Friday, February 03, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Terms of Engagement

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

The Chicago Tribune reports the Trump administration has quietly nixed the use of a number of social justice buzzwords in official documents. The Center for Disease Control and the Departments of Health, Justice, Education and Urban Development have all been advised that the words “vulnerable”, “entitlement”, “diversity”, “transgender”, “fetus”, “evidence-based” and “science-based” are off the table.

Tom: You’re a language guy, IC: Why does the terminology we use around the subject of controversial issues matter so much?

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Asking About Atheism

I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking with atheists.

You might wonder why. You might say, “People have to be open to the voice of God, or they hear nothing at all. ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear,’ said the Lord. A man whose ears are already shut gets nothing — and, if we follow the Lord’s example — should get nothing, for he does not unite his hearing with any measure of faith. And without faith, it is impossible to please God.”

Even secular common sense accepts this. “A man convinced against his will remains an unbeliever still,” goes the axiom.

So why bother to talk to people whose minds are already made up? A fair question.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

What’s in the Glass?

There’s an old bromide about a glass that may be considered half empty or half full, depending on whether the person drinking it is an optimist or a pessimist. Nobody ever stops to ask what we are in the process of consuming, which seems to me to be the more fruitful inquiry.

Before we ever begin a discussion of whether its half-emptiness or half-fullness is more desirable, Christians need to learn to ask this simple question: “What’s in the glass?”

Some substances you don’t want to drink at all, even if it’s only six ounces.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Praying to an Arminian God

I had just finished Sunday’s post when Antemodernist dropped a new post of his own into my inbox. In this one, he starts with a question posed by a Calvinist: “What does praying to an Arminian God actually accomplish, since he can’t compel anyone to believe?” The Calvinist went on to assert, “Arminians pray like Calvinists when they pray for salvation.”

Antemodernist answers the question, but first explores a much more difficult one: “What does praying to a Calvinist God actually accomplish?”

Monday, January 30, 2023

Anonymous Asks (234)

“If the Bible teaches the equality of the sexes, why has inequality always been the norm?”

This will probably come as a shock to some readers, but the Bible doesn’t teach equality, either of the sexes or of any other kind. If you doubt that, a concordance will sort you out in short order. There is a single verse in the New Testament where the word “equality” in the KJV may be construed to promote financial fairness, but the importance of strict equality of status, authority, privilege or even personhood is nowhere to be found in scripture.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Hail and Farewell

I probably disagree with Michael Heiser as much as I agree with him. As I commented in an earlier post, Heiser “seems like a guy who has gone down a bit of a theological rabbit hole and may be in danger of seeing nothing but rabbits everywhere he looks”. That said, I have found what Heiser calls his “divine council worldview” exceedingly useful in broadening and fine-tuning my understanding of how God works. His books The Unseen Realm and Reversing Hermon are well worth reading and a good place to start if you have never heard of the man.

I was understandably saddened to read that Mike will not be writing any more books.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Mining the Minors: Micah (21)

Among the religious documents of the world, the Bible is unique in many respects. Not the least of these is the assurance it provides to those who believe it. We may better understand the appeal of the worship of YHWH in ancient times when we set it side by side with the worship of other ancient deities.

No other religious experience of that era in human history was framed in terms of relationship. The historians who write about the worship practices of other nations do not even use the word. The pagan invoked “my god” repeatedly, but there was nothing about his religious experience that would assure him the deity he addressed (assuming he or she could even be identified) cared for anything but a peace temporarily negotiated through blood sacrifice and offerings.

YHWH accepted offerings, but he was not like that.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: More Than Me

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

This topic is considerably less incendiary than the current Palestinian situation or the question of whether or not churches should be led by one man, but when Squidoo.com posted its list of “ultimate questions” and asked which ones its audience considered most important, this one finished second:

“Why do people insist on looking outside themselves for a reason for their life?”

Tom: Immanuel Can, what do you think about that: is there more than me, and why should I care if there is?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Honoring the Spirit

The congregation I was in last weekend was singing this new song:

“Holy Spirit, come invade us now
 We are your church
 We need your power …”

Eh?

These people believe the Spirit of God is outside of believers, and has to be called on to “invade”? They think the church of God does not actually have the Spirit of God already?

Surely not! But why were they singing such nonsense?

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Better Second Fiddle

Back in 1939, theorist Kurt Goldstein coined the term “self-actualization” to describe the motive to realize what he called “one’s full potential”.

In Goldstein’s view this drive might take the form of creative expression, pursuit of knowledge or the desire to contribute to society in some personally-defined way. Goldstein believed self-actualization was any organism’s “master motive” and its most basic drive in life. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory built on Goldstein’s concept and is probably the most familiar expression of it.

Among others in Christian circles, Rachel Held Evans seems to have bought into Goldstein’s theories.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Complements of John Piper

Darlene Parsons and/or Wanda Martin at The Wartburg Watch are deep into it over complementarian commander-in-chief John Piper. In an article entitled “John Piper Backs Himself Into a Corner and Even Reformed Complementarians Are Confused”, TWW points out that Piper has well gone well beyond any biblical mandate he might have for his views on the roles of the sexes.

If you have no idea what a complementarian is in the first place, join the club. Large numbers of Christians have never encountered the term. Though the idea has apparently been around for years, I only heard it used for the first time very recently.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Anonymous Asks (233)

“Is Christianity wish fulfillment?”

The idea that the Christian faith is a form of confirmation bias or a pleasing fantasy concocted by people who simply can’t cope with the hard realities of life has been floating around in one form or another for thousands of years. The old catchphrase “pie in the sky” was a flippant dismissal of the sort of person who puts all his stock in the belief in life after death rather than embracing a philosophy of “Eat and drink for tomorrow we die” like sensible, realistic people do.

To that I reply, “Say what???”

Sunday, January 22, 2023

More Where That Comes From

Being transformed into the image of the Son of God does not depend on me.

Thank the Lord for that.

There are things about Christian service that can be learned. Skill sets can be developed. Techniques can be applied. Practice sometimes makes perfect. I could, for instance, wholly apart from the Spirit of God, acquire a greater understanding of Hebrew and Greek through diligent study and as a consequence become a more accurate Bible teacher.

Whether much of eternal value would come from that apart from the Spirit of God is a separate question, but it can certainly be done.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Mining the Minors: Micah (20)

I find the next three verses of Micah’s prophecy very difficult to interpret, so much so that I almost put this post off another week to let it percolate. I like to do the spadework first, reading a passage repeatedly and then doing any relevant word studies before consulting the commentaries.

In this case, repeated readings and word studies still left me with major questions. I finally tapped out after checking eight or ten popular commentaries, few of which provided any satisfying insights, and concluded another week wasn’t likely to produce an epiphany.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Invincible Girls

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

You’ve seen the meme going around. Or maybe you haven’t. It reads like this:

“I took my girlfriend to see it. She knew nothing about Wonder Woman. In the opening training scene she leaned over and whispered, ‘Those are all women?’ After the movie, she had to take a moment in the car. She said, ‘So that’s what representation feels like. I had no idea that kind of role model was missing from my life.’ Then we cried. Thank you, Wonder Woman.”

Tom: Anything about that sweet story make you the slightest bit suspicious it isn’t 100% non-fiction, IC? (Hint: the claim, “Then we cried” is strongly suggestive.)

Immanuel Can: This is a guy we’re talking about, right? I just want to check, because it’s by no means apparent to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Passing Thoughts on Fred Phelps

Nearly nine years have passed since Fred Phelps went to meet his Maker, and it’s fascinating to observe how abruptly and extensively the acceptable bounds of public discourse have narrowed in the interval. Homosexuals are far from the only identity group it is no longer permissible to criticize, and many other subjects are now off the table. Still, more than a few of the thoughts expressed in IC’s post from 2014 remain relevant. — Tom

Fred Phelps, notorious pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas has died at age 84. I doubt many people are ready to cry much about that. According to The Independent, he rose to national notice after becoming the subject of the Louis Theroux documentary The Most Hated Family in America (2007). But for most, he is the man remembered for showing up at the funerals of dead homosexuals to exhibit a sign reading “God Hates Fags.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Limitations of Godly Leadership

Yesterday we looked at the unnecessary death of Josiah, Israel’s last great king. Today, I’d like to look briefly at four complementary passages concerned with the period of time during which Josiah reigned over Judah. I’m hoping these may help to refine our thoughts about the relationship between leaders and the led.

We often bemoan a lack of godly leadership in our day. That is not always our real problem.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Real or Not Real?

The following quote purports to come from a 2020 Facebook post written by a woman who holds herself out to be the Handbell Choir Director at First Congregational Church of Houston, Artistic Director at Houston Chamber Ringers and a former music teacher.

Honestly, my first instinct is that it’s got to be the product of internet trolling.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Anonymous Asks (232)

“Are home churches biblical?”

The first church in Jerusalem was made up of many smaller home gatherings. The Jewish believers displayed their new Spirit-empowered unity by “attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes”. Some commentators suggest the words “breaking bread” in Acts 2 simply refer to sharing an ordinary meal in common. It is certainly possible to construe them that way; however, breaking up into smaller groups gathering in private homes to remember the Lord Jesus would simply have been good strategy.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

God’s Man of the Hour

The people through whom God accomplishes his purposes are not always the guys at the top of your list or mine.

Sure, once in a while there’s a Moses or a David that comes on the scene and is almost singularly responsible for changing the course of a nation, reshaping popular opinion, or in some measure reversing a seriously destructive spiritual trend. From the safety of ample historical distance, it seems to us like God made a couple of good calls there — as he did with Joshua, Nehemiah, Hezekiah (for the most part), and many more.

But in the Old Testament, for every one of those obvious-in-hindsight choices, there’s a Jehu, a Samson or a Joab running around stabbing, pummeling, dropping houses on people or feeding evil queens to the neighborhood canines.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Mining the Minors: Micah (19)

Last week we suggested that in his final chapter, Micah is speaking with the voice of Israel’s remnant in a manner that may be understood both historically and prophetically.

Both ways of looking at the chapter were predictive at the time these words were given to Micah to share with his nation, but they were fulfilled with respect to the first timeframe, and still await fulfillment in the second. One is a matter of history, and we can look back through the later prophets and historians of the Old Testament to see how the things Micah predicted occurred roughly a century afterward.

The second way of looking at the chapter connects it with the book of Revelation.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Choosing a Church

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

Woodcrest Church has a helpful “Denomination Selector”. No, really, I’m not kidding.

The survey* asks the user to agree or disagree with a series of 24 statements along the lines of the following:

  1. There is one God
  2. Godhead exists as three distinct Persons
  3. The Bible is free from error

                       |

  1. There a literal Heaven and Hell
  2. The preferred day of worship (or Sabbath) is Sunday
  3. People receive charismatic gifts today (tongues, prophesy)
  4. A woman can serve as a pastor or a church minister

                       |

and so on.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

An Islamic Court Finally Gets Something Right

Malaysia’s top court has ruled that non-Muslims can no longer use the word “Allah” when referring to God. This despite the long-standing trend of Christians and other groups using the same name to refer to God in scriptures, prayers, songs and normal conversation.

The word isn’t a local Malay one, but rather a borrowing from Arabic. However, some Malaysians have no other word in their current vocabulary to refer to the Supreme Being. But apparently the two-thirds of the Malaysian population that profess Islam are now going to have exclusive use. Authorities worry that failure to distinguish Allah as a unique understanding of Divinity could result in confusion and lead people to be converted away from their religion. So they’ve legislated away the confusion.

Sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

The Statsman Cometh Again

I haven’t done one of these statistics-based posts since 2017, an exercise in self-control unprecedented for yours truly. So if you hate minutiae, come back tomorrow. Today is trivia time, along with maybe one or two observations along the way that are not completely insignificant.

Some people are more fun to know via the Internet than to put up with in real time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Uneasy Lies the Head

Queen Elizabeth’s death last year set me to thinking about the lifespans of monarchs as I have been reading my way through Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. Let’s just say none of the kings in our Old Testament ever came remotely close to her longevity, let alone the number of years she ruled.

It’s hard to miss the fact that for most of the kings of Israel and Judah, the privilege of leadership went hand-in-hand with a relatively short lifespan.

Now that raises some interesting questions.

Monday, January 09, 2023

Anonymous Asks (231)

“How can I become a more cheerful giver?”

Paul wrote that God loves cheerful givers. A quick look at the context shows he is using “cheerful” to mean the opposite of “reluctant” or “under coercion”. Giving, then, should be enthusiastic and voluntary, rather than induced by external or internal pressures like guilt or duty.

Have you managed that every time you’ve given to the Lord? Me neither. And yet it’s obviously the most desirable state to be in, and something worth working on.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Between Boredom and Bedlam

The pendulum swings. Even Christians are not inclined to be creatures of moderation, it seems.

At one end of the arc, believers sit docilely in pews being entertained. Assuming the pastor is not merely a well-packaged platform presence of minimal substance and that he genuinely possesses a spiritual teaching gift, he is the only one who gets to exercise it. At best, the performance holds our interest. At worst, we find ourselves constantly checking the time.

At the other extreme it’s a bit chaotic and unpredictable: men and women “share”, digress, pontificate, tell stories and interrupt each other to such an extent that impartial observers would be hard pressed to distinguish between spiritual gifts, natural impulses and mere gleeful enthusiasm at the opportunity to actually DO something in the church for once.

Few churches find the sweet spot between hierarchy and anarchy, between boredom and bedlam.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Mining the Minors: Micah (18)

Chapter 6 concluded with God speaking, rendering judgment on Judah for its sins. The final chapter of Micah represents yet another change of voice, as Micah now begins to speak on behalf of the Israelite remnant.

The chapter lends itself to interpretation on at least two levels. On the first, it is an expression of faith and repentance from the 6th century BC Judean remnant before and during Babylonian exile. That captivity was still more than a century away when Micah prophesied. On the second, it reads as an expression of faith and repentance from the Israelite remnant thousands of years later, during the great tribulation, looking forward into the millennial reign of Christ.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Not Quite What They Expected

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

The Atlantic bemoans the failure of secularism to ease cultural conflict in America.

Between 1992 and 2014, the percentage of Americans who reject religious affiliation soared from six to twenty-two — 35% for millennials. And yet partisan clashes today are more brutal than at any time since Vietnam war protests and racial tensions of the late sixties, and the sense of “us” vs. “them” in America is only increasing.

Tom: Is this what happens when we seek peace without the Prince of Peace, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Failure to Launch

Stock characters are those fictional roles we recognize instantly: you know, the incompetent police officer, the clueless secretary, the crooked lawyer, the rebellious teen, the uptight schoolmarm … and so on. You see them on TV all the time.

There’s a new one going around lately: the adult child. This is the mid-twenties son or daughter who still lives in his parents’ basement, having his meals cooked and his laundry done for him, blithely confident that the world outside — the world of careers, responsibilities and independence — is overrated. His harried, weary parents pray for him to move out and make his way in the world or for some nice girl to come and snap him up. But he knows very well that for now he has it good. Being too old for his parents to control but too needy for them to abandon, he is free to devote his time and assets to playing video games, going to clubs, flirting with girls and hanging out at the beach. A periodic trip to the employment office is all that is necessary to convince his parents of his helplessness.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

A Finger on the Scales

Let’s start with one of my favorite quotes from John Calvin:

“Those who have learned from the mouth of Christ that all the hairs of his head are numbered (Matthew 10:30), will … hold that all events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God.”

If I say to you, “Your days are numbered”, I could be saying no more than that I know exactly how long your life will last. I could also be threatening it. That is much like what Calvin wants the Lord to have said: that God personally determines the number of hairs on our heads. And if God exercises personal control over something so miniscule and insignificant, then he surely exercises personal control over all other matters in the universe both great and small.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Top 10 Posts of 2022

Another year, another ±365 blog posts, some of which were read more than others. Happily, none of our ten most popular posts last year had anything to do with either COVID‑19, a subject we would all be delighted to never hear anything about again, or Calvinism, which … ditto.

Just like last year, Immanuel Can managed to snag the number one spot. Unlike some previous years, the ten most-read new posts in 2022 had no real features in common. Among them we have a book review, a series of unconnected reflections, a meditation on the importance of Christ’s death, a structural analysis of an Old Testament book and a couple of housekeeping projects.

Basically a miscellany.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Anonymous Asks (230)

“What is the value of a prayer meeting?”

Over three years ago now, I wrote a post in answer to the question “Why should I pray if God already knows what will happen?” that dealt with the reasons a Christian ought to make his or her individual prayer life a high priority. If your question is actually a more general inquiry into the value of prayer, you will find several suggestions there which I won’t repeat here.

As to the value of corporate prayer, that’s a separate question well worth considering.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Semi-Random Musings (28)

Somewhere back in December — wait, I should be able to do better than that.

December 11, 2013 was our first post ever. So this post, published on December 10, 2022, marked the completion of our ninth full year of daily publication, though I didn’t notice at the time. Today’s post means we’ve published across eleven different calendar years, for whatever that’s worth. So we thank the Lord for unanticipated longevity and for the endless wonders of the word of God and the person of Christ. We have yet to beg anyone for subject matter.

Let’s just say that in 2013 I didn’t really expect we would still be writing blog posts in 2023. I didn’t expect not to either. In 2013, that sort of thing was just too far away and too unreal to spend time thinking about.