Wednesday, January 31, 2024

A Hill Worth Dying On

“You need to dial down the language,
  Mr. Patout,” I said.

“Don’t you lecture me, boy,” he said.

— From The New Iberia Blues
by James Lee Burke

Some subjects are difficult to talk or write about without giving offense. The use of appropriate language is one of them.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Seconding an Unpopular Opinion

In internet parlance, an “echo chamber” is a sociological phenomenon produced by the algorithms on major websites that respond to our choices of viewing material with suggestions for other options.

Because web designers want users to ingest their content, read their advertising and buy the stuff they are flogging, anything we look at regularly online generates multiple opportunities to do more of the same and fewer and fewer invitations to do anything different. Amazon does it. Google does it. YouTube does it. Your favorite news website probably does it. Everybody does it.

Sometimes it’s merely irritating. Sometimes it’s downright funny. But you must have noticed it.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Anonymous Asks (286)

“Should Christians in democracies feel obligated to vote?”

Voting is not mandatory. Depending on how you think about it, voting can be anything from a privilege to a perceived civic duty, or even an exercise in futility.

Let me give you an example of the latter. In Canada, a “riding” is an electoral district with fixed boundaries rarely adjusted by the reigning Powers That Be unless it favors their party’s re-election chances.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Out of this World

“We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”

No matter how public our profile in life may be, and no matter how good our intentions, one of the things we cannot take out of the world with us is any rock-solid evidence that we have reformed its institutions or brought light to the darkness of the culture around us in any lasting, positive way. Unlike the changes that Christ brings to the individual human heart, the effect of any changes we introduce into the system will always be fleeting at best.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (2)

Two months before Zechariah began to receive messages from the Lord for the people of Judah, the prophet Haggai received his first recorded revelation, a message to the two men who represented civic and religious authority among the returned exiles, the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua. The Lord instructed these two to lead the people in rebuilding the temple, a project they had abandoned almost two decades prior.

Twenty-four days later, work began at the new temple site. Slightly less than a month after that, the Lord sent a word of encouragement to them through Haggai. Ten days later, Zechariah received his first message.

The people of Judah had shown their willingness to obey God when they realized obedience was the only alternative to unrelenting economic misery and personal frustration, but their hearts still needed serious spiritual work.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: A Bit Too Agreeable

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

David de Bruyn’s series of Letters to Stagnant Christians at Churches Without Chests hit what both Immanuel Can and I considered its peak this week. It’s an insightful post entitled “Confirmation Bias” in which David makes the case that it is possible for Christians to fail to grow in Christ as they should, not because they agree too little with what they hear, but because they agree too much.

Tom: Now, that sounds a bit counterintuitive, doesn’t it, IC?

Immanuel Can: Well, yes. We might wonder how it’s possible to agree too much with anything God says. That seems highly implausible at first. You’re going to have to unpack that a bit, I’m thinking.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Unoriginal Sin

Skeptics of Christianity do not like the doctrine of original sin.

“It’s bad enough,” they say, “that you Christians insist we’re all sinners personally; but what is this belief that we all come into the world under the curse of Adam? Adam was one person, and we’re different persons — how can one man’s sin be blamed on others, especially after thousands of years? How is that fair?”

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Cost of the Chase

“They … have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them.”

Do you ever wonder why so many unsaved people get increasingly bitter as they age? I believe it’s because you become like the things you chase.

Idolatry is the quintessential Old Testament sin, but it also serves as an analogy for other types of extreme self-interest. The word Baal simply means lord or owner, and the New Testament teaches us that ownership of the human heart comes in many guises.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Money Well Spent

Men and women are different in so many ways I’m not sure they’ve all been quantified.

Of course, these differences exist on a spectrum. There are logical women and emotional men and, in between, every permutation and combination of character qualities, personality quirks, family patterns unconsciously assimilated, and cultural affectations. Nevertheless, no matter how you slice it, men polarize at one end of the spectrum and women at the other. Those of both sexes who hew closer to the middle than the extremes, often through no fault of their own, may find life more difficult in certain respects.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Anonymous Asks (285)

“Why would God release Satan after 1,000 years?”

Any answer to a “why” that is not clearly spelled out in the text of scripture itself is bound to be somewhat speculative, but it seems to me that the text of Revelation 20 does indeed give us a few clues with which to formulate a reasonable suggestion.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

When Nobody is Listening

Major or Minor, the vast majority of the Old Testament prophetic text is made up of visions, oracles or messages from God through the prophets to individuals or nations. There are exceptions, of course. Isaiah contains a historic interlude or two, as do Haggai, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jonah and especially Jeremiah, who provides an exceptional amount of useful historical context.

In addition to the history, some prophets also recorded the personal instructions, special insights, correction or encouragement God gave them in the process of serving him, and the substance of their conversations and interactions with him. Jonah does this in every chapter.

But no prophet preserved more of God’s editorial commentary on his own messages than Jeremiah, all the way through the first 2/3 of his prophecy.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (1)

Zechariah is the second of three post-exilic Minor Prophets and the eleventh of the Twelve. Like Haggai, he had a tendency to date at least some of his prophecies, which enables us to map them against events described in Ezra and Nehemiah. It also means we can date the beginning of his recorded ministry to a mere two months after Haggai began his, in the second year of the reign of Darius the Great in 520 BC, just after the people of Judah began a serious second effort at rebuilding the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Past the Man to the Message

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

Roughly eight years ago now, I watched a couple of Mark Driscoll videos and commented on them here. Driscoll, once dubbed “one of the nation’s most prominent and celebrated pastors” by no less than Forbes magazine, took a tumble about a decade back, resigning from his pastorate at Mars Hill Church in Seattle over accusations of arrogance and a “domineering style of leadership”. He reappeared in Phoenix around 2016, after which I lost track of him.

Driscoll’s sermons were edgy and frank, his style ultra-modern. Immanuel Can sent me a link to one of his more recent videos this week, and not much about the man has changed in the last decade, except maybe the addition of a beard and the affectation of some “manly man” stage gear: faded jeans, boots and an outdoor work jacket.

Tom: I’m not sure if you are aware of this, IC, but a decade ago Driscoll’s favorite schtick was to trash the Christian men in his audience while lauding the women and feminists, especially single mothers. He seems to have done a complete about-face, and is now encouraging Christian males to be “traditional men”, and pointing out ways in which the church has been regrettably feminized.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Contradictions and Contradistinctions

Yesterday I was listening to a secular scholar again. (Okay, it was JP.)

He was speaking about the Bible, its value as a text and its importance in human history. At the same time, he was expressing disbelief about how it had persisted. It’s a “strange old book”, he said. It’s “contradictory” and “cobbled together”. He puzzled over how it was possible it could ever have “such an unbelievable impact on civilization”. But at the same time, he concluded, “However educated you are, you are not educated enough to discuss the typological significance of the biblical stories.”

And then he went on to try.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Culture and Counterculture

It is often said that Christianity is countercultural, and I think that’s true — at least, it ought to be true most of the time. If Satan is indeed the “god of this age”, as Paul wrote, and “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one”, as John put it, then, for Christians, aligning ourselves with any new movement in our culture is more likely than not to be a step in the wrong direction.

But even when someone unremittingly evil is pulling the strings, you can’t be sure everything happening around you is intrinsically or pervasively wicked. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, sometimes using genuinely good things to mask his involvement and agenda. Nor can we trust emerging social trends, however welcome they may initially appear, or rely on them not to suddenly reveal deeply negative aspects we could not anticipate. Satan’s apples are full of cunningly concealed Gillette products, and Christians are wise to mute their approval when others are cheering unreservedly for universal implementation of the latest big idea.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Failing at the Broad Strokes

As a consistent method of interpreting the prophetic scriptures, amillennialism fails at the most basic levels.

That’s not a new thought. I first expressed it back in 2019 when reviewing Kim Riddlebarger’s 2013 update of A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times. I wrote, “The devil may be in the details, but far-reaching doctrinal errors are all in the broad strokes and almost never in the minutia. I’m becoming convinced of it.”

I’m even more convinced of it after reading Matt Waymeyer’s response to Riddlebarger, 2016’s Amillennialism and the Age to Come: A Premillennial Critique of the Two-Age Model.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Anonymous Asks (284)

“Is it inauthentic or dishonest for two Christians to remain married when they don’t get along?”

It is simply a sad fact of life that not every Christian enjoys the company of every other Christian at every moment. Almost everyone grinds our gears in one way or another. As soon as the honeymoon is over (and sometimes before), you will find out things about your partner you didn’t know and don’t like. Put two very different believers under the same roof, bind them legally and spiritually to one another, and you have a recipe for persistent unhappiness when one or both behave unbiblically.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Perils of the Pulpit

David de Bruyn’s blog series giving pastoral advice to various types of stagnant Christians continues this week with a post on the importance of church attendance. I have not agreed with every position he takes throughout these letters, but major kudos to David for bringing these issues to our attention and provoking thought and conversation with his posts.

Of course attending church is very important indeed. No difficulties with that.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Mining the Minors: Haggai (7)

The second chapter of Haggai contains two references to the shaking of heavens and earth, the first in verse 6 and the second in verses 21-22. “For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.” And again, “I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms.”

These promises have far-reaching implications for both Jews and Christians.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Sexual Morality and Civilization

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

A friend recently sent me a link to this Kirk Dunston blog post on the importance of sexual morality to civilization. Dunston was struck by the relevance of Joseph Unwin’s research to our particular moment in time, as summarized in his 1934 book Sex and Culture.

Tom: Being a philosophy bug, I thought you might find this interesting, IC. I had certainly never come across Unwin’s research before. It sounds fascinating. Basically, as Dunston puts it, he “examines the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there is a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures”.

Few would attempt to argue our culture is currently flourishing.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Smeagol on a Leash

The title?

Ah, yes. Well, to get that, you’ll have to have seen the blockbuster film Lord of the Rings, or have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s original trilogy. There’s a scene in there involving a loathsome little creature named Gollum or Smeagol. He’s a kind of nasty little creature of the dark, a sinister and malevolent little dwarf, who is taken captive by two of the adventure’s heroes, as an alternative to having to kill the homicidal little maniac on the spot.

Smeagol doesn’t take well to being ‘rescued’ in this fashion; and his obstinacy and treachery compel the heroes to put a rope around his neck and lead him where he is bound and determined not to go. The subsequent convulsions of wheedling and drama are truly magnificent. You can see his performance right here.

So now you’ve got an idea of my central metaphor for the day.*

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Denying the Obvious

“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false …”

That the end times will be associated with mass deception is not generally disputed. Both the Lord and his apostles warned of it. I used to wonder how the whole world might be taken in so successfully. Are most people really that gullible?

Well, yes, apparently.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Oversimplifying the Age to Come

I always enjoy a little light holiday reading, so in the last week I have been working my way through Matt Waymeyer’s heavily footnoted 2016 book Amillennialism and the Age to Come: A Premillennial Critique of the Two-Age Model.

I will probably review Waymeyer’s excellent and scrupulously thorough dissection of the two-age model at some point in the near future, but in the meantime, a few very general observations about the amillennialist system of interpretation that reading about it again brings to mind.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Anonymous Asks (283)

“Why should I care about the sovereignty of God if it has no practical effect on my life?”

If we reject divine determinism as unbiblical, we may be tempted to conclude that the sovereignty of God has no practical consequences for believers. In fact, this is quite untrue.

Sunday, January 07, 2024

An Empty Stomach Will Do

When the prodigal returns to his father’s house in the Lord’s parable in Luke 15, his motive is quite self-serving and pragmatic. “I perish here with hunger.” For all the insight we have into his thought processes, his resolve to confess his sin to his father may have had more to do with his empty stomach than an abiding sense of guilt or an accurate assessment of the scale of his own perfidy.

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Mining the Minors: Haggai (6)

The Chaldean Empire was ruled from Babylon until that fateful night recorded in Daniel 5. After the death of Belshazzar, it staggered on a few years, but the relatively bloodless conquest of the empire’s capital city effectively signaled the rise of the Medo-Persians to the world stage. Cyrus quickly subdued his Median allies and moved on to other conquests, making the Persian Empire the virtually uncontested world power for the next 200 years or so.

This well-established historical note makes the last few verses of Haggai all but impossible to apply to Zerubbabel personally, though there are certainly those who will try.

Friday, January 05, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Friendship and Testimony

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

Earlier this season, TV host Ellen Degeneres took some serious flack for sitting side by side with former U.S. President George Bush at an NFL game in Dallas, especially because she and Bush appeared to be having a good time with one another. Twitter promptly erupted into the usual outrage-fest, with commenters calling Bush a “war criminal” and so on, obliging Degeneres to defend herself:

“I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”

Tom: No shortage of Christians expressed approval of Degeneres’ comments.

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Hope, and the Problem with People

Last week we were talking about hope. I hope you found it hopeful.

Our key text was 1 Corinthians 13:7: “Love hopes all things.” And we were pondering the exposition given to it by the Danish Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. If you didn’t read that one, I really encourage you to go back and read it before forging ahead. Some of what I will say depends heavily upon it.

The big realization with which we left off was this: Christian hope is not ever to fail. It is to persist all the way to its fulfillment in eternity. We are to hope until we see the object of our hope, the blessing, the justice and the righteousness guaranteed to us by God, in eternity. All of life is to be lived in hope.

Now, let me mess that up.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Going to the Dogs

“They are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.”

Our late Shih Tzu was not a silent dog, but he was probably as close as you’ll ever get. He almost never barked, and when he did, about the most you’d get from him was a polite, solitary “Arf.” If you didn’t respond to that, you were on your own.

A non-barking dog is world’s greatest pet when you live in an apartment and want to maintain some sort of decent relationship with your neighbors. But our little guy would not have made much of a watchdog.

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Top 10 Posts of 2023

We could probably sum up the inadvertent theme of this year’s top ten new posts with the words, “Jews, More Jews and Book Reviews”. If only I had managed a book review of something related to the people of Israel, we could have done it all in a single post.

There’s no denying how personal politics became in 2023. Everybody has an opinion, informed or otherwise. Without further ado, here are our ten most-read new posts of 2023.

Monday, January 01, 2024

Anonymous Asks (282)

“Do I need institutional accreditation to pastor?”

It very much depends on what you mean when you use the word “pastor”. There are at least three possibilities I can think of. (1) You are contemplating making a livelihood from preaching and teaching in a local church. (2) You desire the work of an elder and are just using “pastor” in a less formal sense as a synonym for “shepherd”, which it is. (3) You are using the word in a completely informal sense, meaning you just want to care for God’s people even if nobody but the sheep and the Lord notices you doing it.