Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Intentions and Outcomes

Back in March and April of this year, Immanuel Can and I had a two-part discussion of the validity of Tim Keller’s accusations of systemic racism in evangelical support for Christian workers. You can find those posts here and here.

But in working through the issues raised by Mr. Keller, what struck me most forcibly was the apparent ease with which an otherwise-discerning Christian accepts “equity” (as the social justice crowd defines it) as a valid metric for assessing race- and culture-related issues.

I’ve been giving that a little more thought. Because Mr. Keller is not the only one in the evangelical community assuming “systemic” injustices can be uncovered by examining statistics.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Anonymous Asks (199)

“Am I supposed to obey my pastor?”

Hebrews 13:17 reads like this: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

That would seem fairly straightforward, no? Well, let me throw you a curve.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Peace and God’s Will

In some situations peace and God’s will may be in conflict, as certain passages of scripture show. Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” As a result of his advent households would necessarily be divided. Romans 12:18 teaches Christians to avoid provoking this conflict: “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

Other scriptures show that among believers peace and the will of God are complementary: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity ... for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” Think too of the many exhortations in the New Testament that call for oneness of mind. In these cases the pursuit of peace will assist us in discovering God’s will.

The reverse is also true: in fulfilling the will of God we will enjoy true peace.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (29)

The prosperity gospel is a lie for numerous reasons, but one of the more obvious is that Bible history shows uninterrupted prosperity is rarely good for God’s people in a fallen world. It does not tend to produce desirable outcomes like thankfulness or looking to God; instead, it frequently sponsors independence and entitlement.

In chapter 10, the prophet Hosea comments on the effect of prosperity in ancient Israel. It was much as we might expect ...

Friday, May 27, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Locating the Thought Police

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

Immanuel Can: This is super interesting.

Tom: Do tell …

IC: It’s a chart measuring what proportion of two-sided debate and its opposite, so‑called “social justice” indoctrination, is being practiced at the various university campuses in Ontario, Canada.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Do Christians Hate Science?

If you pop around on the Internet for very long, you’ll find that one of the most common screeds against us is that Christians hate science.

I don’t think it’s true, of course, but it does seem a rather general perception among our detractors. They think we see in science a direct threat to our beliefs; and since science undeniably does many good things for us, secularists of various kinds have a duty to deprive us of our illusions in this regard. We will thank them later: or if we do not, it will only be because we couldn’t be helped.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove (18)

If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.”

Olympic hurdler and bobsledder Lolo Jones wants a godly husband, and she’s been asking God for one. So far, no success.

“Where are you God?” she wrote recently on Instagram. “Your word says John 14:14. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. I’m asking God to please honor the desire of my heart. Your word says two are better than one. Ecc 4:9-12”

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Population and Prophetic Fulfillment

In Deuteronomy 30, Moses is coming to the conclusion of his address to a new generation of Israelites on the brink of conquering Canaan.

On the one hand, his message is a prophecy of total failure. The curse will come upon Israel. God’s people will be driven out of their land to dwell among the nations of the world for generations. On the other hand, it is also a prophecy of guaranteed success. Repentance will bring restoration and prosperity the like of which Israel has never seen throughout its entire history.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Anonymous Asks (198)

“Are atheists more intelligent than believers?”

Here’s a short list of statistical data about atheists compiled by Pew Research Center:

94% approve of LGBTQ lifestyles
91% believe in evolution
87% approve of abortion
83% believe ethics are situational
78% are white
78% have no children
69% vote Democrat
68% are men
43% have a college degree (vs. 27% general public)
40% are ages 18-29
40% have never married
  9% proselytize

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Essential Deacon

Two major Christian denominations view deacons as being ministers of the third order, below bishops governing a diocese, and below priests responsible for a local church. Nonconformist churches generally regard a deacon as one not formally trained in the faith, but given the task of caring for the non-spiritual needs of the flock; this especially in the proper distribution of welfare for the needy. It may be derived from the example of Acts 6:1-5 when compared with the qualifications required of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (28)

We see repeatedly in scripture that God does not over-value our personal histories of religious service the way we may. Believers must fight the natural tendency to “take our foot off the gas pedal” as we age, relying on the spiritual successes of the past to stand as an adequate representation of what God has done in our lives rather than pressing on to finish the course with distinction.

Need I point out that the apostle Paul did not do that, nor did any of those who are commended by God? There are plenty of Old Testament cautionary tales to remind us that how we finish is what matters, not how impressively we start or the promise we may show.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Fundamentalism and Modernism

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

Theistic evolution is a concept that has become increasingly acceptable throughout Christendom. As long as God is said to have directed it, evolution is a pill many otherwise-solid Christians seem prepared to swallow.

Tom: I read Terry Mortenson’s article on compromise this morning. It seems as good a starting point as any. He names a number of well-reputed conservative stalwarts whose own statements suggest they have gone (or went) a little soft on the issue — James Orr, Dyson Hague, George Frederick Wright, R.A. Torrey — to one degree or another, some as far back as the early 1900s. Other less conservative believers like Andrew Klavan accept evolution outright, convinced it’s so obvious that believing it is simply common sense.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The End of Evangelism

There is general fear being widely expressed among evangelicals today that we are not reaching people the way we used to. Certainly the numbers of people in the modern West who are becoming Christians seems to be slumping, and a lot of us are a bit nervous about the trend.

Is the Age of Evangelism Ending?

According to Bible.org, one problem is that the professional clergy people and leaders are not stepping up, and that church ministries and programs are not going out to reach people. Meanwhile, The Evangelism Institute has found that while 85% of evangelical churches have a pro-evangelism statement in their constitution, less than 5% of the people are actually involved in doing something with it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Commentariat Speaks More Clearly

For ease of reference, the links page for our ongoing feature The Commentariat Speaks now displays the topic of each post, something I probably should have done from the beginning. You can find it here.

Acts of Faith That Aren’t

Some things in my life that might look like faith to the uninitiated are really just me being me.

I’m not alone in this. Like many other Old Testament saints, Jacob’s faith rates a mention in Hebrews 11. But it’s interesting to see the act of faith for which he is commended, and to consider the many acts for which he is not.

It would, of course, be foolish to think the Hebrews list of acts of faith is exhaustive: the writer concludes with the words “time would fail me to tell”, which statement strongly implies numerous acts of faith left unmentioned among which may well be a number of Jacob’s.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Commentariat Speaks (24)

Social media platforms are apparently now engaging in crosstalk. This recent exchange on Twitter prompted a few responses on Gab concerning a familiar expression:

Nick writes, “America is a Judeo-Christian nation, period.”

Erin responds, “Dear Christians: Jews have absolutely no desire whatsoever to be co‑opted and absorbed into your religion. Judeo-Christian is not a thing that exists. Your attempt to erase us is blatant. Bonus education for you: Jewish beliefs require access to abortion.”

Ah yes. Well, that definitely distinguishes Christians from self-described Jews of this sort at least.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Anonymous Asks (197)

“How do I know which of God’s promises are for me?”

Our question today recognizes something my father more than once pointed out to his children: that the old Sunday School song is wrong. “Every promise in the book” is not mine. Some of them belong to other people. When we try to apply them to our own experience, we do so without legitimate biblical authority, and may find ourselves disappointed when our expectations are not met.

That may seem a little unsettling to a new Christian seeking comfort in his Bible, but it is an important lesson to learn. And truly, distinguishing a promise for me from a promise for someone else is easier than it might initially appear once we establish some guiding principles.

The most important governing principle for claiming a promise is context.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

We are the Circumcision

In what sense is this true?

The apostle Paul, who made the above claim in Philippians 3:3, knew that circumcision was given as a sign of the covenant between Abraham, his descendants and God. Every male’s foreskin had to come under the knife and that part of the flesh be discarded. It was a gender thing, only a minor operation, but it came to be a source of great pride in Israel and being uncircumcised a contemptuous way of describing God’s enemies and theirs.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (27)

It’s hard for the natural mind to imagine being better off dead, isn’t it. Outside of Christ, I certainly can’t picture how death would ever be a preferable state.

This is not necessarily the case at other times and other places. Sometimes children are born into situations so appalling it would genuinely have been better for them not to have lived at all. That may sound like mere hyperbole, but scripture gives plenty of examples.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Two Promises

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

In Matthew 16, upon Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus responds with two promises, which we may briefly restate as: (i) “On this rock I will build my church”, and (ii) “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven …”

Tom: There’s more to these promises, obviously, but I wanted to consider a couple of issues. First, whether these are two separate promises, or if the second is merely some kind of amplification of the first, and second, when can we anticipate the realization of these promises.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

So You Want to Serve God …

Dear Daniel:

I’ve been watching you for a while now. I see that you are an earnest kind of person, spiritually speaking. You are enjoying your studies, but finding them a challenge sometimes too, I know. And it’s not easy to handle a young marriage at the same time. Good for you for keeping it all in balance. That wife of yours is a saint; but then again, so are you — I mean the real definition of “saint”, not just some putatively-exemplary dead person in a cathedral window, but a person who has been genuinely sanctified by the salvation in Christ Jesus and has taken his place among all those who love God.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Neo-Masculinity

Jay Deitcher wants to create a new masculine stereotype, one that is empathetic and not “frigid”. When his wife told him she had a bond with their newborn son that he could never attain because men can’t bond with babies like women can, he was cut to the quick and determined to be the best nurturing father in human history and establish a bond with his son never seen before. So he cut his hours as a social worker, became a stay-at-home dad, cuddled and slept with the baby, and took him to events with all the local mothers and their children.

He also determined his son would not turn out to be some kind of traditional male stereotype. The gift of a baby coverall with footballs on it was hidden in a closet, never to be used.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Micaiah Moment

King Ahab wanted to go to war over a city that used to be Israel’s and was now Syria’s. Four hundred prophets gathered at his command to confirm his exercise of heart. They had no word from the Lord to offer, but that didn’t stop them telling the king exactly what he wanted to hear. After all, it was the politically expedient thing to do. Every man there knew what he was expected to say, and everyone played his part.

Everyone except a guy named Micaiah, who hadn’t bothered to attend the gathering because he knew the game that was being played, and he was a true prophet of God.

Back to him in a moment.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Anonymous Asks (196)

“Do the Bible’s claims to be true make it so?”

A claim is not proof, but neither is it nothing at all. If God really chose the medium of written communication to express himself to mankind, we would not expect him to be coy about his authorship.

As it turns out, scripture is quite frank about where it comes from.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

Beyond Condemnation

In my previous post we saw that we are either represented by Adam and what he did in Eden (sin) and became in consequence (a sinner), or else by Christ and what he passed through in his death and resurrection. The multiple benefits of the Savior’s work on behalf of those who have faith in him are the subject of large sections of the New Testament.

Believers are taught there to see themselves as “in Christ”, for he fully represents what they now are before God.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Mining the Minors: Hosea (26)

Sometimes even the best resources come up a bit short.

I doubt there has ever been a time in history when so many Christians have had access to so many translations of scripture and such a plethora of fine interpretive tools. All the same, if we are honest, there are still times we have to admit we are not 100% sure what the text is saying.

This is one of those.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: A Zipper-Lipped Life

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

Evolutionary biologist Colin Wright, who believes sex-associated personality differences are at least partly genetic, is deeply unhappy anyone would dare to challenge his worldview, set limits on his contribution to the public discourse, and disrupt his ongoing pursuit of intellectual fulfillment.

Who is doing such a thing, you ask? Why, it’s not the “moral majority” or the Christian Right; Wright dismisses Creationists as irrelevant. No, it’s the social justice Left.

Tom: It turns out the current state of evolutionary psychology has finally collided with the “blank slate” ideology of progressives, IC, and the sparks are making both sides unhappy. How unfortunate for “science”!

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Traitors at the Table

People: you just can’t count on them.

That’s one of the things you can count on about human nature. We don’t have what it takes to see things through.

Oh, we mean well enough … and we intend to try our best … but often our best is a lot less impressive in the delivery than we thought it was going to be.

And let’s face it: most of us are just not in anything for the long haul. While the idea is new and the fire in us is fresh, we’re all enthused about whatever’s going on. But fires cool, and new turns old, and we lose interest.

A career, a program, a plan, a commitment, a hobby or a marriage … all fine in the short term, but give any of them enough time and everything turns out to be work.

So we quit. And honestly, sometimes by the time we do it’s just as well that we do.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Flyover Country: Daniel

Lately, when I get feeling a bit melancholic and don’t have time for a full-length tour through Hebrews or John’s gospel, I read a chapter of Daniel. That’ll set me straight every time.

Other Old Testament prophets are primarily concerned with nations long gone or dispersed and judgments that for the most part have already taken place, and often with exhorting God’s people to acts of repentance that sadly never happened. There are important lessons to be learned from them, as with all books of the Bible, but these are frequently either allegorical or second-hand.

Daniel is way, way bigger than that. It has the whole world and much of human history in view, and it even gives us fleeting, suggestive glimpses what’s going on behind the scenes in the heavens as well.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

The Best Lessons

Back in 1943 psychologist Abraham Maslow published his theory that human decision-making is based on a hierarchy of psychological needs, from the most basic physiological requirements — food, water, shelter, rest, reproduction — all the way up to the more sophisticated forms of self-actualization pursued by affluent moderns habituated to having all their ‘lower-tier’ desires met. You may be familiar with the concept.

We will not linger over the details of Maslow’s little flow-pyramid and the pursuit of normal human desires. What’s important about it for our purposes is the observation that identical circumstances can produce very different responses in different people depending on what is important to them. The exact same test can produce very different results in different subjects.

Monday, May 02, 2022

Anonymous Asks (195)

“Sometimes Christians comment about the need to be saved on unrelated YouTube videos. These comments get many thumbs up, but also make many people angry. Are they useful ways to witness?”

Each block near where I work has two or three parking meters. On the one I use most frequently someone has scratched “You need Jesus. Pray every day.” I have a friend who makes it his habit to attend protests, rallies, parades and major gatherings all over the city carrying a sign with a Bible verse on it. Then there is the classic “John 3:16” meme that has appeared for years in various forms at televised sporting events.

Like those YouTube comments from Christians that show up out of the blue where nobody is asking for them, these are all unsolicited expressions of faith in unexpected places intended to make people think about eternity.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Representative Men

The Bible consists of 66 books. Thousands of years lie between the first human author and the last, but the way its history, its prophecies, its songs and its teachings blend into a cohesive story implies the oversight of one person. He must have existed throughout the years of its production! The Bible claims for itself that it is “God-breathed” or inspired.

What is its story all about? Serious students of its pages have made various suggestions as to its overall purpose and plan depending on which of its themes interested them. Every valid idea put forward is like a thread woven into the overall fabric of scripture. It becomes possible to trace these themes throughout its pages like the colored strands in a tapestry. The topics of the glory of God, the sinful condition of mankind, the need for a sufficient sacrifice, etc., all contribute to the total impression left on the mind of the thoughtful reader.

And each strand of truth that begins in the first book has its counterpart, contrast and climax in the last.