Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Glen Scrivener on Equality

A Church of England minister and evangelist, author, speaker and filmmaker, Glen Scrivener has an unusual knack for making the things of heaven relatable in today’s culture. I picked up his most recent book The Air We Breathe: How We All Came to Believe in Freedom, Kindness, Progress and Equality after watching a YouTube interview with John Anderson about its thesis. Scrivener contends that a number of core Western values have their basis in the Christian faith of our forefathers. Our societies, he argues, have absorbed these values by osmosis. Most of us don’t know why we believe these things, but we believe them all the same.

In general, I think he has a valid point to make. When you get down to specifics, however, it’s another story.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Anonymous Asks (273)

“What does the Bible say about women’s rights?”

Many people have strong opinions about how things should be, some of which are better and more biblical than others. Graduating from mere personal opinion to a “right” requires two things: (1) collective agreement about what any group’s entitlements actually are; and (2) a means of enforcement when disagreements arise.

When a society is functioning properly, its laws have both these properties.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Impossible Problem

When Jarred Cinman wrote an opinion piece for his blog in 2015 entitled “The five best reasons not to believe in God”, I doubt he imagined he was breaking new ground in the ongoing debate over whether the world would be better off without religion. He couldn’t have. After all, he quoted Stephen Fry, whose own swipes at God have prompted the occasional comment in this space.

Unbelief is hardly a novel concept.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Mining the Minors: Obadiah (1)

“Two nations are in your womb,” the Lord told Rebekah, and “the older shall serve the younger.” The story is so well known that I hardly need tell you the older brother’s name was Esau and the younger Jacob. Jacob became the father of the nation of Israel, Esau the father of Edom, and God set about fulfilling his word to their mother (with some minor, totally unnecessary assistance from mom and a notwithstanding a less successful effort to thwart it from dad).

Later, God would tell his prophet Malachi, “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.” Paul quoted that much-misunderstood line in Romans 9 to the delight of determinists everywhere.

More on that later. Much later.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Not Even Once Through

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

Immanuel Can: I recently came across this quote, which might be worth a little back-and-forth:

“My wife and I are both voracious readers (two to three books a week), so there is little of intellectual interest that I do not enjoy. And of course, the Bible is perhaps the single most interesting book ever written, though it's not really ‘a’ book, is it? I have long been bewildered by the fact that so many people claim the Bible as their authority, but have never bothered to read, much less study it, even once, all the way through. Doesn’t that amaze you?”

Tom: Doesn’t that amaze me? Well, it does and it doesn’t ...

Thursday, October 26, 2023

On Being Taken In

“ ‘You see,’ said Aslan, ‘they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.’ ”

— C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

“You are not going to fool me with that religion stuff.”

That seems to be the position of many people in our modern world. There are many religions, they observe, and they disagree about all kinds of really basic things, like who God is, what morality should be, and what the point of life itself is. And since they all disagree, there’s got to be a lot of tommyrot and humbug out there.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Disqualifying Dad (An Unlikely Defense of John Piper)

John Piper is a well-known 77-year old Minnesota pastor and media presence with four sons, three of whom currently do not rock his spiritual boat. Barnabas is a pastor in Nashville, Benjamin a construction worker and Karsten a college English teacher. If either of the latter two are not believers in good standing at their local churches, we certainly never hear about it.

Yay for good parenting doing what it is supposed to do.

Abraham Piper is another story. The man even has his own Wikipedia entry and a TikTok following of over two million for his two pages, self-described as “a smidge of sacrilege” and peppered with salty language. Not a believer, and not only out and proud of it, but formally excommunicated to boot, and dedicated to taking shots at the faith and publicly mocking his father’s beliefs.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Taking Sides

A humorous video on YouTube depicts a flummoxed actor trying desperately to come up with the “right take” on the ongoing situation in Israel. As we all know, actors are expected to comment on every serious issue in the news, presumably because popularity = expertise (a questionable assumption at best). Naturally, this actor is looking to express an opinion that will meet with universal approval, and he recognizes that publicly embracing either Israel or Palestine will infuriate ±50% of his fan base.

Whatever to do?

Monday, October 23, 2023

Anonymous Asks (272)

“How would you describe a relationship with God to an unsaved person?”

There are probably more ways to talk about a relationship with God than most unsaved people really want to hear, so I tend to try to keep my descriptions short and in the plainest language I can come up with, always hoping they may lead to further questions.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Love and Conditions

I have a friend in a bad family situation.

Actually, I have a large number of these. Most of you probably do too. No physical abuse, only a little occasional verbal nastiness, but the relationship is not a Christian marriage and the children are not growing up immersed in or even exposed to the training and instruction of the Lord. The biblical authority structure is not there and, at least from the outside, all the love appears to be flowing in one direction only.

My friend proposes to fix the situation by loving the family unconditionally, perhaps because so often we hear that is the way that God loves us.

Does he really? Maybe we need to explore that idea a little.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Mining the Minors: Joel (10)

Of all the Minor Prophets to date, the New Testament’s writers arguably quote Joel the most. I say “arguably”, because some of the language used by Joel is so similar to that of other prophets, especially Isaiah, that in several cases it’s not certain whether the NT writer was thinking of one passage or the other, or perhaps had both in mind. Many of these occur in the book of Revelation.

For anyone interested in deeper study of the end times, I’ve included all possible references in each of the Minor and Major Prophets at the end of each section. There are too many of these to quote them all in full here.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Atheism by the Numbers

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

A short list of statistical data about atheists compiled by Pew Research Center:

94% approve of LGBTQ lifestyles
91% believe in evolution
87% approve of abortion
83% believe ethics are situational
78% are white
78% have no children
69% vote Democrat
68% are men
65% never discuss religion
54% feel wonder at the universe
43% have a college degree (vs. 27% general public)
40% are ages 18-29
40% have never married
  9% proselytize weekly

Tom: Some of these things I knew, some I didn’t. Anything you find surprising there, IC? I’ll admit to raising an eyebrow over the claim that only 9% are out there regularly commending their view of the universe to others. It sure seems higher than that online.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Mouth Almighty

Mouth almighty, that is what I’ve got,
 Mouth almighty, telling you
    what’s what.
 Mouth almighty.
 I wish I’d never opened my mouth
    almighty …

— Elvis Costello (1983)

Some years ago, I was working at a Christian summer camp.

By all evidence, it had been an excellent year — many children’s lives touched, many young people growing in knowing God, good friendships formed, spiritual growth on every side, and a safe and successful physical program.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Spirit of Adoption

Jews pray to God generically, though they sometimes write his name “G-d”. Muslims pray to God generically; that’s what “Allah” means. The devout men and women of the Old Testament addressed their prayers to God generically: “O God” (or, more frequently, “O Lord” and sometimes “O Lord God”).

But they never prayed “O Father”. Not once.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Quote of the Day (45)

As we have worked our way through the Minor Prophets in our Saturday studies, we have noted repeatedly the problem of communication that the Holy Spirit had to resolve when speaking through Hebrew seers two to three thousand years ago about events still to take place. I mention the Holy Spirit particularly, because the prophets themselves may not always have understood the communication barriers involved, though the Spirit of God was well aware of what was going on as he carried them along.

After all, in many cases the prophets had no idea when God would bring about the fulfillment of the events they described, let alone all the things that would happen to the nations and peoples they mentioned in the interval.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Anonymous Asks (271)

“Does the Bible promote multiculturalism?”

For our purposes, we may define multiculturalism as the political policy of promoting the settlement of large numbers from diverse ethnocultural backgrounds in the same geographic space on the assumption they can coexist peacefully, profitably and permanently. Most Western countries are increasingly multicultural these days, the developing world much less so.

Is that a good thing? Does multiculturalism originate in biblical thinking?

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Minds and Hearts

You’ll never change anyone’s mind about God,” wrote Greg Koukl over at Stand to Reason recently. I completely agree with him. Even the most formidable apologists for the Christian faith never save anyone. It’s the Lord who opens blinded eyes and stopped ears. It’s the Holy Spirit of God who testifies along with our testimony. Without his work in the hearts of unbelievers, Christians are powerless to accomplish anything of eternal value. We are utterly dependent on him.

Let me give you a perfect example.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Mining the Minors: Joel (9)

The Christian who reads the last few verses of Joel 3 immediately says to himself, “Aha, that’s about the return of the Lord.” No Judean of Joel’s day would ever have thought such a thing, at least not if he only had Joel’s prophecy to go by; after all, you can hardly speak of a second advent when you have yet to distinguish it from the first, and both are still far in the future.

Nevertheless, that’s what this is all about. The Second Coming. Christ’s victorious return to reign over planet Earth.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Five Bad Reasons (2)

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

Liberal Christian blogger Benjamin Corey claims more believers — especially older ones — are becoming “LGBTQ-affirming”, and this Pew poll appears to back him up. Whether this is due to social pressure, a fear of being thought intolerant or just plain old battle fatigue remains to be seen.

Tom: Corey lists five reasons he believes Christians are changing their minds about homosexuality. Immanuel Can and I are fisking his arguments for orthodoxy. We’re not finding much ...

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Perfect Confidence

We were talking in a previous post about the goal of perfection.

Christians sometimes expect this of themselves, and some even claim to have attained it. And we have to admit that since we serve a perfect God, it is most natural to jump to the conclusion that he expects perfection of us. And in a sense, he does: no one who is not perfect is fit for fellowship with God. But we ended on a hopeful note (I hope), since we saw that the work of making us perfect is not ours but God’s … and to him be the glory for it.

However, a question surely remains: If God’s going to do it, just how? Surely he expects some effort from me — he doesn’t want me to go on sinning like a wretch, while blithely waiting for him to sort me out in spite of myself; or worse, just presuming that because perfecting me is his work, and salvation is forever, I can live like a complete moral wreck and imagine God is obligated to take me in whatever state I end up. That can’t be the upshot.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Crux of Our Affairs

Brad Torgersen is a science fiction writer and a devout Mormon. He also supports a woman’s right to choose in the matter of abortion. Most Mormons don’t, as Brad admits on his blog. I don’t either, as even the most occasional reader here has probably figured out in short order. Torgersen’s rationale for supporting abortion rights is one I’ve never run into before. It’s scripture-based but logically faulty and biblically inconsistent, and worth a few minutes to consider.

It revolves around the matter of agency, one of my favorite subjects.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

No Greater Burden

“Nor must we speak evil of the dead. Let nothing but what is good be said of the departed.”

— Francis Spirago,
The Catechism Explained

“And he departed with no one’s regret.”

— 2 Chronicles 21:20, concerning
Jehoram king of Judah

During his last few years, my father resolved to clear his office of as much clutter as possible rather than leave behind a mess for others to deal with. Almost every time I would visit, he’d invite me to take a few books home with me. I carried off perhaps twenty hardcovers in all, heavy on the writings of the fourth and fifth generations of Plymouth Brethren. Those faded spines were artifacts of my childhood. After Dad went to be with the Lord, I resolved to read every one of them. Presumably he had, so I could do it too.

And I did. It was an interesting experience. Times have certainly changed.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Anonymous Asks (270)

“What does it mean to receive the grace of God in vain?”

Today’s question comes from 2 Corinthians 6:1, where Paul writes to the believers in Corinth, “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” When you appeal to somebody not to do something, it’s evident there is a less desirable outcome you are trying to avoid.

So then, what does receiving the grace of God in vain look like?

Sunday, October 08, 2023

The Role of the Die

You may be thinking my title contains a typo. That will probably happen one of these days, but this isn’t it. No, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the way luck, chance or fortune factor into the Christian life.

Of course, how we view that depends on what we believe about events that to us appear random. To be consistent with their theology, Christian determinists are obliged to assign responsibility for every transaction in the universe — favorable or unfavorable — to God, right down to the atomic level. “All events whatsoever,” wrote John Calvin. Many of his followers take him literally.

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Mining the Minors: Joel (8)

A couple of weeks ago we pointed out that we should not expect to find the church on earth during the great tribulation, and especially not to find the church in Jerusalem when the Lord judges the armies of the northerner and drives him from Palestine. Joel’s prophecy has almost nothing to say about godly Gentiles, dead, alive or in resurrection bodies. Reading us into earlier portions of the book is highly questionable.

That changes with today’s reading. It’s subtle, but I think we are definitely there, though even the most careful students of Joel would not have been able to easily identify us prior to the writing of Revelation near the end of the first century.

Friday, October 06, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Five Bad Reasons (1)

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

More Christians are becoming “LGBTQ-affirming”, says blogger Benjamin Corey, basing his claim on this Pew poll.

This comes right on the heels of a Harris Poll commissioned by GLAAD which appears to indicate — much to the chagrin of LGBTQ advocates — that affirmation of same-sex relationships by unsaved millennials is trending in the opposite direction.

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Do You Want to Go Out?

That’s what we used to ask back in the day.

Yeah, I know that was a hundred years ago, before the era of shacking up and then the era of hooking up, and today’s era of everything’s up.

Bear with me: I’m old.

Well, old-er. I’m not giving up my happy delusions of youth just yet. And I’m not so old that I can’t remember what it felt like to ask a girl out. Oh, yes: it was misery … the obligatory lump in the throat and sweaty palms, the tension in the air and the vertiginous moment when she made up her mind … and then … the answer.

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Is It Worth It?

Would you be willing to be fired for “misgendering” a fellow employee?

Unsurprisingly, Christians disagree on this one. One school of thought is that it’s “unloving” not to use a fellow employee’s designated pronouns, that it presents an unnecessary barrier to sharing the gospel. Others feel that actively validating someone’s cultivated false image or delusionary impression about themselves is a form of dishonesty, and Christians ought to be committed to truth. The third (and probably largest) group of Christians just hopes the whole issue will go away before they have to confront it in a situation where there is anything financial at stake.

Well, good luck with that, fence sitters. The fence is already wobbling under you.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

The Commentariat Speaks (29)

Doug Wilson gets the best letters from readers. This week, an anonymous twenty-something man is hunting for sound advice about a prospective girlfriend with baggage from her teen years. He figured Doug was a better choice than Dear Abby, whose daughter Jeanne writes her column these days. (I wondered how she was still going after all these years; I used to read her when I was about ten.) The new Abby’s readers have just as many problems as Doug’s (more and worse, actually), but Abby can’t give you a biblical take on your issues.

In this case, Doug’s answer is more than adequate. I quote: “If you are going to behave that way, then do her a big favor and break up now.” Now THAT’s telling it like it is.

Monday, October 02, 2023

Anonymous Asks (269)

“Does God love everyone or just Christians?”

Love is not just something God does, it’s who he is, the overarching quality that characterizes him and the “glue” that binds together all his glorious attributes. Scripture is clear that he expresses his loving nature freely in the world, sending rain on the just and unjust alike. This expression of love is often referred to as “providence” or “common grace”, made manifest in indiscriminate kindness, delay of judgment and so on. Such generalized goodwill on God’s part toward mankind despite our fallen condition makes sense: it would be odd for Christ to command his followers to love our enemies if God did not act lovingly toward them too.

And he did. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were loved before we were ever saved.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

The Look

People will let you down.

That shouldn’t be a shocking statement. Most will agree with it. Live long enough and you will be the victim of disloyalties big or small at least once, or you will know someone who was. Still, with all our experience, we rarely see the big one coming. Quality relationships require emotional investment, and emotional investment makes you vulnerable.

Vulnerable people get “that look” when the hammer drops.