Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Gathering the Weeds

“No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.”

In a post entitled “Who was Ravi Zacharias?” one of the anonymous writers of the evangelical online answer-blog GotQuestions courageously exhumes the rotting corpse of a subject I’ve steadfastly avoided discussing here, except with generalities and allusions. But maybe now that the dust has settled, the Zacharias scandal can at least serve to illustrate a scriptural principle.

You’d like to hope we can use it for something.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Anonymous Asks (238)

“Is asking ‘What would Jesus do?’ a good way to make decisions?”

An opinion columnist for The LA Times writes that Jesus would have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19. Elton John says Jesus would have supported same-sex marriage. Jacqui Lewis, a Protestant minister, says Jesus would support a woman’s right to abort her child: “I think Jesus would be like, ‘What are you doing? What are you doing in my name? Why are you oppressing the women in my name?’ ”

So what would Jesus really do?

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Sympathy and Solipsism

Much of scripture is historical. No surprise there. We learn that in Sunday School.

History is just the words and doings of men recorded by other men, but Bible history is a little different in that the Bible’s historians recorded what they did not just to provide an accurate account of what happened, but with spiritual ends in view. Sometimes the conversations and speeches the Bible’s historians documented for us were essentially truthful; other times they were not.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Mining the Minors: Nahum (3)

It has been observed that verses 2-8 of Nahum’s first chapter are a poem or hymn about the wrath of the Almighty that appears to have been written in the acrostic style of some Psalms (9-10, 25, 111, 119), which is to say each clause usually begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. I say “appears” because scholars only noticed this pattern in Nahum a couple of centuries ago, mostly because the acrostic is incomplete (three letters are missing, and only the first half of the alphabet is used at all) as well as somewhat irregular (the expected letter is not always first in its clause).

We might sum up Hebrew scholar Aron Pinker’s conclusions about it by simply saying the pattern is too consistent to be accidental and too inconsistent for his peers to agree about.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Virtual Christianity

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

James Smith’s Los Angeles Review of Books has a piece up called “How to Find God (on YouTube)” about a gang of “apostles” and “prophets” we discussed in this space last year.

Tom: You may remember our conversation about Independent Network Christianity (or INC), the post-Pentecostal charismatic internet church movement from California. (By “post-Pentecostal”, I mean that they are signs-and-wonders focused, as you might expect, but have no connection to denominational Pentecostals like the Assemblies of God. They are total freelancers.)

How do you feel about autonomous “Christian” movements, IC? Are they suspicious by definition?

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Book Reviews Page

When we began posting here almost ten years ago, I never planned on doing book reviews. Somehow or other it happened anyway: Andy Stanley even provoked five posts with a single paperback (Irresistible was and remains an epically awful idea).

Anyway, now seems as good a time as any to put links to all my reviews in one place so they can be easily located if anyone is interested. Our most recent posts are at the top, which is the opposite of my usual practice with these pages, but makes the page way easier to edit. (Too bad I didn’t figure that out ten years ago.) You can find the link to the new Book Reviews page with the links to all the rest of our ongoing features at the top of our home page right below our logo, or access individual reviews via the topic sidebar on the right.

The Unbearable Heaviness of Individuality

“Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Then Menahem the son of Gadi came up from Tirzah and came to Samaria, and he struck down Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Pekah the son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty men of the people of Gilead, and struck him down in Samaria, in the citadel of the king's house with Argob and Arieh; he put him to death and reigned in his place …”

“Then Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah and struck him down and put him to death and reigned in his place …”

Ah, the kings of Israel. Their history is very much like that of all the idolatrous nations around them. Somebody gets the kingship, then somebody else murders him and takes over. And each one is as bad as the last.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” as Roger Daltrey famously intoned.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Having Their Cake

Many modern Christians want to have their cake and eat it too, believing they can somehow reconcile pseudo-science with the miraculous events they find in their Bibles. They do this by mythologizing the early chapters of Genesis and anything else they find inconvenient to the secularized mind, often including Job, David and Goliath, Jonah and the big fish, and so on.

The point at which accommodationists believe Genesis moves from myth to history may vary from one to the next, but the intellectual contortions required for mythologizing scripture are the same wherever one draws the line.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

A Distinction Too Fine

Some writers distinguish between the phrases “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” in the New Testament, asserting they are intended to mean different things. This post from KJVBible.org is a typical example. Gaines R. Johnson claims, “Knowing the doctrinal difference between the terms ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and ‘Kingdom of God’ is the key to understanding the complete time line of Biblical history past, present, and future, the proper place of the Church and the prophetic future of Israel.”

That’s a stack of pretty impressive claims, and it warrants a bit of investigation.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Anonymous Asks (237)

“What did Solomon mean when he wrote that money answers everything?”

It has been said that every virtue carried to extremes becomes a vice, which is probably true. Every good thing indulged in to excess does much the same. This is surely true of money.

The verses prior to Ecclesiastes 10:19 contrast a kingdom run by self-indulgent drunks and gluttons with a kingdom administered by wise, self-controlled princes and officials who know the proper place for leisure and pleasure in their own lives. Obviously, the citizens of the second kingdom will have a better time of it than those of the first.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Good Seed and the Outer Darkness

Those of us who love to study the word of God often spend a pleasant hour or two comparing scripture with scripture in meditation, and by seeking to understand its concepts by grabbing our concordances and tracing the way its writers use various words and phrases.

Sometimes this is fruitful. Other times it can be perplexing.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Mining the Minors: Nahum (2)

Nahum begins his oracle, appropriately enough, by identifying its divine source and describing him for his readers. Who is the Lord, you might ask? Scripture answers that question in many ways at many different times. Here the answers appear to skew toward God’s destructive characteristics: jealousy, vengeance, wrath and power. It’s an intimidating prospect.

Still, we ought to bear in mind that for the victims of relentless oppression, God’s declaration of these characteristics about himself to their oppressors is cause for celebration.

It means justice is finally coming.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Collect Yourself

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

Tom: How much Jordan Peterson have you been watching lately, IC?

Immanuel Can: A fair bit, actually. The guy’s an interesting cat.

Tom: Good. I was afraid I’d have to come up with something original. :) Have you seen him express his thoughts on identity politics?

IC: Yes. It seems to me he’s very strong on the view that one should sort oneself and one’s own life and relationships out first, before getting involved in any sort of collective. So he’s saying to our generation of young people, Don’t focus on complaining about how unfair the world is, or on mobilizing others to do likewise, unless you’re also prepared to address the obvious areas of need for improvement in your own life. Makes sense.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Acting Christian

“If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Most of the time I enjoy writing these posts.

Sometimes, not so much.

Like today.

Today, I feel the truth of what I heard a preacher say once: “When you point your finger at somebody else, there’s always three pointing back at you.” Or, as the scriptures would put it, “Not many of you should become teachers ... for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Reflections on the Way to the Crematorium

So I’m on my way to the crematorium the other day …

It occurs to me that line probably requires a bit of backstory. It wasn’t a people crematorium. Technically, it wasn’t even traditional cremation. No fire was involved. This was a “green alternative” process known as aquamation, or water cremation, which uses 90% less energy to produce the same ash residue as intense heat would.

It’s also half the price of regular cremation, and it was for pets, one of which lay in a Walmart bag on my back seat.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Superstition, Unbelief and Pattern Recognition

“On that night the king could not sleep.”

It has been pointed out that Esther is unique among the books of the Bible in that it contains no direct reference to God or religion. There are several indirect references to what appears to be divine providence or at least the potential for it, but nothing explicit.

For example, Mordecai tells Esther, “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place [Hmm, what place might that be?], but you and your father's house will perish” [I wonder how he could be so sure about that]. Esther responds by telling him to have the Jews fast on her behalf for three days. In scripture, a fast is not a fad diet, but rather an appeal to God.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Anonymous Asks (236)

“How should Christians respond to someone who leaves the faith?”

The New Testament references several who turned away or would turn away from trusting Christ for one reason or another. Paul writes to Timothy concerning Demas, a fellow worker mentioned in Colossians and Philemon, that he “has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica”. Why? He was “in love with this present world”.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Theological Misreadings

In a move that was all-but-inevitable from the moment they started ordaining women, Church of England bishops have announced they are launching a “major project on gendered language” in the next few months, with the goal (at least in some quarters) of moving away from the use of gendered pronouns for God. It might start with prayer language, but would quickly escalate to the rewriting of hymns, creeds and scripture itself.

“Our Parent who art in heaven,” anyone?

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Mining the Minors: Nahum (1)

Nahum is the seventh Minor Prophet in our modern Bibles and the fifth in the chronological order we are following in these studies, as well as one of the four shortest. (I promise not to turn this mini-series into 42 instalments!) Today’s post provides general background information on Nahum’s oracle and examines the terminology used in its first verse.

Boring? Maybe for some. Not for me. I figure we can all use a reminder that God keeps his promises about dealing with the wicked when their time has come, especially in the current year, when the wicked of our own day are in the process of taking off their masks of respectability and letting their true characters be seen.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: This Little Christian Went to Market

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

Immanuel Can: Some years ago I had the movie The Big Kahuna recommended to me.

While for the most part it’s a movie with an unexpectedly charitable take on the motives of conservative Christians, there are a few moments in which the writer cannot resist taking a shot. One is in a conversation between Phil, the main character (a weary agnostic salesman played by Danny DeVito) and Bob (an evangelical junior salesman played by Peter Facinelli). Apparently, the younger man has committed the gross offence of having spoken to a valued customer about his faith without making any sales pitch for the industrial lubricant company both men are paid to represent.

DeVito’s character, Phil, is irate at the missed sales opportunity.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Atheism’s Answers

So … what if atheists took themselves seriously?

So seriously, as a matter of fact, that they actually tried to live out the rational implications of their own rejection of all possibility of God or gods? What then?

As I said in yesterday’s post, getting answers to this question turned out to be more difficult than it might initially appear.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (24)

Reading the Bible regularly, repeatedly and without an agenda is a great safeguard against monomania.

Stephen G. Fowler is a medical doctor and student of psychoanalysis. I will probably have more to say about his 2017 book Probing the Mind to Free the Soul in a future post, but my interest today has more to do with his interpretation of a particular proverb than his subject matter or technical arguments.

Let’s just say his reading of the text may be more than a little influenced by his preoccupation with psychoanalysis.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Unhelpful Equivalencies

Self-righteousness and hypocrisy are unappealing qualities, whether in gospel preaching or in discussing the word of God with believers. They provide one’s audience with a convenient excuse to dismiss ideas they might otherwise find persuasive … or worse, convicting.

Nobody wants to look like a Pharisee, right?

As a result, Christians seeking to avoid accusations of fake piety are tempted to self-deprecate.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Anonymous Asks (235)

“Why did God use a lying spirit to deceive Ahab?”

The death of Ahab king of Israel is a fascinating story. The prophetic word through Micaiah the son of Imlah gives us a rare inside look at the interaction between the Almighty and the spirit-host of heaven. God had determined wicked Ahab’s time had come, so he inquired of the heavenly beings around him, “Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?”

A discussion ensued in which various spirits made suggestions, none of which the Lord deemed satisfactory.

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Semi-Random Musings (29)

Three unrelated thoughts about failures of memory.

Critics of dispensational teaching frequently insist that it cannot be valid because we do not find it discussed explicitly in the writings of the church fathers or, to the best of our limited knowledge, throughout the next couple of millennia of church history. I have always found that a weak argument, not least because both our knowledge of church history and of the opinions of the church fathers are so fragmentary. In fact, precious truths are far more easily lost than we might think.

Perhaps that’s why Proverbs says, “Buy truth, and do not sell it.” Some things are invaluable.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Mining the Minors: Micah (22)

Sometimes the writers of the New Testament directly quote the prophets of old. Other times, they make allusions or obscure, paraphrastic references to prophetic subject matter. Readers may find it a little more difficult to be confident about whether these really mean what people say they mean. There are also cases, I think, where the writers of the New Testament are said to have a particular Old Testament passage in mind, and on closer examination it turns out they were probably thinking of something else entirely.

Let’s finish up our study in Micah by examining a few such passages in the New Testament. Some of these we can be very sure of, others not so much.

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.