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Misadventures with the dictionary.

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When I wrote about how to do a word study, I pointed out gotta use the dictionary last, for confirmation. Not first, as people tend to do.’Cause several mistakes in interpretation are precisely the result of reading the dictionary first. When we were kids, most of us were taught if you wanna know what a word means, look it up in the dictionary! So we came to think of the dictionary as a primary source of information. But when we’re doing word study, the dictionary’s not primary. The bible is.And for that matter, when a dictionary’s editors put it together, they did word studies. They don’t look up their words in a different dictionary. (The first guys to make dictionaries didn’t have dictionaries to go to.) They looked at literature. How’d previous writers use these words? How did John Milton, William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, or John Wycliffe use the words? For an American English dictionary, they particularly look at how American writers use these words, ’cause we’re gonna use ’e…

The sort of poetry which doesn’t rhyme.

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When children are first exposed to books, they’re exposed to poetry. (What, you didn’t realize Green Eggs and Ham rhymed?) Starting with children’s books, all the way up to Shakespeare.And what’s the one thing English-speakers are all agreed upon about poetry? I’m not gonna wait for your answer: It rhymes.Except it doesn’t always.We were introduced to Walt Whitman in high school. To his stuff other than “O Captain! My Captain!”, which does rhyme; usually “Song of Myself” or “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d.” And a bunch of us objected, as do high schoolers across America: “This isn’t poetry. It doesn’t rhyme!” ’Cause we knew from Green Eggs and Ham on up: Poetry rhymes. That’s what makes it poetry.Well, no. Poetry’s about using wordplay to evoke emotion. It’s why it works so well with small children. But it doesn’t have to rhyme, or have a metrical rhythm, or any of the things we frequently find in traditional English-language poetry. True, lots of languages do rhythm and rh…

Atonement: God wants to save everybody!

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ATONEMENTə'toʊn.məntnoun. Action which fixes a broken relationship, such as paying a penalty, replacing a damaged item, or painting over defacement.2.The atonement: Jesus’s payment for humanity’s sins through his death.[Atone ə'toʊnverb, atoning ə'toʊn.ɪŋadjective.]Sin significantly ruined our relationship with God. Not irreparably; God can fix anything. And he did.Occasionally some preacher will break down the word atonement thisaway: “At-one-ment. God makes himself and us one.” It’s pretty close to the right idea. There used to be a word in English, onement, which means unity. Christian preachers started adding the at- prefix to describe our relationship with God: We’re unified now. What was broken is now fixed.The word English-speakers used to use to describe this was propitiation, one which still appears thrice in the King James Version Ro 3.25, 1Jn 2.2, 4.10 to translate ἱλασμός/ilasmós. But like most old-timey words, people don’t understand what it means, and most …

On trusting the bible—but first trusting God.

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Whenever Christian apologists write a book on their favorite subject, they either begin by explaining how they know God exists, or why the bible is absolutely trustworthy. It kinda depends on which of the two they consider the higher authority: God, because he inspired the bible; or bible, because it informs us about God.Custom dictates God should come first, so he does come first in most apologetics books. But not all of ’em, ’cause not every apologist hews to custom. And to be blunt, a number of apologists are total bibliolaters, so they insist it’s vital we establish the bible as an absolute before we can even quote it as an authority.Thing is, how do we prove the bible’s absolutely trustworthy? Well, here are the answers one apologist offers.Look how many ancient copies of the bible there are! Way more than other books, or contemporary books. That’s gotta mean something.Lookit all the statements the scriptures say about themselves, or other scriptures.Lookit all the contemporary a…

“You don’t know his heart.”

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No, this article’s not on the End Times. But I got a coworker who loves to talk about End Times stuff, ’cause he’s kinda obsessed with it.I don’t know that he’s from one of those dark Christian churches that’s likewise obsessed about it. I think it’s more like he’s young and enthusiastic, and End Times stuff just happened to get under his skin. It did me for a while, when I was a little kid and Hal Lindsey said Jesus had to be coming back soon, ’cause lookit the newspapers! Yes, when I was a little kid; I had an End Times comic book and my church taught on End Times stuff regularly. Little kids get exposed to this stuff all the time; my own nephews have recently discovered the Left Behind youth novels. Unless level-headed adults are around to guide and correct you through it, it can really mess you up.So he likes to bring up any little thing which might be an End Times harbinger, just to get my take on it. And most of the time I tell him he’s worried over nothing: Yeah, some of those …

The church café.

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Some churches offer refreshments before, after, or even during the service. My current church did, before the current pandemic made us suspend it. At one of my previous churches, one of our pastors’ wives who loved to cook (who became known as our “minister of munchies”) would have so much food available, you may as well skip breakfast at home, ’cause there was plenty of food at church.But many churches—namely the churches which get so big, refreshment tables get cleaned out within minutes—have decided to go with cafés. They stick it somewhere near the front of the building, and sell coffee and doughnuts—and other drinks, and other foods.A friend likes to sarcastically call them “concession stands.” To him, the church café is just a money-making scheme… kinda like the moneychangers Jesus had to throw out of temple ’cause they turned it into a marketplace. Mk 13.13-17 In some churches, that’s precisely what their cafés feel like.But the purpose of this article isn’t to bash church café…

Does suicide send you straight to hell?

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Years ago I taught at a Christian junior high. We had the usual classes you’ll find at most schools, plus bible classes and a weekly chapel service. Principals led most chapels, but the last year of our junior high program (before the school phased it out and I went on to teach fourth grade), our principal handed off the duties to various guest preachers. Earnest guys… but let’s be blunt: Some of ’em didn’t know what they were talking about. Some churches have no educational standards, and’ll let anyone babysit pastor the youth.One of our regular chapel speakers was a youth pastor, the husband of one of our school’s daycare teachers. As far as theology is concerned, my eighth graders knew more. Not just ’cause I trained them; he really was that ignorant.One week this guy was talking about salvation, and he let slip that if you commit suicide, you go to hell. It wasn’t his main point, but one of our seventh-graders did catch it and question him about it: “You go to hell for suicide?”“Y…

Christianists, justice, and social Darwinism.

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In the scriptures justice is defined on doing what’s just—what’s appropriate, what’s fair, what’s right, what’s consistent with the Law of Moses.And lest you get the idea, “Oh, the Law of Moses; so it’s about breaking commands and meting out punishments,” no it’s not. Read the Law sometime and you’ll notice there’s a lot in there about doing for the needy and powerless, about loving one’s neighbor, about compassion and mercy and grace. Read the Prophets and you’ll see they get on Israel’s case not just for breaking the Law, but for shafting the poor and needy… which is forbidden by the Law. Anybody who thinks the Old Testament is all legalism, and the New Testament is all grace, clearly hasn’t read the Old Testament—or is projecting their own bad attitudes onto it. Plenty of grace in there… called “favor” or “mercy” or other synonyms, but you shouldn’t miss it.Okay, that’s the bible. In our culture it’s assumed a very different definition. Justice in the United States is about upholdi…