Friday, March 31, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: The Golden Age

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

A few weeks back we spent some time considering eternity as described in our Bibles, and the various misunderstandings that exist about it even among believers.

Tom: I promised at the end of that exchange that we would put together some thoughts on the subject of the Millennium, the coming thousand year reign of Christ, a subject explored mostly in the psalms and the writings of the Hebrew prophets and touched upon only briefly in the book of Revelation, where we are told that Satan will have no part in it, having been consigned to the abyss.

So let’s talk about this golden age a little, IC. Why have a Millennium at all? Why is it so important? Why not transport Christians straight into our promised eternity with Christ?

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Who’s Minding the Store?

I’m seeing more and more of those “self-checkout” units at the local stores. They always creep me out a bit. There just seems to be something really weird about the idea of walking up to a mechanical box, shuffling around my own transaction, and then leaving, going out of a store without passing by a person.

I feel as if I owe somebody some kind of explanation, like “Here’s my purchase, and here’s my money, and they match up; so don’t call the cops.” And then this person is supposed to give me the nod, like, “Okay, you’re alright this time; but when you come back, we’ll need to see each other again.”

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Implications of the Divine Council Worldview

The “divine council worldview” is a way of looking at scripture that recognizes the supernatural elements that shaped the devout Israelite mindset well into the first century. The late Michael Heiser, writer of The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, used the phrase extensively. I’ve had occasion recently to re-read Heiser’s magnum opus, and have been particularly interested in the implications the divine council worldview has for the rest of scripture.

It answers more than a few questions, major and minor, and reinforces a boatload of important truths and principles we find in our Bibles.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Back in the Unseen Realm

I’m back in the unseen realm this week.

It wasn’t my idea really. One of the men who attends our weekly Bible study proposed we have a look at Genesis 6:1-4, the much-disputed “sons of God” passage. That was fine by me, but studying it together opens up a can of worms best addressed in the late Michael S. Heiser’s The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, a book I last read through a few years ago but never got around to reviewing here.

Heiser was probably the most recognizable modern proponent of something he calls the “divine council worldview”.

Monday, March 27, 2023

Anonymous Asks (242)

“What does it mean to hand someone over to Satan?”

Paul gives a command in his first letter to the church at Corinth to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh”. The man to whom the apostle refers was carrying on a relationship with his stepmother, a sin Paul said was “of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans”. That’s where this phrase comes from.

So what was the apostle saying exactly?

Sunday, March 26, 2023

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (26) says, “A straw man argument is a logical fallacy in which an arguer distorts an opposing point of view and misrepresents it … creating the impression of refuting an argument rather than addressing or refuting it.” That’s as good a definition as any, and will do for our purposes.

Rick Warren is a Southern Baptist pastor and author who has become one of the most influential evangelicals of our day. He is also very well acquainted with the straw man argument, though he probably doesn’t put that on his resume.

At the age of 69, after a lifetime teaching the Bible, Rick Warren has finally decided the Lord always intended women to teach in church. This is absolutely not, Warren says, based on culture or anecdotes or outside pressure, but based on the Bible.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Mining the Minors: Nahum (7)

History shows us empires never last.

People groups do. Israel, for example, has been around as a distinguishable national and genetic entity for something very close to four thousand years notwithstanding its lack of a country to call home for most of that time; the Chinese have been almost completely ethnically homogenous even longer. In this respect at least, China holds a tremendous advantage in our present day should the US opt to go to war with them over Taiwan. Ideologically divided right down the middle, some say the US is on the brink of civil war; though occasionally experiencing internal unrest, the Chinese are comparatively unified.

But that’s the problem with multi-ethnic empires: they don’t have the kind of cohesion and staying power that kinship produces. The modus operandi of empire building is perpetual expansion and absorption of new people groups, whether through conquest or immigration. At some point, those so absorbed inevitably begin to influence the empire in favor of their own ethnicity and agendas.

Historically speaking, diversity is the opposite of strength. Biblically too.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Kissing Through the Fence

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

Let me give you a scenario that plays out over and over again.

I’m a young Christian man, say … or maybe I’m a middle-aged Christian woman. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. But let’s go with the young Christian man for a minute.

I have always been told that, for some reason, it’s bad for a believer to partner up with an unbeliever. But now that I’m in the situation myself, I can’t quite see why.

Immanuel Can: After all, girl X (my intended) is a lovely person. She’s just like me. We have great conversations. She thinks exactly like I do about practically everything that matters. We have wonderful times together. And I have deep feelings for her.

Tom: “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right …”

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Getting to the Truth

“I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

— English Common Law
Oath of Testimony

The fight outside a club was broken up by police; but a man was stabbed. Inspector Thomas has been assigned to find the assailant.

When the perp fled, the crowd scattered, but four witnesses remain: a bouncer, the girlfriend, the bar manager and a local cabbie. Inspector Thomas knows procedure; that each must be interviewed separately in order to get a complete picture.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

No Half Measures

Tal Bachman is a 54-year old Canadian writer who had a cup of coffee with pop music success back in 1999, not all that surprising given he’s the son of legendary Guess Who guitarist and BTO-founder Randy Bachman. Since 2020, he mostly covers politics from a conservative perspective, but he’s written everything from a four-part analysis of the band U2’s influence on the political landscape to a brilliant 25-parter called “We Have Met the Enemy” that unearths the origins of the lucrative, transparently fraudulent, unbelievably evil and powerful transitioning industry. You can find his archive here, and it’s well worth it.

Tal is an ex-Mormon, the “ex” part being his rejection of the prophetic posturing of Joseph Smith. But his latest post at SteynOnline strongly suggests his belief in God and interest in what the Bible teaches about him did not get jettisoned along with his former confidence in the founder of the LDS Church.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (25)

Earlier this month Josh Butler wrote a post called “Sex Won’t Save You” for the Gospel Coalition site that stirred up something of a ruckus. The link above is to an archived version; yes, the ruckus was sufficient to get it deleted, to cause Butler to resign from his position as a fellow with the Keller Center, and to cancel his appearance at an upcoming Gospel Coalition event. Such are the times in which we live.

The status of Butler’s forthcoming Multnomah book Beautiful Union, from which the article was an excerpt, should probably be regarded as “formerly forthcoming”, at least from its original publisher.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Anonymous Asks (241)

“What happens if I miss the rapture?”

Last week was sort of a mini-rapturefest at the blog. I am involved in a home church gathering on Tuesday nights these days, and the rapture loomed large in last week’s study and became the subject of a couple posts here, as often happens with Bible passages I am wrestling my way through with friends.

In one of those posts I made reference to an ex-evangelical named Joshua Rivera who now writes for Slate.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

A Fair Chance to Fail

Sometimes I’m grateful there are limits to human knowledge.

Suppose you could see the future with reasonable certainty and could judge within a few minutes of conversing with friends, family members and acquaintances which of them will eventually be saved or how they really feel about you. Might you not be just a little inclined to change your behavior toward the ones you believe will never come to know the Lord, or toward the ones who bear hidden grudges or agendas, or simply don’t care about you as much as you care about them?

Oh, I don’t mean you might treat them differently in big, obvious ways. It wouldn’t be particularly Christian to snub, ignore or dismiss people; we wouldn’t do that. What I might be tempted to do would be a little subtler, and I’d probably rationalize it in the interests of time-stewardship: faced with an invitation to dinner with Person A or Person B, I’d probably opt to spend more time with the ones I judged closest to the kingdom or most in agreement with my own values.

To finite human beings, that would seem a reasonable way to proceed. After all, there are only so many hours in a day and only so many days in a lifetime. Why not use the moments you have to greatest effect?

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Mining the Minors: Nahum (6)

Consider the limitations the Law of Moses placed on Israel and Judah, had they chosen to follow it with any consistency.

The usury laws and the Jubilee would curtail the ability of merchants and profiteers to exploit the lack of financial sophistication among their fellow Israelites. Israel’s law forbade certain forms of lucrative trade: fortune telling, the manufacture of graven images, cult prostitution. The Sabbath laws would restrict commerce to six days a week rather than seven. Tithing obligations would take well over 10% of your income, and the law would permit, even encourage, the poor and the sojourner to help themselves to the excess of your fields and vineyards.

In short, when the provisions of Mosaic Law were observed and enforced, Israel was not the easiest place in the world of its day for profiteers and merchants to get rich quick. That said, it was a great place to live for normal, godly people.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Crashing and Burning

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

We’ve all seen it, and seen it many times: a Christian in the public eye crashes and burns. He (or she, recently) confesses to the commission of one sin or another, usually an affair of some sort, and follows the confession by taking a time-out from the affected area of service (or leaving it altogether), announcing that the family needs “healing time”, and so on and so forth.

Tom: I bring this up because it’s happened again, IC. I’m not going to mention the name; the details are unimportant and likely unprofitable to pore over. But you and I have discussed the situation a little, and I wondered about your thoughts on how such things should be handled biblically. There aren’t many apostolic scandals recorded for us in the New Testament, are there …

Immanuel Can: No, there aren’t.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Somebody Else’s Lamb

A few days ago, I was talking with an atheist.

Yeah, I know …

Courting Disaster

The conversation came around to the Great Judgment. Of course, he doesn’t believe in it. But I asked him a question I’ve found useful in sorting out how people are thinking about God.

I said, “Well, whether you believe it or not, one day you’re going to face God. And if he were to ask you why he should accept you, what would you say?”

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Standing Up for Objective Reality

We live in interesting times.

Back in 2021, ideologically motivated onlookers in Leeds, West Yorkshire reported a forty-two year old street preacher to the Joint Counter Terrorism Team, resulting in his arrest. The Daily Mail did not specify the offenses with which David McConnell was charged and for which he was eventually convicted, but made reference to “harassment” and “illegally espousing an extreme point of view”. I missed the story at the time, but McConnell appealed his conviction last week, putting him back on the front pages for a moment.

What did this Christian “extremist” do? According to witnesses, McConnell quoted 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in the presence of a man dressed up as a woman, and repeatedly referred to him as “this gentleman” and “a man in woman’s clothing”, which the gentleman in question apparently found distressing.

In short, McConnell stood up for objective reality. That shouldn’t be such a hard sell, should it?

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Evidence for the Rapture in Revelation [2]

People who haven’t read the Bible tend to think the doctrine of the rapture is based on the prophetic visions of John in Revelation. This is not actually the case; the rapture as an event is taught explicitly only in 1 Thessalonians, while the mechanics of the believers’ translation into glorified bodies during that same event are discussed in 1 Corinthians. In fact, we don’t find the rapture taught in Revelation at all; its truth is simply assumed.

However, what we do find in Revelation is very much consistent with Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians which, if we believe in the inspiration of scripture, should not surprise us in the least. Since even Christians increasingly reject the Bible’s teaching about the rapture, I thought it might be a good time to have a look at the evidence we find in Revelation for the rapture of the church, some of which even points to a pre-tribulation rapture.

There is plenty of that, as we began to discover in Sunday’s post. You may find it useful to read that one first if you haven’t already.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Anonymous Asks (240)

“What does it mean that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath?”

The Sabbath was a weekly day of rest for the people of Israel instituted by God through Moses at Mount Sinai. Keeping it is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Its basis is the creation week of Genesis 1-2: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Evidence for the Rapture in Revelation [1]

Oddly, as we approach the end of our present age, the Bible’s teaching about the rapture of the church is increasingly falling into disrepute among believers. Some call it false teaching, others ridicule it as a scare tactic, still others claim Paul never taught a “rapture” at all. Some reject it because it clashes with their established eschatological beliefs, others because they are ignorant of the scriptures that teach it, still others because they dislike the idea of Christians getting to view the end of the world from the press box instead of from down on the playing field where (they believe) we belong.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Mining the Minors: Nahum (5)

By 616 B.C., Nabopolassar had ruled Babylon for a decade. He had spent those ten years profitably, rebelling against the Assyrians and successfully expelling their forces from Babylonia. Civil wars between major Assyrian cities and the general decrepitude of the empire confirmed his belief that the time had come to transfer the seat of Mesopotamian power from Nineveh to Babylon. Gathering his own Chaldean army, along with allies from Media, Persia, Cimmeria and Scythia, Nabopolassar marched on the capital city of Nineveh in May of 612 B.C.

Resistance was fierce, but they took the city within three months. What Nabopolassar probably didn’t know was that a Judean prophet had accurately describe his sacking of Nineveh as many as thirty years prior to it. Still less did the king of Babylon understand that he was doing the work of Judah’s God when he went about his business.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Eternity In Their Hearts

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

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon makes the argument that God has put a longing for the eternal into the human heart, yet seems to have provided less revelation about eternity than some of us might wish. And notwithstanding the fact that we’ve had plenty more prophetic revelation since the book of Ecclesiastes was written, we still have a tendency to speculate about what lies in store for us at the end of history as we move into eternity.

Tom: We’re discussing a recent Todd Billings post at Christianity Today entitled “The New View of Heaven Is Too Small”. What was your last point, IC?

Immanuel Can: Serious Christians need some kind of counter to the common misconception that the eternal state involves a lot of unrelenting, undifferentiated, disembodied, white-clad, purposeless hanging about on clouds …

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Retro Christianity

“In a post-Christian society, all faithful people begin to look a little Amish.”

— Ken Myers, host of Mars Hill Audio

Nice quote, Ken. Love the way you put that.

He’s got a point, though. In the ongoing moral and cultural decline of modern society, there must surely come a point at which the difference between how Christians live and how their neighbors live becomes too great to escape notice any longer.

And then, in a sense, we will all be “Amish”. I mean those who actually care to be Christians will be.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

When the Chickens Come Home to Roost

In his classic The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis wrote a scene I loved as a child, and have never been able to forget as an adult. The lion Aslan (Lewis’s Christ analog) is speaking to Aravis, the Calormene girl who has fled her family and home country to avoid a forced marriage, and is currently recovering from a fairly serious injury inflicted on the way to Narnia by a previously unrecognized lion.

So Aslan tells her the real reason for her injuries.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

What Does Love Look Like?

When I go shopping with somebody I love, I pay careful attention to all the purchases they don’t make, especially when they look at an item with great interest, then put it back on the shelf with a sigh because they can’t afford it right now or have other financial priorities. Why? So I can come back later, pick it up and stick it in the closet for the next Christmas, Valentine’s Day or birthday celebration.

Mostly this is a favor to myself: I hate the pressure of having to run out at look for a gift at last minute. But it also means I don’t waste much money on presents people don’t really want or won’t use.

Let me suggest we treat the Law of Moses that way.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Anonymous Asks (239)

“Are cherubs the spirits of dead babies?”

In the gospel of Matthew, the Lord Jesus says this about children: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

Some readers take this to mean that children who die before the age of accountability go straight into the presence of God and become angels. This line of thought probably led to the popular depiction of angels as chubby, naked infants with wings. Google “cherub” and you inevitably get something like what appears above.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

In the process of writing last week’s review of Stephen G. Fowler’s Probing the Mind to Free the Soul: Toward a Psychoanalytic Protest Theology, I thought often of the sage advice of the rabbit Thumper in Disney’s Bambi movie: “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” (Apparently the saying originated with Aesop, but I find the bunny-fied version way cuter and more memorable.) A friend I was texting at the time proposed a Thumperiffic way of dealing with the book. She asked, “What is good about his writing? Anything positive?”

I thought, “That’s a really good way to approach it.” Then I went with my original piece, which was admittedly a little on the savage side. I’m not apologizing for that, but today, I’m going to try to be Thumper.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Mining the Minors: Nahum (4)

The remainder of the first chapter of Nahum careers back and forth between addressing Nineveh and addressing Judah. The word “you” necessarily has different meanings as we move through these last five verses. In verse 11, “you” is Nineveh. In verses 12-13, it’s Judah. In verse 14, it’s Nineveh again, or perhaps the “worthless counselor” described in verse 11. Finally, in verse 15, the prophet returns to addressing Judah with further words of comfort.

You have to have your head on a swivel as you read it or you’ll lose track of who’s being addressed at any given point.

Friday, March 03, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: An Undersized Eternity

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

Tom: Earlier this week I poked around the subject of Christian hope a little. My sister had kindly linked me to Todd Billings’ recent post at Christianity Today entitled “The New View of Heaven Is Too Small” in which Billings talks about Michigan deer hunters who expect to continue enjoying their favorite pastime in heaven.

I’d rather not spend more time debunking other Christians’ cherished heavenly speculations, so I’ll trust that my own post didn’t completely fail to make the case that a New Testament view of our hope in Christ is rich, multifaceted and real.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Valley and Peak

On September 9, 1939, The Telegraph reported that a woman from London, England named Frances Fripps was accidentally struck by a local bus. Taken to Middlesex hospital, Miss Fripps awoke to find someone bending over her bed. To her utter astonishment, she recognized her visitor as none other than the Queen of England, there for a surprise tour of the hospital.

“They told me I had been trying to knock down a bus,” gasped Miss Fripps, “and now I find you here, your Majesty. What a day!”

What a day indeed.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

The Aliens Have Landed and They’re In My Bible

Congratulate me. I have finally finished reading Stephen G. Fowler’s Probing the Mind to Free the Soul: Toward a Psychoanalytic Protest Theology. It took me three weeks but I did it. Let me say this: forcing myself back into the text day after day, trying to pierce Fowler’s layers of nuance, complexity and self-questioning in order to tease out what the man was actually trying to say is one of the most monumental exercises in self-discipline in which I have ever engaged.

So congratulate me … or don’t. Some thoughts you can’t unthink. I will try not to share too many of them here.