Thursday, May 23, 2024

Inbox: What’s Right with It?

In response to an earlier post on Christian moral issues in our weekly Too Hot to Handle post, David B. writes:

“I am always reminded of a question from a youth group speaker of years gone by when he said, ‘The question you should be asking isn’t what’s wrong with it, as in how close to the edge can I get, but what’s right with it and does it bring me closer to the Lord.’

Do you feel that’s a fair question, or does it just set you up for someone to say, ‘Well, you could make that argument about anything you choose to do or not’?”

Hmmm. A very good question, Dave.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

That Wacky Old Testament (16)

Fewer Western women today are interested in marriage than ever before.

Becoming sexually active between the ages of 15 and 19 is considered “normative”. One UK study fixed the “ideal” number of sexual partners for a woman to have before “settling down” at twelve, usually through high school, university and the early career years. By age 30 or so, many women have lived through enough bad relationships to sour on the idea of long-term commitment. Even among those who still want to be married, few have cultivated the habits of faithfulness necessary for marital success. Many prize autonomy above almost all else.

Among millennial women, interest in marriage is the lowest ever measured.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Deconstructing Romans 9

A recent letter to another Christian blog writer referenced this bleak little video, in which a young woman who formerly professed faith in Christ shares with her audience why she no longer calls herself a believer. In her video, she quotes and attempts to dissect five passages of scripture that she says “caused me to lose my faith”.

“Losing her faith” also inspired her to start her own YouTube channel debunking it, which currently has 76 videos mostly devoted to “deconstructing” scripture. Jezebel Vibes has over 54,000 subscribers. Naturally, this self-styled “Jezebel” has monetized her apostasy. Viewers are invited to buy one of her deconstructionist T-shirts to share their non-faith with the world.

Hey, it’s YouTube. Why wouldn’t you?

Monday, May 20, 2024

Anonymous Asks (303)

“What does it mean to be spiritually dead?”

Let’s start with the fact that scripture doesn’t use the phrase “spiritually dead”. Not once. Spiritual death is a concept we’ve derived from the word of God, but it is not the language of the Bible. First, then, we need to figure out what “spiritually” means as the Bible uses it.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

A Game of Determinist Chess

“How can a loving God allow [fill in the blank]?”

There may be questions Christians are more likely to hear from unbelievers than the various permutations of the above, but I can’t think of one at the moment. The query may be a defiant attack on the character of God or the honest expression of perplexity by a genuine seeker. Either way, the answers that satisfy you or me rarely settle the matter for those who do not know Christ.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (18)

Earlier this week, I quoted from Israel’s rather bloodthirsty-sounding Finance Minister, who gave a much-panned speech calling for the total annihilation of the Palestinian cities of the Gaza Strip, in which he also referred to aspiring to destroy Hezbollah “with God’s help” and send a message to the enemies of Israel.

Those of us who have read the prophetic scriptures know Israel cannot count on God’s help apart from first coming to genuine national repentance for their rejection of Messiah, so Mr. Smotrich may be presuming just a little. Terrible things must happen both in Israel and to Israel to bring them to the point of desperation and cause them to cry out to the Messiah they crucified.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: A Methodist to Their Madness

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

The Cottage Grove location of Minnesota’s Grove United Methodist Church, 30 years old this year, is closing for renovations. But it’s not the building that’s being renovated ... it’s the congregation.

Small, initially financially unstable and told by their denomination that they did not warrant a pastor’s salary, the church first merged with a larger Woodbury church in 2008, then switched to lay ministry a few years ago, and has settled in to a comfortable routine with somewhere between 25 and 35 regular worshipers. That’s not good enough for the Woodbury leadership, who have hired a church-starting specialist with $250,000 from the Methodist’s regional Annual Conference, and are planning to “reset” the Cottage Grove location to appeal to a younger audience — in the name of Christ, of course — and preferably without the thirty members currently meeting there.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Merged into the Mob

It’s kind of breathtaking watching the news these days, isn’t it? So much mass craziness in such a little time!

Of course, there’s the hysteria surrounding COVID-19. First, we were told it was all a racist plot, then that it was an international pandemic, then that we were all going to die, then that we all had to wear masks ... or not ... and then go back to work and school ... then not ... that there will be a cure ... then that all cures are poisons ... that the economy is collapsing ... then that it must collapse, so we can all stay safe.

Who do you believe? Which side do you choose? What do you support? What do you do?

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Break Out the Dynamite

In a post last November, I agreed with Australian pastor Matt Littlefield that Israel currently has no divine mandate for the reconquest of Gaza, much as many evangelicals would like them to. We disagree, however, about whether God is at work in the current situation. Matt calls the IDF’s efforts to root Hamas out of Gaza “a work of the flesh seeking to fulfil the things of God, rather than a work of God to fulfil prophecy”. In response, I went back to the Old Testament to demonstrate that those statements are not mutually exclusive.

Even the actions of exceptionally wicked men may be both at the same time.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Going Home

I had a dream this morning. I was walking down a small-town sidewalk when a middle-aged man carrying a big, well-thumbed soft-cover Bible passed me by. He stopped suddenly and spoke to me, and I turned around to hear what he might have to say. He had a twinkle in his eye and an appealing manner about him, and my usual instinctive reluctance to engage in such situations instantly fled. He asked me a question I can’t completely recall, but it was something about the Father’s house. He wanted to know what I thought about it. I began to try to put my ideas into words, and realized nothing coherent was coming out of my mouth.

I started and stopped three different times, then gave up.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Anonymous Asks (302)

“How should parents who are divorcing/separating deal with child custody issues?”

How does one do a bad thing in the best possible way? This the dilemma for divorcing Christians. Finding the will of God in one area of your life when you are already rejecting the revealed will of God in another area is always going to be a losing battle. The Lord never intended Christians to divorce, and his word does not provide a great deal of direct guidance to those in the process of demonstrating they don’t want it.

The best we can do is derive some general principles from scripture about behavior patterns that are always good, and leave it at that.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Of Foals and Fools

As I noted in yesterday’s Mining the Minors instalment, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each penned an account of the triumphal entry. As usual with gospel accounts of the same events, these are complementary, not contradictory, much as any honest eyewitness accounts invariably reflect the personality, preoccupations, purposes and intended audience of the storyteller.

Bart Ehrman, Bible scholar and self-acknowledged unbeliever, would desperately like the accounts to contradict even if they don’t.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (17)

Sometimes, apart from supernatural intervention, prophetic fulfillment is inexplicable; things happen that couldn’t possibly have happened without the hand of God. Other prophecies attain fulfillment by simple acts of human will.

Take, for example, a virgin conceiving and bearing a son. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the power of the Most High overshadowed her. God did what was otherwise impossible. That was a supernatural fulfillment of Isaiah.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Days of Programs Past

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

Immanuel Can: The Young People’s group in my local church seems defunct. It wasn’t lack of leadership — they had a stellar, unselfish, thoughtful leader, who had had great success in the past, most recently with a large and active cohort that had just moved on to college / university / career plans. But when the older class graduated, nobody came in to fill the ranks. It seems that the new generation of early-teens were involved with other things: sports, computers, other programs. Not only that, when asked, their parents seemed to see no particular reason their kids ought to be meeting with other Christian kids for spiritual or social activities. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a generation of parents that isn’t totally convinced that getting their kids involved with other Christian young people is very important to their development.

So that’s new.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Who’s Holding the Scales?

I have to admit I’m appalled by the debates flying around the Internet these days. More and more, they seem like merely the propaganda of angry factions, not the rational pronouncements of people who think things through.

And the sanctimony ... oh, the sanctimony! Every faction sees its perspective as not merely just, but as the only side a reasonable, compassionate, fair-minded, informed, civilized or decent person could ever be on.

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

What We Bring to the Table

Everyone has needs. The man who says he doesn’t isn’t without need, he’s without self-awareness, or perhaps just unwilling to be honest. With respect to need, the only important difference between Christians and unbelievers is that, in coming to Christ, believers acknowledge their neediness and seek to have it addressed. Unbelievers don’t.

That makes us weak, some say. Let’s grant them that. Why not?

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Fighting Dead Dragons

Just last year, seminary professor and author Owen Strachan published a book entitled The War on Men: Why Society Hates Them and Why We Need Them, praised as “a gospel-salve for a sick and dying culture” and “a compelling biblical and rational case for the recovery of and respect for a biblical view of manhood”.

As one tag line puts it, “If you are tired of feminized men, this book is for you.”

Monday, May 06, 2024

Anonymous Asks (301)

“What causes church splits?”

Let’s start with this proposition: God is gracious, and may continue to bless the efforts of his people even when they make mistakes, often in spite of them. But I think we can safely say the Lord is never behind factionalism. Even Martin Luther worked to reform Roman Catholicism from within for fifteen years before settling for the alternative.

In short, there is no such thing as a good church split. Some other outcome is always preferable, and something irreplaceable is lost in every fracture of a local testimony.

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Between 14 and 15

The Lord Jesus had just left the temple, prophesying its complete destruction. He sat down on the Mount of Olives, allowing the disciples to come to him privately and ask, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Three questions, and it’s not entirely apparent that the Lord answered them in the order they were asked. Over the ensuing centuries, much debate has resulted as Christians tried on various interpretations of his answer, comparing scripture with scripture.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (16)

Zechariah begins with eight visions, continues with four messages, and finishes with two oracles, literally “burdens”, a word often used to refer to prophetic revelations of the future. Each oracle spans three chapters, the first beginning in chapter 9 and the second commencing with the first verse of chapter 12. I have called the first oracle “against the nations” because it commences with words of coming judgment concerning the nations immediately west and north of Israel, later going on to mention Greece, Egypt, Assyria and other ethnic groups further afield.

There’s plenty about Israel in the first oracle as well, but it’s definitely more general than the second oracle, which is specifically “concerning Israel”, Judah included.

Friday, May 03, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: The Rapture and the Wrath of God

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

Not too long ago a major news and commentary website complained about “evangelicals’ toxic obsession with the end times”. That sort of thing is to be expected from unbelievers. But more and more, I am seeing the same kind of dismissive language used by Christians.

Tom: “Rapture” is not a term we find in the Bible, but it may be reasonably applied to the events to which the apostle Paul refers in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Matthew Henry, whose eschatology was neither Pre-Millennial nor Pre-Tribulation, used the word “rapture” in his commentary on Thessalonians back in the early 1700s, long before J.N. Darby or others who articulated the Pre-Trib position in their own generations. For most critics of Pre-Tribulationism, the argument is not so much about whether the church will be “snatched up”, but when.

But whatever we may call it, Immanuel Can, it’s my sense that the teaching about a return of Christ for the church prior to the Great Tribulation has never been in greater disrepute among God’s people. Does that seem a fair statement?

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Fake News

The biggest news today is “fake news”.

What is “fake news”? Nobody seems to know. It could be the panicky blandishments of the liberal media. It could be the paranoid pronouncements of the extreme Right. But it could also be the confused babblings of the moderate centre. Nobody really seems to know. The only thing upon which all sides agree seems to be that there’s a lot of it out there somewhere.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Flyover Country: 1 Corinthians

No genuine Christian sets out deliberately to displease God or mislead his fellow believers. Nevertheless, as James puts it, “We all stumble in many ways”, and the Lord often graciously uses the errors of others to help us find the right path, rather than requiring us to learn Christlikeness through hard personal experience of its opposite.

Many New Testament letters were written in response to doctrinal errors or bad practice, but the church in Corinth seems to have had more than their fair share.