Sunday, March 31, 2024

Judgment and Humility

“In humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

We are living in times when almost everyone seems to have a major gripe with large numbers of believers in their church: the one they attend, the one they don’t attend, the one they used to attend, or maybe just all Christians generally. We are to blame, or so they opine, for the stultifying atmosphere of off-putting antiquity in many local fellowships and the dearth of young people in the pews. Our critical spirit and quickness to impose our opinions on every generation from Gen-X on have driven them out to greener pastures.

Is all this our fault? I suppose it’s not impossible. We could all be jerks. I’m just not sure that’s always the case.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (11)

Prior to the destruction of Solomon’s temple by the Chaldeans, back when there was an Ark of the Covenant in which holy things could be stored, God occasionally ordered the preservation of certain items: the tablets of the covenant, Aaron’s rod that budded, a jar of manna. Somewhere along the line, two of these went missing, but in their time, they served as reminders to Israel of God’s law, sovereignty and provision.

His eight visions finally completed, Zechariah now receives an object lesson from the Lord, a Messianic illustration to act out in front of witnesses, to be commemorated with the only God-given physical reminder of the Second Temple era.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Five Questions About the Next Generation

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

We’re getting older. We’re not done yet, Lord willing, but more and more I’m realizing that nearly all the really knowledgeable Bible teachers and leaders I knew as a teenager have gone to be with the Lord and even the very average pulpit-fillers of the seventies and eighties have mostly given up their responsibilities to younger men. The missionaries we used to pray for have died on the mission field or come home to retire, and I don’t recognize many of the names I see replacing them. Even the average, decent pew-sitting Christian of my day seems to be getting longer in the tooth and less able to do the things he or she used to do in the local church. Some independent local churches I knew have now hired pastors and others have affiliated themselves with denominations. The local church of today is in many ways less and less recognizable to me.

Tom: To top it off, Immanuel Can, I’m not sure I identify much with the coming generation. They are so different from the young people of my own day. I’m not sure I can picture what the average local church may look like in twenty or thirty years. And yet we have an obligation to those who seek to follow Christ in the days to come. What IS the right strategy to prepare Christian young people to take on the world?

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Not Fade Away

When I was a kid I listened to a lot of rock music.

Most of it I got off the radio. I owned a few albums of my own, but was never the avid collector some of my friends were. I had some favorites, and I tended to stay with them for as long as they pleased me, then move on.

One thing I noticed right away, both on my albums and on the radio, was the “fade-out”. At the end of a song it was customary for the artist or producer to reduce the sound level progressively until the music sort of seemed to dim out in the distance — as if the artist never actually stopped singing, but just happened to be traveling away from me. Then there would be short silence, and then the next song.

I always thought that was weird.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Translation is Interpretation

The late Eugene Peterson translated The Message directly from the original Greek without reference to other English versions of the New Testament in hope that he could capture the rhythms, idioms and subtleties of the original language for a modern audience. That’s a laudable goal, and if Peterson’s efforts help new Bible readers engage with the text and older readers hear it in a fresh way, then they will not have gone to waste. We use The Message from time to time in our weekly Bible study, and it almost never fails to provoke a reaction. When Peterson is “on”, he can be brilliant, and even when he’s off, he tends to get the conversation started with a bang.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Vows and Consequences

Biblical marriage requires a one-flesh union, but not every one-flesh union is a marriage.

After uniting for life the first man and woman in history, the Holy Spirit editorializes in Genesis 2, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The Lord Jesus affirms this statement in Matthew 19. It is not mere patriarchal opinion.

Now notice what he did not say. Sometimes that is as important as what is said.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Anonymous Asks (295)

“Should churches be seeker sensitive?”

A few weeks ago, I went to a church I’d never attended before. I took a couple of friends, one of whom is searching for meaning in her life and finally considering the possibility that her problems may have a spiritual component. From my perspective, the main attraction of this particular church was that it was close to her home and the online statement of faith looked orthodox.

The perfect is the enemy of the good and all that, right? I just wanted to get her there, and get her some spiritual food.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

What We CAN Say

I am anticipating an interesting Bible study this afternoon. Our little house group has been doing an overview of the books of the New Testament in the order they were written (as best we are able to determine), rather than the order they are found in our English Bibles, and we have reached 1 Corinthians.

Because it is an overview, looking at main themes and ideas rather than granular detail, we usually try to cover an entire book in roughly an hour or so. That works well for Galatians, James and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. It doesn’t work quite so well for a book like 1 Corinthians, which has sixteen chapters on a variety of subjects, so we have had to split the book into five sessions. The section we are studying today begins with chapter 11, and the much-maligned headcovering passage.

Wish me luck. Or grace. Or something.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (10)

Sometimes the study of Bible prophecy presents no easy answers. The pieces just do not seem to fit. Efforts to make a particular vision or oracle map onto what we know of the past creates conflict with the established historical record. Efforts to make it map onto the future creates conflicts with scripture. Or maybe both.

What can I tell you? Despite best efforts, this is one of those days.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Positively Negative

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

Karen Wolff at Christian Books for Women gives some tips for the Christian on maintaining an upbeat attitude that are almost generic enough pass for the musings of whatever secular positivity guru happens to trending on the shelves in Chapters this week. She says obeying Paul’s injunction to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” involved purposefully replacing any negative thoughts we have with positive ones.

Tom: Such a thing is not always easily done, and I’m not even sure we have a scriptural warrant to pursue it. Certainly Wolff provides none, simply assuming the validity of her own premise. But her thoughts on the subject are similar to other believers I’ve encountered over the years.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Vision, Inspiration and Leadership

“Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ ”

What makes a person give up everything in order to follow Christ?

What motivates a lifetime of obedience and service?

What makes men into real men, spiritual men, dedicated men, godly men, and what makes women into women of substance?

Well, let’s see what the Bible says about that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

From the Safety of Retirement

Ken Charman’s post entitled “A Career Suicide Note” at The Daily Sceptic is an entirely understandable venting of reasonable Boomer frustration.

Before you get offended, I am not using “Boomer” in the “Ok, Boomer” sense, lading it with the patronizing and refined disdain of the youthful set. I’m a Boomer myself, though just barely. Ken may not be, as he only refers to himself as over fifty, and Baby Boomers are technically 57 and up at present, born between 1946 and 1964.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

The Statsman Always Posts Thrice

My inexplicable obsession with statistics has been chronicled here and here, but I do try to keep a handle on it, recognizing it ain’t everyone’s cuppa. Mind you, the first stats post was in 2017, and the second only last year, so they are coming faster every time. As one hard-bitten detective might say to another on your favorite cop drama, “Uh oh, he’s decompensating!”

I’ll try not to run on too long.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Anonymous Asks (294)

“Should I join an accountability group?”

Jeremy Myers says accountability groups fail miserably in that they “force” members to lie. His sexual temptation accountability group fell apart when police arrested a fellow member and successfully prosecuted him for molestation. Naturally, his attraction to minors had never come up once in all the group’s conversations about lust.

Understandable? I think so. I mean, would you talk about it? I wouldn’t. I’d spend all my energy trying not to even think about it.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Back to the Pigsty

Is brokenness desirable?

Unless you are around great numbers of mainstream evangelicals on a regular basis, you may not think so. But if you have been in such esteemed company, you’ve probably heard the enviable qualities of a broken spiritual state touted so enthusiastically over the last few years that you may have come to believe Christians ought to seek out and cultivate it.

Okay, let’s consider that.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (9)

There’s no getting around the fact that the Bible’s pictures of wickedness are frequently female. We’re going to study one today.

Commentators occasionally feel the need to apologize for this, as if maybe the Holy Spirit might be a tad misogynistic, or perhaps the prophets of God went off the reservation and used imagery consistent with their patriarchal biases that he might not have personally approved.

Hey, we all know the Lord Jesus loved women …

Friday, March 15, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: The Discipline of Discipline

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

Immanuel Can: The only verse in the Bible that everyone today seems to know is “Judge not lest ye be judged.”

Tom: Sounds about right.

IC: Okay, so that verse seems to people to be conveying something important. Maybe it needs some closer examination.

Tom: Fair enough. Well, it seems to me there’s an obvious incentive on the part of those who use it to rebut any potential critique of their own behaviors — or the behaviors of those for whom they choose to be advocates. I mean, quoting a verse to an unbeliever would carry no weight at all, so it’s clearly a device to disqualify dissenting Christian opinion and shut down any debate before it begins.

It’s saying to you and me, “Aha, see, you’re not allowed to have a view on this.”

Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Mercy of Fire

“Some bells cannot be unrung.”

So goes the saying when something has been done that cannot be undone. The ink has been spilled, the glass has been shattered, the clock cannot be rewound, the world has moved on. The arrow has flown, the words said cannot be recalled to the mouth, and “send” has been pressed. There is no going back, no fixing things “as they were”, or maybe “as they should have been”.

From now on, for good or for ill, things can never be the same.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The Confession Session

As is often the case, this week’s instalment of Doug Wilson’s letters column turned out to be thought provoking. A reader notes that he can’t recall a single time in the lengthy history of Doug’s blog that Doug has spoken about his own struggles with specific sins.

It raises a perfectly reasonable question: When is public confession of my sins appropriate, and when isn’t it? What constitutes a legitimate Christian “confession session”?

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Quote of the Day (47)

“He hated congregational religion. He hated the smiles and the manners of the Sunday-dressed Scottish Protestant, the emphasis on a communion not with God but with your neighbours. He had tried seven churches of various denominations in Edinburgh, and had found none to be to his liking. He had tried sitting for two hours at home of a Sunday, reading the Bible and saying a prayer, but somehow that did not work either. He was caught; a believer outwith his belief. Was a personal faith good enough for God? Perhaps …”

— Ian Rankin, Knots & Crosses

Monday, March 11, 2024

Anonymous Asks (293)

“Is the sanctity of human life a biblical concept?”

Scripture is clear throughout that human life has intrinsic value. God made man in his own image and after his own likeness, a statement made about no other created beings in the universe.

That alone should make us cautious about taking the life of another.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Waking and Breaking

We live in a broken culture. Not breaking. Broken. They did not see fit to acknowledge God, and God has given them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

In Romans, that manifests in heartlessness and ruthlessness, dishonesty and disobedience, among a litany of other bad things. In reality, a debased mind manifests in all these ways at the expense of others, but it is also unbelievably self-destructive and internally contradictory.

Debased thinking is fundamentally unfit to accomplish anything. But debased people make the best pawns imaginable.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (8)

In interpreting Zechariah, a great deal depends on the systematic theology of the reader. When you start with an ironclad overview of the prophetic scriptures in mind, it’s next to impossible to interpret individual passages without inflicting your prejudices on them. I’ll try to keep that in mind as I go along.

The next two visions are considerably more difficult. They must be, as scholarly opinions about their meanings are all over the map. I’ll give a quick summary of the major viewpoints and then, in most cases, tell you where and why I disagree with them, and what I’d suggest as alternatives.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Majoring on the Majors

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

Tom: There’s a line I keep hearing these days that goes something like this:

“We should keep unity for the sake of the gospel. Major on the majors, and not on the minors. We shouldn’t fight over secondary issues.”

Immanuel Can, some things are worth fighting over. Jude urges his readers, who appear to be a very general believing audience, to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints”.

So what’s really worth contending for, and what should be set aside for the sake of unity? In short, what makes something “major” or “minor”?

Immanuel Can: Ah. What do I mean, or what do most other people I meet seem to mean? Can you clarify?

Tom: I take it there’s a significant difference then.

Thursday, March 07, 2024

Let’s Get Together and …

“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…’ ”

I’m going to write today as briefly, as bluntly and yet as informatively as I can.

I will do this because I feel we are dangling presently on a precipice of a major social crisis. The Christian position in this must be made clear, and made clear now, if Christian choices are to be well made.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Letters from the Best Man (8)

The following is absolutely fictional and increasingly common. There is no Brad and definitely no Jill, in case that is not obvious. There are, however, way too many people in their position.

You still up, Tom?

Sadly. Surprised you are. Don’t you have to be out the door by six-thirty?

Can’t sleep. Decisions, decisions …

What’s on your mind, Brad?

Two girls. Well, women, obviously. Friends who started coming to my Thursday Bible study.

Tuesday, March 05, 2024

To Die a Virgin

Ed Shaw is attracted to men. Out of love for Jesus Christ, he never acts on those impulses. He hopes and expects to die a virgin.

That gives him enormous credibility as the author of 2015’s The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction, in which Shaw affirms the scriptural basis for the orthodox Christian position on homosexuality.

In doing so, Shaw has a challenge for the church.

Monday, March 04, 2024

Anonymous Asks (292)

“Why are there so many Christian interpretations?”

Knowledge is fundamentally divisive. The moment any of us determines to “get to the bottom” of this or that subject, he begins to depart from the popular narrative about it. One possibility is that he gets labeled a conspiracy theorist and marginalized by society. Another is that he becomes an expert and people start turning to him for advice.

Any exposure to increased information, true or false, creates divisions.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Quote of the Day (46)

I’ve told this story before, but it perfectly illustrates the mentality addressed in today’s quote.

In the mid-eighties, I was introduced to a fellow college student who claimed to be very interested in Jesus Christ, but had a “few” questions about the Bible first. I naturally offered to help in any way that I could. He handed me a list of familiar posers along the lines of “Where did Cain get his wife?”

Okay, the issues seemed important to him, so fair enough.

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (7)

Wikipedia says, “A perpetual motion machine is a hypothetical machine that can do work infinitely without an external energy source. This kind of machine is impossible, since its existence would violate either the first or second law of thermodynamics, or both.”

In the real world, systemic failure is inevitable. The most sophisticated humanly devised machinery eventually breaks down and grinds to a halt.

Friday, March 01, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Making Merchandise

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

As long as there has been a people of God in the world, there have been those who looked to take advantage of them. The Israelites had their false prophets, and Peter warns the young church to expect their share of false teachers. He says, as the translators of the King James Version so eloquently put it, “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you.”

Tom: But of course the trick is always identifying such people, isn’t it, Immanuel Can? I mean, what does that look like in the real world?