Monday, February 28, 2022

Anonymous Asks (186)

“Do Christians in today’s working world ever find themselves confronted by issues not directly addressed in the Bible?”

This may sound off-topic, but work with me here. I have never been a fan of applying the slave/master verses of the New Testament to modern employment arrangements. The two situations are simply not analogous. I have known people who felt trapped in dead-end jobs, but even in the worst modern employment situations, the employee is legally free to take his leave any time he chooses on a mere two weeks notice. It’s not the law of the land or the middle manager he reports to that make him feel trapped, but rather his personal financial situation.

That’s not to say there is nothing in the New Testament to address the issues faced by Christians in today’s working world, but let’s be careful what we do with those slave and master passages.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Same Spirit, Different Display

“I’ll believe that when I see it” is an often-heard doubter’s response to an account or prediction he does not choose to accept. If we take his words literally, he limits certainty to what can be verified by one of his senses, in this case sight.

Some people are prepared to step beyond that if they consider their instructor or source to be reliable. In doing so they exercise faith in the source.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (16)

I grew up believing that my parents owned the house we lived in and the property on which it was built. But I did not keep my illusions for long.

Shortly I discovered there was a third party involved in this arrangement, and a great big interest-bearing loan with a 20 year term that enabled Mom and Dad to keep a roof over our heads. In the early-to-mid-80s, those interest rates were often in excess of 15% for months on end.

Back then, there appeared no prospect that I would be able to do what my parents had done in the first few years of my own marriage. For me, property ownership was right out of reach.

Anyway, enough of my problems; we have plenty of Israel’s to consider in Hosea 5.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: How Do You Read It? (1)

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

We’ve done maybe seventy of these exchanges now on various subjects, Immanuel Can. But what we’ve never done is a post on commonly misunderstood scriptures. Everybody does those. I’m feeling left out.

So why don’t we just do it like the Lord Jesus did with the lawyer and ask the questions, “What is written? How do you read it?” That’s a pretty solid precedent to work from.

Tom: I’ll start. Let me lob you a softball here, IC.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Theism and the Skeptics [Part 2]

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Have you noticed that our age is great for pretending not to know what the Bible says it could and should know?

Honestly, it’s enough to make one cynical.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Getting to the Good

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.”

The word “resolve” in my ESV translates a Hebrew noun that shows up elsewhere in Paul’s writings as “desire”, “good pleasure” and sometimes even “good will”. So the phrase “resolve for good” is not so much concerned with cultivating a steely determination as it is with the orientation of a believer’s desires.

I mean, how exactly do we arrive at an understanding of what “good” means in the first place?

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Some Unsolicited Advice

Several years ago I was walking downtown with a friend when some teenagers outside the grand old institutional church building on the corner enthusiastically accosted us to take some Christian literature from them and read it. After we politely extricated ourselves, my friend asked me “Why do they do that?”

Her thought was that this was a little bit inappropriate for members of our once-polite society, as if the act of sharing a gospel tract on the street were more than a minor intrusion.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Anonymous Asks (185)

“What are the pros and cons of getting a formal Christian education?”

In one sense I’m the wrong guy to ask. I never felt the need to go out and get one. Blame my parents for a Christian upbringing that went heavy on familiarity with the Bible. My father also spent a short time in a U.S. Bible school but did not finish his program. The lack of accreditation had no measurable impact on his ability to serve the Lord. I never heard him express a single regret about the decision.

My own feeling is that there is nothing you can learn in a classroom that you can’t learn from reading the same material for yourself, but then I felt the same way about university and still do.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

What to Do with a Fruitless Branch?

I was baptized in Wynburg, South Africa just before reaching my 20th year. My counselor put a card in my hand after the service. It read “Kept by the power of God.”

I wondered whether that would really be true of me. Was I not responsible to abide in Christ according to his word? If I didn’t, would I not be cast forth like a fruitless branch? So I set 1 Peter 1:5 and John 15 at war with each other in my mind. I tried to soften the force of the Savior’s warning, but his word stayed firm and demanding: I must abide in Christ. That made me responsible, didn’t it? But Peter said I was kept by God’s power; clearly that made him responsible.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (15)

“Bad company corrupts good morals.”

When the apostle Paul wrote it, he was probably quoting Menander, a Greek dramatist and popular writer of antiquity who had lived some 300 years prior, and it served his purposes just fine. But he could as easily have pulled half a dozen quotes from the Old Testament out of his sleeve to confirm the same truth.

Here are just two: Solomon wrote, “The companion of fools will suffer harm” and “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”

Make no mistake, wickedness is infectious in a way goodness is not.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Atheists in Foxholes

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

David Rönnegard is 37. He has a PhD in philosophy from the London School of Economics, and is a researcher and teacher in corporate social responsibility in Stockholm. But far too soon David’s friends and family will be using “had” and “was” rather than “has” and “is” to describe him.

Dr. Rönnegard has stage four lung cancer.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Theism and the Skeptics [Part 1]

In two previous posts (The Atheist’s New Clothes and What You Don’t Know Can Kill You), I pointed out that Christianity’s two skeptical critics, atheism and agnosticism, are essentially irrational and explained why they just cannot be taken seriously.

In this post and the next one, I’m answering the obvious first comebacks. These are what I get from the atheists and agnostics themselves, or from those who have been trusting in them. Theism, they say, must surely be susceptible to exactly the same criticisms I have raised against atheism and agnosticism — and perhaps, they venture, even more susceptible: for their supposition is that if their own positions are weak, then surely anything “religious” must be even less well thought out.

Sorry. Not so.

I can show them, but they usually don’t like it much when I do.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Hyperbole and Analogy


Say what you like about James, he knew how to get a reader’s attention.

And people have said a fair bit about James over the years, not least Martin Luther, who famously called his letter an “epistle of straw”. There’s no getting around the fact that there are aspects to the missive that are theologically difficult, a tone about it that is markedly different from Paul, Peter, John and even Jude, and a strong Jewish flavor to it that can confuse Christian readers.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Commentariat Speaks (22)

“Have you seen this opinion piece on how the Federal government engaged evangelicals on Covid?”

So inquires a commenter named Ted at Blog & Mablog.

Thanks for passing that on, Ted. But let’s get a couple of preliminary observations out of the way before we parse the article by Megan Basham for

Monday, February 14, 2022

Anonymous Asks (184)

“As a parent, where would you draw the line with allowing your children to read/watch/play video games about demons, wizardry, etc.?”

This sounds a lot like the famous Harry Potter question that was bandied about in Christian circles twenty years ago when the Rowling books were at their most popular and the movie adaptations were just starting to come out. Christian parents were all over the map on that one, from mindlessly legalistic at one end of the spectrum to imprudently casual at the other.

Still, there is probably a more biblical answer than “Let’s split the difference.”

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Standing on the Premises

No, that is not a typo, nor are we referring to the “many dwelling places” in heaven.

Now, there are indeed promises given in scripture so plainly that only unbelief can cause us to miss the benefit of them. For example, in Old Testament times God showed his care for Abraham, the “father” of those who believe, by condescending to put himself under oath. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (14)

I grew up with two brothers. In their teens, one was good natured, pleasant to be around and (at least outwardly) compliant with the house rules. The other was perpetually contentious and surly, constantly butting heads with our father and any other authority figures with the great misfortune to cross his path.

It is no surprise to find that the latter brother spent more time in my father’s office than the former. No particular prejudice was involved in that.

We’ll come back to that thought shortly. Meanwhile, let’s finish Hosea chapter 4 …

Friday, February 11, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Not Playing the Game

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

Immanuel Can: Hey, Tom, what’s all this I’m suddenly hearing about “NPC”?

Tom: Oh my, you sure know how to pick ’em. As you have surely noticed, there’s a big media brouhaha around that term, and Twitter has banned it outright as “hateful”. I’ll let writer Brandon Morse explain it:

“If you’ve ever picked up a video game that features other characters that are controlled by the computer, then you’ve run into non-player characters or NPC’s.”

When you call someone an “NPC”, what you are saying is that they are programmed with preset behavioral patterns decided for them by somebody else, be they professors, activist groups or the media. You are telling them they are unable to think for themselves.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Big Questions and the Loss of Faith

A few years ago, this little brain-teaser was making the rounds. Take a run at it, and let’s see how you do:

Three old ladies go to a hotel one evening, hoping to save money by sharing a room. The hotel manager charges each $20 for the night, though he knows the room is only worth $40. Shortly thereafter, the manager feels guilty that he has charged them too much, so he sends the bellboy to return $20 to the old ladies. On the way, the bellboy realizes that he cannot split $20 among three ladies, so he pockets $5 and hands them the remaining $15.

Here is the problem. The ladies paid $60 initially. Since they received $5 each, the net amount they paid for the room was $15 each, which adds up to a total of $45. The bellboy has $5 in his pocket, which if you add it to the $45 makes $50. Where is the other $10 that they paid the manager?

Now, if you’re normal, your instant reaction is, “This is amazing … a hotel room for only $20!”

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

A Cave Full of Fumes and a Law Etched in Stone

I have mentioned the first century Greek biographer Plutarch in a couple of previous posts as I am currently wading through his compiled Lives of famous Greeks and Romans, including everyone from Theseus (he of minotaur-killing fame) to Julius Caesar. Among the writers of antiquity, I find Plutarch especially of interest because he lived during the period in which the New Testament was written. He is more of a historian than an observer of the culture of his own day, and maintains a studiously neutral approach to his subject matter.

All the same, after about 1,000 pages, you start to get a feel for what makes a man tick: how he thinks about the world, what he values or dismisses, whether he is religious or not, and if so, what his beliefs mean to him and how they affect his life. Plutarch is no exception.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Doesn’t Always Mean What We Think It Means (8)

Compare the usage of the word “condemn” in the following two passages:

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death.”

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”

Assuming you are familiar with both verses in their original contexts, you will probably agree with me that the word is being used to describe two distinct degrees of hazard, one considerably more severe than the other.

Monday, February 07, 2022

Anonymous Asks (183)

“Conventional wisdom disagrees with an increasing number of Bible proverbs. Is it possible some were of their own time and do not apply to us today?”

Last week I began going through Proverbs with a fine-tooth comb in an effort to answer this question. I tried to select those sayings which seem the most foreign to our modern mindset, in order to set the current “wisdom of the world” side by side with the wisdom of God.

So far the wisdom of God is looking pretty relevant to the present day.

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Baptized and Led

You are a fly resting on the wall of an auditorium. It is not long before you are able to identify the sort of church you are observing by the way its members use certain scriptural language to describe an experience they had, and one they think should be known by more Christians. You hear testimonies of the baptism of the Holy Spirit being experienced, and teaching given that urges members to seek this blessing.

Who would you think you were among?

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (13)

Years ago, the wife of a friend from my college days came home with a rather unusual proposal concerning their marriage. She worked as a nurse in a cancer ward, and had fallen in love with a patient diagnosed as terminal. Her plan was to bring this fellow home and move him in upstairs so she could care for him, while her husband took his things and moved downstairs to live in the basement.

Needless to say, my friend did not think much of that idea.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Story Time with Harmonica

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

I’m not even sure how to describe this, but I’m going to give it a go.

Publishers Weekly’s ShelfTalker, “In which children’s booksellers ponder all things literary, artistic, and mercantile,” has a piece on a hot new trend sweeping the nation’s libraries: story time with a drag queen.

Mixed groups of three- to eight-year-olds are invited to come and enjoy a spoken word performance from men like “Harmonica Sunbeam” dressed as women (there is a picture with the article but — fair warning — it can’t be un-seen).

Tom: IC, is it possible to normalize something so bizarre and decadent, even with the power and budget of big corporations and the education system fully committed to it?

Thursday, February 03, 2022

The Language of the Debate (5)

[Editor’s note: Nobody ever wants to be called racist, and yet the word is everywhere these days. It also doesn’t mean what it used to mean, which means it was one of those words I planned to get to in this series eventually. All too conveniently, Immanuel Can sent me an email this week analyzing the current usage of the term (and the logic behind the change in meaning) better than I might. I have reproduced it below.

Trust you enjoy it. — Tom]

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

Things That Last and Things That Don’t

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.”

There are things that last and things that don’t.

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

My Christian Face

We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

My father had a knack for identifying Christians in the wild. I don’t mean in the obvious places, like in church or at conferences, but on the street, in the malls, or wherever. He was pretty good at it. He may have made the occasional mistake over the years, but I didn’t catch any. So he would quite confidently go up to random strangers and say things like “Excuse me, but are you a follower of the Lord Jesus?” Almost invariably they were.

He said there was something distinctive about a Christian face.