Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Semi-Random Musings (34)

It is often quite incorrectly believed that evil is a product of stupidity and that the answer to stupidity is education, which, generally speaking, it is not. In fact, in a fallen world, the relationship between intelligence and cruelty is actually the inverse of what we might expect: with increased intelligence comes increased capacity for creativity in evil-doing, and for taking senseless pleasure in the injury of others.

If you doubt this, try googling “nasty dolphins”.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Anonymous Asks (300)

“What does ‘I shall not want’ mean?”

This famous line from Psalm 23 has been translated many different ways, from the NIV’s “I lack nothing” to the NLT’s “I have all that I need” to the CEV’s “I will never be in need.” Most translations follow the traditional KJV rendering, if for no other reason than that generations are familiar and comfortable with it.

It should be evident this is not always true in the most literal sense that we might take it.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Knowing My Place

Sometimes the best way to get at the biblical meaning of a word is to strip it of all the false notions that encrust it. Within evangelicalism, humility is a subject that collects mistaken ideas like a picnic attracts flies. Identifying it and defining it is easier when we have first chased the flies away.

The Greek word most commonly translated “humble” is tapeinos, which literally means “not rising far from the ground”. It is an attribute of the Lord Jesus in his role as the last Adam. He could say, “I am gentle and lowly [tapeinos] in heart.”

So then, let’s have a quick look at what humility is and is not.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (15)

Zechariah’s final message of four is full of hope. Responding to a question from the men of Bethel about when Judah’s seventy years of judgment would finally come to an end, the prophet first paints a picture of a future Zion in which the Lord sweeps up their exiled brothers and sisters all over the world and restores them to their national home, coming to dwell in their midst. As with many prophecies, this one would not come to pass for thousands of years, but its fulfillment is as certain as the character of God himself.

Now, in view of God’s future mercies to Israel, Zechariah gives seven instructions for the men and women of Judah living in the early sixth century BC about how they ought to conduct themselves as a people for whom God intends and desires nothing but good.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: The Pagans Weigh In

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

You don’t have to spend much time in the company of Christians today before you start to hear questions like these:

“Wasn’t Easter a pagan holiday?”

“Isn’t the concept of a Christmas tree based on Odin’s sacred oak?”

“I read that the wedding ring originated in an old pagan superstition intended to protect a relationship from evil spirits. Should Christians really wear those sorts of symbols?”

Tom: Some of these concerns turn out to be baseless. Other accusations that a particular Christian symbol, practice or holiday actually had its origin in paganism are quite legitimate.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Inbox: Israel and Gaza

Lynette writes:

“If you have time, are you able to post a response to one of [Matt Littlefield’s] latest articles?”

We live to serve, Lynette. The article is entitled “Why Can’t Many Christians See Obvious Evil?”, in which Matt takes to task believers who he says can’t see the “obvious evil” in Israel’s attempt to purge the Gaza Strip of its ability to wage war on Israel.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Egyptian Allies and Righteous Judgment

The broken reed is one of the Old Testament’s more striking and memorable metaphors. I remember coming across it for the first time in the account of Assyria’s siege of Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah, which appears several times in the Old Testament, probably the lengthiest being in 2 Kings.

The backstory is this: The king of Assyria, the great world power of that day, had besieged and conquered Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom. He carried away tens of thousands of Israelites captive, dispersing them throughout the cities of the Medes and the rest of his vast empire. Eight years later, when Sennacherib had received the Assyrian throne, he determined to finish the job begun by his predecessor.

Assyria set its sights on the southern kingdom of Judah.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Inbox: The Welcome Matt

Lynette writes:

“Hi. I just came across a few of your articles where you address some of the views held by pastor Matt Littlefield. In the article entitled ‘Robbers, Robbers, Everywhere’, Matt categorically states that he is not reformed: ‘Indeed, many Christians who would say they are Reformed, or Calvinist (which I am not myself) …’ However, I noticed that you consider him to have ‘Reformed leanings’ and also refer to him as ‘Reformed Baptist’. Do you base this on his articles and him quoting Calvin and so on? My spouse and I also think he is reformed, but it seems odd that he does not count himself as such, so I was just wondering what you make of this?

Ah, Matt Littlefield.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Anonymous Asks (299)

“When is the right time to build a new church building?”

Church buildings have a long history, though the New Testament makes no mention of them. Christians in the first century met briefly in the temple precincts in Jerusalem, preached the gospel in synagogues throughout the world, and gathered for worship, prayer and edification in private homes and possibly in borrowed or rented spaces. (We do not know, for example, who owned the “upper room” in Acts 1 or the one in Acts 20.)

The first century church was comparatively discreet and mobile. Frequent persecution tends to make that necessary. You don’t put up a sign and start construction when people are trying to kill you.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

False Beliefs About the Rapture

I grew up believing in the rapture because people around me did. I won’t apologize for that, because it’s entirely normal, and there’s no other way it could have happened. The vast majority of Christians raised in any given denominational or theological tradition do exactly the same thing. It can’t be helped. You trust the people who first taught you the truths that blessed you, and that’s as it should be … at least at first.

But I don’t believe in the rapture because my dad believed in it. Not anymore. That ship sailed years ago.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (14)

Get ready, we’re going to do a little time traveling for the next week or two.

Zechariah’s fourth message from God is his longest, even if you break it into two parts as many commentators do (using the words “And the word of the Lord of hosts came” as the starting point of each revelation). I prefer to keep the two revelations together, since both speak of the future restoration of Zion, and both use similar language to distinguish past from present and future. When we break them up, we lose what I feel are intentional associations.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Culture and Growing Faith

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

Last week we talked about a recent study entitled Renegotiating Faith, concerned with changes in society that are making it harder for young Christians to reach anything approximating traditional adulthood, or to express conclusive or life-long support for any given set of religious beliefs in a pluralistic and increasingly fragmented society.

Tom: That’s a major cultural upheaval, and we are trying to treat it that way. IC and I were chewing over suggestions about what churches might be able to do to counter it.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Now It’s Personal

“Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

In church circles, my father was well-known. He lived a life of selfless service, teaching and counseling among the Lord’s people, was a help to many, and was consequently famous — in a modest sort of way.

Because of this, my brothers and I could go to no new town without running into Christians who knew him. We became used to the phrase, “Ah, so you’re HIS son.” We had an instant welcome and unearned favor wherever we happened to go. We used to joke that just dropping Dad’s name was good in any town for three free meals and the hand in marriage of a girl from the local church.

Dad’s name was “coin of the realm”, as they used to say.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Literal Kings and Spiritual Kingdoms

So many failures of understanding in the Christian life are a product of conflating the metaphorical and the literal. It strikes me that the monarchy enthusiasts who gave rise to yesterday’s post serve as a fine example of the confusion that so easily results from taking figures of speech literally and from allegorizing that which was intended to speak of an immediate physical reality.

If you haven’t read it, we were discussing the origins, biblicality and implications of the popular phrase “Christ is King”. Which is totally fine, until it isn’t.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A Little Short-Sighted

My dad was not the sort of man given to what we used to call “hairy fits”, but if he were still with us, he might just have had his first over the current mania around the phrase “Christ is King”.

Christian Nationalists love to sign off with it, even the ones who aren’t actually Christian, so much so that some commentators are now claiming it’s anti-semitic trolling, the proverbial “dog-whistle” the Left is always carping about while engaging in endlessly themselves. Not so in most cases. As often happens, familiarity leads people to use phrases whose origins and implications they have never even thought about, let alone contrived to offend with. The vast majority of the time, using “Christ is King” as one’s epithet du jour is just an indication of biblical illiteracy, not evil intentions towards Jews.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Anonymous Asks (298)

“Does the Bible support the pre-existence of Jesus?”

I love trick questions. I don’t suppose the author of today’s intended it to be tricky, but it’s tricky all the same. It’s much like the line I read some years ago in Catholic Answers about levirate marriage being an “ancient Jewish law” at the time of Onan. The only part they got right was that the custom was ancient: the word “Jew” would not come into popular usage for another millennium or thereabouts, and even the Law of Moses was still four hundred years away.

So this is going to sound like niggling, or a distinction without a difference, but it’s really not. The phrase “the pre-existence of Jesus” enables us to unpack a rather important truth.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ruminations on the Original Sin

I have heard the story of the Fall retold many different ways. In a 2014 sermon, Matt Chandler put Adam in the driver’s seat, actually baiting Eve into her act of disobedience to God. It was a broad caricature pandering to the female half of his audience rather than a faithful retelling of the Genesis account. Another sermon I heard two Sundays back minimized Eve’s part in the Fall to such an extent that the speaker never once mentioned her name.

Hey, in our militantly feminized modern church environment, I understand the temptation to soft-pedal a woman’s involvement in plunging her race into centuries of sin.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (13)

Sin has consequences. The vast majority of these are no fun. The usual result of experiencing the consequences of sin is sorrow, and sorrow is an emotional mechanism designed by God to produce better things in the long run. Sadly, some people never get beyond their sin-induced misery to the state of mind God intended it to bring about, like prodigals in the pigsty to whom it never occurs to return to the father’s house.

Biblical repentance is not merely feeling bad about the consequences of your sin, but recognizing its offensiveness to God and doing something about it. That’s what this second message in Zechariah 7 is all about.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Faith and Emergent Adulthood

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

Immanuel Can: Hey Tom, I’ve been reading a major recent sociological study published by the EFC and called Renegotiating Faith (2018). It’s about how changes in society are making it harder and harder for young Christians to arrive at what’s called “emergent adulthood”, the time in life when people make firm commitments either to be Christian or to become something else.

Tom: I see what you mean. It’s quite massive, isn’t it.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Blessed are the Hated

“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”

What? “Do not be surprised?”

Well, that is kind of surprising in our age. After all, we’re the “let’s get along” society. No culture in the history of the world has been so omnitolerant, so permissive, so inclusive and so welcoming of everyone and everything as modern, Western society. We are so morally earnest to make sure that nobody’s feelings get hurt, nobody gets excluded, nobody is marginalized or oppressed, that we bend over backward to accept absolutely everything.

And given that many Christians have also bought into the mindset that we must always be liked by our society and must do everything to be seeker-sensitive, welcoming, open, all-loving, and always, always of good social reputation, should it not surprise us if the world turns around and suddenly expresses hostility and hatred to us?

How could they do that? We’re so nice!

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Best Laid Plans

I am at one of those junctures in life at which circumstances oblige me to decide where, and to some degree how, I may spend my next few years, always assuming I have them to spend. As I often do, I am talking up the various possibilities with other Christians, from whom I have occasionally picked up a useful insight or two.

In the course of doing so, as you might expect, I am hearing a fair bit about the will of God, the call of God and the leading of God. “Well, if the Lord leads,” said one friend, “perhaps you’ll end up here.”

Perhaps. But even apostles and prophets don’t always know with certainty what their future holds.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

The Commentariat Speaks (31)

Over at Doug Wilson’s place, Levi inquires, “What is your position on Satan being released at the end of this millennium? If the nations truly come to Christ, how can they be deceived when Satan is loosed?”

Doug responds, “Levi, I don’t believe that the elect will be deceived, but I do believe that there will still be non-elect individuals at that time who would be vulnerable. But then again, the revolt will be very short-lived.”

The postmillennial view of prophetic scripture has its difficulties. To me, Satan’s rebellion is one of its most substantial.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Anonymous Asks (297)

“What does it mean to test the spirits?”

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians not to despise prophecies but to “test everything; hold fast what is good”, it was around the middle of the first century in one of the first books of the New Testament committed to parchment. The infant church was still in its initial growth spurt, most of the second half of our Bibles was still unwritten, and God spoke frequently through Christian prophets when the Old Testament was insufficient to meet the spiritual needs of gathered believers and provide them with necessary direction from the Head of the Church.

Because prophecy was so frequent, false prophecy was also frequent, so it was necessary to determine when God was really speaking and when he was not.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Resurrection in Acts

It may be argued that the resurrection of Christ is the single most important truth ever preached. It is the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

The Holy Lamb of God came into the world, lived a perfect life, showed us the Father and died for our sins on the cross, but if God did not raise Jesus from the dead, we have no compelling evidence of any of these things and no reason to get excited about them. Paul trumpets the critical importance of resurrection in his letters to the Romans (“He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies”) and the Corinthians (“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins”).

But we don’t have to wait for the doctrinal teaching of the epistles to understand the unique significance of Christ’s resurrection. It’s right there in the historical books of the New Testament as the central fact of apostolic doctrine, the truth that changed the world.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (12)

A couple of my Christian friends gave up certain food groups for Lent this year, provoking the occasional thought about the purpose of biblical fasting, though not necessarily inspiring me to join them. I’m on an eighteen-hour-a-day intermittent fasting program already, which is more than enough for me. Adding forty days of any kind of deprivation to that? Don’t think so.

Fasting has a long history as a perceived act of religious devotion, including among practitioners of Judaism, for whom the Law of Moses actually commanded it. Christians have no specific apostolic instructions to observe it, but some have always done so, citing the words of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount concerning fasting, despite the fact that his own disciples did not make a habit of it.

Of course, the Lord’s instructions about fasting were directed to Jews, but that often goes unremarked.

Friday, April 05, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: The Garment Stained by the Flesh

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

Tom: IC, it’s been a long time. I’ve been on the road, and so have you, and we’ve both had family stuff to deal with. The easiest way to handle the unexpected interruption in our schedules has been to recycle a bunch of four-year-old posts, some of which were genuinely worth revisiting. Even when I got back to my normal routine, I didn’t reach out for a while because I was looking for something certifiably hot that we could lob back and forth. And you know, I think I just may have found it.

So how about this: Should your local church host a small group for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction? Pros and cons in one, two, three ...

Thursday, April 04, 2024

The Multicultural Road to Hell

I’ve got a simple message in this post. Simple, yes, but not the less needed for all that.

What have you done with the gospel, Christian? Where is your voice these days?

I’m not telling. I’m asking. I don’t know you, or what you’ve done, or where you’ve been. Really, this is a question only you can ask yourself, and only you can answer.

Well, you and God, of course, because that’s the urgent point. God knows what we’ve done with the gospel. He knows whether we’ve been living like we believe it, or only saying we do, and living another way. He knows.

I don’t.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

All the Eggs in One Basket

It’s almost a year old at this point, but Megan Basham’s post at American Reformer entitled “Mr. Smith Goes to the Convention” chronicles the ill-fated attempt by the pastor of a small Baptist church in Virginia to get a straight answer to a very simple question from the Southern Baptist Convention: Is a church that has a woman serving as pastor deemed to be in friendly cooperation with the SBC?

The answer was never forthcoming, at least not by April 2023 when Basham’s article saw the light of day.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Sighing and Groaning

“Put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed.”

Our brothers in Christ over in the Reformed camp are haggling back and forth about Christian Nationalism a great deal these days. But any differences of opinion within the ranks of the fastest growing faction in evangelicalism are not concerning the question of whether a political movement to bring the nations of the world under the government of Christ is a good idea. They decided that issue long ago. Their eschatology and theology both demand it.

From the Reformed perspective, it’s not about whether we should fight, but about how we do it.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Anonymous Asks (296)

“What should I do when falsely accused?”

Accusations have never been easier to spread than in the internet age. They can ruin careers, drive their victims into bankruptcy and affect the lives of family members, friends and associates in extremely unpleasant ways. Even when true, accusations are often hurled willy-nilly and frequently prosecuted with nothing remotely resembling due process or compelling evidence.

When false, you have real worst-case scenario. Good luck proving your innocence.