I have often heard Christians say that we ought to be content in Christ, and not ask for anything outside of Christ. I think they are on to something important, but I worry that they might be misunderstood. Yes, Paul “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12), and the letter to the Hebrews commands, “be content with what you have,” linking that to God’s presence: “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you'” (Heb. 13:5). But if this is the case, why do some people hear “you should be content in Christ” as a disappointment? (more…)
I’ve been particularly interested recently in Ancient Near Eastern history, and in particular how the Old Testament interacts with its context. I have been repeatedly told by academics and intellectuals – including some Christians! – that the Old Testament is just a collection of myths and fictions with no connection to what really happened. This seemed fishy to me. So I’ve been digging over the past few months, and found many more connections even than I expected to find. One, which illustrates the challenges and the possibilities, is the question of the wife of the Achaemenid Persian shah Xerxes I (r. 486-465). (more…)
Hell is a problem. It makes compassionate Christians uncomfortable. It makes hateful Christians gleeful. Some people say that hell is unfair. Others say a loving God could never create people to send them to hell. How can hell be reconciled with “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8)?
Let us be careful. Jesus, who revealed God’s love, discussed hell more than any prophet. (more…)
Christ is Risen! Happy Easter!
It’s been almost three months since I posted. The explanation is not that I gave up blogging for Lent (at least not intentionally), but I have been working on other things. Like learning a new language. (Okay, a *very* old language.) And inwardly grumbling about my work. (Not healthy.) And various other things. In time there will be new posts in a couple new directions. In the meantime I am busy repenting of my sins.
But God forgives us and saves us from even ourselves, as we see most powerfully in the death of the Son of God on a Roman cross, followed by his vindication on the third day because death could not hold him. Jesus died for our forgiveness and rose for our redemption. Because he dies, our sins our dead; because he lives, we live even if we physically die.
Christ is Risen! Happy Easter! Forever and ever, amen!
Last month’s decision by the US president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel brought out the full range of responses, as usual. Such responses always dismay me as to how poorly both sides understand what the Bible says about Israel, land, and the Church today. Here are some notes for a discussion I led on the subject, specifically for Christians; the notes have been somewhat edited since the original version. (more…)
Pope Francis made headlines recently for mandating a different translation of the Lord’s Prayer into modern languages. He is urging Roman Catholics to switch from the traditional phrasing “Lead us not into temptation” to a new version “Let us not enter into temptation.” Note that he was not suggesting changing the text of Scripture or what Jesus said; he was merely arguing that this prayer has been mistranslated into the languages with which we today are familiar. Yet casting this as a translation issue is to misrepresent the theological basis for the objection and how it functions. (more…)
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph do not play very visible roles in US politics. “For God and Country” is a slogan that makes the rounds in some circles, but the nature of that God is left unspecified (perhaps beyond typically excluding Muslims). The dearth of direct appeal to Jesus even in conservative American politics, to say nothing of the silence about his mother and step-father, makes it all the more surprising that the Holy Family has been dragged into political debates twice in one month. The nature of those invocations, and their historical and theological confusion, reveals the cynical pragmatic secularism driving the use of these religious ideas at this political juncture. Christian complicity in these invocations threatens the intelligibility of the gospel message to outsiders. (more…)
Amid the commemorations and celebrations of Martin Luther nailing several Latin points for disputation upon his local bulletin board, there has been some discussion about whether the Reformation “failed” or “succeeded.” The answer, of course, depends on what you think the Reformation’s goal was. But to enable you to reach your own conclusions, I thought a scorecard might be helpful. (more…)
I was just asked how I respond when my religious beliefs conflict with what I believe on the basis of other sources of information. I think this is a common experience (certainly common for me), and that many people wrestle with it in different ways. My short answer is that I do what I do whenever any two beliefs of mine conflict. But that answer itself presumes certain views regarding the nature of religious beliefs and knowledge, and there are perhaps some slight differences worth exploring. Here are a few thoughts about how I approach the issue, and ways I think are dead ends. (more…)
Sometimes it is useful to look back to a time before the heated debates of the present were kindled, and see how cooler heads then discussed those issues. One of the heated public arguments of our time is the place of gender and gender expression in our society, and the degree to which those are God-given, naturally determined, socially constructed, or individually chosen. This past week the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) published a “Nashville Statement” outlining what they regard as necessary Christian teaching on homosexuality and transgenderism. Reactions to the statement were covered in all the major and most of the minor media outlets. And this is only the latest flurry in a discussion which already goes back several years.
I recently read Margaret Widdemer’s 1915 novel Why Not?, written long before the current cultural uproar regarding transgender identity and gender expression. It includes, solely for entertainment value, a subplot surrounding a woman who wants to be a man, and how that turns out. In doing so, it raises possibilities that our modern gender pugilists do not consider, or even wish to foreclose. Let us examine those, looking for an alternative to a renewed culture war.