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.

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.