Monday, October 31, 2022

Anonymous Asks (221)

“Why are so many Christian public figures caught in scandals?”

The apostle Paul wrote about stumbling blocks that threaten to trip us up, destroy our public testimony, and try our faith to the breaking point: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

If this is truly the case — and note that it’s God’s faithfulness upon which this promise stands — then why do so many Christian public figures succumb to temptation?

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Restoring the Image of God

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

“In Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.”

Keep those two accounts in your mind: Psalm 22, the suffering of Christ, and this second passage in Luke, the suffering of another man in hell. We want to think about the relationship between those two.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (9)

Chapter 4 begins with three verses of text that are strikingly similar to Isaiah 2:2-4. The differences between the two passages are trivial: in Micah, the words ʿam (“peoples”, which can mean either “nations” or “tribes”) and gôy (“nations”) are reversed at the end of verse 1, the beginning of verse 2 and the beginning of verse 3, but since they are clearly being used as synonyms, nothing of significance turns on that. Also, in verse 3 Isaiah has “He … shall decide disputes for many peoples”, while Micah has “strong nations far away”.

Other than these minute differences and a couple of irrelevant prepositions, the passages are word-for-word identical in the original Hebrew. Most of our English translations reflect this.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Enforcing Conformity

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

In an opinion piece entitled “Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana”, Frank Bruni of the New York Times says what much of our culture is thinking about Christians these days.

Riffing on the ‘Memories Pizza’ story from back in 2015, in which a pizzeria in Indiana was forced to closed its doors by a barrage of online threats after its Christian owner answered a hypothetical question about catering same-sex weddings, Mr. Bruni starts with the statement that “Homosexuality and Christianity don’t have to be in conflict in any church anywhere.”

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Are We Teaching or Just Speeching?

If you tell me, I forget.
If you show me, I remember.
If you involve me, I understand.

— Old Teaching Axiom

In his recent post on the subject of platform preaching, Tom writes, “For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that one-man platform ministry is the way to go, not because I believe it to be the most scriptural model, but because it’s what we’re all doing and I see little hope for wholesale change.”

He just doesn’t see any reasonable prospect that we can be induced to reevaluate our conventional church behaviors to the extent of questioning the value of platform ministry.

Well, Tom and I usually agree. But not on everything. Not on this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

One Small Amendment

My father used to stress the importance of never looking at our fellow believers without seeing them as Christ has remade them, as new creatures in him. I watched him live this out in his dealings with Christians in churches all over the province over a period of decades, more than a few of whom I would happily have written off.

Dad never would.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Successful Accomplices and Failed Obstacles

Two prophecies came to pass the day Jehu was anointed king of Israel. Both predictions had been made by the prophet Elijah, and both were between sixteen and seventeen years old. Neither had been forgotten, though Elijah had by then taken his last chariot ride.

Before departing this earthly scene, Elijah anointed Elisha as his successor. Sometime later, Elisha called one of the sons of the prophets — a prophet-in-training — and commissioned him to anoint one of King Joram’s army commanders, a man named Jehu, to be king over Israel in Joram’s place.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Anonymous Asks (220)

“Are people who claim God talks to them insane?”

In the pages of scripture, God talks to men all the time. The closer we go back to the beginning of human history, the more it happened. He conversed with Adam and Eve in the garden. He even had multiple conversations with Cain, who became our world’s first murderer. He spoke to Abraham audibly at least seven times.

Of course, we have to remember that was over a thirty year period, and Abraham lived to be 175. God was speaking less and less as time went by, even to men he considered friends.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Trust and the Nitty Gritty

When I receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, I begin a life of trust. And the faith that begins when I believe on him is a faith that God intends to continue.

But there is great enemy of our faith. The apostle Paul, speaking about this enemy of our faith, Satan, says, “We are not ignorant of his designs.”

How can he say that, when Satan is a powerful spirit whom none of us has ever seen? How can he say we are not ignorant of his designs?

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (8)

It has been pointed out more than once that, like Jonah’s prophesy of the destruction of Nineveh, Micah’s prophesy of the destruction of Jerusalem was not fulfilled in his lifetime. When the people of Nineveh repented, God gave them another century before razing the city to the ground. When the people of Judah repented, he gave them something like a century and a half.

That doesn’t make Micah’s messages to Judah between 740 and 700 BC or thereabouts, which we have recorded for us here, either irrelevant or inaccurate. It certainly doesn’t mean God’s word was nullified. It just means his pronouncements against Judah came true later rather than sooner.

God’s verdict wasn’t “case dismissed”, it was “judgment delayed”. Chapter 3 gives us a snapshot of the “court proceedings”.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: When We ALL Get to Heaven

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

The Huffington Post headline reads “Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics”.

The Post adds, “Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists. During his homily at Wednesday Mass in Rome, Francis emphasized the importance of ‘doing good’ as a principle that unites all humanity.”

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Inbox: Richard Carrier’s Moral Philosophy

With respect to one of our older posts, a reader writes:

“Richard Carrier has a lot of very detailed writings which establish his moral philosophy as both true and superseding all others. A quick google search will bring up quite a lot of it.”

— metautopiandreamer

First, my apologies to any readers who find the ensuing response too technical and wordy. The above comment more or less makes it unavoidable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

A One-Sentence Prayer

“The Lord be with your spirit.”

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

This first quote is the last line of 2 Timothy. The second is the last line of both Galatians and Philemon. Paul liked to close with it when writing people he cared about passionately, meaning that it wasn’t a throwaway sentiment or a meaningless spiritual cliché. It’s more than a fond wish; it’s a one-sentence prayer, or a blessing.

So what is he saying exactly?

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Getting Off the Hamster Wheel

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things …”

The COVID church life interregnum served at least one profitable purpose: it stopped all our programs and activities dead in their tracks, and forced anyone with critical faculties to give at least a cursory examination to their validity and usefulness.

That was a long overdue exercise. But when governments finally pushed the “continue” button and allowed us to unlock the doors of our buildings, many Christians couldn’t wait to climb back on the hamster wheel and begin spinning again.

Some of the more reflective folks did not. I do not believe they are necessarily being carnal.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Anonymous Asks (219)

“Is it a sin to watch pornography with my spouse?”

Are you kidding?

Okay, I’ll play. Let’s posit world’s most sanctified porn filming scenario. A Christian studio shoots their movies with the intent of helping young believers better glorify Christ in their sex lives. The actors are exclusively Christian and married to one another. They portray nothing but loving married couples making each other as happy as possible, following scripts developed by careful study of the Song of Solomon. The studio donates all profits from the venture to missions.

Would you be good with that? I’d still have a problem or two. And anybody looking for their kicks from porn would be bored to tears with it.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

A Shared Inheritance

In a previous post, “Representative Men”, we saw that we are either represented by Adam and what he did in Eden (sin) and what he in consequence became (a sinner), or by Christ and what he passed through in his death and resurrection. In the sequel, “Beyond Condemnation”, we saw how the gospel makes provision for us in him.

We should never consider ourselves apart from Christ.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (7)

As with most other Bible prophets, the book of Micah is a combination of direct quotes from the mouth of God, instruction from God in what appear to be the prophet’s words, and the prophet’s own divinely-inspired observations. (In some prophetic books we even get a bit of history.)

This being the case, and the speaker-distinctions not always being instantly obvious, we have to watch our pronouns: in Micah, “I” is not always the same person.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: The New Atheists are Scared (or Angry)

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

Scared or angry, take your pick. Far be it from us to put words in their mouths: the New Atheists are saying it themselves.

The former opinion comes from the writer of this piece in The Guardian, the latter from an atheist in its comments section. What scares (or angers) the Champions of Unbelief is the dawning recognition that while their anti-faith was briefly trendy in the middle of this century’s first decade, it is not quite as intuitive as they thought and it doesn’t seem to be catching on quite the way they’d like. In fact, things seem to be trending the other way.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

A Dangerously Clear Head

True story: When I was in my early university career, I was friends with a girl whose father taught history there. One of his students exhibited a most peculiar propensity in his essays; and that is, that no matter what question he was asked, he always answered, “God did it.”

What caused the Napoleonic Wars?

“God did.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Inbox: Paul Denies All Righteousness

Anonymous writes:

“Paul denies all righteousness in the Old Testament by misquoting the Psalms and using them to make up his new doctrines on sin.

In Romans 3:10, Paul says that Abel was not righteous as Jesus said, Samuel did not understand, Moses did not seek God’s face, that Abraham has turned away, that Elijah and Elisha were altogether worthless, that Boaz had no true kindness, that Enoch’s throat was an open grave, the venom of the asp lay behind Jeremiah’s lips, Deborah’s mouth was filled with cursing and bitterness, Esther’s feet were eager to spill blood at any time, that Solomon knew nothing of peace, that they all deserve to burn in hell forever and ever. Jesus’s instruction to keep the commandments were obsolete, that, but that it is faith alone without works that gets you into heaven, not loving attitude, not good intentions, not benevolence, but choosing the right religion. That’s Paul’s message, and it’s nothing that Jesus taught, which was trusting that which is haShem of Jesus (righteousness and love), not intellectual assent that somehow magically makes you a new person.”

There’s lots to process here (some of it is almost poetic), but at least three points on which our commenter and I disagree. I’ll leave the first paragraph alone, because it stands or falls on the truth or falsehood of the allegations made in the second paragraph.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Praying for the Lion

Almost seven chapters of 1 Kings are devoted to Ahab’s reign over Israel. A further ten chapters of 2 Kings make repeated references to him, and to the consequences of his life and choices for both Israel and Judah.

The Holy Spirit has seen fit to tell us substantially more about this wicked man than about any other king of the northern kingdom, and more than many Judean kings, notwithstanding the fact that he did more to provoke the Lord to anger than all the kings of Israel who preceded him.

Moreover, the expression “as the house of Ahab” became the standard by which the writers of Chronicles, as well as the prophet Micah, assessed the wickedness of Israel’s later kings.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Anonymous Asks (218)

“Should married Christians have close friends of the opposite sex?”

Everything that can possibly go wrong between a man and a woman starts in the heart. As the Lord Jesus put it, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, adultery, sexual immorality ...” The heart is where all the bad stuff starts, even if that bad stuff never gets acted out or even discussed in the real world.

An infected heart is a potentially devastating problem for the married Christian couple that has to deal with the fallout from it.

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Abiding in Sin: A Study in Romans 6

The word “abide” [Greek: menō] invariably carries the idea of staying put or remaining in a relationship or condition. Romans 6 teaches it is contrary to a saint’s calling and nature to remain in sin. Our “old man” (the person we once were) was crucified with Christ. We may sin, but sin has no longer has any legal right or claim to keep us enslaved.

The opening question — Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? — is what one might expect to hear from a lawyer at a trial. Paul has presented his case; believers are justified and have peace with God; a glorious future is ahead.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (6)

Almost as long as there has been an Israel, there has been an Israelite remnant.

In its very first generation, Joseph explained his own suffering and subsequent exaltation to his brothers in this manner: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” God may have been the author of the worldwide famine they were experiencing, but he had made provision for Jacob’s family so that they would not be eliminated from the earth.

However, not all who went to Egypt and were thus preserved were men and women of faith.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Public Image Limited

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

I’ve been reading Brad Wright’s book Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told. It’s a sociological survey of attitudes of non-Christians toward Christians.

Immanuel Can: What interests me is his section “What They Really Think of Us”, “they” meaning non-Christians. He’s talking about another book, based on another survey, called UnChristian. It’s a book about how the public image of Christians needs to be spruced up. In this study, Wright notes, “Scientologists receive the most negative feelings. After them, however, the most negative feelings are held toward Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. One-half of the non-Christians have negative attitudes toward each of these two groups, with fewer than 20% having positive feelings.”

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Church ‘Problematics’ (Part 2)

Yesterday we considered a newly-coined word: “problematics” (and its relatives “problematize” and “problematization”). Social Justice advocates are transforming both secular institutions and churches by showing us we have problems. These problems are all related to racism or discrimination of some sort, and they are invariably systemic.

For the Social Justice advocate, it is not a question of whether we are racist, but in what particular ways. In making this assumption, they neatly sidestep the obligation to prove their case, hoping we will make it right along with them.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Church ‘Problematics’ (Part 1)

This article is a short “heads-up” for church leaders and other decision-makers who are currently dealing, or will soon be dealing with issues of race, ethnicity and other so-called “equity” issues in the church. There’s a serious danger here, and you need to be aware of it before it arrives.

Because after it arrives, it’s almost too late.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Five Brief Thoughts About Forgiveness

I find it is all but impossible to exhaust the Lord’s parables. There are always more principles to learn from them and new ways they might legitimately be applied. So don’t mistake the following for an attempt to fully exposit Matthew 18:21-35. I am just nibbling around the edges.

What I do find useful is to work my way through the parable eliminating the obvious. Once that is done, I can give slightly-less-confused consideration to the possibilities that remain.

Monday, October 03, 2022

Anonymous Asks (217)

“Do Jews and Christians worship the same God?”

There is a sense in which we do, or at least could potentially. YHWH, who revealed himself to the Israelite patriarchs, who brought a slave nation out of Egypt with signs and wonders that astonished the nations, who gave Moses the law, who brought Israel into Canaan, who established the Davidic dynasty, who sent first Israel then Judah into exile among the nations, and who brought Judah and members of the other tribes back to Jerusalem — this is the same God Christians worship today. He has not changed.

Jewish beliefs have changed over the centuries since Christ died though, and here lies the real issue.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

The Rapture and the Imprecatory Psalms

All true Christians are believers, but not all believers are Christians.

That is in the Bible. Abraham wasn’t a Christian. Christianity belongs to the time following the ministry of the Lord Jesus, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the inauguration of the church. That’s when the disciples became Christians. You don’t read the word “Christian” in the Old Testament, nor is a Christian described. What you have is godly or ungodly Israelites; those who believed God and those who didn’t; the wicked and the righteous in Israel — and of course some Gentiles saved as well.

The position from which a godly Jewish believer would look at things and the stance of an equally godly Christian looking at things are quite different.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Mining the Minors: Micah (5)

The most avid promoters of tolerance on the political left are among the most intolerant people in existence. They will not tolerate intolerance of their pet vices, and those who express any disagreement with their chosen path earn a bitter enmity you almost never see coming from any Christians other than maybe members of the Westboro Baptist Church. But in expressing their intolerance of intolerance, the promoters of tolerance demonstrate that it is impossible to have no strongly held opinions at all. The opinion that one should have no opinions remains an opinion, and the people who tell you not to preach invariably end up preaching.

This was as true two and a half thousand years ago as today.