Friday, December 31, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Offenders for a Word

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

Christianity Today’s Caleb Lindgren interviews author Brian J. Wright about his new book, Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus.

Tom: We bounced this article around by email last week, IC, and it was fodder for a few interesting observations. I thought we might revisit it here. One major weakness of Lindgren’s interview is that he never quite gets Brian Wright to define “communal reading” for us, and the term then ends up being used to describe a whole bunch of different things in the course of the interview.

Care to take a shot at defining it?

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Who Reads Anymore?

I’ve heard that Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time may be the most famous book people have never read.

That’s right: Never.

People sure do talk about it. It’s sold ten million or so copies. Lots of people cite the title of the book, laud it, and claim to have found their opinions confirmed by it — but few of these have actually ever read it.

In a way, maybe that’s understandable. It is, after all, a fairly challenging book. For a mathematician, it’s a good read, perhaps; for the average person it’s a quick road to Slumberland. Even though it’s pretty short it only takes a few pages to render most folks unconscious.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

My Contingent Ego (or A Matter of Pride)

You can’t discuss a matter effectively unless you really understand what the other side is saying.

Mischaracterizing the other position is extremely common in theological disagreements. I try very hard to avoid it here by quoting people directly, linking to context, and reading and contemplating an argument before I reply to it. I try even harder to avoid speculating about the motives of those with whom I disagree, since these are irrelevant to the truth or error of a person’s viewpoint.

But even these precautions cannot guarantee I have really heard and comprehended what the other side is trying to communicate.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Infinite and Infinitesimal

“And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel — and God knew.”

Here we have a series of what can only be called anthropomorphisms. Okay, I suppose technically we could call them “verbs ascribing human actions to that which is not human”, but let’s take six syllables over fifteen. The point is that the writer of Exodus is using language we understand to describe processes we can’t possibly comprehend.

Consider ...

Monday, December 27, 2021

Anonymous Asks (177)

“How does one write effectively about Christianity in a work of fiction?”

The Christian faith has been a defining feature of my life so long that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of it at some level, even if it was only that I didn’t like the pews in church because my feet couldn’t reach the floor, or that my parents didn’t approve when I got down and crawled between them during the service. My childhood reading was full of “Christian” literature, from the too-saccharine adventures of the Sugar Creek Gang to the memorable spiritual analogies of C.S. Lewis’s children’s books.

Later in life I developed a taste for detective fiction and sci-fi, and discovered that secular writers have their own reasons for depicting Christians and their faith in one light or another.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Division and the Preservation of the Bible

People often complain that Christians are divided. Denominationally, intellectually, interpretationally, geographically and/or racially divided. Some even take this as evidence the claims of Christ are untrue.

I take a little different tack on that subject. In 2014, I wrote about the reasons Christians are divided. In 2015, I even wrote about the good that occasionally results from these divisions.

If I keep coming back to the subject, it’s not because I want to repeat myself but because so many people see it as a major problem.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Peace Rules

December 24, 1914. Nightfall.

British, French and German troops are hunkered down at Flanders, fighting the latest “War To End All Wars”. Barbed wire. Bayonets. Machine guns. Gas. Trenches half full of fetid water, with walls composed of human bodies. Dysentery, decay, despair and death. Miserable troops on both sides of a sixty-yard space of devastated earth shiver in the clammy cold of winter, waiting for the order to scrabble over the top.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: A COVID Christmas

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more holiday-oriented than usual.

Tom: I was out for my early morning walk in a little bit of a mood, and I decided the thing to do was to spend my prayer time thanking the Lord for the good things he has brought into my life and the great things he is doing in this world.

I’m sure you can imagine exactly what happened, IC: my mood changed drastically.

Immanuel Can: Gratitude will do that, won’t it? One of the great sins of mankind is lack of it.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (7)

Mining the Minors and Immanuel Can’s usual Thursday post have swapped spots this week. I’m sure you can guess why.

As I noted in the fifth instalment in this series, the latter verses of Hosea 2 — in my English translation at least — divide nicely into three sections, each of which conveniently begins with the word “therefore”. These divisions are not completely arbitrary. They reflect three movements in God’s program for idolatrous Israel, a program to which Israel must respond either positively or negatively. I also noted that the English translators of the ESV signal the intentionality of these movements with the words “I will”.

The first movement in verses 6-8 gives us two of God’s “I wills” and one of Israel’s.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Things Hidden in Darkness

Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn. He was named by his mother in hope that his existence in the world would be a turning point in her relationship with her husband, who had eyes only for her more-attractive sister. But now that Leah had given Jacob a son, perhaps finally she would be loved.

As one might anticipate, that optimistic gesture turned out to be futile. Leah’s hopes were dashed.

Did young Reuben resent the way his father treated his mother? Come on, a firstborn son? We feel responsible for everything that happens to everybody. That’s just the dynamics of birth order. It would have been impossible for him to grow up unaware of the ever-present tension between his mother and her sister, or of the lack of interest his father displayed in Leah. No, Reuben was right in the middle of all the family intrigue.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Why Not Now?

We live in an age of instant gratification.

If I want a superior coffee experience, I have only to walk to the corner, or drive to my friend Rod’s house. If I want to know what’s happening across the world, five minutes with CNN will probably do it. If I want to feign expert knowledge of virtually any subject, half an hour of Googling enables me to pass myself off as conversant with all but the genuinely knowledgeable.

God doesn’t operate that way. It’s a bit vexing at times, I must admit.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Anonymous Asks (176)

“What specific verse/passage about human nature resonates the most with your observations?”

That’s a tough one to pin down. Whichever passage I choose today, I’m almost guaranteed to find an even better one tomorrow.

Would you settle for a top five?

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Heiser Bolt of Lightning

A couple of weeks ago I promised to devote an entire blog post to the bolt of lightning that hit my synapses when I read a single, throwaway paragraph in Michael S. Heiser’s The Unseen Realm. It was a delightful experience to find that the scriptures account for the cognitive dissonance I and other Bible students experience when we compare many prophecies in their original Old Testament contexts to their fulfillments as described by the writers of the New Testament.

A familiar example of such a “Whuzzat?” moment: Matthew’s use of the words “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (6)

When Canada rejected Stephen Harper as Prime Minister in favor of a candidate whose most identifiable features were his last name and haircut, I was completely unsurprised.

At the time I often lunched in a semi-trendy midtown café frequented by liberal-leaning twenty-somethings. It’s a small place; even if you are not inclined to eavesdrop, the tables are wedged in so tightly that you can hardly fail to pick up the broad strokes of any animated conversation in the room. Back in 2015, day after day, patron after patron, the subject was politics and nothing but. Young Canadian urbanites hungered for an abrupt swing to the left, and they were determined to make it happen.

And so they did. The country has yet to recover.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Where There is No Vision ...

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

Kevin Miller is an Executive VP at Christianity Today International. In this article he lays out a number of ways that one can go about developing a vision.

Tom: Immanuel Can, Miller is ignoring the elephant in the room: he starts with the unstudied assertion that good leaders must always be men of vision and charges right into how we can all acquire it without addressing why this quality is allegedly a critical component of leadership.

And he’s not alone.

Immanuel Can: You’re right, Tom, there are a lot of people talking about our lack of vision as Christians today. What do you think accounts for this widespread concern, and how legit do you think it is?

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Lies, Myths and Misinformation: Christianity Causes Wars

The application of the statement “religion causes wars” to Christianity is actually a double lie.

It’s a lie because its detractors classify Christianity as a “religion” just the same as any other. You be the judge of whether or not that’s fair. But let’s give them that one for the sake of argument.

It’s also a lie because it’s not even accurate to say that the disparate group of things secular people call “religion” causes wars. It’s not just intuitively wrong, it’s statistically absurd.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Another Cat and Dog Story

Trust between two beings is a wonderful and tremendously fragile thing.

Another cat and dog story. Sorry. You find your illustrations where you find them, and I’ll do the same. Pet haters may tune out here.

Dogs and cats are very different beings. Obviously, each member of a species is a unique set of data points on a wide spectrum of behavioral characteristics. Your Rottweiler is not my Shih Tzu. Your amiable moggy is not my brother’s exceedingly defined Siamese. Some animals in each species exhibit more trust than others. But generally speaking, dogs are way more trusting than cats, and cats are way smarter. At least those are the uneducated observations of a lifetime of enjoying God’s creation up close.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

A Man With No Handles

“The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

What was the Lord talking about here? It is true that he always did what the Father commanded, but I suspect in this time and place he was talking specifically about what might motivate him to go to the cross. He prefaced his declaration by noting that the “ruler of this world” was making his move.

Nevertheless, for all his apparent power, Satan had no claim on him.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Anonymous Asks (175)

“What does the Bible say about church-hopping?”

In the early first century, the world had a grand total of one local church. It may have had thousands of people in it, but “all who believed were together and had all things in common”.

In AD45, you couldn’t church-hop. There was nowhere to hop to.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (7)

In Greek, the words “Jew”, “Jews” and “Jewish” (sometimes translated “Judean”) are all variations on Ioudaios. That term was discussed in what some might call excruciating detail in the second post in this series, the length being necessary because of confusion arising from the way “Jew” is used today in popular secular and religious parlance.

Unsaved folk often refer to Gentiles converted to Judaism as “Jews”. This is most likely an accidental byproduct of unfamiliarity with biblical usage and/or the preferences of actual Jews, as opposed to evidence of a hidden agenda. Real Jews draw a clear distinction between their fellow Jews and converts to Judaism, whom they call proselytes. (Certain well-known evangelicals also use “Jew” to describe Gentiles, but for very specific theological reasons we won’t get into today.)

Suffice it to say that the Bible doesn’t use “Jew” that way.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (5)

Like many features of modern Bibles, chapter divisions are not inspired. The Spirit of God was not their author. They were added by the then-Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 1227 and first appeared in the Wycliffe English Bible of 1382. Generally speaking, they make scripture easier to navigate and we should probably be grateful for them.

At very least, most of us are so used to them that we can’t imagine reading the Bible any other way than chapter by chapter.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Fellows in the Same Ship

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

Scott Mannion believes in the value of fellowship: the communal spirit; taking ownership of problem-solving at the local level, rather than looking to government for answers; “distributing the burden of cognition”, as he puts it. He’s promoting fellowship vigorously, because he believes top-down solutions to our problems are simply not working.

Tom: Mannion’s YouTube video is the first time in a very long while that I’ve heard the word “fellowship” used outside a purely religious context. He certainly gets the concept right. IC, this one was your baby: what was it about the video that grabbed you?

Thursday, December 09, 2021

Assumptions and Loaded Conversations

Back in 2012, NBA Commissioner David Stern caught flack for cracking an old joke in an interview with Jim Rome. Rome asked him if the NBA lottery was rigged. Stern came back with, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”

Of course, this immediately got him into trouble with the PC set, who took him to be making fun of the very serious issue of wife abuse. I can sympathize with their ire; but in fairness, I think it’s not what Stern was trying to say. He was actually referring to an old (admittedly somewhat tasteless) joke. I think I first read it on a bubble gum wrapper when I was a kid, and I remember seeing it in other places as well. It was one of those things that was “just around”. The joke went like this:

Question: What’s a question you cannot answer either “Yes” or “No”?

Answer: Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

Perhaps Stern and I chewed the same gum, I don’t know.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Thoughts of Eternity

We were crossing a boulevard in downtown San Francisco a few years ago. A street preacher on the far corner had a microphone and an amp, and every reference to “the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin” echoed up and down the avenue at serious volume, etching themselves into our eardrums as we drew closer. I guess that’s legal in San Francisco; everything else sure is.

My unsaved friend turned to me and asked, “Why do they do that?” Which gave me twenty uninterrupted minutes to tell her.

Hats off to the loudmouth on the corner.

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Two Camps

Jacob was a natural manipulator. Born the second of a pair of twins, he came out of his mother’s womb hanging on to Esau’s heel. That makes sense: why expend your own effort when you can just ride along in big brother’s slipstream? That act, probably completely unconscious, defined him and became his name, and “grasping the heel” became a Hebrew metaphor for taking the easy way out.

Cheating, we call it. And Jacob did it over and over again.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Anonymous Asks (174)

“What tools exist for getting a perspective on Bible history and confirming its accuracy?”

There is no better way to get a bird’s-eye perspective of Bible history than by repeatedly reading the Old Testament from beginning to end. If that sounds like a lot of work, well ... it is. But, for the serious Christian, it’s absolutely worth committing to and making a part of every day of your life.

While you are building that knowledge base, though, there are a few shortcuts you can use.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Seven Sabbaths

Quick question: How many Sabbaths was the Lord Jesus accused of breaking?

Well, we can’t say for certain, as there is no guarantee the writers of the Gospels were attempting to document every occasion on which the Jewish leadership became offended with him for allegedly doing it.

What we do know is that the first four books of the New Testament make reference to seven occasions when the Lord explained the reasons for his behavior.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Mining the Minors: Hosea (4)

As previously mentioned, the book of Hosea is made up of both background historical material as well as the content of the message given by God to the nation of Israel through the prophet. These last four verses of chapter one set up the remainder of the book for us. Chapter two will take us directly into Hosea’s message.

But first, Hosea’s wife Gomer has another child to bring into the world ...

Friday, December 03, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Culture and the Gospel

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

Immanuel Can: I’m going to temporarily suspend our self-imposed five-sentence limit, Tom, in order to tell you a story about something that happened last year when our provincial standardized test was performed.

You need to know that teachers are all given a specific script for what they are and are not allowed to tell students on the day of the test. They are expressly forbidden to go beyond this script, and doing so is grounds for firing. Teachers cannot add any directions, explanations, definitions or any other kind of information to this. They are not allowed to give any guidance once the test begins, no matter what a student wants or needs. It’s standardized, period.

One of the questions on the test asked kids to imagine a picnic, and then write based on their imagining.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Is Your Faith Boring You?

The great mathematician Blaise Pascal claimed all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

Modern people don’t sit in rooms alone very well. They find it boring. And, in fact, being bored is one thing almost all of us instinctively hate. Particularly in our present day of social media, cell phones, portable games and constant mental stimulation, it seems to us that solitude and silence are indicators of something being terribly wrong. On those occasions when we find ourselves momentarily bored we immediately fumble for our phones or look around for some new distraction.

I suspect we are probably less adept than any previous generation at just sitting still and thinking.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Bolt-of-Lightning Belief

I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say the internet has changed the way we find answers to our spiritual questions.

In times past, we might have picked up a book on a subject that interested us, plowed through it in due course, and agreed, disagreed or partially agreed with its author, which either satisfied our curiosity or provoked further investigation. But that’s a fairly laborious process, and not every Christian is up for it.

Typing a string of text into DuckDuckGo is not laborious at all. Anyone can do that.