Christianity is conservative

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Don’t think that you, a Christian, can avoid the teaching of the historic Christian faith by saying “but that’s just what conservative Christians think.” Christianity is conservative.

It was a year or two ago, and I was having a conversation with a young Christian with an impressive degree of unearned confidence (and let’s be honest, many of us have been that guy at some stage). We had talked briefly about universalism, a view he holds and I do not. Due to the generally unproductive nature of the exchange, I didn’t commit many of the details to memory. I had little hope of a fruitful conversation, I’ll admit, due to his (somewhat justified) reputation among his social media peers for disagreeableness and dismissiveness, along with extraordinary disdain for those he dubs “conservatives.” A couple of comments did, however, stand out to me. They raise an issue that I have often thought about in other contexts.

Apparently people like personal stories, so here goes. Continue reading “Christianity is conservative”

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Dear Church, hurting people are protesting. Don’t mess this up.

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You may have heard that there’s a protest going on. Here in Wellington, there are protestors camped outside Parliament. They are opposed to vaccine mandates, which mean that unless a person is up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, they are restricted in terms of which business places they can go to, and in many cases they are subject to being dismissed from their job against their will. Three quarters of the protestors are not vaccinated at all and have been personally impacted by this, but everyone involved in the protest agrees that the mandates need to end. People are hurting over this.

Initially there was a strong police presence at the protest, and as was captured in some very unpleasant footage, police actions directly caused violence and a serious dent in the claims that police conducted themselves “professionally.” Now the police are ramping up their activities again (as they must), and it just doesn’t look like this is going to end well.

I have a side in this, in the sense that very basically, I agree with the protestors. Vaccination is a very good thing to do (a lot of the protestors would disagree with me there), but the mandates are a significant overreach of the state. The mandates have created a second class of citizens (something the Prime Minister openly agreed with before the mandates came into effect), extending even as far as the Church, which is now a segregated body of the welcome and the unwelcome (when the Church meets together).

Far be it from me to tell anyone what to think about this. But… Church, please think very carefully before you side with the powerful. Continue reading “Dear Church, hurting people are protesting. Don’t mess this up.”

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The ban on conversion therapy threatens to do much more

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There is currently a Bill before Parliament to ban conversion therapy. It has passed its second reading, and only seven Members voted against it: Simon Bridges, Simeon Brown, Melissa Lee, Simon O’Connor, Shane Reti, Louise Upston, and Michael Woodhouse. They are all members of the National Party. That party allowed its members to vote according to conscience, rather than voting as a block. I do not know if any members of other parties would have voted against this Bill, had they been given the choice. They did the right thing, and I today am writing to them to thank them, and to encourage them in their stand. That letter (which I will send to them) is shared here.

No, I don’t want to see gay people coerced into torturous therapy, or indeed any therapy against their will (like anyone else). Who does? This Bill, however, would do far more than ban such treatment, which is already illegal. Conversion therapy, according to the Bill, is:

Any practice, sustained effort, or treatment that—
(a) is directed towards an individual because of the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; and
(b) is done with the intention of changing or suppressing the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

So, why don’t I want to see a new Bill that bans this passed into law? Read on. My letter to these seven member of Parliament follows.

Continue reading “The ban on conversion therapy threatens to do much more”

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Where did all the souls go?

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Souls are on the way out. Not just in our culture or in science, where some Christians may suspect “naturalism” as the culprit, but souls are on the way out of our Bibles. This is because of the ways in which our translations are getting better at conveying what was originally intended. In the King James Version of the Bible, translated in 1611 and the mainstay for Protestants until the 20th century, the English word “soul” appears 537 times. The New American Bible (1986) features the word 171 times, the NIV (1984) features it just 139 times, the NRSV (1989) features it 252 times, but that includes the Deuterocanonical books, and even the ESV (2001), which hearkens back to older more literal translations, features the word just 281 times. The difference is not because of any difference in the manuscripts that these versions are using but because of a better understanding of what the Hebrew and Greek words actually mean. Continue reading “Where did all the souls go?”

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Tutu: Celebrate the good. But.

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It can be difficult to admit that your hero left a legacy that is very… mixed.

You’re a villain if you have anything but unfettered praise to offer for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, now that he has passed away, aged 90. He was a great voice for justice against Apartheid. That is how many in the world will remember him, and understandably so. It is impossible to look back on so much of what he had to say about racial segregation in South Africa in the early 1980s and not be impressed. Just read this account from Jim Wallis: Continue reading “Tutu: Celebrate the good. But.”

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Have yourself a very segregated Christmas. A reluctant letter.

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I love our local Anglican church. I won’t name the parish, for reasons that will become apparent soon (although it’s not their fault in any way). We won’t be there for Christmas. I’d really like to be, but I’ve chosen not to be.

I’m vaccinated against COVID-19, and I think you should be, too. I’ll delete any comments that try to argue with this stance. Don’t argue with me. Argue with your medical doctor, if you really must. I only point out that I am vaccinated and I believe in the value of being vaccinated to make it clear that I did not write this letter for my own sake. The bishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia recently decided that no person without a vaccine certificate, proving that they’ve had two vaccine shots, is permitted to attend public services in any Diocese in New Zealand. Whatever you might think of people who cannot in good conscience be vaccinated (for reasons that I do not accept), do you think they should be treated as part of the Church? When the Church gathers to worship, hear the word preached, and share in the communal act of receiving the Lord’s Supper, should they be excluded?

If you answered “yes,” then I am very sorry you are in that place. It seems obvious to any reflective person that we are not facing a dichotomy of “exclude unvaccinated people from Church” or “do not care about physically vulnerable people who might get sick.” Nobody (or as I said, no reflective person) can take such a simplistic view. An obvious option is to require a recent negative COVID-19 test if a person is not vaccinated. This is an even more feasible option with the availability of rapid antigen testing. The point is that reaching for the simplest, bluntest, most harmful tool that just happens to align nicely with what the secular authorities approve of without so much as raising a single public concern is a dreadful turn of events.

Although the identity of the bishops in this diocese is not secret (yes, there are two bishops), I have removed their names from this letter. They acted in accordance with all the other bishops , I do not know what they believe about this situation, and I don’t not want this post to have the appearance of hostility towards them. This blog post is just to express my lament at this action, and to let you know how I expressed that lament in a letter I recently sent to the bishops. That letter is as follows: Continue reading “Have yourself a very segregated Christmas. A reluctant letter.”

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Kephalē in the Septuagint

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Some time ago I began a series on the notorious biblical passages that form part of the historical discussion about women in positions of leadership in the church. I expressed some reservations there about wading into the subject, because I don’t think many people are interested in what people who disagree with them have to say about this. So I included there some cautions about how I’m going to approach the subject, and specifically about the sorts of objections I’m not interested in. If you plan to read on, and especially if you plan to comment, it might be best to read that post first.

Then I began the series, starting with a look at a word St Paul uses to describe the relationship between men and women, while he is discussing men’s and women’s roles in the churches in Corinth and Ephesus. That word, which he applies to men, is kephalē (κεφαλή), and literally means “head.” In that blog post, I observed that kephalē in the New Testament does not mean “source,” which some say was Paul’s intended meaning, but rather it is used to mean a literal head, or else, when it is used metaphorically, it refers to “preeminence, priority, authority or superiority in some broad sense encompassing shades of these meanings.” That is what the raw data in the New Testament shows us.

This time I will turn to the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament widely used in early Christianity. You can check the observations I make by seeing for yourself how the word is used there. In the resource I have used for this analysis, kephalē occurs a few hundred times. I have read each of these instances (in English, confirming that kephalē is the word I am observing where this is not clear). I know, doing the groundwork is dry and boring. But you have to do it in order to have any right to tell people what the evidence shows. The approach I am taking here is observing how kephalē is used and describing these “groups” of meaning. Continue reading “Kephalē in the Septuagint”

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Episode 057: Death, Fear, Hell, and Doubt

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Conditional immortality as a view of human persons, although biblical, comes with an emotional price. I wanted to share some thoughts about fear and doubt, and the roles they play in how we respond to what Scripture teaches about human nature, death, and destiny.

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On Ravi Zacharias: “We’re all sinners” is not the first response

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Now is not the time to be saying “let’s not forget, we’re all sinners who need Jesus.”

If you follow the world of famous Christian speakers and writers, you already know the terrible news about Ravi Zacharias. I haven’t made use of his work here at Right Reason before, but that’s only because it was popular level work rather than scholarly work, and I often didn’t agree with his arguments. But in light of the terrible things we now know about his predatory behaviour, that’s neither here nor there.

People are going to be commenting on this for a long time, and there are ways of doing so that are potentially helpful, and ways that aren’t.

Continue reading “On Ravi Zacharias: “We’re all sinners” is not the first response”

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Aquinas agrees: Jesus said we will “not die forever.”

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Those who believe in Jesus “will not die forever,” unlike those who will. Even Aquinas agrees!

A while ago I wrote a post explaining that many Bible translations get John 11:25-26 wrong. They quote Jesus as saying “whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” This gives some people the impression (rightly or wrongly) that if you are a believer in Jesus, even when your body dies, you keep living because you go to heaven, continuously enjoying the eternal life that has already begun. As I explained (and you should read that post if this sounds strange to you), οὐ μὴ ἀποθάνῃ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα is correctly translated not as “will never die,” but rather “will not die forever.” If you believe in Jesus, you won’t suffer the fate of dying forever. This is not a claim that you won’t die ever, but rather that you won’t die forever. You will die one day, but will be spared the fate of the lost, which is a final and irrevocable death, never to live again. Continue reading “Aquinas agrees: Jesus said we will “not die forever.””

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