Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Language of the Debate (8)

With respect to politics, the terms “left” and “right” have been in modern circulation since the French Revolution. Depending who is using them, the terms have traditionally been a cheap and easy way to describe the two sides in the conflicts between individualism and collectivism, liberty and authoritarianism, or conservatism and liberalism, bearing in mind that both sides exist on a spectrum.

That spectrum means terms like “far-right” and “far-left” had to be coined to designate the extremes of each position.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Inbox: The Jewish ‘Question’

Wikipedia says, “The Jewish question, also referred to as the Jewish problem, was a wide-ranging debate in 19th- and 20th-century European society that pertained to the appropriate status and treatment of Jews.” We still hear the term batted around online today, some say as a euphemism for a prospective campaign of ethnic cleansing in the US.

An anonymous commenter notes that a post here last week may have inadvertently raised another sort of Jewish question, one that probably merits more than a quick answer in the comments of a post.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Anonymous Asks (251)

“What does ‘test yourselves’ mean in 2 Corinthians 13:5?”

Self-assessments are notoriously hard to get right, even for Christians. As Jeremiah put it, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” If our security in Christ depends on our ability to correctly analyze the state of our own belief, then we are bound to be perpetually short of the spiritual confidence necessary to live victoriously.

I think the key to properly understanding that passage is recognizing Paul intended “test yourselves” neither individually nor subjectively. Evidence to follow …

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Making the World Sweat

“When the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city.”

Progressives want to tear apart society, ostensibly in order to build a better one, though they can’t tell us how they plan to do that. But they are convinced the existing system is unreformably corrupt, and that oppressed humanity will prosper under a different and better one.

Postmillennialists believe much the same thing, really.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Mining the Minors: Habakkuk (8)

During his incarnation, the Lord Jesus frequently and deliberately neglected to answer questions he was asked, and just as frequently answered questions he was not asked. After all, if you’re not asking the right question, what use is getting your answer?

This was Habakkuk’s experience with God. He asks the Lord, “Why do you remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” Did he ever get a direct answer? Not in so many words. Not even a “Because I said so.”

Friday, May 26, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Heresy and Clerisy

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

It’s been a while, but Gretta Vosper is back in the news again. (Immanuel Can and I discussed her previous exploits here and here.)

This time, the United Church minister — the denomination’s only out-of-the-closet atheist — has dodged a bullet in the form of a looming heresy trial. Turns out the UCs just couldn’t bring themselves to pull the trigger. The United Church General Council says Vosper will not be placed on their Discontinued Service List, and she may continue to offer God-free services to a handful of aging parishioners.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Sailing the High Seas

An old friend sent me an email a while ago. He was concerned:

“My daughter is going off to university next year, and she wants to take English Literature as her major! I’m worried about her: could you talk to her?”

I had to smile. Sure, I could talk to her. After all, I had been through all that, and I had survived just fine, thank you.

But why the panic?

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Quote of the Day (44)

“One of the things that convinces me of the reality of the Bible is that the level of the writing is so phenomenal. The only thing that has even a fraction of the storytelling power of the Bible is maybe The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and it’s not even close. Most of the writing of stories, and the dialogue and so forth, is absolutely superlative.”

— Vox Day

Here is a subject I have been wanting to get to for a while. Also, it lets me use the title “Quote of the Day” as a double entendre. Can’t beat that twofer!

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Absence of Evidence and Evidence of Absence

“As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.


The End of (Certain) Spiritual Gifts

Most scholars believe Paul wrote the words quoted above somewhere between AD54 and 55. All Christians can agree he is saying that certain spiritual gifts will cease to exist at some then-future date. The questions much disputed among believers boil down to when and why. Some people say tongues, prophecy and other gifts like them have already ceased. Others argue Paul is saying they will cease at the end of the church era when Christ returns. Perhaps, but if so, why not mention the cessation of teaching, service, hospitality, administration and the other gifts we still see on display in our churches?

Monday, May 22, 2023

Anonymous Asks (250)

“Is everyone born an atheist?”

This question sounds loony until you realize somebody famous actually provoked it, and presumably believed it. After that, it still sounds loony, but at least we are required to think about coming up with some kind of intelligent response to it.

After all, if one person thought it and said it, it probably represents a confusion encountered by others.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Mining the Minors: Habakkuk (7)

As we discovered in yesterday’s discussion of Habakkuk 3, there are (at least) two legitimate ways to read verses 2 through 15.

The “surface” level is obvious in most of our English Bibles, and for most Christians is a perfectly sufficient, useful way to interpret the text: as an affirmation of God’s ability to dominate and control the natural world and the nations he made, even destroying them at will. The mountains, rivers, seas and empires of the world look impressive to human beings, who come and go like the grass of the field, but they are nothing to the Almighty. YHWH rules over all. Watching him dominate the natural world in this passage reads like an apocalypse. He is astoundingly powerful.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Mining the Minors: Habakkuk (6)

Our sloppy, modern online English dictionaries define an apocalypse as some version of a Jewish or Christian end-of-world scenario described in words. That popular usage is close enough for our purposes.

You can read this next portion of Habakkuk a number of ways. It is called a “prayer” (or more likely a “psalm” — psalms are usually prayers anyway), but it is also pretty clearly the substance of the “oracle” the prophet says he saw in 1:1. Everything else in the book could easily have been revealed to Habakkuk by the Lord verbally, and probably was; the earlier portions scan best as a dialogue or an argument rather than as a vision.

This chapter, on the other hand, is an optical feast. You would need a top notch Hollywood special effects crew or a lot of CGI to make it happen convincingly onscreen.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Poisoning the Well

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

Rachel Held Evans hosts an ongoing discussion of Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian.

Tom: I’m not so much interested in rehashing the homosexuality aspect. That’s something I think both of us have dealt with elsewhere. But there’s an idea enunciated by Vines in his study of the Old Testament and reiterated by Held Evans in her discussion of his book that potentially applies more broadly; to things like the role of men and women in the church and the home and so on. That is this:

“We can accept Scripture as authoritative and true without accepting the patriarchal assumptions of the culture from which the Bible emerged”.

Immanuel Can, is there a sense in which you would agree with Held Evans’ statement?

Thursday, May 18, 2023

New, Improved, Advanced … You Need One

A few years ago I went on vacation in England. We had some special places to go, but of course there were a few of the obligatory touristy things as well.

We went to the Tower of London. It’s not a single tower, but a concentric castle formed of 21 towers. One of the main ones is called the White Tower. It was especially interesting to me since it housed a great collection of historical armaments spanning several centuries of warfare. Much of it is conventional stuff: swords, cannons, muskets, shields, chain mail and so forth. Some of the displays feature experimental weaponry, such as multi-barreled, repeating guns and so forth.


Wednesday, May 17, 2023

But the Jews …

“Out of all major world religions, Christianity and Judaism are typically regarded as the most similar.”

— Nixie Adams, Interfaith Now

“In spite of their differences, Jews [and] Christians … worship the same God.”

— Jo Adetunji, The Conversation UK

Such sentiments were common in the media during the last half of the twentieth century. You can still find them today, though not anywhere near so frequently.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


Things fall apart.

It’s a sad fact of life that attrition culls the blogosphere on a regular basis. I guess it’s also a vivid demonstration of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in action (believers in the theory of evolution take note). I recently updated our Recommend-a-blog page (one of the gray tabs just below the banner at the top of our home page) to include links to all the posts and blogs I have recommended since December 2013 when we debuted online, only to find that six of the thirty-two either no longer exist or are exclusively available on The Wayback Machine.

That’s almost 20% of the total. Wow. I guess we should be thankful for the ones still alive and kicking.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Anonymous Asks (249)

“What does the Bible say about women pastors?”

Depending on what the person asking means by the word “pastors”, today’s question may point us toward two different potential errors in the interpretation of scripture.

Pastoring in Three Senses

First, we may think of pastoring, or shepherding, in at least three different senses: (1) in the modern sense, as a career in which one becomes the primary source of Bible teaching and leadership for a local church; (2) in the formal biblical sense, as one of a number of men feeding and guiding the people of God in- and outside of church meetings; (3) in an informal biblical sense, as anyone feeding and guiding believers outside of church meetings.

Sunday, May 14, 2023


It is well known that the early church in Jerusalem dedicated itself to four things: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers. In that respect, it became the model for all churches everywhere until the Lord returns.

As the 21st century church eases its way into Laodicean self-congratulation and apathy, let me ask you which of these four is most likely to fall by the wayside?

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Mining the Minors: Habakkuk (5)

In scripture, woe-pronouncing should almost be considered its own genre. Take our present chapter, for example. From verse 6 on, Habakkuk 2 is nothing but a series of woes.

The first woe on record in scripture is a single curse against the nation of Moab in a ballad preserved in Numbers 21. Isaiah tops that, pronouncing six woes against the inhabitants of Judah and numerous others in the scope of his many-chaptered prophecy. Ezekiel has a pair of woes in chapter 13 and another pair in chapter 24. Hosea and Amos sprinkle them throughout, and Zephaniah has a trio. Luke gets an honorable mention for recording 15 different woes the Lord pronounced on various parties. Revelation has three, or maybe four, depending on how you read it. But Matthew 23 is the all-time single-chapter woe champ, in which the Lord pronounces seven on the Pharisees.

I would not have wanted to be those guys.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Debby Boone Theology

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

“It can’t be wrong, when it feels so right.”

— Debby Boone, You Light
Up My Life

Immanuel Can: Okay, Tom. Remember that song?

Tom:hated the song, but I was wildly infatuated with Debby. I think I even had her poster on the wall in the basement bedroom I shared with my younger brother. I could just barely slide a female pop star (completely and decorously attired, I hasten to add, in a beige dress that did up at the neck and went down to her ankles) past my parents because “She’s a Christian!” Of course, I was all of sixteen at the time. Sadly, nothing permanent came of that little obsession: Debby has since married a fellow believer and, unlike many celebrities, has stuck with it going on forty years now. Good on her.

IC: Uh … right.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

A Church Without Wings

In one of the towns in which I lived as a child there was a church that called itself “Berean”. I’ve noticed quite a few such establishments, and I wonder if many people know what it actually means.

It’s a reference to a group of ancient Jews who lived in a town called Berea, and who were among those who experienced the early ministry of the apostle Paul. They listened to the gospel Paul preached; and yet they didn’t just trust it. They checked it out for themselves, comparing his New Testament teaching with the word of God in the Old Testament. Acts says that they “received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Recommend-a-blog (33)

Wouldn’t it be nice if every interaction between Christians and unbelievers was sufficiently mesmerizing to generate eleven letters from each side?

Yeah, I know, not your experience. Not mine either. The closest I ever got was a college acquaintance who claimed to be looking into Christianity. I wrote him a series of carefully researched, thoughtful responses to his (apparently endless) questions, until one day he as much as admitted he was shining me on, having no real interest in pursuing a relationship with Christ. His religious questions were merely academic.

Okay. Next time maybe.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Wasted Worries

Sometimes I think we moderns, especially in the West, are way too literal in our reading of scripture.

I’m not against literalism as a general principle, of course. “When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense” is a solid hermeneutic. No, literalism of that type is just fine. The sort of nit-picking, fussy literalism I’m concerned about has more to do with the negative inferences the Western mindset often tends to draw from positive statements. It’s more about strange leaps of logic extrapolated from the text than about the text itself.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Anonymous Asks (248)

“Does God have emotions?”

Provided you are paying the slightest bit of attention, it is almost impossible not to notice that the Bible portrays an emotional God. He is described as experiencing joy, love, affection, compassion, jealousy, grief, regret, anger and even hatred. If we think of man as being made to “image” God — to portray him in the world — this makes perfect sense: our own emotions did not come out of the ether; we possess them (or they possess us) because they are modeled after something greater.

The problem comes not in thinking of God as emotional, but in imagining that the emotions human beings experience are identical to those of the Godhead. If we do that, we will certainly find ourselves confused by the language of scripture.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

The Augustinian Error

I recently enjoyed a week of meetings taken by an ex-Calvinist who had been Reformed for 25 years. He left that movement because his own repeated reading of scripture was clashing with his systematic theology, and the cognitive dissonance eventually forced him to change his thinking. It was a terrific week. He is a gracious man by nature, but extremely thorough in his presentation and utterly convincing.

Not that I needed convincing on that subject …


One of the points he made in the course of the week is that Calvinists often tell us determinism was the teaching of the early church, or at very least that Calvinism is consistent with the teaching of the church fathers. After all, or so they reason, the Bible teaches these things, therefore the fathers must have believed them.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Mining the Minors: Habakkuk (4)

Why do the wicked appear to prosper while allowed to oppress, injure and even murder those more righteous than they? The question has troubled anyone with an attention span and reasonable powers of observation over the centuries. One of these was the prophet Habakkuk, who took his question to almighty God. God graciously responded, and Habakkuk wrote down what he said for those of us who would come later.

Here is how God answered him.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: On the Offensive

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

Tom: I’ve got a verse and a half for you, IC, followed by a question. Here’s the scripture:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

Kind, patient, gentle: that’s the standard for the servant of God handling the word of God in the face of opposition.

Here’s my question: How do we reconcile the apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy with the way he speaks in his letters or at other times and places?

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Mastering the Pastor Disaster

Her voice on the end of the phone was shaky. Clearly she was very, very upset about something. But she couldn’t bring herself to tell me what. Her words came out in a kind of extended groan that seemed to swell up from inside the depths of her heart, but could only leak past her lips. Something very bad had happened.

As our conversation continued, I gently drew more details out of her broken responses, and it became clearer. Not only she, but all her friends and her church, had been betrayed. A leader in their circle, much loved and widely admired, had turned the corner of a disastrous course. The first of the news had just broken; and she had called me less to tell me than to seek some kind of soothing for her aching soul.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Illustrations and Authority

“These stories are neither history … nor empirical science. Instead, they are investigations into the structure of Being itself and calls to action within that Being. They have deep psychological significance.”

— Jordan Peterson

“There is no future for the Bible … where a literalist reading of the text is the only option.”

— Steve McSwain, The Huffington Post

You can find hundreds of such quotes about the Bible online these days, many of which, like the second one above, claim to be the product of a Christian worldview. All assure us the scripture is still good for something — faith production, psychological insight, good moral teaching — even if parts of it are historically false.

Most prefer to use the word “mythical” rather than “false”.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Broad Brushes and Oopsies

In 2018, Al Mohler bemoaned the state of the Southern Baptist Convention in the words, “The judgment of God has come.” I wrote about it back then, concerned that Mohler was using the word “abuse” to cover far too broad a spectrum of sins, from the comparatively trivial to the genuinely awful. One of those alleged offenders to whom Mohler made subtle reference was Paige Patterson, then-president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), who was terminated shortly thereafter.

And yes, SWBTS used the word “abuse” in its letter of dismissal as well. Seven times, in case anyone missed it.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Anonymous Asks (247)

“Is it possible to take the mark of the beast without knowing it?”

Peter Feaman, a senior Republican official in Florida, referred to the COVID-19 vaccines as the “mark of the beast”. An unidentified Reddit user asked if perhaps the vaccination passports were the mark of the beast. Christians and non-Christians alike have written no end of articles assuring vaccine-hesitant evangelicals that neither claim was true. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the mockery that has been directed at anybody who raised the question, I’ve still heard a couple of believing acquaintances suggest it.

Even the faint possibility of having taken the mark of the beast makes Christians nervous, and so it should. But does scripture give us any information about whether it is even possible to take the mark of the beast without being aware of the association?