Why Amazon is my favorite Christian bookstore.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 May

Unless you count all the mini-bookstores found in the larger churches, my hometown has only one bookstore. One. It’s downtown; it mostly sells used books.

We used to have a Borders, a Crown Books, a Book Outlet, and multiple used bookstores. And a Family Christian Stores—which wasn’t so much a bookstore as a one-stop shop for all Christian. They had books, but they had even more Christian tchotchkes: CDs, shirts, toys, art for the walls. “Jesus junk.” Now we have just that one bookstore… and the book sections at Walmart, Costco, Target, the other department stores, and the thrift stores. (And the local library’s monthly book sale.)

Why can’t a town of 102,000 sustain a new-books bookstore? Because those stores, for the most part, didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t realize, till it was too late, their primary competition was Amazon—and that Amazon had ’em so beat, people would shop at Amazon while browsing their stores. I did it myself. I’d browse their stacks, find a book I was interested in, take down its ISBN, and look it up on Amazon. Guess who always had the better price.

No, Amazon doesn’t pay me to sing their praises. Even though I link a lot of the books, movies, and albums I mention on TXAB to their website.

I learned a long time ago, and keep seeing it: No matter the bookstore, Amazon offers a lower price on the same book. Even if the bookstore marked everything at 20 percent below the suggested retail price. Even when the books are on the clearance shelf at 60 percent off. Even when they’re in a $2 bargain bin. Even when I find ’em at Dollar Tree for $1.25. Amazon regularly has ’em beat.

I’m not the only bookstore customer who noticed this. I’ve seen other customers browse the bookstore… then whip out their smartphone, compare prices, go with Amazon, and buy nothing from the bookstore but their coffee. If that. Too often Starbucks is cheaper.

Unitarians: Those who insist God’s not three.

by K.W. Leslie, 12 May
UNITARIAN ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən noun. A person or doctrine which emphasizes God’s oneness, and rejects the doctrine of the trinity.
2. [capitalized] A member of a church or group which asserts this belief.
3. adjective. Having to do with this belief, or with unitarians.
[Unitarianism ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm noun.]

Christians correctly understand God’s a trinity. One God; three people (or “persons,” as theologians prefer, but it’s bad English) who are the one God. Well, most of us do; there are holdouts who insist he’s not. They tend to fall into one of two camps:

  • MODALISTS. Those who say the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God… but really all three of them are just one person. Not three people. Just one person in different modes.
  • UNITARIANS. Those who say the Father is God—and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not.

People are more familiar with unitarians—mostly because there are entire unitarian denominations, like the Unitarian Universalists, the Unitarian Christian Church, and Unity Church. (The United States has even had four Unitarian presidents.) But that’s also because unitarianism is very obviously non-trinitarian, and very obviously denies Jesus is God. Whereas modalists will never say Jesus isn’t God. For that matter you’d likely never even know they were modalist… until you start asking ’em about trinity and they reply, “Well I really don’t like to use the word trinity to describe God…” then go on to explain why they say he’s not.

The main difference, y’notice, is modalists believe Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Unitarians do not. Well, generally unitarians do not; some of ’em are kinda pantheist and believe everyone is God. But for the most part, they insist God is One: One person, one being, one heavenly Father (or Mother; some of ’em aren’t particular); our Creator, the Almighty, and infinitely good. And while they consider Jesus to be Lord and Savior and King, they don’t consider him God. Same with the Holy Spirit—although I’ve known a few unitarians who believe the Spirit is God, but like modalists, don’t believe he’s a different person than the Father. To them, “Holy Spirit” is just one of God’s titles, like when certain indigenous Americans refer to God as “the Great Spirit.”

But unitarian doesn’t just describe Christians. Technically it describes everyone who believes in the One God, and doesn’t believe he’s a trinity. Most unchurched pagans figure there’s one God, aren’t so sure about Jesus, and know nothing about the Holy Spirit—and this description would mean they’re unitarian. Every Muslim would be unitarian: They definitely believe in one God, believe Jesus is a prophet but not God, and believe the Holy Spirit is a messenger of God but also not God. Religious Jews are unitarian, Sikhs are unitarian, Baha’is are unitarian.

But if you’re unitarian and call yourself Christian, you’ve chosen to ignore the scriptures which reveal God as a trinity. Which puts you outside historical orthodox Christianity and makes you heretic. And here I gotta remind you heresy does not send you to hell—but it does greatly interfere with getting to know and trust God, so it always needs to be dealt with.

By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!

by K.W. Leslie, 11 May
Galatians 2.17-21 KWL
17 “While looking to be justified by Christ,
if we’re found to be sinners ourselves,
then isn’t Christ a servant of sin?”
This ought not be said!
18 For if I rebuild the things I destroy,
I stand up for my own transgressive behavior.
19 For I, through the Law,
die to the Law so I can live for God.
I was crucified with Christ.
20 I no longer live. Christ lives—
in me. He now lives in flesh.
I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me
and hands himself over for me.
21 I don’t reject God’s grace,
for if rightness comes by Law,
then Christ died for nothing.
Previously:
  • “Paul and the apostles of note.” Ga 2.6-10
  • “Paul challenges Simon Peter.” Ga 2.11-14
  • “Being good justifies nobody. Nobody.” Ga 2.15-16
  • Paul’s academy trained him in Greco-Roman rhetoric, the art of speech and debate. Most of us don’t know how the Romans practiced rhetoric, so sometimes we struggle to follow Paul’s arguments, and come to some very different conclusions than he was trying to make. This is nothing new; few things are. Peter rebuked ancient Christians for doing the very same thing. 2Pe 3.14-15

    Anyway it’s why I translated verse 14 with quotes. Paul’s doing a rhetoric thing: He’s quoting what other Christians have said, and responding μὴ γένοιτο/mi ghénito, “This ought not [be said]!” Most bibles translate it some variant of the KJV’s “By no means”—this is an idea we oughta strongly oppose. It’s heresy.

    So apparently this is what certain early Christians were teaching, particularly the legalists in Antioch. “You claim you’re following Jesus. But you sin. Everybody sins. You shouldn’t, but you do. So are you saying Jesus is okay with your sins? It’s fine with him if you sin? He even endorses your sinful lifestyle? (Because certainly we would never say this.) You need to stop; Jesus can’t save a willful sinner.”

    To some degree we still hear this from today’s legalists. Yes, of course we’re to resist temptation and quit sinning—but they turn it into something we have to do lest we lose salvation. Lest we undo everything Jesus did for us. Lest Jesus himself reject us, because sin offends him so much, and he simply can’t work with people like us. It’s a mindset which entirely goes against Jesus’s stated practices in the scriptures, and of course grace. But that’s kinda to be expected of legalists.

    So Paul preemptively deals with this one: No it’s not okay to sin. Jesus doesn’t say that; Paul didn’t write that. Sin is still evil and wrong. But the fact Jesus works with and through sinful humans, does not mean he endorses sin, nor overlooks sin, nor did some behind-the-scenes jiggery-pokery which nullifies the Law and means nothing’s a sin anymore.

    What he did do, is kill our sin. Killed it on the cross with himself. Killed us on the cross with himself. Our penalties are paid for. Our debts are paid. Now follow Jesus.

    Hearing God. It’s vital!

    by K.W. Leslie, 10 May

    Prayer is of course talking with God: We talk to him and he talks back. It’s not a complicated idea—though Christians obviously overcomplicate it all sorts of ways.

    And because it’s talking with God—’cause he talks back—prayer is therefore the most common, usual way God communicates with people.

    Yep, even more common than bible. I know; I’m fully aware plenty of Christians claim bible is the only way God communicates with people. They believe this because it’s what they’ve been taught: “God doesn’t talk to people anymore, so stop trying to hear him and read your bible.” And hey, if you shut your ears to everything God tells you in prayer, in dreams, through prophets, or even full-on personal appearances, of course you’re gonna claim he only communicates through bible. It’s like someone who throws out their phone and computer, burns their mail, refuses to interact with anyone in person, and only communicates by carrier pigeon: Okay, guess we’d better get some carrier pigeons. God’s frequently willing to work around our ridiculous arbitrary rules. But for normal people, we pray and he talks back.

    I’m also aware there are Christians who insist they don’t hear anything. They’ve tried hearing God, but they got nothing. So they gave up and presume prayer is unidirectional: We talk, he hears, but he says nothing—’cause he doesn’t need to say anything, ’cause he said everything he cares to say in the scriptures. Such people are easily swayed into believing God only talks through bible. You can find whole churches full of people who claim they never, ever hear God in their prayers.

    But you’ll also find that’s what they tell you when other people from their church are around. In private, they’ll confess they did hear God once. Or twice. Or all the time.

    And hearing God is confirmed by the scriptures. All over the scriptures. ’Cause the guys who wrote the scriptures heard God, and they’re writing about other people who likewise heard God. The whole reason there are scriptures in the first place is because people hear God. Yeah, certain cessationists are gonna claim prophecy doesn’t work that way; that prophets opened their mouths, God took ’em over like a ventriloquist manhandles a puppet, and his voice came out of ’em. Or his words flowed from their pens. Whichever. But that’s more like the mumbo-jumbo we find among Spiritualists and pagan religions; it’s not at all how God works. The prophets came to God with questions—

    Habakkuk 1.2-4 GNT
    2 O LORD, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence? 3 Why do you make me see such trouble? How can you stand to look on such wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are all around me, and there is fighting and quarreling everywhere. 4 The law is weak and useless, and justice is never done. Evil people get the better of the righteous, and so justice is perverted.

    —and God responds with answers.

    Habakkuk 1.5 GNT
    Then the LORD said to his people, “Keep watching the nations around you, and you will be astonished at what you see. I am going to do something that you will not believe when you hear about it.”

    (Followed by an answer they probably didn’t like at all—if you keep reading Habakkuk.)

    This is why prayer and prophecy is so closely connected: It’s how God gives prophets his messages for other people. We’ll ask God questions; he’ll give answers, and add, “Tell this to others.” ’Cause other Christians have the same questions, and God’s answer applies to them too.

    But of course if you don’t pray—or you think all your prayers are unidirectional—you’re not gonna get prophecies like this. Or have any prophecies in your church at all. Or you’ll have what your preachers claim are “prophecies,” but they’re all angry, political, fruitless, and otherwise inconsistent with God’s character.

    The resurrection in Matthew.

    by K.W. Leslie, 09 May
    Matthew 28.1-10 KWL
    1 After sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week,
    Mary the Magdalene (and the other Mary) comes
    to see the sepulcher.
    2 Look, a great quake happens,
    for the Lord’s angel, which comes down from heaven,
    upon coming, rolls away the stone
    and is sitting down upon it.
    3 Its appearance is bright as lightning,
    and its clothing white as snow.
    4 The sepulcher guards shake in terror of it,
    and become like the dead.
    5 In reply the angel told the women, “Don’t fear, you two:
    I knew you seek Jesus the crucified.
    6 He’s not here. He’s risen, just as he said.
    Come see the place where he was laid.
    7 Go quickly; tell Jesus’s students
    that he’s risen from the dead,
    and look, he goes before you into the Galilee.
    He will see you there. Mark what I tell you!”
     
    8 The two, leaving the sepulcher quickly,
    with fear and great joy,
    run to report to Jesus’s students.
    9 Look: Jesus meets them, saying, “Hello!”
    They come to him, grasp his feet, and worship him.
    10 Then Jesus tells them, “Don’t fear.
    Go. Report to my brothers
    so they can leave for the Galilee,
    and there they will see me.”

    Ordinarily in the synoptic gospels, if they share a story in common, Matthew and Luke typically use Mark as the main source of their information. It’s why the gospels sync up so well.

    But in the resurrection stories, they don’t sync up very well at all. Oh, they get the basics right. Jesus rises before dawn, the women get there first, there’s an angelic explanation of what just happened, and everybody’s freaked out because they weren’t expecting it—even though Jesus totally foretold it.

    The stories are all different because the writers of the gospels aren’t quoting one another anymore. They’re quoting four different people who were there. Tradition claims Mark gets its data from Simon Peter… though if that’s so, why didn’t Peter tell Mark about running to the sepulcher to see for himself? Lk 24.12, Jn 20.3-10 John of course is written by an eyewitness; we don’t know Matthew’s source (and no, it’s not the apostle Matthew; there are two Matthews); and we don’t know Luke’s.

    What we do know is Matthew and Luke chose to go with their independent sources rather than Mark—probably because they figured they had a better account. More details, perhaps. Mark does after all end with the women being told Jesus was risen… then drops the story. Hence other endings were added. Endings which ancient Christians much preferred.

    Abortion, and Christian conservatives.

    by K.W. Leslie, 06 May

    Abortion doesn’t come up in the bible. At all.

    Infanticide does. Many ancient cultures used to strangle or smother a baby after birth. Ex 1.16 Or drown it, either in a nearby river Ex 1.22 or the local bathhouse. The Romans were notorious for exposing their unwanted kids to the elements: If a patriarch didn’t consider their child healthy enough, or simply didn’t want another kid, he could order it to be abandoned in the woods, to die of exposure.

    The scriptures don’t specifically condemn such practices as murder… but neither do they treat ’em as if they’re not murder.

    Miscarriage does come up in the bible. Again, it’s not condemned as murder. But it’s not like the ancients didn’t know how to trigger a miscarriage. There were certain herbal poisons you could take, and a miscarriage would result. Sometimes the mother would die too, but them’s the risks. Since people didn’t care for these risks, what they usually went with was infanticide.

    Now there is a command in the Law which indicates God doesn‘t approve of triggering a miscarriage.

    Exodus 21.22-25 KJV
    22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

    “Her fruit depart” implies a premature birth; “mischief follow” implies the baby is born dead, or dies. So the guy who punched the mother could merit a life-for-life penalty. Unless the judge or her בַּ֣עַל/baál, “master”—her patriarch, meaning her husband, father, brother, father-in-law, or whatever man had the care of her—had mercy, the perpetrator would be executed. Usually by her closest male relative, who was instructed to take vengeance in such cases. Nu 35.19

    Now obviously there are Christians who read this passage differently. They figure “her fruit depart” means of course the child died, and “mischief follow” actually means the woman had complications, which varied. Hence that list of “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etcetera: These were all the types of “mischief” which might follow. If the man knocked her eye out, he’d have to pay with his own eye. But if the man knocked her fetus out… he’d only have to pay a fine. Because a fetus doesn’t count as a life. And hey, they could always make another.

    So, some Christians are adamant this passage proves a fetus is a baby, and other Christians are adamant this passage proves just the opposite. Which one they go with, largely depends on their abortion politics.

    Because, like I said, the bible is mum on the subject of abortion.

    Not that people don’t try to read abortion into all sorts of verses. And frequently they take the scriptures out of context—because they’re not really interested in what these passages are actually about. They have an ax to grind. They’re entirely sure they’re right, and God has taken their side. True of most political issues, but abortion especially.

    Christians who don’t believe God’s a trinity.

    by K.W. Leslie, 05 May

    God’s a trinity. Jesus is God, his Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; yet there’s only one God, an idea which shoulda sunk in after read in the Old Testament about the Hebrews trying to worship multiple gods. Nope, there’s just the One God—and these three are the One God.

    And that’s a hard concept for a lot of people. It’s a paradox, and they simply can’t allow God to be a paradox: God is reasonable, rational, logical. Not impossible. And when we’re trying to explain our belief in God to other people, it’d help a whole lot if he didn’t sound impossible. So they downplay trinity as much as they can… and in some cases, dismiss it altogether. God, they insist, is not a trinity.

    Some of these people happen to consider themselves Christians. Sometimes really good Christians, as opposed to Unitarians who consider Jesus and his teachings to be optional. They actually strive to follow Jesus’s teachings. They just… don’t really care for the trinitarian idea. Lots of them lean more towards modalism, the belief God isn’t three people (or in theologian-speak, “persons”), but has different modes—and sometimes he’s the Spirit, sometimes the Father, sometimes Jesus.

    Problem is, modalism—and any other theory about God which denies the idea of trinity—is inherently flawed. We Christians didn’t just make up the idea of trinity. We found it in the bible. We tried to explain it, couldn’t, and came up with a doctrine which states what little we do know… and likewise what we can’t say trinity is, ’cause it goes too far, and it’d be wrong. God’s not a three-headed, three-bodied, three-pronged being. He’s not a committee of three gods which speak in union, like the Mormons posit. He’s not one guy with three personalities, like someone with dissociative identity disorder whose three alters happen to also be nice guys. He’s not working in three modes.

    These alternative ideas are wrong, and often so wrong it gets in the way of people’s relationship with God. (And may get in the way of their salvation.) That’s why we call ’em heresies.

    Of course people regularly, incorrectly think “heresy” means bad. (Usually ’cause certain cultish heretics are really bad people.) So they’re gonna be offended by my calling them heretics. “I’m no heretic. You are. You’re the heretic. Trying to get people to believe in three gods…” No I’m not; three gods is a heresy too.

    But okay, in the interest of fairness I’ll present their point of view. Generally they stick to five points.

    Levites: A tribe of priests.

    by K.W. Leslie, 04 May

    If you’ve heard of “the 12 tribes of Israel,” I remind you ancient Israel had 13 tribes, not 12. Yet the bible regularly, consistently refers to the 12 tribes, because it’s referring to the tribes which had land, which had territory we could see on a map, designating their borders and landmass. One of the tribes had no such territory. Just cities—which were located without the boundaries of the other tribes. The tribe wasn’t on the map, so it wasn’t listed with the 12.

    This tribe would be Levi, the descendants of Levi ben Israel, Jacob and Leah’s third son. He’s notorious for plotting with his elder brother Simeon to kill a Canaanite who raped their sister… and while they were at it, kill every last man in the rapist’s city. Ge 34 Jacob greatly disapproved of his homicidal sons, and as patriarch he could’ve totally punished them for it, but it seems he did nothing. The only thing he did was “bless” them by prophesying Simeon and Levi (really, their tribes) would be scattered.

    Genesis 49.5-7 NKJV
    5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers;
    Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place.
    6 Let not my soul enter their council;
    Let not my honor be united to their assembly;
    For in their anger they slew a man,
    And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox.
    7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;
    And their wrath, for it is cruel!
    I will divide them in Jacob
    And scatter them in Israel.”

    Bible doesn’t say anything about them hamstringing an ox, so I can’t speak to that. Maybe it was something they did while murdering Canaanites; maybe it was some sick ’n twisted fun they had as kids—some kids get off on torturing animals, and it’s no surprise when they grow up to be mass murderers. But that’s pure speculation.

    In any event Simeon’s descendants, or tribe, were granted a territory which was wholly surrounded by Judah—and the Simeonites were eventually absorbed into that tribe. As for Levi’s descendants, the Levites (Hebrew לֵוִיִּי/Levyíy, or לֵוִי/Leví for short), they were granted cities, not territory.

    Seems rather harsh to curse Levi’s descendants for their murdery ancestor. But in fact this wasn‘t a curse. The LORD did this to designate Levi’s tribe—yep, the entire tribe—as his priests.

    Israel was God’s chosen people. Levites became the chosen of the chosen. They weren’t to become farmers (well, other than farming their own gardens), nor merchants, nor builders. Instead they were to worship God, maintain the worship sites, carry out God’s rituals, and otherwise help their fellow Israelis follow God. Priesthood, not land, was to be their birthright.

    So whenever we find the word “Levite” in the bible, it’s considered a synonym for priest.

    And of course Christianity has a parallel. Every Christian is likewise a priest.

    “Praying right.”

    by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

    Prayer is, as I’ve said, simply talking with God. But for many Christians, it’s a profound ritual which connects us with the divine… so that we can get stuff from him.

    This is why their focus is so much on effective prayer. On powerful prayer, and how “the power of prayer” can change one’s life. On appeasing God… as if he’s a petty human oligarch who won’t give us what we want unless we suck up to him in just the right ways, and if we get any one part of the ritual wrong, “Whoops! Didn’t do that right. No grace for you.”

    From time to time I get rebuked for “praying wrong.” For not being formal enough, not bowing my head, not closing my eyes, not being solemn enough (or at all; I have no problem making jokes with God), not taking my hat off. I remind you when the LORD first spoke to Moses, he never told him to remove his keffiyeh; only his shoes. Ex 3.5 But y’know, different cultures.

    The idea that we activate prayer through our good works, is of course crap. But popular crap. And because the people who practice this crap will actually get their prayers answered—not because they did the rituals right, but because God is good; it’s correlation not causation—they’re convinced the crap works. You’re never gonna change their minds about it. I’ve tried; I’ve failed.

    Since they are still legitimately talking with God, I figure that’s the important thing. Yeah they’re wasting their own time and effort in trying to talk with him “right,” and they unnecessarily agitate themselves over the rest of us who “boldly approach the throne of grace” He 4.15 i.e. approach God informally, ’cause we can, ’cause he’s Dad. But don’t let them bug you. Talk with God, and don’t fret at all about making sure you’ve prostrated yourself properly. He doesn’t care about that, and we shouldn’t either.

    The long ending of Mark.

    by K.W. Leslie, 02 May
    Mark 16.9-20 KWL
    9 [Rising at dawn on the first of the week,
    Jesus first appears to Mary the Magdalene,
    out of whom he had thrown seven demons.
    10 Leaving, this woman reports
    to the others who were continuing with Jesus,
    to those mourning and weeping,
    11 and they’re hearing that Jesus lives—
    and was seen by Mary!—and don’t believe it.
    12 After this, as two of them are walking,
    Jesus is revealed in another form, going with them,
    13 and leaving, they report to the rest.
    The rest don’t believe them either.
    14 Later, as the Eleven are reclining at table,
    Jesus appears, and rants against
    their unbelief and hard-heartedness,
    for people had seen him risen up,
    and they don’t believe it.
     
    15 [Jesus told them, “Go into the world
    and proclaim the gospel everywhere to every creature.
    16 Those who believe and are baptized will be saved.
    Those who don’t believe will be judged.
     
    17 [“Miracles will accompany the believers:
    In my name, people will throw out demons.
    People will speak in tongues.
    18 People will pick up snakes in their hands,
    and if anyone drinks poison, it won’t injure them.
    People will lay hands on the sick,
    and they will be well.”
     
    19 [So after Master Jesus’s speech to them,
    he’s raptured into heaven and sits at God’s right.
    20 Leaving, these apostles proclaim everywhere
    about the Master they work with and his message,
    confirming it through the accompanying signs. Amen.]

    This passage—often found in brackets in our bibles—is called the Long Ending of Mark. I already wrote about the Short Ending. Mark wrote neither of these endings. Some eager Christian, unsatisfied with the abrupt way Mark ended—or unhappy with the brevity of the Short Ending—tacked it onto Mark in the 300s or 400s. Speaking as someone who’s translated all of Mark, I can definitely say he doesn’t write like Mark.

    However. Even though Mark didn’t write it, it’s still valid, inspired scripture. Still bible. No, not because of the King James Only folks; they have their own reasons for insisting it’s still bible, namely bibliolatry. Nope; it’s bible because it was in the ancient Christians’ copies of Mark when they determined Mark is bible. It’s bible because it’s confirmed by what Jesus’s apostles did in Acts and afterward. It’s bible because it’s true.

    Those who insist it’s not bible, are usually Christians who insist it’s not true. And like the KJV Only folks, they have their own ulterior motives.