Welcome to tomthinking.com Tuesday, January 23 2018 @ 05:54 PM UTC

You Can't Be Neutral About The Bible

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I stopped off at a local bookstore with my daughter yesterday and picked up two seasonally published magazines about the Bible. One was published by U.S. News and World Report. The other was published by the American Bible Society in partnership with Time. Reading one was maddening. Reading the other was insightful.
I’m not big on pop-culture presentations of Bible truth. But as it happens, every year as we approach the anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection publications and news events bring special focus to the veracity and claims of Scripture. As each publisher brings to the magazine stand its own prejudices about the Bible one thing becomes clear.
You can’t be neutral about the Bible.
When it comes to the Bible you can either take it or leave it. You can love it or hate it. You can see it as ancient literature or divine revelation. You can be indifferent about its content or let its content move you. But there’s not a lot of room in between. Why does the Bible inspire such reactions of devotion or derision? Why is it so seemingly rare that someone approaches the Bible neutrally to allow it to speak on its own?

Where Is Buddhism's Mercy?

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I recently read an interesting quote about Buddhism’s impact on real world problems. Check this out. ”Christmas Humpreys, an influential Western Buddhist, admits…’It may be asked, what contribution Buddhism is making to world problems, national problems, social problems, appearing among every group of men. The answer is clear as it is perhaps unique. Comparatively speaking, none.”[1]
I’ve long wondered why Christianity seems to be able to so successfully generate an enormous number of mercy-oriented ministries, organizations, and movements that serve both man and beast. Why did Christianity produce so many educational institutions, hospitals, prison ministries, anti-poverty movements, and more while competing worldviews like Buddhism seem unable or unwilling to do so? It’s not that they don’t make the attempt, it’s that they are just so darn infrequent and invisible. If Buddhism was truly a mercy-oriented system, why hasn’t it generated such things at a level competitive with Christianity?

Certainty About What's Right

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I was thinking recently about an article I wrote about Buddhism and morality nearly two years ago. In that article, Void or Victory: The Higher Nature of Christianity Over Buddhism, I quoted the Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions as saying,
“In Christianity absolute morality is the central theme, in Buddhism absolute morality is nonexistent.”
Today I ran across a quote from theologian John M. Frame that provided me with insight into why philosophies like Buddhism cannot offer anything concrete like moral standards that reflect things which are always right or always wrong. In an article for Free Inquiry magazine, Frame wrote,
“An absolute standard, one without exception, one that binds everybody, must be based on loyalty to a person great enough to deserve such respect. Only God meets that description” (Emphasis mine).[1]

The Limits of Love

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Love is one of the concepts often misunderstood where the Bible and the Christian life are concerned. Expressing love, it is thought, cannot include anger, invoke bad feelings, or result in emotional pain. Love, in the modern or perhaps postmodern sense must include all feelings of wellness, goodness, and general pleasantness. Even the Bible, it is pointed out, describes love in terms of positive emotional states that bring out positive feelings in others. Certainly love can be and do all of these things, but love is also much more—and much less.
The Bible’s most well-known passage on love is I Corinthians 13:1-3. Both scholar and student have remarked that there is not a single more eloquent written passage in religious literature about love than the Apostle Paul’s homily in I Corinthians 13. That may well be true, but there are many more things the Bible has to say about love. Let’s take a look at Paul’s description of love from I Corinthians 13, and what other Biblical writers had to say about this single most important characteristic of the Christian life.

The Attitude of SInful Man

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The execution of Saddam Hussein drove me back to the Bible. It was alarming to read the reaction of so many people to Saddam’s execution. Regardless of whether he was executed with “dignity,” or whether the men carrying out the deed were vengeful or politically contrary, none of it matters in the sense that in the end Saddam Hussein received the just penalty for his crimes. In fact, he technically received less than justice, which I explained in my commenterry, The Rightness of the Rope for Saddam Hussein.
Watching the reactions on the news, and reading through dozens of blogs from the Middle East to the Americas, you would think that Iraq had executed an innocent man. Of course most commentary was focused on the behavior of the hooded men, the political motivations and implications. But so what? So the masked-men were jerks and made Saddam’s last moments more bitter than he expected. In the words of Michelle Malkin, “Boo-freaking-hoo.” The behavior of Saddam’s hangmen doesn’t change the fundamental rightness of the penalty he received.

The Attributes of a Spiritually Mature Church

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While beginning a study on the biblical definitions of love, I ran across an interesting list by Professor Wayne Grudem from his book, Systematic Theology, on the “Signs of a More-Pure Church.” In this highly esteemed volume, Professor Grudem defines a pure church as, “[The] degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct, and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church” (Chapter 45, page 873). Two things about this definition and Grudem’s list of church attributes caught my attention.
First, Grudem places doctrine and behavior hand-in-hand. Improper doctrine does not naturally or organically work itself out to become proper biblical behavior in a Christian’s life. Jesus remarked about this is Matthew 7:17-20 when He said:

The Body of Christ

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The Bible’s two primary dissertations on the Body of Christ (the Church) are found in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul, though writing to different audiences, penned both passages in the same year – 56 or 57 A.D. Thus they have some ideas in common, especially on the theme of the Body of Christ:
  • The body has many members (Romans 12:4, I Cor. 12:14)
  • Each member has its own function (Romans 12:4,6-8, I Cor. 12:4-7
  • Each member belongs to the other (Romans12:5, I Cor. 12:14-21
  • Each function of the members directly benefits the whole body and its individual members (Romans 12:6-8, I Cor. 12:7-11)
  • Both passages on the body are followed by a dissertation about love (Romans 12:9-21, I Cor. 12:31-13:1-13)

A Context For Christ

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When I came to Mongolia in November 2002 to take over as Station Manager of Eagle TV I was not sure what to expect. I knew that I would be leading a staff of mixed religions at a TV station where those mixed motivations might normally seem contrary—even out of place for a Christian owned organization with dual faith/secular objectives. Eagle TV has Christians, Mormons (not the same, in case you didn’t know), Buddhists, shamanists, and atheists working in nearly every department. The ministry department is naturally made up of Christians of various theological backgrounds. When I arrived four years ago I expected to encounter Mongolian Christians who were young in their faith, but passionate about the Bible and biblical truth. I encountered this in other countries I had experience in where the church was young, small (in fact 15 times smaller than Mongolia), with few resources to learn about God’s word. Yet the biblical knowledge of those young believers was, to put it mildly, remarkable. I remember observing Christians in one Middle Eastern country who had known Christ for far shorter than I, yet I felt ashamed because many of them understood far more about the Bible than I did.

Faith! Faith! Brutha, You Gotta Have Fay-eth!

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“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This verse has been dancing around my head recently because of a conversation my daughter and I had after a faith preacher came to town to offer healing to whomever wanted to come forward for their miracle.
The Word of Faith brand of Christianity is quite popular in Mongolia. If you are a preacher who claims to heal or do miracles you’ll find an easy audience here. Word of Faith theology is a form of heresy, that is, it is predicated upon ideas foreign to the Bible so that the biblical text is reinterpreted apart from its historical intent to bring meaning to the scriptures that distract from its central themes. Word of Faith theology is part of the Charismatic wing of evangelicalism. Not all charismatics are Word of Faith oriented, though Word of Faith ideas do have a significant influence on the charismatic movement today. Some have described Word of Faith theology as charismatic Christianity turned into charismania.
I got to thinking about these things again because of the predilection by Word of Faith preachers (I scarce call them teachers) to claim that miracles and healing can come to you “if you only believe.” 
I bring this up to preface my main subject this week: Faith. You may have heard the old saying that, “Faith doesn’t require evidence.” Some well-meaning Christians have said this taking Hebrews 11:1 to heart, from older, less accurate translations that read: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (1769 KJV). That little phrase, “Evidence of things not seen,” is problematic for two reasons.

Darnel It All

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Had a great time at church this afternoon looking at a large number of verses about God’s sovereignty over all creation, and the supremacy of Christ. Our service time was spent looking through scriptures and discussing how people often perceive the Gospel. We went through so many passages this afternoon that I lost count, but the one in particular stuck out to me: The Parable of the Sower.
Luke 8:4-15 records Jesus’ parable and its meaning so that what he intends us to get from the parable can be clear and unmistaken.
In the past whenever I’ve read this passage I tended to focus on the hearers whom Jesus describes as being good soil. More than anything I want to be good soil, that is, one who hears the word of God and bears the kind of fruit that God intends his word to bring about. Though Jesus does not explain in this passage what “fruit” means, his meaning is actually pretty clear since throughout the Gospels and the New Testament “fruit” is either used to represent the souls won to Christ by Christians, or (and most often) it is a reference to personal character brought about in the Christian through obedience to Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart (in John fruit refers to both, but in Matthew, Mark, and Luke fruit refers to character). More importantly for my purposes today I was drawn to Jesus’ use of the description of “thorns” that grew up with the seed (word of God) and choked it. It brings to mind another passage where Jesus referred to “tares” or in the common vernacular, “weeds” in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.