Thursday, February 29, 2024

Even More Offensive

In my previous post, “Offensive Christianity”, I argued that many of us misunderstand the choice we have in facing Christ: we think it’s between faith and doubt — but in scripture, it is between faith and being offended.

Everybody struggles with doubt. And perhaps we tend to think that when we do, it signals something very, very bad. Maybe it means our faith has failed. Maybe it means we were never sincere in the first place. Maybe it means we’re lost.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Substance Belongs to Christ

It is remarkable that the only mention of Sabbath-keeping in all the epistles comes in Colossians 2, where Paul identifies it as one of the requirements of Jewish law eclipsed in Christ. The apostle writes:

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”

The Sabbath, Paul says, was a shadow. That’s important.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Before the Rationalizations

I recently had a long, serious conversation with a lovely woman who is spending far too much time contemplating a possible course of action she knows unequivocally is destructive and displeasing to the God she claims to love and serve.

My reaction: This will not end well. It never does.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Anonymous Asks (291)

“How should a Christian respond to being in a loveless marriage?”

People have different personalities and experiences, as well as different levels of character development and maturity, so it should not come as a surprise that we enter married life looking for different things. In general, men are looking for respect from their wives, and women are looking for love from their husbands.

I am getting that from a couple of places.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (29)

Grant Richison inquires what Paul meant when he ends a long statement in Philippians 3 with the words “… that by any means possible I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

In English, Richison says, the wording seems to express doubt about the certainty of Paul’s resurrection (and by implication the resurrection of others as well).

Does he question the assurance of his salvation?” Richison asks. He goes on to examine the passage for clues.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (6)

Zechariah is the penultimate Minor Prophet and the penultimate book of the Old Testament in the order we have it in English, as well as historically. He is also the penultimate prophet in the Hebrew Old Testament, though not the next-to-last book, which is Chronicles.

Given his proximity to the New Testament, we should not be surprised to find Christ so prominent in Zechariah, as we have mentioned. Zechariah’s vision in chapter 3 portrays Messiah in at least four different aspects: (1) as priest, (2) as the angel of the Lord, (3) as the Branch, and (4) as the stone with seven eyes.

Let’s dive in.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Biocentrism and Reality

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

The soul: it’s a heavy topic, and one that not everyone agrees about. Dr. Robert Lanza is a biologist who says that consciousness creates the universe rather than the other way around. He’s what is called a “biocentrist”. His is a relatively new theory, having come into play around 2007. The fundamental notion behind it is that the much sought-after “Theory of Everything” scientists are looking for cannot be found until biology is placed at the head of the sciences.

Tom: It’s interesting, Immanuel Can, to see the spiritual dimension of life acquiring some scientific credibility. Do you want to take a shot at explaining Dr. Lanza’s theory?

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Offensive Christianity

“It has been customary to employ the category ‘doubt’ where one ought to speak of ‘offense.’ The relationship … to Christ is not either to doubt or to believe, but either to be offended or to believe.”

— Søren Kierkegaard,
Training In Christianity

I have said this before, and I’ll say it again: the opposite of faith is not doubt.

Doubt dwells with faith, just as stress dwells with growth. Growth of muscles happens by straining them. Growth of skills happens by them being tested. We become by overcoming. Faith needs stress, needs tests, needs stretching into new areas, needs maturing — and where this process is happening, doubt will be present as well. It is the thing faith needs to conquer.

The uncertainties of life are the gymnasium of the soul.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Neckties and Orthodoxy

Years ago, an older Christian told me I perplexed him. “You’re liberal on neckties (I declined to wear them) but conservative on scripture,” he said. He probably capitalized “Scripture” to himself when he said it. At that church, traditions mattered more than they probably should.

Neckties and orthodoxy are light years apart in spiritual importance. Unfortunately, in those days they often came as a package deal.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Difficult Choices

Some necessary background for anyone not up to date on the latest evangelical brouhahas. From Fox News: A Christian radio network recently dropped the daily broadcast of an Ohio pastor over advice he gave a questioning grandma. Alistair Begg says he is “not ready to repent” for telling her she should attend her grandson’s wedding to his transgender fiancé as long as she had privately advised him that in making an appearance at his celebration, she was not affirming his life choices.

Hey, bad advice is everywhere, and some choices are more complex than others.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Anonymous Asks (290)

“What does it mean that the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth?”

The Lord Jesus promised his disciples that when the Spirit of truth came, the Helper from the Father who would convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, he would guide them into “all truth”.

Before we look into the meaning of this promise, we need to remember that every member of the Lord’s audience at the discourse that began in the upper room was in a unique and impossible-to-duplicate position.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Of Feasts, Brides, Servants and Virgins

Western culture separates the wedding ceremony from the wedding celebration, usually by no more than a few hours. Jewish culture in the first century did too, but between the legal contract of marriage [erusin] signed by the husband and the bride’s father and its celebration and consummation [nissuin] lay a considerably longer interval. The marriage supper and its aftermath might take place weeks, months or years after the signing of the contract.

It might even be indefinitely postponed, assuming we are reading the relevant instructions in 1 Corinthians correctly.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (5)

Several years back, my cantankerous next-door neighbor had her front walk redone with great, imposing slate pavers. I’m not sure they harmonized with the look of her property quite as well as the railroad ties she had in prior years, and I bet they cost a bundle, not least for the prodigious amount of labor involved in what initially looked like a fairly small project. It took three men several days to tear up what was there and replace it.

There was only one problem.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Speaking Out of Turn

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

If the quotation in this Breitbart article is even close to accurate, the head of the Roman Catholic church has just thrown one of the most important principles of first century Christian faith under the bus:

“The last thing I should do is to try to convince an unbeliever. Never. The last thing I should do is speak.”

Tom: So now the most revered figure in one of the world’s biggest branches of Christianity insists all testimony to Christ must be non-verbal. What do you think of that, IC?

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Heights of Accommodation and the Depths of Evil

“Well, you know, many roads lead up the mountain …”

So he said to me.

People say stuff like that all the time when they want to avoid facing God. “I can do it my way,” they say, hoping that saying it strongly enough will make it true. Or, they say, “Everybody’s got a piece of the truth, but nobody’s got it all,” like the story of the blind men and the elephant (if you know that little tale).

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Adverbial Faith

An old acquaintance obsessed with classical literature used to observe that her generation was “killing the adverb”. The vocabulary of her schoolmates had degenerated to the point that they no longer modified or qualified their verbs with the eloquence and succinctness possessed by the writers of previous generations.

She would not have found that in the New Testament, even in the most modern English translations. Far from being dead, the adverb is everywhere in the Christian life.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Off to Mom and Dad’s

“It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”

If you ever rise to the spiritual heights of the apostle Paul — and I have lately come to the conclusion that I am unlikely to manage that — you will be nothing more than a servant and a steward. That is the very best you and I may aspire to in the Christian life, and our efforts to remain conscious of the reality that everything we have been given has been temporarily entrusted to us by God are a mark of growing maturity in Christ.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Anonymous Asks (289)

“How can we know the Holy Spirit is present with us when nobody is expressing strong feelings?”

Some Christians — often women, let’s be honest — evaluate the spiritual temperature of a religious gathering by its perceived emotional intensity; by whether participants spring a leak while praying, singing or sharing their thoughts. If they had their way, there would be a box of Kleenex in every pew and we would take our spiritual temperature by how often they need replacement.

Is this actually a biblical idea?

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Thought Flow in 1 Corinthians 1-4

“There are some things in them that are hard to understand …”

Paul could be a difficult writer. Peter says as much, while affirming that the Holy Spirit carried along his fellow apostle throughout the authorial process.

It’s all too easy to point to examples in Paul’s epistles. The run-on sentences. The apparent digressions and rabbit trails. The practical instruction that turns out to be theology as well, and operates on two levels. It’s not exactly Christianity 101, but this is how God chose to reveal the mystery of Christ and the mystery of his church to the world. Who are we to say he should have done it differently?

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (4)

The prophet Zedekiah once forged a pair of animal horns out of iron as an object lesson for the kings of Israel and Judah, who were contemplating going up to Ramoth-gilead to fight the king of Syria. It must have been quite a dramatic moment when he trotted out his artistic creation in front of the two Hebrew kings on their thrones before a gathering of 400 prophets, crying out, “With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.” Too bad Zedekiah was actually a false prophet regurgitating what he thought King Ahab wanted to hear.

All the same, his literal “forgery” gives us a little bit of insight into the meaning of the imagery in Zechariah’s second vision.

Friday, February 09, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: What’s the Point?

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

Some people market Christianity like fire insurance, and others buy into it in fear of judgment. Then there are the folks like Joel Osteen who tell us being a believer will make us powerful and successful. Others who claim to represent Christ tell us that knowing Jesus will make us better human beings, improve our relationships or help us cope in bad times. Intellectual believers may say that in their search for truth, the Christian worldview best explains things about which they have always wondered.

Tom: Immanuel Can, there is a certain amount of rationality in most of these motives, but do they really get to the core of the Christian message?

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Stuck in the Middle with You

“Clowns to the left of me,
  Jokers to the right,
  Here I am
  Stuck in the middle with you.”

— Stealers Wheel, 1972

Doesn’t it seem these days like the world has divided right down the middle? We’ve got Conservatives and Liberals, Democrats and Republicans, Brexiters and Europhiles, open borders advocates and controlled immigration people, social justice warriors and free speech advocates, the politically correct and the deliberately controversial, individualists and collectivists … and on, and on, and on.

Iron and clay, maybe.

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

She’s Just Not That Into You

He’s Just Not That Into You was a 2009 romantic comedy that explored why relationships fail or succeed, and why a romantic pairing that appears to have “worked” for years suddenly stops working for one of the partners, whether it’s the man “falling out of love” with the woman or vice versa.

In the various couple-scenarios trotted out by the movie’s producers, it apparently never once occurred to them to introduce one in which the woman was on hormone-based birth control when she first became attracted to her future life partner, then stopped using the pill once they had committed to each other.

Maybe research into all “the pill’s” many side effects wasn’t quite there in 2009.

Tuesday, February 06, 2024

One Thing Leads to Another

Actions have consequences. That’s easy to say, but the implications are not always so easy to unpack.

I was thinking about this a few days ago when a friend asked what the church can do (pre-emptively, rather than after the fact) about the frightening increase in children from Christian families who are identifying as gay, lesbian and trans.

My answer was immediate: Encourage committed Christian parents to work less and get by on lower incomes in order to free up time to home school their children from kindergarten on.

Monday, February 05, 2024

Anonymous Asks (288)

“When does grief become excessive?”

Grief is appropriate in a fallen world. The Lord Jesus taught that those who mourn are blessed, and will be comforted, and that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Scripture teaches that God himself may be grieved by the sins of his children.

Sunday, February 04, 2024

Semi-Random Musings (33)

Mark’s list of the twelve apostles includes the names of two fathers: Zebedee and Alphaeus. Matthew includes the same two fathers, and Luke includes Alphaeus.

If you wonder why, look no further than their sons, both of whom are called James. To distinguish between them, the gospel writers use the names of their fathers as what are called disambiguators, phrases that clarify the author’s intended meaning.

Good thing too, or the New Testament could get pretty confusing.

Saturday, February 03, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (3)

The phrase “the angel of the Lord” occurs 58 times in 19 Old Testament passages. Three of these passages are in Zechariah. The name appears to designate a unique being distinct from and possessing greater authority than other angels, one who identifies himself with deity and acts as if he were God.

We know the Lord Jesus was active on God’s behalf during the OT period. When we add to that John’s claim that no one has ever seen God, and that God has been (and continues to be) made known only through his Son, the Word, the logical conclusion is that the angel of the Lord was a visual manifestation of the preincarnate Christ.

More on that shortly.

Friday, February 02, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him

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

The German mathematician Johannes Kepler once responded to a question about his work in astronomy by saying “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him.” If that’s true in math or science or any search for “small-t truth”, it’s most applicable when we come to the study of God’s word. Explaining “Big-T Truth” for our fellow believers so they may grow up in Christ is one of the most important tasks ever given to men, and the challenge to do it right is described by Peter in the words “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God”.

Tom: IC, we were just emailing each other about a sequential exposition series you’ve been sharing with other men in your own local church. Describe for our readers the small problem you’ve encountered and have needed to work at overcoming in the process.

Thursday, February 01, 2024

Anonymous Asks (287)

“I know the Bible says we’re not supposed to depend on our feelings, but sometimes, honestly, it gets hard to feel my faith. Any thoughts?”

Feelings? Yes, they’re tricky things. You’re right to wonder about whether it’s not just a little too optimistic to simply suppose Christians never ought to feel down. We all have moments in life when things are not just a little dark, but really, really dark. What’s interesting, though, is that the writers of the Bible are far from unaware of this.