Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Syllogism That Isn’t

“Love … believes all things.”

“Love your enemies.”

Do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you.”

The three verses quoted above create a syllogism that isn’t.

First, we have Paul’s statement that love manifests in “believing all things”, whatever that might mean. Secondly, we have the Lord’s command to love one’s enemies, and it follows that if one is to love them, one must “believe all things” while doing so, because that is what Paul says love does. Finally, we have God’s instructions to Jeremiah, emotionally drained by the disloyalty and dishonesty of his own family members, whom he was surely obligated to love even under the Old Covenant … but in this case, Jeremiah’s love was not to manifest in belief. In fact, he was to exercise discernment and see through the lies of his siblings.

Something is wrong with the logic here, and we know it’s not that God has contradicted himself, since that never happens.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (39)

The territory occupied by the nation of Israel today is not the territory occupied by the Israel of the divided kingdom period. It is not the territory occupied by the nations of Israel and Judah when they were briefly united under the house of David. According to the prophets, it is also not the territory which will be occupied by the Israel of the future.

There is some land in common, of course. Territory has been gained (the Negev and the Gaza Strip, for example). But when Israel lost the Transjordan to Assyria, it never got it back. Moreover, few modern Israelis are descended from the people who occupied the northern kingdom when Amos prophesied against it.

We understand the prophets more accurately when we correctly identify their intended audience. Let me take a stab at that.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: How Do You Read It? (3)

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

God, cash & prizes: a winning combo! Or not.

How Do You Read It? is kind of a series within a series, in which Immanuel Can and I discuss common misinterpretations of some very familiar verses. The first two instalments can be found here and here.

Tom: IC, it’s been a year since we did one of these. Have you got one for me?

Immanuel Can: What about “Whatever you ask in my name …”?

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Present Perfect

Everybody likes gifts, they say. Still, some are better than others.

A funny story: My in-laws were on their way to a wedding. Along the roadside, a hack artist was selling a number of truly horrible original oil paintings. (Doubtless this poor soul labored under the delusion he was some sort of Michelangelo.) Anyway, my relatives pulled over for a look. These ‘masterpieces’ were supposed to be landscapes, but they all looked like they’d been painted with a really fat brush using earth tones, pale blues and dark blacks. (If you imagine an explosion in a factory that produces toothpaste, peanut butter and licorice, you’ve roughly got the aesthetic here.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Out of His Lane

Last Tuesday, John Piper used his mega-platform among Reformed Christians to come out in favor of COVID vaccination and to implore his fellow believers to go out and get jabbed:

“My aim in this article is to encourage Christians to be vaccinated, if they can do so with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant.”

Hey, at least he had the decency to include the caveat of “a good conscience”.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Livestock and Loved Ones

There are still a few wonderful things in this increasingly weird world. A good number of them are covered in fur, and occasionally wool.

You do not find many pets in the Bible. Life thousands of years ago was generally harder, and people were poorer, hungrier and more pragmatic. Most verses that mention animals have to do with wildlife and livestock, not domesticated creatures living indoors.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Anonymous Asks (168)

“If God knows I’m hurting, why doesn’t he help me?”

The answer to the first part of this question is perfectly straightforward: God knows. Of course he knows. He’s God. How could he not know? “You discern my thoughts from afar,” wrote David. “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” The only being in the universe with full knowledge of the human condition is humanity’s Creator.

The second part’s a little tougher to answer. There are just so many possibilities ...

Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Thought Life of Christ

There’s tremendous potential in you as a believer. God has great purposes for you as a believer.

We know these great purposes. He wants us to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s going to include not only our external activities, but surely it’s also going to include the transformation of our thought lives.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (38)

Spiritual fulfillment is not literal fulfillment.

That doesn’t make it less important, of course. We might reasonably make the case that spiritual fulfillment of the prophetic word can be more life changing and longer lasting than its literal counterpart. Examples will follow. The point to keep before us is that the prophecies of scripture often have multiple fulfillments — or perhaps we might say that there are multiple aspects to their fulfillment.

Every prophetic fulfillment of either kind has some connection, however distant, to the work of Christ. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. But one cannot fully comprehend the scope of his wonderful work without acknowledging both the literal and allegorical ways it illuminates and resolves the sometimes-obscure utterances of the ancient Hebrew seers.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Forgive Us, But …

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

In Islam, the word tawbah refers to the process of asking Allah for forgiveness. The ritual is comprised of three stages:

  • Recognizing your sins and mistakes;
  • Feeling ashamed to having violated Allah’s trust;
  • Making a promise to never repeat the mistake.

Western culture, on the other hand, has largely dispensed with the practice of seeking forgiveness, not least because a public confession of wrongdoing may create liability issues. So you get bafflegab like, “I regret if anyone was offended by ...” instead of a sincere apology.

Tom: Immanuel Can, can you recall the last time someone unsaved asked you to forgive them?

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Saints and Ain’ts

“The Father loves the Son.”

Are there any better words in all of scripture than this? Personally, I don’t think so.

Many people have a fondness for John 3:16, or Romans 8:35, or Ephesians 2:8-9 … all very great passages, I’ll admit; but for me, nothing anywhere comes close to the freedom, joy and consolation of the words above.

Maybe today I can tell you why.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Elephant Not in the Room

In addition to our own family gathering this year, I was invited to enjoy an early Thanksgiving celebration with three Christian friends whose extended families refuse to share a meal with them until they get vaccinated. We had a wonderful dinner and an enjoyable evening together, but it was hard to overlook the elephant in the room — or in this case, the herd of elephants not in the room.

Thanksgiving is usually about turkeys, not elephants.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Fisking the Clickbait

For the uninitiated, is the online equivalent of those tabloid news rags you find next to the gum and chocolate bars at grocery store checkouts — perhaps not quite so tacky, but at least as trivial. Today’s brilliant bits of journalistic intrigue include pieces on where Elvis is buried, how Vladimir Putin feels about religion, what happens to your body when you choke to death, and — my personal favorite — how David Hasselhoff is connected to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Come on, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t click on that! Which is the whole point, of course.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Anonymous Asks (167)

“Is God male or female?”

J. Manning feels there is a “connection between belief in the maleness of God and the deeply ingrained acceptance of the abuse of women in society”. Of the origins of belief in a masculine God, D.T. Williams writes, “It is felt that ascribing maleness to God was due to the superiority of the male in pre‑modem and especially Biblical culture,” and that “as modern culture is more enlightened about recognizing the equality of the sexes, so the maleness of God [is thought to be] an anachronism which should be disposed of.”

All to say that this is one of those matters into which few theologians of the pre-feminist era would have thought to inquire.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Hatred of King Jesus

“You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

These “companions” were not bad guys.

The psalmist is probably speaking of other Israelite royalty, so Jesus had something significant in common with them despite their human failings: they were all kings. People like David, Solomon and Hezekiah. They served God, they honored God, and they led his people out to victory.

Not bad guys at all, some of them.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (37)

There is a short, somewhat mysterious passage in the final speech Moses made to Israel before his death in which he declares that when God divided mankind — presumably referring to the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, which ends with the words “the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth” — that God also “fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God”.

Now, we know what the phrase “sons of God” means to believers from the teaching of the New Testament. However, in the Old Testament, the same expression is consistently connected with angelic beings.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Church of the Revolving Door

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

Almost all in-groups, public or private, have some form of disciplinary process in place. At work, if you engage in behavior the company defines as “harassment”, you will generally find yourself in front of a supervisor and a Human Resources rep, either to be written up or dismissed. The NFL regularly suspends players who don’t comply with its codes. Even Twitter will freeze your account for expressing what it considers to be inappropriate political views. All of this is standard procedure.

Tom: If you read a fair bit of recent online commentary, you might be forgiven for thinking that contemporary evangelical churches are the only institutions in existence that have no self-policing mechanisms in place.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Mean Girls and Mean Theology

The teen film Mean Girls (2004) is sort of a cult classic with the kids at the school where I teach. Everyone knows the story, even though the film is getting a bit old now. The star (Lindsay Lohan) is certainly no teenager anymore, as any number of her recent escapades in the press will attest. But somehow the plot line still works. On April 28th, the anniversary of its release, the Toronto Sun, that bastion of fine journalism, proudly proclaimed it “still the ultimate teen movie”.

I sure hope not.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Religion and Worldview

I rarely agree completely with anyone, and I doubt anyone ever completely agrees with me. Moreover, the longer we go on talking, the more likely we are to find points of disagreement with one another.

When IC and I comment here on what others have written, we usually try to quote just enough to allow the writer to fully and clearly make his point in his own words. The goal is to find the sweet spot between unfairly representing an argument and letting it overwhelm our commentary on it; after all, they have their platforms and we have ours.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

On the Subject of Being Subject

As this world moves deeper into secular materialism and post-rationality with each passing year, the tremendous practical and material benefits of the Christian faith become increasingly evident in contrast to the chaos, confusion and despair that follow logically from any worldview in which God is absent or unknowable.

One nine year study of over 21,000 believers showed we live on average seven years longer than those who do not know Christ. To quote the Handbook of Religion and Health (2001), faith has been correlated with “well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction.”

Sounds like great advertising, right? Wrong. Definitely wrong.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Anonymous Asks (166)

“Are people born good?”

Aristotle argued that men are born amoral and morality is learned, while Rousseau insisted men would be gentle and pure without the greed and inequality promoted by the class system. The philosophical debate has gone on for centuries, and “science” has contributed little to finding an answer.

So then, expert opinion on the question averages out to something like “We’re not really sure.”

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Distance Between

IC’s post on immanence/transcendence last week got to me for a number of reasons. (If you haven’t read it, what are you reading this for? Go. Now.)

When I was a little boy, our family crossed the ocean on a liner sizable for its day. I don’t remember much of the journey; I suppose most of it was fairly uneventful. What I do remember vividly is coming up on deck with my father one bright day when the sea was slightly turbulent. It wasn’t stormy, but it was far from calm. Great swells repeatedly arose to starboard, higher (I thought at the time) than the ship itself, gradually dipping and moving slowly and methodically under us. The horizon seemed to disappear and I found myself convinced the deck had tilted at some sort of incredible angle (though I suspect that was only my disconcerted, childish impression).

It was my first experience of “big”, and it stuck.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (36)

How many titles are given to God in the Old Testament? Much depends on whether you count slight variations as completely different names or group them together as essentially teaching the same truths about the Almighty. Three attempts to put a hard number on the total got me 14, 17 and 21, which was enough to discourage me from the effort for the time being.

Let’s just say there are many: some that encourage (The Lord My Banner), some that comfort (The Lord My Shepherd), some that reassure (The Lord Will Provide) and some that awe (Jealous, The Most High God).

One of the more intimidating titles is found in the next two verses in Amos.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: How I Didn’t Meet Your Mother

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

Rod Dreher says nobody meets their spouses at church anymore.

Catholic, Protestant, whatever: some Christian folks are making the case you’ll have better luck finding a spouse in a bar or restaurant, through friends or online than you are going to have finding a man or woman in your own local church worth partnering up with for life. And Dreher agrees.

That’s quite a claim, IC. Where did you meet your wife?

Immanuel Can: At church, first. But we didn’t get interested in each other until we started working together, serving the Lord at a university. My experience may or may not be indicative, though.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Hooray for the Hypocrites

One of my Neo-Calvinist friends wrote to me yesterday. He said that I should like a favorite preacher of his (David Platt). He said that this preacher “holds to the Reformed theology”. Then he added, “People who truly understand the Reformed theology have a passion for lost souls.”

His first statement is probably true.

If the second one is true, the first one is certainly false.

If a Calvinist loves the salvation message it might make him a nice person but it also makes him a bad Calvinist.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Not Exactly Synonyms

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people ...”

Sometimes the lists we find in scripture consist largely of different words that mean essentially the same thing; synonyms multiplied for the purpose of reinforcing the author’s intended meaning through repetition. Other times they do not. This is one of those cases: the four words are not exactly synonyms. While there is some overlap, each word Paul uses to describe types of prayer has a different shade of meaning and each conveys a new thought.

It’s probably a worthwhile exercise to re-examine each of these terms to make sure they really mean precisely what we think they do. I find studies of this sort produce the occasional surprise.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Making It ‘Moral’

Well, that certainly didn’t take long.

Less than two weeks back I observed that people are getting vaccinated for all sorts of reasons, the vast majority of which are pragmatic rather than moral or religious.

The difference is easy to illustrate. Pragmatic arguments for vaccination include “If you don’t get vaccinated, you may lose your job”, “If you don’t get vaccinated, you won’t be able to go to a restaurant or a football game”, or even “If you don’t get vaccinated, you won’t be welcome in my home for Christmas.”

Contrast that with my favorite strained and unconvincing recent attempt at making the issue moral: “If you don’t get vaccinated, you’ll kill your grandmother.”

Okay then ...

Monday, October 04, 2021

Anonymous Asks (165)

“What does it mean that God is able to keep us from stumbling?”

You are probably thinking of the last two verses of Jude: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever.”

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Common Sense and Spiritual Discernment

Moments before taking my daily stroll through what turned out this morning to be a dark, rainy neighborhood, I happened to come across a question on social media about the relationship of spiritual discernment to common sense.

The writer got me thinking. Obviously both are means by which human beings gain competence in navigating the world, but they are quite different from one another, though common sense and spiritual discernment may occasionally lead us to similar conclusions.

The distinctions may become clearer if we add a third factor to the mix. For the sake of brevity, let’s just refer to this third thing as knowledge, but what I mean by knowledge in this context is information received second-hand, whether from books, media or other people.

The natural man has common sense, the learned man adds to it knowledge, but only the regenerate man has spiritual discernment.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Mining the Minors: Amos (35)

We have come to the final chapter of Amos, and to the seer’s final vision, this time of the Lord and the altar.

As in previous passages in Amos, the altar in question is not the altar in Jerusalem, in the true temple of the Lord, but rather the altar of the facsimile-temple in Bethel, home of one of King Jeroboam I’s two golden calves, variously referred to as “the guilt of Samaria” and, more often, “the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.”

That last bit is important. Jeroboam “made Israel to sin”.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: The “Divinity” of Christ

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

Our friend Michael Gungor is at it again, doubling down on his statement to the effect that “Genesis is a poem if I’ve ever seen one.”

Which would be fine, as mere opinions go, but now he’s brought Jesus Christ into it:

“Even if he was wrong, even if he did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ. The point is it wouldn’t freak me out if he was wrong about it, in his human side.”

Tom: Let’s just catch us up here.