Friday, June 30, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: The Evolution of Morality

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

Oliver Scott Curry, senior researcher at Oxford’s Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, believes morality evolved.

Tom: I don’t, and neither does Immanuel Can, which means we probably won’t be doing a lot of haggling with each other about this subject. For those interested, Curry’s seven “universal rules of morality” are: (1) help your family; (2) help your group; (3) return favors; (4) be brave; (5) defer to superiors; (6) divide resources fairly; and (7) respect others’ property. While we might all agree that life generally goes better within families and societies when these rules are observed, it is not at all obvious that they evolved.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

A Disturbance in the Force

“Stop forcing your beliefs on me!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that cry when debating with unbelievers. In fact, I’ve heard it so much that I’ve begun to think there might be something behind it. After all, when many kinds of people from many kinds of backgrounds and situations seem to be arriving at the same kind of sentiment, there must be some cause for it, right?

But for a long time I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what it is. The problem is the wording: “You’re forcing …”

Am I? Really? How is that?

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Whole Gathering

Pick out from among you seven men of good repute …”

When was the last time your local church “read out” or excommunicated someone?

I know some churches that have never done it. Even in churches that have, for most it’s been a very long time, to almost nobody’s regret. In these litigious days, telling a brother or sister they are no longer welcome in the fellowship of the saints is not an action in which anybody is particularly enthusiastic about participating. Nor should it be: there is plenty of financial risk involved, as well as the potential risk to testimony if a person so excluded elects to push back in a public way and the church’s version of the excommunication narrative is called into question by people incapable of understanding its purpose.

Who jumps at handling a hot potato like that? Nobody with a keen sense of self-preservation, that’s for sure.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Wacky, Wackier, Wackiest

Taken in isolation or viewed from a distance of several thousand years and from a completely different cultural setting, almost any Bible instruction may initially seem a little alien.

Out there on the internet, people are generally uninterested in doing historical research or establishing cultural context before they start forming opinions. It’s a whole lot of work … and, let’s face it, it’s fun to mock things — it makes us feel intelligent or morally superior. So taking a poke at certain of the Old Testament commands that God gave through Moses to the people of Israel as — to say the least — “weird”, is becoming increasingly trendy.

Compared to what the critics say about these commands, “wacky” might actually be a compliment.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Anonymous Asks (255)

“Is there a biblical distinction between sex and gender?”

Despite the insistence of the trans lobby that sex and gender identity are two different things, nobody in the history of the world ever thought this until around 1950.

In 2021, journalist Tal Bachman wrote a powerful and well-researched 25-part series called “We Have Met the Enemy” (index here, trans expose commences with Part XIII) that laid bare the origins of this semantic fraud perpetrated by a failed musician from New Zealand who reinvented himself as a psychologist and “sexologist”.

His name was John Money.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Utopia as a By-Product

Henry Giroux wrote that a utopia is “an imaginary community or society that possesses highly desirable or near-perfect qualities for its members”. He was generalizing based on the way the concept has been used (and misused) for over five centuries, trying to distill a jumble of ideas down to a basic concept everyone can agree about. The word itself comes from a 1516 book of the same name written by Sir Thomas More, but Plato’s Republic took a crack at the same ideas almost 2,000 years earlier, and it may be argued that even the Tower of Babel was an early, misguided stab in that direction. It would be hard to find a time when men have not dreamed of and yearned for social perfection, though always on their own terms and by their own standards.

Literally, utopia means “no place”. You would think more people might take More’s not-too-subtle hint.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Mining the Minors: Zephaniah (2)

In studying the Minor Prophets we run into one difficult question repeatedly. The answer to it significantly affects our understanding of the intended scope of a particular prophecy. Wherever we come across Hebrew words that describe geography ['ăḏāmâ, 'ereṣ or ], there is considerable ambiguity about what they are intended to denote. Scholars tell us both 'ăḏāmâ and 'ereṣ may legitimately be translated as either “earth” or “land”. Further, the word may refer to an actual island, or to a larger region far away that is approached (naturally) from the coast. Where “land” is the better translation, the intent is usually (but not universally) to refer to the land of Israel.

So then, a prophet may be predicting something that will affect the entire planet or something that will affect only Israel. Global or local, and context is the only way to determine which is which. Sometimes there simply isn’t enough information in the context to know with certainty.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: The United Method

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

A few weeks back, the United Methodist Church voted to maintain its traditional stance against same-sex marriage and non-celibate gay clergy.

Tom: Now I’m not big on tradition for tradition’s sake, but I think this decision is probably worth remarking on just because it is so unusual for a large denomination these days. The progressives in every sizable group of Christians are always hard at work moving the window of acceptable discourse, faith and practice to the left, and have experienced great success over the last century or so. By way of contrast, “conservative” Christians have reliably failed to conserve very much at all. You’ve seen it, Immanuel Can, and I’ve seen it too.

Did you notice what made the difference this time?

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Turning Into Monsters

In one of his messages, a self-styled philosopher sent this line:

“Conservatives are monsters.”

I’m not really sure what he means by “conservatives”. In the context of the discussion, he meant anti-abortionists, definitely.

Oh, believe me: the irony’s not lost on me.

But I think he meant to speak more broadly, as well. I think he also meant social conservatives like Libertarians, Republicans and Brexiters, and maybe even Christians. Anyway, he gets them all with one broad brush: “conservatives”.

It’s obviously rhetoric. But let’s take him seriously.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Semi-Random Musings (30)

“When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.”

This first phrase nicely encapsulates the condition of the believer. Iniquities do not characterize him. Iniquities do not magnetically draw him the way they once did. Iniquities are not his goal or the meaning of his life. Iniquities are an enemy with which he is perpetually in contention.

Occasionally iniquities even prevail. For a moment only.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The Language of the Debate (9)

Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor, a Romanian-born Jewish political activist who authored over fifty books and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He died in 2016. In January 1968, he published a memoir in which he shared memorable encounters with “sages, mystics, teachers, and dreamers”.

Wiesel was not the earliest media figure to water down the concept of truth and make redundancies like “objective truth” an unfortunate necessity, but if you thought the problem originated with Jordan Peterson and his ilk, this 55-year old excerpt from Legends of Our Time may serve as a wake-up call. Satan has been working away at the meaning of words since the beginning of human history, and he has his cat’s-paws in every generation. Elie Wiesel, for all his creditable moments, was one of these.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Anonymous Asks (254)

“Should Christians experience regret?”

“Regret” is not a word that appears very often in scripture, though the concept is certainly there. Matthew writes about the regrets Judas had when he saw that Jesus had been condemned to death. Perhaps he saw his betrayal as an opportunity to cash in, but never imagined the Jews would be so successful in pressuring Pilate to carry out their wishes. Upon seeing that his betrayal had sent the Lord Jesus to the cross, he suddenly wished to dissociate himself from his previous actions.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Dread of the Enemy

“Preserve my life from dread of the enemy.”

Dread is a strong word, but a relatively common one in scripture. The Hebrew word translated “dread” in my ESV turns up 49 times throughout the Old Testament. Its most common object is the Lord himself, as we might expect, and its second most common object is the nation of Israel.

That also is predictable. To mess with Israel was to mess with Israel’s God.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Mining the Minors: Zephaniah (1)

Top-down, imposed reform doesn’t work. Not long term at least.

Canada is a mess right now, and if you look at the problem at only the surface level, you might imagine a change of government would go a long way to resolving our many issues. But that’s the surface level. I am out and about with average Canadians shooting off their mouths after a few drinks enough to convince me that if Justin Trudeau resigned tomorrow, the Liberal Party would almost surely replace him with someone worse, and next election would produce the closest carbon copy of Trudeau’s globalist progressivism the Canadian electorate could possibly come up with.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: The Surveillance State

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

CNET reports that the Chinese government is now using surveillance cameras, facial recognition and smart glasses to score people on their social behavior.

Tom: Mariel Myers says, “China plans to give all of its 1.4 billion citizens a personal score, based on how they behave.” Not ten years down the road, or even five, but next year. The technology is already up and running. Get a low enough score, and you could be publicly shamed or denied all sorts of privileges.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Why Are We So Easily Shaken?

I won’t soon forget his face.

He was perhaps thirty or forty years of age, well-dressed and smart looking, a typical man of his era. He was just one among the thousands who had come to this week-long Christian conference.

Every morning, the speakers had been dealing with the reasons for faith, their goal being to show people how firm and rational the foundation for our beliefs really is. Naturally, in this day and age, they had found it necessary to refer often to the recent screeds of people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris, the self-appointed “brights” of the atheist world, the so-called “Four Horsemen” of the secular apocalypse; though, really, all four are theological lightweights, since contempt for one’s subject matter tends to make one rather imprecise. Anyway, they make their way by preaching to the atheistic converted, reciting to them the same old canards that have been circulating since Darwin, Freud, Marx and Nietzsche. (Truly there is no new thing under the sun.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A Snail Dissolving into Slime

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

How does a Christian deal with sentiments like this?

It is reasonable to classify Psalm 58 among the so-called “imprecatory psalms”. It is certainly replete with cries for vengeance, not just justice. My favorite couplet is this one: “Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Nothing to be Proud Of

“Pride Month” is upon us once again, though for Canadians it is only the beginning of sorrows, the first of four months dedicated to the government-sanctioned celebration of a lifestyle the Bible calls an abomination.

Naturally, the “season” commences with a barrage of new data, which, as with all survey results, is open to multiple interpretations.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Anonymous Asks (253)

“What does it mean that God will rejoice over us with singing?”

The question comes from a verse in Zephaniah, which reads: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

It provides a great illustration of the way many people tend to read the Bible.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The Priests Go First

When Malachi condemns the people of Israel for their unfaithfulness, he starts with the priests.

Hmm. That may seem a little unfair. After all, the priests in Israel had limited control over the minds and hearts of the people. When Israelites chose to bring blind, lame and sick animals to offer their God, it could hardly be said to be the priesthood’s fault.

Could it?

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Mining the Minors: The Halftime Show

Back in September of 2020, we began our journey through the twelve Minor Prophets. Slightly less than three years later, we are roughly halfway complete, having covered Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Nahum and Habakkuk. It’s been an interesting experiment so far, and one I intend to complete, Lord willing, but it is starting to look like at least a five year project at this point.

I especially dread Zechariah. In a good way.

Friday, June 09, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Abandoning Evangelism

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

Relevant Magazine says the results of this new study by Barna are shocking.

Tom: I’m more inclined to nod sadly at the obvious, I guess, which is this: 47% of millennials believe evangelizing others is … wrong.

I’m not sure why anyone is surprised. We live in a society that prizes tolerance, inclusivity and a sort of pseudo-respect for the traditions and culture of others above all else. On top of that, the vast majority of Christians have allowed their children to grow up in an environment that propagandizes them from 9:00 to 3:15 five days a week for most of their formative years.

What exactly did we think would happen, Immanuel Can?

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Tracking True

So it was my birthday, and a friend says to me, “Why don’t we go sailing on the big water?”

I’d sailed in a small way before, but that sounded good. So off we set.

My friend let me take the tiller while he went up to the prow deck and relaxed in the sun. “Just keep your eye on the compass in front of you and trust that,” he said. “So long as it says what it says now, we’re going to be on course.”

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Discerning the Body

“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

“Let a person examine himself,” intoned the elder, before breaking the bread and handing it out to the congregation. I sat in my pew shaking in my boots.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Thee, Thee Only

“Against you, you only, have I sinned.”

Do you have trouble with this verse? I certainly do. Just like I struggle with a lot of hyperbole in scripture.

What? There’s hyperbole in scripture? You mean people said things under the direction of the Holy Spirit of God that weren’t intended to be understood literally?

Monday, June 05, 2023

Anonymous Asks (252)

“Is it possible to love a person you don’t like?”

Thankfully, yes. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We may wink at certain kinds of misbehavior, especially when we find them clever or funny, but God knows there is nothing to like about sin. Yet he displayed his love toward us when we were thoroughly detestable and utterly unfit for his presence.

But I suppose the real question is whether it is possible for human beings to love unlikable people. That’s a little tougher.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Servants and Sons

“Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son.”

Servants and sons operate on different levels, says the writer to the Hebrews. Two differences right there in this single verse. First, Moses the servant was, Christ the Son is; that is to say the Son still being faithful when the servant has long ceased from service. Second, Moses the servant was in the house, Christ the Son is over it. Those are different spheres of responsibility.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Mining the Minors: Habakkuk (9)

Psalm 110 and Isaiah 53 are among the most-quoted passages in the New Testament. However, if we break the quotations down to individual verses, Habakkuk 2:4 is also right up there, appearing on three separate occasions as evidence for three slightly different lines of theological argument.

Before we consider how the NT writers use it, however, we should probably consider the point Habakkuk was making in its original context.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: The Goodness of Abortion

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

In the last two weeks we’ve seen first New York then Virginia begin to rewrite their abortion laws.

Tom: In their new Reproductive Health Act, the State of New York removed abortion from the State’s criminal code and expanded access up to birth and the third trimester in what Governor Andrew Cuomo called “the most aggressive abortion law in the country”. Lawmakers and bystanders literally applauded. Not to be outdone, a Virginia Democratic lawmaker promptly proposed a bill that would make it possible for a mother to retroactively “abort” her child minutes after he or she is born.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Mismeetings of the Christian Church

“Blest be the tie that binds
 Our hearts in Christian love:
 The fellowship of kindred minds
 Is like to that above.”

So sang the congregation.

And they sang it every Sunday.

They sang it whenever it was announced that they had a visitor or new congregant come among them.

A nice gesture, wasn’t it?