There has been a lot of discussion over the past week of Rick Perry’s claim that President Trump is God’s “chosen one” to be president. Obscure points of Christian theology have spilled over into mainstream media, and political commentators have felt obliged to weigh in on doctrines of predestination and election. The two most common talking positions seem to be shaping up as “God has nothing to do with politics” and “Of course God chose our president; get over it.” But the analysis has focused primarily on politics, and I think reflecting on the theology may be more helpful. In particular, what the Bible says about God’s involvement in selecting leadership may be useful for adding the nuance lacking in the public discussion, and may serve as a useful reminder of what Advent is about. (more…)
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…)
Now that I have written five thousand words about why I think the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is a true and biblical description of the One God, someone might wish to ask me, “What difference does it make?” Sure, traditional Christian orthodoxy (held today by evangelical and conservative Protestants of all denominations, traditional Roman Catholics, and most Eastern and Oriental Orthodox) believes in the Trinity, while Oneness Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, liberals (both Protestant and Roman Catholic), and Muslims do not. But is that just an interesting and incidental detail, along the lines of different traditions of church decoration? Or is it relevant to how Christians live out their faith in practice? Does this Trinitarian theology matter?
I think it does matter, and it matters a lot. Now, I will readily grant up front that it does not seem to matter to many Christians, who live out their lives with scarcely a thought regarding Trinitarian vs. Unitarian doctrine. But I think it does matter, and ought to matter a great deal to Christian life and faith. (more…)
One of my favorite Christian songs is the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and I was delighted some years ago to learn that it was originally in Latin. Having learned Latin, I am still very fond of the familiar version we sing in church, but that translation (like all translations from verse into verse) necessarily adjusts the meaning to fix the meter. So for Advent this year, I thought I would provide the hymn’s Latin words with a very literal translation into English prose, not to be sung, but so that the song may be better understood. The Latin text was taken, with minor adjustments of punctuation, from here. (more…)
In my last post, I argued that not all prophecies were composed after the events which fulfill them. But perhaps the argument for dating the Gospels after that date can be nuanced. Instead of a strict deductive argument, perhaps that dating is still defensible as an inference to the most plausible explanation. In other words, okay, prophecies can sometimes be written down before the events which fulfill them, and perhaps a few like the Qur’anic example cited in the last post actually were, but which is more likely, that a prophecy was written down before or after the event in “predicts”? Most people would conclude that it is far easier, and thus more likely, for the prophecy to have been written down after the fact. Therefore dating true prophecies by presuming that they are ex post facto, composed after the fact, is not always true, but it is a good approximation, in the absence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Like all general principles, this may be generally applicable, but I do not think it applies to the prophecy which the Gospels portray Jesus as uttering about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. (more…)
The 30th sura of the Qur’an, near its beginning, says, “The Romans have been defeated in the nearest land, but they, after their defeat, will conquer in a few years” (Q 30:2-4). Late medieval Muslims believed that this prophecy was fulfilled by the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, although I could see a case being made for “the nearest land” being Palestine, in which the Romans were defeated in 638. The Romans’ subsequent victory, in the latter case, could be taken to refer to the Byzantine conquests of the 960s, in which they recaptured Antioch for 120 years. In any event, we have Qur’an manuscripts which contain these verses from before the 960s.
It amazes me how frequently Bible scholars insist that a prophecy can only have been written down after the events which are alleged to be its fulfillment. Thus many Old Testament scholars maintain that Daniel must have been written in the Maccabean period, while experts on the Gospels (even many Christians) assert that because Jesus is portrayed as foretelling the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (usually dated to 70 CE), therefore the Gospels were first written down at least forty years after the events they claim to record. But the example of the Qur’an shows that this need not be the case. (more…)
This is something of a rant. I have some pet peeves, among which is when people misinterpret the Bible to fit their pet concepts and models. Even if the larger point they are making is good, good ends do not justify bad means. I’m reading a book on prayer right now which I think illustrates this perfectly. I’m not quite halfway through it, and I generally have a high bar for what constitutes good writing on the subject of prayer (and a low tolerance for Christian cliches and platitudes). On the whole, I think the book is very good, and it has already helped me with certain issues in my prayer life. But some of what the book says about Jesus is just flat wrong, even if it’s with good intentions. And much of how the author draws from the Bible is deeply wrong-headed, even if I think the author has understood some important things about prayer. (Because of this mixed review, I will not name the author or the book in this post.) So I’m not condemning the book or the author, but I thought I would vent my frustration by using a few examples from the book to show how bad exegesis is a problem, even for a good end. (more…)
Good poetry is hard to find, because it’s even harder to write. These days most verse is trite and sentimental doggerel, and much of the more creative stuff is emotionally self-destructive. Yet there is good poetry out there, which can bring us closer to God.
George Herbert is one of the best poets in the English language, and one of the most famous of the Metaphysical Poets of the 17th C. Here is one of his more famous poems (taken from ccel.org): (more…)
A year ago my wife and I moved to a cheap apartment in the next town over. We did a lot of research, and had a number of distinct requirements. Among them we were concerned about pests (we’ve had bad experiences before) and cigarette smoke (my wife is allergic). We settled on one apartment, and then its current occupants decided not to move out, so we found two other options in the same building. They had the same floor plan, but one faced the parking lot and the other a golf course. Since we love green, we settled on the one overlooking the golf course. I asked about pests and was assured there was no history of pest-related service requests. Then when I brought my wife for the sniff test (her nose is much keener than mine), we smelled cigarette smoke. (more…)
Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Matt 21:1-11), and most commentators have interpreted this as a sign of humility, the contrast between the warhorse of the conqueror Messiah expected by some and the spiritual conqueror that the real Messiah was. This view is authorized by Zechariah 9:9, which describes the coming Messiah’s humility linked with the choice of a donkey for a steed. I accept this interpretation, but I wonder whether there might be another dimension.
In particular, when David’s son Adonijah presumed he was the heir apparent and hosted a banquet to announce his kingship, the prophet Nathan and Solomon’s mother Bath Sheba asked David to appoint Solomon his heir instead. And the way that he was appointed heir was to ride the king’s mule down to the Gihon spring outside the city and back (1 Kings 1:33, 38). Now, a mule (Hebrew pirdah) is not a donkey (Hebrew ḥamor), but they’re related, and both event required riding into Jerusalem on a non-horse (although Solomon’s also required riding out of the city first). So I wonder whether, in addition to the humility meaning, there is also a link to Davidic kingship in the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey.