Friday, May 12, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: Debby Boone Theology

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

“It can’t be wrong, when it feels so right.”

— Debby Boone, You Light
Up My Life

Immanuel Can: Okay, Tom. Remember that song?

Tom:hated the song, but I was wildly infatuated with Debby. I think I even had her poster on the wall in the basement bedroom I shared with my younger brother. I could just barely slide a female pop star (completely and decorously attired, I hasten to add, in a beige dress that did up at the neck and went down to her ankles) past my parents because “She’s a Christian!” Of course, I was all of sixteen at the time. Sadly, nothing permanent came of that little obsession: Debby has since married a fellow believer and, unlike many celebrities, has stuck with it going on forty years now. Good on her.

IC: Uh … right.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

A Church Without Wings

In one of the towns in which I lived as a child there was a church that called itself “Berean”. I’ve noticed quite a few such establishments, and I wonder if many people know what it actually means.

It’s a reference to a group of ancient Jews who lived in a town called Berea, and who were among those who experienced the early ministry of the apostle Paul. They listened to the gospel Paul preached; and yet they didn’t just trust it. They checked it out for themselves, comparing his New Testament teaching with the word of God in the Old Testament. Acts says that they “received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true”.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Recommend-a-blog (33)

Wouldn’t it be nice if every interaction between Christians and unbelievers was sufficiently mesmerizing to generate eleven letters from each side?

Yeah, I know, not your experience. Not mine either. The closest I ever got was a college acquaintance who claimed to be looking into Christianity. I wrote him a series of carefully researched, thoughtful responses to his (apparently endless) questions, until one day he as much as admitted he was shining me on, having no real interest in pursuing a relationship with Christ. His religious questions were merely academic.

Okay. Next time maybe.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Wasted Worries

Sometimes I think we moderns, especially in the West, are way too literal in our reading of scripture.

I’m not against literalism as a general principle, of course. “When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense” is a solid hermeneutic. No, literalism of that type is just fine. The sort of nit-picking, fussy literalism I’m concerned about has more to do with the negative inferences the Western mindset often tends to draw from positive statements. It’s more about strange leaps of logic extrapolated from the text than about the text itself.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Anonymous Asks (248)

“Does God have emotions?”

Provided you are paying the slightest bit of attention, it is almost impossible not to notice that the Bible portrays an emotional God. He is described as experiencing joy, love, affection, compassion, jealousy, grief, regret, anger and even hatred. If we think of man as being made to “image” God — to portray him in the world — this makes perfect sense: our own emotions did not come out of the ether; we possess them (or they possess us) because they are modeled after something greater.

The problem comes not in thinking of God as emotional, but in imagining that the emotions human beings experience are identical to those of the Godhead. If we do that, we will certainly find ourselves confused by the language of scripture.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

The Augustinian Error

I recently enjoyed a week of meetings taken by an ex-Calvinist who had been Reformed for 25 years. He left that movement because his own repeated reading of scripture was clashing with his systematic theology, and the cognitive dissonance eventually forced him to change his thinking. It was a terrific week. He is a gracious man by nature, but extremely thorough in his presentation and utterly convincing.

Not that I needed convincing on that subject …


One of the points he made in the course of the week is that Calvinists often tell us determinism was the teaching of the early church, or at very least that Calvinism is consistent with the teaching of the church fathers. After all, or so they reason, the Bible teaches these things, therefore the fathers must have believed them.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Mining the Minors: Habakkuk (4)

Why do the wicked appear to prosper while allowed to oppress, injure and even murder those more righteous than they? The question has troubled anyone with an attention span and reasonable powers of observation over the centuries. One of these was the prophet Habakkuk, who took his question to almighty God. God graciously responded, and Habakkuk wrote down what he said for those of us who would come later.

Here is how God answered him.

Friday, May 05, 2023

Too Hot to Handle: On the Offensive

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

Tom: I’ve got a verse and a half for you, IC, followed by a question. Here’s the scripture:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

Kind, patient, gentle: that’s the standard for the servant of God handling the word of God in the face of opposition.

Here’s my question: How do we reconcile the apostle Paul’s instruction to Timothy with the way he speaks in his letters or at other times and places?

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Mastering the Pastor Disaster

Her voice on the end of the phone was shaky. Clearly she was very, very upset about something. But she couldn’t bring herself to tell me what. Her words came out in a kind of extended groan that seemed to swell up from inside the depths of her heart, but could only leak past her lips. Something very bad had happened.

As our conversation continued, I gently drew more details out of her broken responses, and it became clearer. Not only she, but all her friends and her church, had been betrayed. A leader in their circle, much loved and widely admired, had turned the corner of a disastrous course. The first of the news had just broken; and she had called me less to tell me than to seek some kind of soothing for her aching soul.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Illustrations and Authority

“These stories are neither history … nor empirical science. Instead, they are investigations into the structure of Being itself and calls to action within that Being. They have deep psychological significance.”

— Jordan Peterson

“There is no future for the Bible … where a literalist reading of the text is the only option.”

— Steve McSwain, The Huffington Post

You can find hundreds of such quotes about the Bible online these days, many of which, like the second one above, claim to be the product of a Christian worldview. All assure us the scripture is still good for something — faith production, psychological insight, good moral teaching — even if parts of it are historically false.

Most prefer to use the word “mythical” rather than “false”.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

Broad Brushes and Oopsies

In 2018, Al Mohler bemoaned the state of the Southern Baptist Convention in the words, “The judgment of God has come.” I wrote about it back then, concerned that Mohler was using the word “abuse” to cover far too broad a spectrum of sins, from the comparatively trivial to the genuinely awful. One of those alleged offenders to whom Mohler made subtle reference was Paige Patterson, then-president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), who was terminated shortly thereafter.

And yes, SWBTS used the word “abuse” in its letter of dismissal as well. Seven times, in case anyone missed it.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Anonymous Asks (247)

“Is it possible to take the mark of the beast without knowing it?”

Peter Feaman, a senior Republican official in Florida, referred to the COVID-19 vaccines as the “mark of the beast”. An unidentified Reddit user asked if perhaps the vaccination passports were the mark of the beast. Christians and non-Christians alike have written no end of articles assuring vaccine-hesitant evangelicals that neither claim was true. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the mockery that has been directed at anybody who raised the question, I’ve still heard a couple of believing acquaintances suggest it.

Even the faint possibility of having taken the mark of the beast makes Christians nervous, and so it should. But does scripture give us any information about whether it is even possible to take the mark of the beast without being aware of the association?

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Wrath and Discipline

Back in May 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention had a series of what appeared to be #MeToo moments: accusations of an “avalanche of sexual misconduct” and alleged institutional cover-up that put the Convention squarely under the media microscope. Al Mohler wrote a confessional sort of op-ed in which he said, “The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance.”

He entitled the piece “The Wrath of God Poured Out”.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Mining the Minors: Habakkuk (3)

So far, Habakkuk’s prophecy has taken the form of a Q&A session with God. The prophet has bemoaned God’s apparent lack of interest in the perversion of justice and corruption within his nation. God has replied that it’s actually going to get worse before it gets better: he is in the process of raising up the Chaldeans and using them to discipline his arrogant and erring people.

Naturally, that revelation provokes further questions.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Cognitive Dissonance

My youngest son was going out the door this afternoon, trying to figure out what to wear. He asked, “Is it a warm twelve degrees or a cold twelve degrees?” I said, “You’ll be fine the way you are. Unless we get the rain they have been saying is 100% likely for the last four hours.”

It was a bright sunny day. Not a drop of rain to be seen anywhere. Not a cloud in the sky.

Halfway up the stairs he stopped and said this: “They can’t tell us what’s going to happen in the next twelve hours, but they can tell us what’s been happening for the last six billion years.”

I said, “You have now learned everything important I could ever teach you.”

Too Hot to Handle: Billy Graham Regrets …

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

Evangelist Billy Graham, in a 1977 interview with Christianity Today:

“One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up.”

Tom: Does that quote surprise you at all, IC?

Thursday, April 27, 2023

The Christ-Shaped Empty Space

Regarding last week’s post about spiritual narcissism, one further thought has been with me lately.

The attraction to following a single, charismatic, spiritually-talented man is an interesting case of misdirected spiritual longing. As human beings, and especially as sons of God, we are constituted for the destiny of eternal relationship with a Man. He is our legitimate spiritual leader and source of spiritual food, the rightful head of every direction we’re going, and the source of all our future hopes and blessings. To be given over to serving him is our highest and best destiny, and even now we have a longing for that — a longing God gives us, and which we must have.

It’s a longing for our Shepherd … the Good Shepherd.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Amalekites Revisited

I love looking at Old Testament stories and tracing history through its books. Sometimes I try to draw practical lessons from the things that happened in times past. Other times I leave that process mostly to the reader. Some lessons are more obvious than others, and we don’t always need to be beaten with a 2×4 to register what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us.

Early last year we published a post I entitled “The Prototypical Enemy”. It concerned the Amalekites and their relationship with the nation of Israel over a 900-year period. In that post, I tried to link together a bunch of different scriptures to present a history of the Amalekite people. It was a lengthy one, so I left most of the practical applications to the reader.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Problem of Genocide

I have had a number of opportunities to talk about the Bible with co-workers over the years, but I am usually careful not to do it on company time. Our Human Resources department takes a dim view of employees talking politics, race, religion or any other controversial topic in group situations where someone may take offense. Generally speaking, I try to respect their wishes.

There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes an opportunity is just too obvious to pass up.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Anonymous Asks (246)

“Is it wrong to pray for your ex back?”

When a relationship ends, it is axiomatic that the partner who ends it suffers less than the partner who gets no say in the matter. There are rare exceptions, like the woman who leaves an alcoholic husband she loves very much for his own good, or the man who separates from a fidelity-challenged woman he adores, but generally speaking the partner who gets left behind is the one most injured.

Still, some believers are able to let go of a departed partner easier than others. For those of us who make it our practice to cast our cares on the Lord, the temptation to try to use God to get what we want most out of another person is very real and very common.