Sunday, December 31, 2023

Reasoning About Reasons

Years ago, I sat on a civil court jury. A fellow had incurred a fatal injury and his family was looking for monetary redress from a panoply of defendants.

The duty assigned to me and to my fellow jurors was first to assess the evidence and determine if, in fact, there was any blame to be allocated. But the job was a great deal subtler than that. If we determined that something or someone was to blame for this man’s regrettable demise, our second task was to allocate responsibility between the guilty parties, using a number for each culprit less than and totaling 100 (say, for example, 50% to the victim, 25% to his employer and 25% to the company that leased the equipment on which he died).

Apparently, basic math was a prerequisite for jury duty. Who knew?

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Mining the Minors: Haggai (5)

Exactly three months after the returned exiles of Judah obediently began to rebuild the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem following a hiatus of at least seventeen years, the prophet Haggai delivered yet another message from the Lord to his people. Unlike the previous two, which were messages of undiluted encouragement, this one did not seem designed to spare anyone’s feelings.

Sometimes we need an accurate assessment of our spiritual state in order to move forward.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Nonsense That Remains Nonsense

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

Tom: C.S. Lewis has a line I love. He says, “Nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” It applies nicely to lots of religious words and concepts.

I felt a little like that reading the Moody Publishers piece you sent me this week, Immanuel Can. The author of “Worship Leaders: We Are Not Rock Stars”, Stephen Miller, has written a short promotional piece entitled “Worship Leaders are Theologians”, in which he uses one extra-scriptural term to define another. My head is spinning trying to sort out all the modern church-speak.

How far away are we getting from the New Testament here, IC?

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Quitting Before the Final Whistle

“It’s not over ’til it’s over” — so goes the famous saying in the world of sport. Pity the poor competitor who thought his team had secured victory, began celebrating, and forgot the last-ditch home run, the injury-time goal, the buzzer-beating long shot, or didn’t quite get into the end zone before spiking the ball. Apparent victory suddenly turns to horror and shame.

Who would choose to be that man?

In scripture, we find this observation: “Love hopes all things.” A hundred times, perhaps, I have seen and heard this phrase … from the pulpit, on plaques, on the radio, and of course, in every wedding ceremony since Adam. Never have I thought much about what it means.

“Love hopes all things.” Sounds nice. So what?

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Missing the Obvious

The tendency to read familiar Bible passages the way we have always read them is almost overwhelming, and sometimes we miss the obvious. Our assumptions about the meaning of any word or phrase invariably default to the way we first heard them or had them explained to us. Viewing them more accurately is the task of a lifetime of attentive reading and study.

The dissenting views of other Christians and the proliferation of translations helps. Hearing a text the way someone else hears it forces us to ask which interpretation — if any — is the correct one.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Anonymous Asks (281)

“What’s the difference between legitimate criticism and the kind of judgment Jesus condemned?”

Judge not, that you be not judged,” said the Lord Jesus, providing critics of the Christian faith with their all-time favorite verse, which they translate into something like “Never form an opinion about how we live or what we are doing, and definitely never express one.”

Well, we know the Lord didn’t mean that. He also said, “Judge with right judgment,” so the first verse is manifestly not intended to be taken as a blanket statement.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Right at the Last

It’s Christmas again. We’re right at the last of the year.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? When you’re young, it makes you think of toys and candy and holidays. You’re all about looking forward in your youth. Later, you’re more about looking on: about watching your own children experience the same pleasures, more than feeling them yourself. And as life moves on, and more and more of your lifespan slips into the rear-view mirror, you can’t help but gradually shift to a looking back sort of mood: the end of each year becomes an occasion for mental stock-taking and thinking about what it’s all added up to.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Harking the Herald Angels

“So this is Christmas,” sang John Lennon, “and what have you done?”

That Lennon — never one to get a point.

Whatever Christmas means, you can trust me: it’s not about what you’ve done. When you get stock-taking at the end of the year, you can easily get more than a little depressed. How has the year worked out? Did you achieve all the goals you set for yourself? Did you always live up to the mark, always do your best, and always win what you hoped? How’s it all been going?

Merry, merry Christmas indeed!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Mining the Minors: Haggai (4)

Three old trees of considerable size overshadow my backyard. Between them, they block most of the sun’s rays and tend to kill off the grass near the house. Every year, once the snow is gone and the temperature is regularly above zero, while those big trees are still bare and letting the sun through, I go out with a couple bags of the hardiest, quickest growing grass seed I can find on sale and sow the affected area to catch the spring rains. If the timing is right, I’ll often see little green shoots in a week or two. By June, the whole lawn looks lush.

Next year I’ll have to do it all over again, but that’s how it goes.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Diluting the Faith

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

Salvation Army founder William Booth once said, “I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be: Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.”

Author Daniel Sweet believes American Christianity is already there. One of the problems Sweet identifies is the dilution of the faith almost exactly the way Booth described.

Tom: What do you think, IC? Any of Booth’s formulations ring true to you? I’d argue politics was always without God, but other than that …

Thursday, December 21, 2023

A Dose of Worldliness

What does it really mean to think or to speak “like a Christian”?

Does it mean to be able to make inside spiritual jokes, or to speak bluntly about the human situation? Does it mean to think only from individual experience, or to have a view of the world? Does it mean always to have tidy answers, or to be willing to speak unflinchingly about difficult questions? Does it mean presenting oneself as the self-satisfied fount of all knowledge, or as an earnest learner, a work-in-progress still growing into new answers?

Here are two sets of song lyrics from the same year. One song is nominally Christian and the other is not. Can you guess which is which?

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Language of the Debate (10)

Most of the time, I post a quote at the top of our blog’s homepage because I thoroughly agree with it and its author has said something in a way I only wish I might have. Once in a while, I put up a quote I don’t fully agree with, but which nicely distils some current political or theological issue in a way that may provoke thought and inspire our readers to see if they can come up with a better way of formulating the idea.

So it is with the quote I’ve had up since last week from Doug Wilson. Doug writes, “There are three basic ways for us to organize ourselves — tribalism, globalism, or nationalism. As a Christian, I don’t want tribalism, and I don’t want globalism. What does that leave me with?”

Indeed. What does that leave him with?

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Language Armageddon

Our thought life is a function of our vocabulary. Think about that ... assuming you are able.

Anthropologist and author Christopher Hallpike has observed that it is remarkably difficult, perhaps impossible, to communicate effectively or even think lucidly about something for which one’s language has no words. Societies do not generally have words for concepts they don’t use, items they have never seen or beliefs they haven’t developed.

A higher vocabulary generally reflects higher intelligence, and a shriveled vocabulary limits one’s ability to think and understand beyond the most basic level.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Anonymous Asks (280)

“Is there such a thing as a necessary evil?”

I opened up this can of worms by referring to systematic theology as a necessary evil a while back, so obviously I think there is. From the perspective of humanity, “necessary evils” are undesirable choices that may confront us for no reason we can discern, but more often come about when we have already departed from the word of God in some way, and no longer have the same menu of options available to us as we would have had prior to sinning.

Such choices are “evils” not in the sense that choosing them is in itself always a wicked act, but in the biblical sense, where all possible outcomes of our choices are varying degrees of disagreeable to the person choosing. The Hebrew word for “evil” may refer to either sin or simply misfortune.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Was C.S. Lewis Saved?

“In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

— From Surprised By Joy,
C.S. Lewis, 1955

I loathe theological debates.

To clarify, I do not dislike discoursing about God, and I have no objection to good faith arguments over what the scripture actually teaches to the extent they cleave as closely as possible to the language of scripture itself. The moment they drift off into coined, often pretentious theological terminology, however, we are in a marsh of our own making, and on our way under.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Mining the Minors: Haggai (3)

When things are going wrong around us and the obvious blessings of God a distant memory, it’s natural to wonder why. Scripture offers us a variety of possible explanations.

Job suffered because Satan was trying to break him, and God allowed it for a time in order to prove a point. David spent years on the run from Saul in fear of his life because it was not yet God’s time to give him the kingdom. Israel slaved away in Egypt in order to give the Amorites sufficient time to repent and to become a great nation, among other things. The tower of Siloam fell on eighteen people and killed them, and the Lord told his disciples the victims had done nothing out of the ordinary to deserve their fate. Perhaps it was “just one of those things”. A man was born blind in order that God might display his works in his life.

Things go wrong for all sorts of reasons, don’t they. It’s not all one thing, and we may never know the real reasons in this life.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: The New Social Engineers

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

In this four minute YouTube video on the subject of gender, race and identity, Douglas Murray has a word to the wise about Google, Facebook and Twitter: Big Social is actively trying to change how you think about these issues through a variety of means, including the results you see when you use a search engine online. Spoiler alert: corporations do not have your best interests at heart.

Tom: It’s rarely an effective strategy to announce to your audience, “Here’s a big plateful of tedious propaganda. Chow down.” Our would-be societal engineers are a little smarter than that, aren’t they, IC?

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Beautiful and the Not-So-Good

All over the Christianity Today website are logos for something called “Beautiful Orthodoxy”. It’s their new flagship cause, and their main web page features a major link to a series of sparkling-toothed testimonials from people on how wonderful this is. And they’ve got a conference, organizational partners, and even churches on board.

Some well-known Christian leaders have signed on, it seems: Harold Smith, Katelyn Beaty, Sam Rodriguez, Joni Eareckson Tada … a whole list. Below the testimonials are articles declaring “The world is yearning for Beautiful Orthodoxy”, “Why we need a Beautiful Orthodoxy”, “Why We Champion Beautiful Orthodoxy” and that it’s “A Beautiful Calling”. The page ends with a wide click-on banner proclaiming “Join the Cause”.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Hodgepodge Theology and Stagnation

Churches Without Chests is the personal blog of David de Bruyn, as the author indicates on his “About” page. De Bruyn is a South African Bible teacher who has hosted a weekly radio program called Bible Perspective for more than twenty years while pastoring New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, though he is not its only Bible teacher, as the “Sermons” section of the church’s website attests. I read de Bruyn regularly, and have even combed through his blog archives, which are extensive. It’s solid ministry, and I appreciate his thoughtfulness and passion for the Word.

Lately, he’s been writing about spiritual stagnation.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Politeness vs. Goodness, and Other Observations

A few unasked-for observations triggered by watching Christians attempt to edify one another on social media:

Observation 1: The frequency with which the words “That’s not very Christ-like” are employed is inversely proportional to the speaker’s grasp of what being like Christ actually involves.

Hey, I’m all for the occasional stern rebuke, having benefited from quite a few of them over the years, but for a word of correction to carry real moral authority, it kinda has to, well ... ring true. Lies, misrepresentations and insults don’t prick the conscience; the Holy Spirit does.

If you have never read the Gospels or have only managed to commit to memory the well-known bits about love and forgiveness, drawing an unfavorable comparison to Someone you don’t actually know very much about is probably not your best go-to line.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Anonymous Asks (279)

“Is it possible not to worry about tomorrow?”

Our question today relates to a passage in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount in which the Lord Jesus encourages those who desire to follow him to trust their heavenly Father for their daily needs the same way he did during the three years or so in which he taught and healed in Judea and Galilee.

A Decade Down

Sunday’s post marked ten years of daily commentary, Bible study and engagement with the culture at ComingUntrue. Today’s Anonymous Asks begins a new decade. How far we go down that road remains to be seen, as we continue to append the words “if the Lord wills” to our plans. Friends, family members and co-workers are struggling with the unexpected developments of one sort or another that invariably come with age; it seems improbable we will all continue to cruise along in comparative ease indefinitely.

Either way, we have much for which to be grateful.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Price of Proximity

God is holy.

Not a new thought, I know, but one that, in the opinion of the Holy Spirit, merits mention three times in the nine verses of Psalm 99: “Holy is he! Holy is he! The Lord our God is holy!”

Amen. In fact, he’s so holy that in the Old Testament, those closest to God tended to pay a price for their proximity.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Mining the Minors: Haggai (2)

In his first year on the throne, Cyrus king of Persia ordered the rebuilding of the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem and furnished the returning 42,000 exiles, mostly Jews, with everything they needed to do it. The work started well, then met with opposition from Arab and mixed race locals, then finally came to a halt by order of Artaxerxes, the new Persian monarch, who was obviously unfamiliar with Cyrus’s original edict.

Some Jews probably heaved a sigh of relief when instructed to lay down their tools.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: American Laodicea

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

In a blog post entitled “The 10 Biggest Issues Christian Americans Are Facing Today”, author Daniel Sweet maintains American Christianity is Laodicean in character. Sweet reads the Lord’s condemnation of the church at Laodicea and says this:

“Yes, that’s America. With atheists becoming more strategic in championing their godless worldview, the increasing reticence of Christians to engage in faith-oriented conversations assumes heightened significance. Why would a Christian be reticent about living and sharing his faith in Jesus Christ? Could it be because neither the Word nor the Lord is real to them? And could that be because the doctrine presented to most Christians is illogical, self-contradictory, confusing, bland or unmotivating?”

Tom: That’s pretty harsh, Immanuel Can. Do you think it’s accurate?

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Christian, or just ‘christiany’?

When I was a kid, the local fast food place used to sell a little box of cookies as a sort of quick dessert once we had loaded up on their high-calorie burgers.

One day I was eating out with a friend and happened to notice that on the packet of these little items it said “Chocolaty Chip Cookies”. Not chocolate, “chocolat-y”.

“Why does it say that? What the heck is ‘chocolaty’?” I asked.

“Oh,” said my friend, “it’s not actually chocolate. It’s some kind of chocolate-like thing, and they can’t legally call it chocolate. So they stick the ‘y’ on the end to cover themselves.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

The Commentariat Speaks (30)

One of the most common errors Christians make in interpreting the word of God is failing to distinguish between literal and figurative language. The Lord’s disciples were notorious in this area, and their Master patiently corrected them time and time again.

“How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread?” he asked them. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Again, Peter, James and John, privileged above the others to see the Lord transfigured, came down the mountain “questioning what this rising from the dead might mean”.

They got the figurative literal and the literal figurative.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Semi-Random Musings (32)

Jonathan Noyes’ latest post at the Stand to Reason blog asks “Do You Know What Your Child Is Being Taught about Sex?” It’s a decent primer for Christian parents with children in the public school system, at least with respect to the issue of what is actually being taught. I don’t think Noyes has missed much in describing the variety of poisons to which our children are being exposed.

Where Noyes missed the boat completely is in failing to address how the school system is disseminating its propaganda. In the end, the delivery method matters more than any particular offensive and ungodly bit of misinformation.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Anonymous Asks (278)

“Why does Paul call our difficulties a ‘momentary, light affliction’?”

Our question today comes from 2 Corinthians 4. To answer it, we need to look carefully at the pronouns Paul uses throughout his letter, as these are key to understanding the passage.

Short version: I do not think it’s our difficulties to which the apostle is referring. I believe he is referring to his own.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

The Righteous Nation

Isaiah 26 is Judah’s millennial song. The faithful remnant in Israel is looking back to the Lord’s dealings with them, vindicating them among the nations in the great tribulation, and looking forward to the prospect of Jerusalem as a city set apart to God and Israel as the first among the nations during Christ’s millennial reign.

“Open the gates,” cry the remnant, “that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.”

That’s not a Christian sentiment, it’s a Jewish one, and it’s quite a change from what we are seeing today.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Mining the Minors: Haggai (1)

Around 606 BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem and carried off its king, some of the vessels from the temple, and the cream of the Judean nobility to be educated and serve his empire. Thus began the second Israelite diaspora, the first coming over a century earlier when the king of Assyria conquered Samaria and dispersed the people of the northern kingdom across his own empire. Nebuchadnezzar returned at least twice more, finally destroying Jerusalem and its temple in 586 BC and carrying off the vast majority of Judeans to Babylon and beyond.

Jeremiah and many other prophets we have studied in this series foretold this, and the power and judgment of God were behind it. The last chapter of Chronicles tells us Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled the word of the Lord “until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths”, to fulfill Jeremiah’s seventy years.

Friday, December 01, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Upside-Down World

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

Two weeks ago, a British court ruled that transgender fantasies now officially trump the word of God in at least one Western state.

Tom: Here’s the wacky ruling in a nutshell:

“Belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals ... in so far as those beliefs form part of his wider faith, his wider faith also does not satisfy the requirement of being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”

Well, here we are, IC, “not worthy of respect”. How will we look at ourselves in the mirror?