Posts

Baptism: Get saved, get wet.

Image
Christianity’s initial ritual. Baptism /'bæp.tɪz.əm/ n. Religious ritual of sprinkling water on a person’s forehead, or immersing them in water, symbolizing purification, regeneration, and admission to the church. [Baptist /'bæp.təst/ n. , baptizand /'bæp.tɪ.zænd/ n. , baptismal /bæp'tɪz.məl/ adj. ] Whenever the ancient Hebrews did something ritually unclean, before they went to temple they had to make themselves ritually clean. How they did that was to simply wash themselves with water and wait till sundown. After which point they could go to temple. Since you only had to go to temple three times a year, this didn’t require a whole lot of ritual washing. That is, till the Pharisees showed up. To them, any form of worship required people to be ritually clean. So if you went to synagogue, whether daily or just for Sabbath, you needed to be ritually clean. Gotta wash. How the Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox Jews) did so was to create a mikvéh /“collection [of

Misreading and mistreating those who mourn.

Image
Job 4–5 After Job suffered the tremendous disaster of having his children, employees, and livestock all killed in one day, three of his friends came and sat shiva with him. Jb 2.11-13 For a week they said nothing. Then Job vented for a chapter.“Wish I’d never been born; Jb 3.3 why didn’t I die at birth; Jb 3.11 I wish I were dead.” Jb 3.20-22 The usual stuff people say when they’ve suffered an earth-shattering loss, particularly when loved ones die. Stuff we’re supposed to listen to, sympathize with… and watch these people in case they actually try to act upon any of it. (Half the time they’re all talk, but sometimes they’re not, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.) But you know how humans are: We try to fix one another. We don’t leave it in the hands of professionals, who know how to guide people to make good choices. We tell ’em, “You know what you oughta do,” and tell them so. Or worse, we try to do it for them. So in Job , here’s where all the bad advice b

So you feel unclean. Pray anyway.

Image
Stop letting your sins keep you from prayer. God already forgave you. Probably the most common reason Christians don’t pray… is because we don’t feel clean enough. I’m not talking about ritual cleanliness. Most Christians don’t even know what that is anyway: It’s the idea of ritually washing yourself before going to temple. Since the Holy Spirit now dwells in us Christians, we don’t need to ritually wash before temple; we are his temple. But like I said, it’s not about that. It’s about feeling clean because we haven’t sinned. Or because we’re pretty sure we haven’t sinned; as far as we know we’re good. But if we have sinned, we figure we’re not worthy to approach God. We feel we’re too dirty, or he’s too righteous, for us to be around him. Some Christians even teach God is repelled by our sins; that if we’ve got any sin in our lives, there’s no point in approaching God ’cause he’ll just turn away from us and ignore our prayers. Or even leave , in offense and outrage. It’s

What became of Judas Iscariot.

Image
Matthew 27.3-10 • Acts 1.15-26 Technically Judas bar Simon of Kerioth, the renegade follower of Jesus whom we know as Judas Iscariot, isn’t part of the stations of the cross. Whether St. Francis or St. John Paul, neither of ’em figured his situation is specifically worthy of a meditation for Good Friday. Although we should study him some, ’cause he’s an example of an apostle gone wrong—an example we don’t wanna follow. Nor repeat. But Jesus was too busy going through his own suffering to really focus on what was happening with Judas. So Judas came up when he turned Jesus in to the cops… and in three of the gospels, that’s the last we hear of him. The exceptions are Matthew —and since the author of Luke also wrote Acts , it’s kinda in another gospel, ’cause Acts is about how the apostles started Jesus’s kingdom. But that’s a whole other discussion. Here’s the problem: For the most part, the Matthew and Acts stories contradict one another. Not that inerrantists hav

Get hold, and get rid, of your anger.

Image
James 1.19-21. God is stable. Jm 1.16-18 He’s not prone to wild mood swings, nor does he have some secret evil plan where he tricks us into sin Jm 1.12-15 as an excuse to smite us—which he conceals beneath a veneer of goodness. God’s no hypocrite. And, as is appropriate for God’s followers, we shouldn’t be that way either. Ordinarily humans are creatures of extremes. Our emotions tend to be wild, crazy, out of control… or totally repressed. If we’re the overemotional sort, we point to the emotionless sort as totally wrong, and vice-versa. The repressed person objects to emotions as wildly inappropriate, and emotional people as possible candidates for heavy medication. The out-of-control person objects to emotionless people as unhealthy and stunted, and at some point they’re gonna snap and need some of that heavy medication themselves. But the fruit of the Spirit is prahýtis /“gentility,” or gentleness —the ability to keep control over our emotions. A Spirit-following C

God’s existence. In case you don’t consider it a given.

Image
When apologists try to make God appear in a puff of logic. Properly speaking, God’s existence isn’t a theology subject. It’s an apologetics subject. Theology is the study of God, and it takes God’s existence for granted: Of course he exists. Duh. Otherwise we wouldn’t waste our time. But for the sake of apologists, a lot of theology textbooks start with an obligatory chapter on God’s existence. The better-written books point out the scriptures take God’s existence for granted: Genesis starts with “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” Ge 1.1 KJV with no preliminary explanation: “See, a ‘god’ is an almighty cosmic being, and here’s how we know only one of ’em exists…” God’s just there , calling worlds into being. The better-written books also point how we know there’s a God: Special revelation. God talks to people, and performs the occasional miracle, so we know from personal experience he’s around. He may be invisible, but his presence among believing Chr

General revelation: How to (wrongly) deduce God from nature.

Image
Problem is, the details vary widely. GENERAL REVELATION /'dʒɛn(.ə).rəl rɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃən/ n. The universal, natural knowledge about God and divine matters. (Also called universal revelation, or natural revelation.) 2. What the universe, nature, or the human psyche reveal to us about God. A number of Christian apologists love, love, LOVE the idea of general revelation. And I always wind up on their bad side, because as a theologian I have to point out it’s a wholly unreliable form of revelation. It’s so useless it actually does pagans more good than Christians. This, they really don’t wanna hear. Because they’ve pinned so many hopes on it. Y’see, apologists deal with nontheists , people who don’t believe in God and are pretty sure he’s never interacted with them before. What apologists try to do is prove God has so interacted with them before. If the nontheist can’t remember any such events, the apologist will try to point to nature and claim, “See, that’s a way

Prayer books: Prayers for every occasion.

Image
Namely the prayer books of certain denominations. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, or watched a wedding on television, y’might’ve noticed when it was an actual member of the clergy officiating the ceremony, she or he was holding a little black book. Assuming the minister wasn’t winging it, or hadn’t downloaded a little something from the internet… or hadn’t, more impressively, committed the ceremony to memory. Most people assume the book is a bible. When I was a kid, that’s what I assumed too. So I went poking around for the wedding ceremony… and discovered it’s not in there. There are no wedding ceremonies in the bible. Wedding parties, sure; but in bible times you hashed out the marriage and dowry details between the families, and that done, the bridegroom went and got the bride, took her home, and they were considered married. No ceremony necessary. The western marriage ceremony is a pagan invention, which we Christianized, so of course it’s not in the bible. So what’s thi

Jesus sentenced to death by the Senate.

Image
Mark 14.61-64 • Matthew 26.63-66 • Luke 22.67-71 I’m discussing the three synoptic gospels because if you read John , the way it’s worded makes it sorta look like Jesus didn’t even have a trial before the Judean Senate. First Jesus went to the former head priest Annas’s house, Jn 18.13, 19-23 then he went to the current head priest Caiaphas’s house, Jn 18.24, 28 then he went to Pilate’s headquarters Jn 18.28 with the death penalty already in mind. Now, it may have been that in between stops at Caiaphas’s house they went to trial, but John neither says nor suggests so. John was probably written to fill in some blanks in Jesus’s story, but every once in a while like this, it creates whole new blanks. Anyway, back to the synoptics. My previous piece was about Jesus testifying about himself. Today it’s what Jesus was guilty of, and why they sentenced him to death. Mark 14.61-64 KWL 61 B Again, the head priest questioned him, telling him, “You’re Messiah, the ‘son

Jesus testifies about (or against) himself.

Image
Mark 14.60-64 • Matthew 26.62-66 • Luke 22.67-71 Messiah means king. Christians forget this, because to us, Messiah means Jesus. So when the ancient Judeans wanted to know if Jesus was Messiah, to our minds their question was, “Are you the guy the Prophets said was coming to save the world and take us to heaven?” and there are so many things wrong with that statement. One of ’em being that’s not what anybody in the first century meant. If you know your American (or British) history, you’ll remember a tory is someone who prefers the status quo, and a whig is someone who really doesn’t. (I’m not gonna use “liberal” and “conservative,” ’cause the United States is such a mess, everybody’s a whig.) Regardless of how you like or hate the status quo, “Messiah” means one of two things: Tory : You’re a traitor. ’Cause the Romans and Judean senate are in charge, and you’re here to overthrow ’em, and we can’t have that. Whig : You’re a revolutionary. (So… whom do you want us

The four hells.

Image
By which I mean the various words translated “hell,” and how only one of ’em is really hell. C.S. Lewis famously wrote a book called The Four Loves . Not that there are four loves; actually there are more like eight. But there are five words in ancient Greek which tend to be translated “love.” (Two of ’em in the New Testament: Agápi and fílos . The others are found in the Septuagint: Éros in its verb-form eráo , and the nouns storgí and xénios .) Lewis wanted to highlight four of ’em and talk about how people love in these four different ways. People read, or hear of, The Four Loves and assume, “Wow, Greek is so precise and exact. It’s got four different words for love!” No; it’s the fact translators aren’t precise and exact. Those words can just as easily be translated affection ( storgí ), friendship ( filós ), romance ( éros ), and charity ( agápi ). Check out any thesaurus and you’ll find we have way more than four words for “love.” English can be just as precise as G