how praying for better circumstances can ever be categorically wrong when it is accompanied by a heartfelt “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours.” It not a question of good vs. bad use of prayer time, but a question concerning degrees of good. We are looking to have the very best priorities in prayer, right? Ideally, we should be asking for the things Christ himself would have asked of his Father under the same circumstances.

That’s a very high bar, and we will not reach it all the time in prayer, but it should certainly be our goal in coming into the presence of God.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Anonymous Asks (164)

“Is is possible to be born again without knowing when it happened?”

I was once confronted by an older Christian who wanted to know the exact time and circumstances of my salvation. Apparently he asked many others the same thing. He was convinced the experience of becoming a believer only comes about in one way, and that it is impossible not to know how and when it occurred. If you can’t tell people when it happened, he insisted, it’s because you’re not saved.

That is not what Jesus taught.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Does the Church Really Have to be Israel?

A recent YouTube video from Australian pastor Matt Littlefield is introduced with this statement:

“Since the middle of the 19th century there has been a large movement in the Church to make a distinction between Israel and the Church, as two separate peoples. This distinction is unbiblical. The Church has to be Israel, otherwise the New Testament makes no sense.”

Can we amend this to “makes no sense to me”? Those are two very different claims.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (34)

It was 1966 when Pete Townshend wrote yet another generational anthem for The Who, this one intended as a tribute to the trendy, rebellious Mod movement in Britain. But its lyrics could just as easily have been applied to the hippies the band played to at Woodstock three years later, or indeed to any generation in history whose lifestyle choices made their parents shake their heads in dismay and speculate that society was just about to come down around their ears.

Townshend’s point was that while they might look a little rough around the edges, ultimately these young ruffians would do just fine for themselves. “The kids are alright” became part of the British vernacular, a euphemism for impending success.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Picking and Choosing

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

Hmm, this smells like clickbait … or deliberate provocation.

An Amy Julia Becker blog post from early 2015 suggests Christians should scale back our New Year’s resolutions and quit trying to read the Bible cover to cover.

Tom: Mrs. Becker wonders about the helpfulness of reading the Bible in its entirety and practically brags about not having read Nahum “in ages”. You can almost feel the calculated poke in the eye to Christians committed to getting through the whole Bible annually as she adds, “Perhaps you’ll join me”.

Thanks but no thanks.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Freedom: The False and the True

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

What is freedom? Does it mean what people today think it does? Does it mean doing whatever, whenever? Does it mean liberty to surrender to our own impulses? Does it mean opportunity to do whatever-the-heck we feel like at a given moment? Does it mean being exempt from moral censure or practical criticism regardless of what action we may choose to do?

Does it mean total independence? Does it mean not needing anyone, or not feeling the lack of anything?

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Reclaiming Communion

The Lord’s supper. The love feast. Communion. The Eucharist. The breaking of bread.

Call it what you are comfortable with. Like baptism, this ordinance-of-many-names has been co‑opted by the institutional church. The Lord’s table has been quietly moved from the home into the precincts of the “sanctuary”, where the permission of church leadership must be obtained in order to participate.

It’s high time ordinary Christians moved it back.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Dress-Rehearsing for the Apocalypse

Let’s get this straight right off the top: COVID vaccines are not the “mark of the beast”.

Admittedly, government strategies for implementing universal vaccination are similarly coercive. We are not quite yet at the stage where no one can buy or sell without the say-so of Pfizer or Moderna, but depending on where you live, restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated are becoming more than a little onerous. COVID vaccine passports are the hot button issue of the moment, notwithstanding mounting evidence that the science does not support across-the-board vaccination as a solution to the spread of the virus and its variants.*

So then, if the powers-that-be recognize vaccination will not solve the problem, why are the vaccinations still being pushed so frantically? Reasonable people are curious, to say the least, and less-reasonable people are speculating about a connection to end-times Bible prophecy.

Must I point out the obvious? Sure, why not.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Anonymous Asks (163)

“Do elders have authority?”

A hundred years ago nobody would have asked this question. Today, authority of every kind is being challenged at every level. Don’t like what the founders wrote in the Constitution? Just reinterpret it. Don’t like the Governor’s latest executive order? No worries, an unelected County Circuit Judge will shortly declare it unconstitutional so you don’t have to comply. Don’t want the fraudulent election results you certified audited? Just refuse to hand over the evidence of your malfeasance. Are the health care rights guaranteed in your province getting in the way of your ability to impose mandated vaccination? Don’t worry, we’ll find a way around that.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Dating Scene

It’s the eighth shortest book in the Bible and the second shortest in the Old Testament — only 1,131 words in English in two brief chapters.

But Haggai is full of dates. Almost a quarter of its 38 verses are given over to specifying times right to the very day. The book’s five prophecies to four different individuals or groups are each arranged around these dates.

Even readers unconvinced of the inspiration of scripture are unlikely to see such an obvious pattern as accidental or merely a writing tic. They will generally concede the author must be trying to make a point.

It might be worth a few hundred words to try to work out what the point may be.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (33)

Prophetic language in scripture is always more difficult to interpret from a distance.

This uncertainty is especially common when figurative language — a regular feature of the prophetic word — is in play. When a prophecy is fulfilled in a generation or less, its original audience has little difficulty unpacking a nicely turned figure of speech and applying it to their own situation. On the other hand, a 2,700 year distance from the events about which the prophet has spoken or written severely limits the modern reader’s ability to dogmatize about specifics.

The historical record just isn’t that comprehensive, and the culture and language barriers to understanding the text as its original readers understood it increase with every passing generation.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Where the Grass is Greener

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

If there’s a single more common inter-generational issue in churches today, I can’t think of it right now:

“My kids want to go to that church down the road …”

Hoo boy.

Tom: I bet that church down the road has a worship team, Immanuel Can.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

How Depraved Can We Be?

That’s a good question.

Our society is clearly messed up. It can be sick enough to think that promiscuity is normal, debauchery is freedom, and that homosexuality is love. It can be twisted enough to call killing the elderly “dignity” and butchering infants in utero “choice”. Morally, things look pretty bad.

That’s what the dictionary definition of “depraved” is. It means “very morally bad”.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Faith and Courage

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Was the Lord’s prayer for Simon answered in the affirmative? I believe it was. From the events described by Luke later in the chapter you might not think so, but there is a difference between a failure of faith and a failure of courage, no? And certainly Jesus appears fully confident of Peter’s speedy restoration, not only with respect to his fellowship with the risen Lord, but with respect to his ongoing responsibility to shepherd others.

It is not “if you turn again”, but when. The Lord himself had seen to it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Language and Thought Complexity

When not writing up the results of his research for publication, anthropologist Christopher Hallpike lived among the mountain tribes of Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea for a period of ten years studying every facet of two very different primitive cultures. His latest anthology, Ship of Fools, includes a fascinating chapter entitled “So all languages aren’t equally complex after all”, in which he thoroughly debunks the conventional wisdom about the relative complexity of languages, namely the uniformitarian belief that All Languages are Equally Complex (ALEC).

ALEC is a relatively modern invention popularized by linguists like Noam Chomsky and evolutionary psychologists like Steven Pinker, wholly ideological rather than a product of actual boots-on-the-ground research. It is the undemonstrated and undemonstratable conviction that “There are no simple or primitive cultures: all cultures are equally complex and equally modern.” Or again, “People think the same thoughts, no matter what kind of grammatical system they use.”

Monday, September 13, 2021

Anonymous Asks (162)

“Are angels God’s sons?”

The Old Testament contains five occurrences of the phrase “sons of God”; three in Job and two in Genesis. All five appear to me to be referring to angels. The New Testament gives us a further six mentions. Every one of these six refers to redeemed members of the human race.

That requires a little more explanation, but hey, that’s why we do this. Let’s go back to front, since the question is about angelic sons.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (17)

“Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”

New believers seeking to understand scripture for themselves with the aid of Google and/or an online concordance may be forgiven for throwing up their hands in despair when they encounter verses like this one. There are at least three major schools of thought about Luke 17:33, and multiple variations within each.

Nevertheless, even in passages like this where there are genuine questions about what exactly the Lord was telling his disciples, some interpretations remain more logical, careful and likely than others.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (32)

Religious people do some very strange and inconsistent things. Some observe holidays to which they have no attachment in the name of a God in whom they don’t believe. Others appear to have an on/off switch that gets toggled to “off” every time they leave the church building Sunday around noon and head back to the rest of their weekly routine.

Apparently things were no different 2,700 years ago. Religious people were engaged in strange and inconsistent practices, and God sent the prophet Amos to Israel to point this out.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: The Weight of Tradition

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

Years ago I would regularly come across stories of how this theologian or that one came out of Catholicism and now calls himself an evangelical Christian. More recently I notice some going the other way. Among the reasons usually given for embracing Rome is an emphasis on church history and tradition that doesn’t exist in the same way in Protestant gatherings. Roman Catholicism is thought to have “roots” that go back to the early church.

To seekers of this sort, the value of a church experience is measured by whether their faith community is convincingly in touch with its own past.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Dismembering the Church

My church recently had a “membership” drive. The goal was to get people to sign up to the church roll, then stand up in front of the congregation and proclaim their membership through what they called a “church covenant”.

I’ve been in my local church for 12 years. I didn’t sign. I won’t.

It’s not because my fellow Christians do not know I’m one of them; they do. And I trust it’s not because I’m passive, uncommitted or uninvolved with church life. I’m in there serving, and I doubt there’s anyone in my congregation who couldn’t tell you that. (If there is, that will be corrected the next time they give me the pulpit, which they do fairly frequently.) And it’s not because they have found I am caught up in some particular sin or wickedness. No one has accused me of that — though I’d admit to being your garden variety hypocrite, in the sense that I continually fall short of the level of holiness God deserves from me. But no one so far has called me “hard hearted” or accused me of some crime.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Strange Applications (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Compound Interest)

The subject of money is a controversial one among believers, not because the Bible is unclear about the dangers of loving mammon or misusing it, but because applying the principles we find in scripture to each personal situation is an individual responsibility worked out, well ... individually.

This being the case, we find a variety of approaches to finances among believers. I’ve tried a bunch of them. Let me tell you a story ... but first, we’d better start with the basics. What do the scriptures say? Let’s get that straight.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Blogger Becomes Blocker

I read an awful lot online. I still probably invest significantly more time with physical books than in frequenting websites, but the weekly averages spent on each activity are a lot closer these days than five years ago, and getting closer still. Books are better for long-term perspectives on the world around us. The internet has the advantage of being current, and of telling us what other people like us (and not like us) are thinking and doing.

My book collection (not my ebooks, sadly) has this advantage over digital text, online or in other forms: Amazon and/or other interested parties cannot make it disappear. Even when they try really, really hard.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Anonymous Asks (161)

“What does ‘walking in the Spirit’ involve, and what do I do when I don’t feel like it?”

Walking by the Spirit is mentioned explicitly in two NT verses, Galatians 5:16 and Romans 8:4:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

“... in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

The first is a command, the second is merely descriptive; it tells us what constitutes a normal state of being for Christians, that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Ten Things About Death For Which I Am Grateful

I had the inestimable privilege of being asked to preach the gospel at a pair of relatively recent memorial services for Christian friends and family members.

Our regular readers will have probably figured out by now that gospel preaching is not exactly my forte; I am not an evangelist either by gift or disposition. All the same, when you have people you love in the audience who don’t know the Lord, you take every opportunity he hands you, and I took these.

We had a great time. Seems odd to put it that way, but it’s true.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (31)

In the New Testament, fruit is used to symbolize the inevitable consequences of human choice. The outcome of any set of actions reflects favorably or unfavorably on the person who engages in them. As the Lord put it, “Each tree is known by its own fruit.” You do not find figs growing on thorn bushes or grapes among brambles.

The production of fruit is usually a positive thing, but fruit may be either good or bad. In Matthew’s gospel, the Lord tells his disciples false prophets may be recognized by the fruit they produce, which is diseased rather than healthy.

In Amos too, the image of fruit has to do with outcomes.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Golden Calf 2.0

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

It’s been years since I paid a great deal of attention to the charismatic movement, but David de Bruyn’s post on The Pentecostalization of Christian Worship at is a real eye-opener.

Tom: Mr. de Bruyn’s thesis is fairly simple: the current patterns of worship in the charismatic movement are not leading Christians within it anywhere good. Worse, these practices are catching on throughout the evangelical world. I’ve experienced them myself in my early twenties, but never really stopped to analyze the significant differences between the way charismatics engage in “worship”, and the historic patterns of worship across many other Christian traditions. Far more importantly, the charismatic approach differs radically from the patterns of worship we observe in the scriptures.

What did you think of the post, IC?

Immanuel Can: So many things … where shall we start?

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Neo-Calvinism: Rotten TULIPs

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

I’m a no-point Calvinist.

I used to think I was a “three-pointer”, but that was only because I didn’t really understand what Calvinists actually thought their points meant. Now that I do see it, I’m a no-point Calvinist … as in “the neo-Calvinists have no point”.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

State o’ the Blog 2021

It’s been almost two years since I did one of these “status” posts. Oops.

On some fronts a great deal has happened. I entered my seventh decade, for one, which helps explain why so many much-loved friends and family members have left us in the last two years, temporarily at least, and are now enjoying the presence of the Lord (to date, none due to COVID). My children seem to be at completely different stages of life than they were two years ago. That is reason to rejoice in nearly every respect. Atmospherically and functionally, my workplace is a completely different beast than it was two years ago. That is both good and bad for the company, but it is certainly fun for me.