Monday, June 24, 2024

Anonymous Asks (308)

“In a theocracy such as the Christian Nationalist movement would like to see established, what would be the most biblical way to treat people with non-Christian religious beliefs?”

I’m never a huge fan of hypotheticals, and this is a big one. Notwithstanding the efforts of our postmillennialist friends, I believe the next (pseudo-) theocracy we’re going to see on this planet will be global beast-worship, to be followed shortly by the glorious millennial kingdom of the Lord Jesus, who will not require my advice about how to administer justice.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Argumentum ad Mimema

Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” in 1976’s The Selfish Gene to describe an idea that spreads by means of imitation from person to person, often carrying symbolic meaning representing a phenomenon or theme. He nicked the word from the Greek mīmēma, meaning “imitated thing”.

Most of us know what’s happened to the “meme” concept since.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (23)

In April of this year, the US House of Representatives passed a bill called The Antisemitism Awareness Act. If signed into law, the act would make it illegal to say the Jews killed Christ, as the Bible plainly and repeatedly states. The bill gives examples of online statements that would now be classified as hate speech and violations of the law, including “using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis”.

If it’s anti-Semitic to say the Jews killed Christ, then the apostle Peter, a Jew himself, was a flaming anti-Semite.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: No-Fault Separation

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

Immanuel Can: I’ve got something on my mind this morning, Tom.

I was reading this article. Now, this is an old and still-debated topic, and I don’t deny that the author probably has some good points. But what struck me about this article were several things.

The author asks why it is that people leave a church, and then he goes on to suggest three reasons. In order, they are: (a) our subculture (by which he actually seems to mean the larger, secular culture of consumerism); (b) expectations (and he emphasizes in particular the tendency to forget that the church is a “family”); and (c) the “fatal assumption” … that newer is better (which, by some sort of path, “leads the average church goer to hold the opinion that it is better to be served than to serve”).

Thursday, June 20, 2024

A Sign From God

“He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

Jesus Christ was a sign from God.

What is a sign? It is something that is not what it seems to be, but looked at correctly, points beyond the surface appearance to something else.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

War and Theology

Wars are complicated things. They rarely have a single cause and often have many.

The Russo-Ukrainian conflict currently winding down (we hope) has layers of potential causes, and peeling them back one by one will take you places citizens of NATO-aligned countries probably don’t want to go. Let’s just say that the superficial explanation offered by the Western media — “Putin is evil!” as the be-all and end-all — is minimally consistent with the available evidence. We need a deeper dive into the historical relationship between Russia and the Ukraine, not to mention a plausible accounting for the last decade’s worth of US interference in the region and the White House’s ongoing self-destructive stage management of the war, before we content ourselves with facile, politically motivated casus belli.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Semi-Random Musings (35)

From the department of “It’s All Been Done Before”, my ongoing trek through the last several thousand years of humanity’s follies continues with the first volume of the Cambridge Medieval History, which takes us from Constantine through the twelfth century.

Constantine is most notable for “converting” and subsequently making Christianity the official religion of the then-declining Roman Empire. This act led to a few moral reforms for those who lived at that time. (The newly empowered state religion frowned, for instance, on the cruelties of the Roman amphitheatre, crucifixion and the widespread practice of exposing unwanted infants, especially girls.)

It also compromised the church in ways we are still dealing with today.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Anonymous Asks (307)

“Why are there so many atheists in the world?”

The impression that the world is full of atheists is actually quite false. It has several causes, not least the vocal efforts of a small minority of “true unbelievers” to keep their hobbyhorse in the public eye and to blame religion for every feature of the world they dislike. The high profile of men like Stephen Fry, Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins leaves many with the impression their beliefs are scientific and their numbers statistically significant. That is simply wrong.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

All These Kingdoms

“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end.”

Years of repeatedly reading scripture have convinced me there is no misspeaking in it, no poorly chosen words or phrases. None. Everything God says through his servants is exactly right all the time. When something revealed by the Holy Spirit seems incomprehensible to us, the answer is always to wait, pray and investigate further as intellect and opportunity permit. The problem is not what God wrote; it is that we are misunderstanding him in some way.

In the end, it will all make sense.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (22)

Four times in the book of Revelation the Lord Jesus or God identifies himself as “the Alpha and the Omega”: the beginning and the end or the first and the last, depending on your translation. This is not a title men have given him but a name by which he chooses to make himself known. It’s a reminder of the truth boldly stated numerous times throughout the New Testament (and probably not well understood prior to that time) that the Word was in the beginning with God and nothing at all was made without his participation.

The Son was personally active in the beginning, and he will be personally active again in the end. The title means more, of course, but that is certainly one implication.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Disconnected?

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

Immanuel Can: Tom, let’s talk about elders, particularly in their shepherding (the meaning of “pastoral”, as you know) relationship to their congregations.

I’ve observed a consistent phenomenon: churches are usually required by law to have some sort of general annual business meeting (AGM). At that meeting there are always some members of the congregation who are unhappy with something that has been decided on their behalf. It may be something small, or something quite big.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Between Museum and Megachurch

I’ve been to a few churches lately. And I’ve got some questions. Maybe you do too.

Two weeks ago I visited a tiny congregation. Everything about them — the building, the furniture and the people — was redolent of a past generation.

Not near past. Long past.

The Museum Model

This was no “blast from the ’60s”, unless you meant the 1860s. True, there had been some updates. The carpet was relatively recent, the chairs (formerly wooden butt-punishers) had been replaced with modern, padded units, and the walls had been given a coat of fresh, white paint to brighten up the former cream-to-caramel tones of the main room. The formerly-towering platform had been supplanted by a more understated, low one, with a decorous little stand replacing the older-style, bulging pulpit. Even the ancient light fixtures had some of those new soft-white bulbs.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Inbox: The Existence of Angels

One of the more gratifying aspects of writing and editing a blog over a decade or more is the occasional recent comment on an ancient post. That a post from March 2014 is still drawing the odd pair of eyes ten years on is testimony to both the goodness of the Lord and the short-term durability of the expression of internet opinions — at least so long as somebody continues to ante up the annual fees for ownership of your domain.

In this case, a reader weighs in on the existence of angels, a controversy that goes all the way back to the disagreements between Pharisees and Sadducees in the time of Christ.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Getting More Strategic

From the department of “maybe I’m the crazy one”, I keep seeing Christians making statements like this all over the internet:

“As your children get older and develop a robust faith and worldview, they will become more resistant to being influenced by LGBT ideology. It might be more strategic to wait until the children are older before agreeing to invite same-sex couples over to the home.”

Might? Might?

Monday, June 10, 2024

Anonymous Asks (306)

“Is it really possible to be overly righteous or too wise?”

New Christians may be inclined to exclaim, “Of course not!” How could one have too much of a good thing? But those who have read the complete works of King Solomon may find the wording of this question familiar. He speaks of both.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Not So Irrelevant

The subject of the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians is Paul’s concern about divisions in the church. It takes him only nine verses of introduction to jump right into it, and because it is the first of many different church-related exhortations in his letter, we may reasonably infer that the apostle viewed the matter as very significant.

The fact that the churches down through the centuries have pretty much entirely failed to process the lesson he was teaching and put it into practice in no way diminishes the importance of what Paul said or the clarity and intensity with which he wrote about it. Expressing the unity of the body of Christ in every possible way on every possible occasion is a mark of mature Christian faith. More, please!

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (21)

You will not find the expression “day of the Lord” in the Old Testament prior to the books of the prophets. Joel turns the phrase more frequently than anyone else, but Isaiah also uses it, as do Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Malachi and, of course, the prophet we are currently studying, where it appears exactly once, introducing the final chapter.

Naturally, that’s not all the Bible has to say about the day of the Lord. Not by a long shot.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Too Hot to Handle: Evolving Christianity

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

Billions of blue, blistering barnacles ...

Erik Jones asks the question “Was Christianity Designed to Evolve?

Tom: Now, Jones is Church of God, the Sabbath-keeping sect out of Texas that originated with Herbert Armstrong, so we’re certainly not going to find ourselves in agreement with their particular emphasis on law-keeping and Jewish holy days, a hint of which bleeds into Jones’ article.

We will also be unsurprised to find Jones’ answer to his own question is a resounding ‘No’.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Three Reasons to Get Going

“Jesus said … ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’.”

Ah, these little sayings that sometimes escape our notice.

I don’t know about you, but I always find it very exciting, and yet also not a little embarrassing, when I come to realize a verse I’ve known all my life has waaaay more to it than I ever realized.

This is one of those verses. Let’s break it down.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Idealism and Realism

A couple of blog posts and a recent sermon have me thinking again about the idea of perfection in the Christian life.

Sinless perfectionism is a minor heresy in the Christian community — not minor in the sense that it is an unimportant error, but minor in the sense that far too many of us can see the inherent impossibility of such a pursuit to be deceived into believing Christ-like impeccability can be attained in this life. Accordingly, the doctrine’s ardent proselytizers are few.

If you go around asking “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” long enough, somebody is bound to step up.

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Faith Lost Pointlessly

It always saddens me to hear stories of young men and women from Christian homes who have gone off to university and purportedly “lost their faith”. The all-too-common phenomenon strongly suggests two things: (1) it wasn’t much of a faith; and (2) the students who truly abandoned the faith over intellectual difficulties placed more trust and confidence in their secular professors, textbooks and the mythical gods of Science and History than in the Bibles they had been reading their entire lives.

We can’t do much about the first problem.

Monday, June 03, 2024

Anonymous Asks (305)

“Does the Bible predict an EMP attack?”

Early on a Friday in mid-April this year, Israel allegedly attempted a missile strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. News services documented multiple explosions, and some reported a successful strike. The Iranians claimed their high tech air defenses had done the job for which they were designed, and that whatever the Israelis had launched in their direction had been summarily shot down. End of story, for now at least.

The comparatively small scale of the attack prompted internet speculation about an EMP.

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Flirting or Fleeing

Blog & Mablog is currently playing host to a back and forth on the subject of concupiscence, commonly known as illicit desire, the occupation with that which is intrinsically sinful. I link only to the most recent two instalments, which are beginning to skew a tad too technical for me. When a debate veers into Reformed tradition, “internal” and “external” temptation, sin vs. sinfulness, justification, sanctification, Augustine, John Owen and Ed Shaw’s book on same-sex attraction (reviewed here), Christians with little interest in theological minutiae eventually glaze over.

I plead guilty to being among them.

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Mining the Minors: Zechariah (20)

In chapter 11, Zechariah is either living out an object lesson in real time or else telling a parable in which he is a character. By no means is his illustration a simple, obvious analogy, and commentators are all over the place in trying to parse out its intended meaning. The parable concerns two shepherds and a flock doomed to slaughter, and it’s chock full of symbols, familiar and unfamiliar. If we can’t unpack it to everyone’s satisfaction, at least we can make a few sensible suggestions consistent with other prophetic scriptures, and eliminate the more absurd possibilities sometimes offered.

The parable spans Israel’s history, starting in the distant past and ending in the future.