Monday, July 31, 2023

Anonymous Asks (260)

“What’s the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?”

When translating scripture from one language to another, experts must take into account that no single word in the receptor language may capture the meaning of the original word precisely. In such cases, they may employ a phrase to replace a single word, or else choose the best possible single word approximation.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

The Sinless Christian

I was asked to do a study on sinless perfectionism recently for the first time in my life. You might think that’s a subject we’d have handled here on the blog, given that we’ve been publishing new articles daily since December 2013 and recently passed 3,500 posts; and certainly, we’ve made reference to the concept once or twice. But no, we’ve never gone into the teaching in any depth.

Partly this is because I’ve never encountered someone who believes in it.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Mining the Minors: Zephaniah (7)

In the course of our studies in the Minor Prophets, it has come to our attention repeatedly that prophetic utterances often apply to multiple times and places, and that their fulfillments may be literal, spiritual or both. It is possible to read Zephaniah 1:1 through 3:7 as applying almost exclusively to the period from the reign of Josiah in Judah through to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and the decades that followed. All but a few verses in these passages have already been fulfilled.

From 3:8 on, however, it is evident the prophet is speaking about days that are still future even for today’s reader.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Cult of Personality

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

Sunny Shell no longer follows John Piper or any of his ministries, and she certainly doesn’t endorse them to her friends. Why? Well, Piper invited speakers to his Desiring God National Conferences whose character and practices Sunny finds highly questionable, and Piper publicly participated in a “mystical type exercise”. Sunny concludes that Piper has been in some ways “led away from sola scriptura”, and has effectively written him off.

Tom: Now, I’m not about to critique Sunny’s choices here, Immanuel Can. I have more than a few doctrinal quibbles with Mr. Piper myself. But her post brings up a significant issue.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Faith’s Got Legs

It’s been a good winter for walking.

There’s hardly been any ice on the sidewalks, for one thing. For another, you could go out in February and march about in a thin jacket.

My little terrier has been ecstatic, actually. He loves a good walk. Dogs need a couple every day; and unlike in other winters, there have been plenty of smells around for him to get into. He stops everywhere, and he finds everything delightful. My dog trainer would never approve, but I can’t resist indulging him a little bit, and so our peregrinations contain frequent pauses to let him sniff about. Sometimes I actually think we walk his nose more than we walk my legs. But who could begrudge him a winter like this?

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Alternative Theories of Atonement

Theologians refer to something called the “penal substitutionary theory of atonement” (PSA), which is a complicated way of trying to explain that Christ died in the place of sinners, taking on himself the full sentence we deserved in order to fully satisfy God with respect to sin. PSA is the traditional way of understanding one aspect of what the Lord Jesus was doing on the cross.

A number of people have proposed alternative theories of atonement — offering, in effect, substitutes for substitution — primarily because they dislike the idea of an angry God displaying his wrath against sin.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

A Substitute for Substitution

The cross of Christ saves men and women from the wrath of God.

That notion troubles Matthew Distefano. He’s probably not the only one, but he is the only one I know who is currently writing a book about it, which he has entitled Heretic! An LGBTQ-Affirming, Divine-Violence Denying Christian Universalist’s Replies to Some of Evangelical Christianity’s Most Pressing Concerns.

“Ah yes,” you say, “I can see where this is going.” Probably true.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Anonymous Asks (259)

“What does it mean to be dead to sin?”

The phrase “dead to sin” comes from the language of Romans 6, in almost every translation you can find. Paul starts with “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He ends with “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Fair enough. So what DOES that mean exactly?

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Memory Lapse

Every little local church has its characters. That’s not exactly what Peter was referring to when he called us a “peculiar people”, but it remains the case all the same. Some Christians are … well, odd. They study the scripture diligently, which is good, but seem to reliably produce the weirdest possible interpretations of it, which is probably not so good.

Novelty isn’t exclusively associated with error, but when we run into a Christian whose energies are primarily devoted to coming up with interpretations that defy conventional wisdom, a little verification is in order.

To say the least.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Mining the Minors: Zephaniah (6)

The last verses of the previous chapter of Zephaniah contemplate the obliteration of the capital city of Assyria, Nineveh.

Much has been said in the writings of other prophets concerning the evils of the world’s biggest cosmopolitan center in that day. Through Zephaniah, God singles out the sin of self-confidence, though the rulers of Nineveh had plenty more than that for which to account. Nineveh put its trust in a natural moat, rivers that surrounded it on three sides and forced attackers to approach it from the west. Its inhabitants said to themselves, “I am, and there is no one else”, because they could not imagine anyone more powerful than they were.

But of course there was. There was always God. Nineveh fell to the Chaldeans in 612 BC, as the Hebrew prophets foretold, and it was the Lord who gave Nebuchadnezzar his victory over them.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Ranking Evil

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

History has produced some seriously wicked people. On one level, that’s irrelevant: the comparative gravity or triviality of a man’s sins, as we assess them, makes him no more and no less subject to judgment than any human being born of Adam’s stock. Naturally speaking, we are all hell-bound and desperately in need of Christ.

Tom: That said, some of the people on this list have done incredible damage to the world and to their fellow men and women. Larry Taunton’s team ranked them 1-10. You may or may not agree.

What do you think of the list, Immanuel Can? Does it show a sense of perspective?

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Collective Madness

“They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name.’ ”

What is collectivism? It’s not just the belief that it helps to have others around, or that a group can do more than a lone person can. Rather, it’s the belief and practice of making a group more important than any or all individuals in it.

It requires us to define the value of each human being by the crowds to which we suppose them to belong — their cultural, racial, economic, educational, sexual and historical peer-groups. It’s a form of Marxism, really, but Marxism in new clothes, because the evils of Marxism are too well known.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Settled Science

Science promoters reassure us of the safety of the peer review process. Most people imagine peer review consists of teams of scientists performing experiments to verify claims made in published studies. In reality, peer review often consists of little more than proofreading, and vast numbers of allegedly peer-reviewed studies have been demonstrated to be fraudulent. The editor of one of Britain’s top medical journals opined that “much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue”.


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Messengers and Marketers

The apostle Peter is writing about the letters of the apostle Paul, and he has this to say: “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” When something is hard to understand, it can stumble people, becoming an obstacle to faith or discipleship.

Believe it or not, that’s not always a bad thing.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Anonymous Asks (258)

“What does God have to say to single mothers?”

Go and sin no more”?

Okay, not funny. More than a few single mothers — widows, abandoned wives — get little or no choice in the matter. Still, many young women these days elect to bring a child into the world under less than optimal circumstances, in which case much of what the Lord would say to single mothers is likely to be the same sort of thing he would say to people who have sinned in other ways.

Even “sin no more” was also said to a man. So there is that.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Inerrancy and Trust

Andy Stanley has taken a fair bit of flack for statements like this one about the inerrancy of scripture:

“When a specific view of inspiration is elevated to the status of doctrine, the Bible becomes an obstacle to faith for some.”

Critics have called Stanley everything from a liberal to a heretic, as Jared Wilson documents here. I can’t speak to the heresy part. I’ve read Stanley’s Irresistible, and you can find the critical commentary it inspired on our Book Reviews page. I think it’s misguided, sometimes gratuitously flippant and outright wrong in places, but I wouldn’t call it heretical in the sense that it would cause me to question Stanley’s devotion to Christ and his people, or his general orthodoxy.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Mining the Minors: Zephaniah (5)

Buried amidst all the specific prophesied judgments of Zephaniah 2 is this more general statement: “The Lord will … famish all the gods of the earth, and to him shall bow down, each in its place, all the lands of the nations.”

We should never forget as we read the scriptures that the rise and fall of nations, past and present, is not merely the product of the ingenuity of human generals or the whims of the kings of the earth. Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin are not the people calling the shots. Behind the scenes lie the principalities and powers, the “gods ['ĕlōhîm] of the earth”. In pitting nation against nation, God is displaying his superiority to and sovereignty over every spirit being in the universe, no matter how powerful or influential. He promises to “famish” or starve them, diminishing their glory and demonstrating their relative insignificance.

The rest of the chapter is the evidence that backs up this statement.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

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

Time has a way of dealing with issues that once seemed irresolvable. In 2018, we passed the 25th anniversary of Gail Riplinger’s New Age Bible Versions, a 1993 offering that rocked the evangelical world by purporting to expose the NASB, NIV and other modern translations of the Bible as literally satanic and their translators as practicing occultists.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Ship of Fools, or The Titanic Arrogance of Postmodernity

We’re setting sail
To the place on the map
From which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of
the joker and the fool
By the light of the crosses that burn

Drawn by the promise of
the women and the lace
And the gold and the cotton and pearls
It's the place where they keep all the darkness you need
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby

You will pay tomorrow
You’re gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow”

Ship of Fools, World Party (1986)

Those are pretty “Christian” lyrics, really.

Oh, they’re not genteel, kindly or polite, to be sure; but they’re real, they’re true and they’re accurate — at least when we apply them to our present society.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

One and Done

Little is known about the writer of Psalm 89, but it’s still a great deal more than we know about the writers of some other psalms.

Ethan the Ezrahite was a Levite musician, poet and prophet who came to prominence as a young man during David’s reign, continuing his ministry into the reign of Solomon and perhaps even that of his ill-fated son Rehoboam, which lasted from 931-913 BC.

Evidence for that last statement to come …

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

That Flash of Anger

You’re talking to a friend about a third party. It really doesn’t matter who — I’ve had these conversations about Madonna, about family members, and even about the CEO of Canadian Tire. But, though the conduct of the subject of your discussion has precisely zero impact on either your friend or you, it seems blatantly obvious to you that this individual has done something morally and biblically indefensible, something that any right-thinking person would usually condemn.

Then your friend sets out to defend what that person did. Oh boy.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Anonymous Asks (257)

“Who authored the Psalms?”

Scripture clearly identifies many of the psalmists with superscriptions. Sometimes we even get a little bit of detail about the circumstances in which they wrote. For example, the superscription for Psalm 3 is “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son”, and Psalm 7 is called “A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjaminite”.

Please don’t ask what a “shiggaion” is. It’s one of those words Strong’s Concordance labels as “doubtful”.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Evidence We Can Point To

Apologists gotta apologize.

You can’t blame them, really. It’s how apologists are made, and the body of Christ would not be complete or anywhere near so well defended if we didn’t have them. But sometimes, no matter how hard we want to demonstrate that some assertion we disagree about in scripture is intellectually, historically, scientifically or factually defensible, we are going to hit a wall.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Mining the Minors: Zephaniah (4)

Lee Child writes about two fictional Colorado towns called Hope and Despair, both established by settlers on their way west to California. In his story, the Rockies are visible from the flatlands around Hope, blue and dominating, tantalizingly close. However, the territory west of Hope is mildly elevated, providing a clearer picture of the real distances. Only a few miles further west, the wagon trainers in Child’s story come to realize their earlier optimism was the product of an optical illusion, and that they are still hundreds of miles from their goal. Hence the name Despair for the second town.

Prophetic distances are equally hard to estimate from afar.

Friday, July 07, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: The Good, the Bad and the Godly

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

Plato is among the most influential figures in philosophical thought. He is an absolute giant, and it would difficult to overestimate the extent to which his writing has shaped the Western mindset.

That being understood, unless you have studied theology or philosophy, you may find it hard to understand how a 2,400-year-old dialogue has any relevance at all to the question of whether God exists. And yet one question posed by Socrates in Plato’s Euthyphro is still bandied about online regularly.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

The Force Farce

Last week we were talking about the charge made by so many non-Christians today that we are guilty of forcing our views on them.

At first blush, the charge seemed ridiculous. After all, Christians represent absolutely no threat of physical or political violence: even to imagine that is just paranoid, and completely misunderstands the fundamental necessity of faith. Moreover, Christians may sometimes choose to absent themselves from participating in or approving of worldly values, activities or lifestyles because of conscience, but that represents no threat of force: it’s simply a matter of personal conscience — the very thing that world is at pains to affirm.

So where does the charge of “force” come from?

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

The Commentariat Speaks (27)

Over at Doug Wilson’s place, Jackson asks:

“Why are pastors so terrible at political philosophy? It seems to me that most pastors just assume a modern political theory of democracy, constitutionalism, liberalism, or republicanism and then read it into the Bible.”

Good question, and an observation that is largely true.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Picking and Choosing

Back in April, Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason wrote a helpful post about the Old Testament law. Koukl says critics accuse Christians of picking and choosing from Old Testament laws. They claim we apply some and not others, and do so at our own convenience.

So how should we answer people who object to the use of a verse from Leviticus to condemn, say, homosexuality, because “Christians are no longer under law”?

Monday, July 03, 2023

Anonymous Asks (256)

“Why is fellowship so important for Christians?”

The early church devoted itself to four things: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers. The critical importance of three of these to church life should be obvious to anyone. However, the unique role fellowship plays in the life of Christ’s body may not leap out to the uninitiated reader of the book of Acts in quite the same way.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Guitar Solos Not Played

I remember making a choice that would significantly affect the rest of my life.

I won’t claim I made the best possible decision. It was painful, emotional, and the exact circumstances of making it remain pleasantly hazy in memory today. One of the falsities with which I comforted myself at the time was this: If you don’t go down this road, you’ll never know what might have happened if you did, and the uncertainty about what might have been will eat you alive.

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Mining the Minors: Zephaniah (3)

“In the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.”

There are banquets where we’d all appreciate a place at the table — the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the Lord’s Supper. In scripture, there are also meals to which nobody in his right mind would want an invitation. Nobody covets a seat at the dinner served during the “day of the Lord”.