The Missing Spine of the Evangelical Church

EvangellyfishEvangellyfish by Douglas Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fictional critique of the modern evangelical world, shot through with spiritual anemia, hypocrisy and adultery. A bit over the top in places, especially deep in cynicism, it still brings a smile every few pages. He does a good job showing how sexually charged the world is, and how self-deceived about this the church can be.

The book actually wound down right when I was expecting further development (first book read on a Kindle, and didn't check how far I was). This was a little dissatisfying on the surface. But then I realized the point being made: resolution doesn't come to those who don't repent. They just stumble on in their confusion. Repentance and forgiveness is central at the end, and results in a stark contrast to the rest of the book. Healthy sexuality briefly and discretely portrayed in the last 1% of the book, in contrast to the other 99% where it is treated with tawdry and sardonic humor. This got old pretty fast, but it made the point, too. Sin erodes the joy from God's gifts.

View all my reviews


Irritation vs. Love

Good article on irritation here, by Phil Ryken.
The text is from 1 Corinthians 13:5, that love is not irritable (ESV), not easily provoked (NKJV).



As one myself zealous to place the Gospels in their historical (Jewish) context, there is a legit critique to not import 4th century rabbinic stuff into the text. How sure are we that afikoman was practiced in Jesus' day, for instance? I don't know. Any resources from readers are welcome.

Assuming conservatively that it was NOT, it's still great to be all things to all people, especially to Jews today. Communicate the gospel to them with what they already know, especially to the Jews (Romans 1:16). Some think it is all a fad, or Judaizing. And I know much of it IS based on identifying with Israel, or having some new thing tickle our fancy.

Let's be careful not to assert things tacitly that we're not sure about. Better to teach on it that the Jews today have this practice, and isn't it interesting that what Jesus did fits it. Rather than assuming (thus asserting) that Jesus did what the Jews do today, or did in the 4-5th century.

Thoughts on Rahab in Joshua 2

Rahab believes.
She believes Yahweh is real and will act against Jericho. In this she was no different than most in Jericho, for she tells the spies that they were all quaking with fear. The difference is that she switches sides. She tells the truth, reveals the secret, of this fear to the spies, when she didn’t have to. This is the act of faith. Telling the truth to Israel, and deceiving those at war with Israel and her God. Identifying with Israel, and not with her own people. Like Ruth, she did something questionable on the surface as an act of faith, and was therefore rescued from her judged people and brought into the kingdom of Israel. “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13).

Faith works.
By faith Rahab hid the spies and deceived the Jericho police. Her faith took action. So should our faith.

Expect warfare.
We are pilgrims in a strange land like Rahab. Many act surprised and indignant when the culture is biased against Christians. This does not fit at all with the apostles' reaction (Acts 5:40-41, for one example). Rahab risked worse than this, and acted for Israel, anyway. Expect opposition and ridicule. Don’t let it deter you from doing what is right.

The scarlet cord
This brings Passover to mind, of course. Israel came out of Egypt, seeing a red strand over their houses. They come into Canaan seeing a red strand over the house of a believer. In Passover, Israel was to gather and stay in the house, to be safe from judgment. Noah called people into the ark to be safe, but none came, except his own family. Lot called his family out of Sodom to be safe, but the only ones who came fell away.

Rahab’s reward, and ours
This must have been a surprise to find any believers in Canaan, but the spies, Joshua, and Rahab’s future husband all respond in the same way: acceptance. She lives with Israel “to this day” (Josh 6:25). She marries Salmon (Matt 1:4), son of Nahshon, who was the leader of Judah in Numbers 7:12. She is not just accepted in a “tolerate the second-class immigrant” kind of way! From her comes David, and later Jesus. Like Rahab, we are not just forgiven our past sin. We are favored greatly by the King, and set at His table to eat as royalty. God's promise to Abraham is coming true: nations and kings will come from you.


Sources of Trouble

‎"Unspoken expectations and unfounded assumptions are the most destructive hobgoblins of any enterprise."
Richard Loveland

On voting the lesser of two evils

Two devil's advocate questions:
What is the difference between (1) granting that there is no perfect candidate, and (2) voting for the lesser of two evils?
If a candidate is not perfect and you vote for him, are you not voting for evil?

When one asserts that he will not vote for the lesser of two evils, he may get kudos for his ideological purity. But the burden of proof remains on him to explain why he could not vote for that "imperfect" candidate. On the other side, the more mainstream voter cannot simply appeal to the "no perfect candidate" slogan. He needs to explain why his candidate's positions are not evil, just not ideal.

Christians draw this line in different places, and then judge others harshly for not drawing it where they do. Very sad.


Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

This series of sermons by the Puritan Burroughs is a rare jewel of solid counsel and instruction for those battling discontent in their souls.

Discontent is all around us. We vent it in coffee shops to friends. Ads for the next cool thing cultivate it for us. In one of the most prosperous societies ever, discontent rages.

Contentment is an inward, quiet submission of the heart, which takes pleasure in God's providence in every situation. So says Burroughs. Many have contentment who don't have much, and many who have much are discontent. No amount of money, power, friendships, or sensational experiences can satisfy the heart of man. But to be content with your situation glorifies God, keeps you from sin, makes you Christ-like, is part of the Spirit's fruit, and brings much reward. Murmuring and complaining is the opposite, and we see it a lot in Scripture, especially Numbers. It is wicked rebellion, though we downplay our own discontent all the time. WE always have a reason, it seems. Why not consider all the reasons to be thankful, instead? There are lots more of those! How can we complain when God has given us far better than we deserve?

I especially enjoyed chapter 11, against the excuses for our discontent. If you only knew what I'm going through! It's too severe. I didn't expect it. It's worse than others face. I could handle something else, but not this. Burroughs deals with each of these well. Please read this chapter, if you say these things to yourself.

A note on the style: yes, Puritans can be long-winded and difficult reading. It is worth the effort. This one is much shorter than most - only 100 pages. Do something a little harder than usual, and see the reward it brings! Burroughs uses lots of real life illustrations, too.

Five stars out of five.

The Uniting Power of Singing

Basil of Caesarea (ca. 329-379): Homily on the First Psalm

“A psalm is the tranquility of souls, the arbitor of peace, restraining the disorder and turbulence of thoughts, for it softens the passion of the soul and moderates its unruliness. A psalm forms friendships, unites the divided, mediates between enemies. For who can still consider him and enemy with whom he has sent forth one voice to God? So that the singing of psalms brings love, the greatest of good things, contriving harmony like some bond of union and uniting the people in the symphony of a single choir.”



John Piper, on the lottery craze, had some good words against buying tickets.

For the short version:
1. It expresses a sinful desire to get rich - 1 Tim 6:7-10
2. It is poor stewardship and embezzlement from God, who has entrusted you with your money. Good stewards go and work with what they are given (Matt 25:16).
3. The chance of winning is so small, it is basically throwing your money in the garbage.
4. The system is built on most people losing money.
5. It is a tax on the poor, who buy most of the tickets.
6. You could use the money better, elsewhere. Invest it, tithe it, give your wife a gift.
7. It undermines virtue, rather than encouraging it.

Or is it harmless entertainment? How is it different from playing a game at the fair that you'll probably lose? Doesn't it raise money for good causes?



What is an ascension offering?

See Leviticus 1:3

"Burnt" offering is a mis-translation. Literally it's an ascension that brings us near to God. In the Ascension our representative dies for our sin, is given a reconfigured, glorified (fiery) body like the angels (who are flames of fire) and ascends into heaven to appear before God on our behalf. If Adam had tried to ascend back up into the garden he would have had to pass through the fiery blade of the cherubim which he could not do without being killed forever - so he needed a substitute to do it for him.

Jesus Christ dies as our sin offering and ascends to the Father, drawing us up to the Father with Him.


Expecting too much leads to sin

This is easily the most insightful and helpful passage I've read, of all 631 pages read thus far.
Glad I stuck with it for this alone.

Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, pg 630
"The influence of pietism has been an important one.... It's emphasis on sinless perfection has in fact begotten sin. Where men expect a sinless perfection of other men, they are readily led into a sinful intolerance of human frailties. This sinful perfectionism especially abounds... when men find their problems either temporarily or permanently insurmountable. Where problems are insoluble, men then turn on one another. Their basic unhappiness over the insoluble problems manifests itself in trying to 'dissolve' from their midst people who irk them....

"Irritation of man with man increases. There is a low level of tolerance with children, neighbors, husbands, wives, friends and associates....

"We sometimes need correcting, but, much of the time, we must live together mindful of our common frailties..."

The resurrection accounts

I put this together as part of my sermon preparation just now

Joseph buries
Mary mag and other Mary there, and same two go. No spices. 
Earthquake and angel
Angel speaks to women. Tell disciples. Go to galilee
Jesus meets them and says same

Joseph buries
Mary mag and Mary, Jose's mom
Mary mag, Mary, James' mom, and Salome go
Angel. No guards.
Mary mag to disciples. Initial unbelief
Two in country, then all 11

Joseph buries
Women there. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James. Spices
Angel. No guards. 
Women to disciples. Initial unbelief
Peter goes to see and marvels
Two in country, then all 11 that night

Joseph buries. Nicodemus spices. Garden
Mary mag to tomb, no spices
Peter and John race and find folded linens. No angel
Mary stays. Sees angels, then Jesus. 
Appears to all 11 that night.
Thomas next week
Galilee fishing miracle

Put together
Joseph buries. Nicodemus with spices. Garden tomb
Women there. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Salome. Mary mag, Mary, James' mom, and Salome go with spices
Earthquake, guards fall, and angel
Angel speaks to women. Tell disciples. Go to galilee
Jesus meets them as they go and says same
Women to disciples. Initial unbelief
Peter goes to see tomb and marvels
Peter and John race and find folded linens. No angel
Mary stays. Sees angels, then Jesus
Two in country, then all 11 that night
Thomas next week
Galilee fishing miracle

Are marriages between cousins allowed by the Bible?

Leviticus 18 is the clearest about this, and the furthest relation it forbids is an aunt or uncle. So a cousin marriage is technically allowed.

There is a stigma against it, and I think there are also genetic reasons to avoid it (increases risk of genetic defects in children, though not much more than for women over 40). The royal family in England has been plagued with this, with so much intermarrying in the same family for generations, as I understand it. Charles Darwin, Edgar Allen Poe, Franklin Roosevelt and Albert Einstein all married their first cousins. (Tempting to try to draw parallels!) So an occasional incidence probably is okay religiously and medically, but a pattern of it, as exists in some parts of the world, will bring problems.

In Genesis you find closer marriages: Abraham to his half-sister Sarah; Cain to his full sister, of course. At the very beginning, somehow God made the genetics work out. With Abraham, it was important that Isaac marry within the line of faith, but not too close. I assume the same pattern was followed for Jacob's twelves sons, though we know little about where they got their wives.

Here's a good quote from John Calvin, at the end of a very long explanation of Lev. 18. He does not say cousin marriage is forbidden in the Bible.
"Since from long custom it is established that cousins-german should not marry, we must beware of giving scandal lest too unbridled a liberty should expose the Gospel to much reproach; and we must bear in mind Paul’s admonition, to abstain even from things lawful when they are not expedient. (1 Corinthians 10:23.)"

So, it would be like adminstering x-rays to people all day for years without shielding yourself. You are doing something knowing that nature brings risks and consequences for it. The Bible isn't against it explicitly, but it's not a good idea, for the sake of your future offspring. In that sense it would fall under the "love your neighbor" command, your neighbor being the children you produce.


God's people prosper and are thus tested

I just read in Exodus 38:24 that all the gold used in the tabernacle was not quite 30 talents. Compare with Solomon, who received 666 talents of gold annually from all his trade. God kept his promise, to multiply and prosper His people. Of course, with prosperity comes a snare to sin, which Solomon fell into.

I also just heard a talk on Constantine, which made the same point. God brought the early church out of persecution to a place of acceptance and then prosperity. This was not bad, in itself, but brought a new set of problems and temptations.