Church History Corner ⛪️
When Willie Strickland left the mission field in 2017, he didn’t think he’d accomplished anything.
“I was frustrated with the lack of what was happening,” he said.
I loved this story of the power of a single “failed” missionary couple. In their 15 years of missionary work in South America they thought they had delivered no fruit for the kingdom of God. But they didn’t realize what God could do with what seemed to be small kindnesses.
I couldn’t put this story down.
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Listen and Learn 🎧
Abraham’s Silence | J. Richard Middleton, Matthew Lee Anderson, Derek Rishmaway, and Alastair Roberts 🎧 →
This is a conversation between the Mere Fidelity crew and Middleton, who has a new book out arguing for a new way of looking at “the binding of Issac,” the story in Genesis 22 where God asks Abraham to perform human sacrifice on his son Isaac to test Abraham’s faith, only to tell Abraham to stop at the last minute and provides a ram to sacrifice in Isaac’s stead.
Middleton argues that this was a test of Abraham’s faith, but a test that God wanted Abraham to argue against, not to submit to. He points to some Biblical data suggesting that this test is a turning point for Abraham’s family, and not in a good way.
The Mere Fidelity crew peppers Middleton with questions coming from the traditional Christian view of the story, that Abraham did exactly as he was supposed to and that this was a great display of faith after a litany of failures in his life. I linked to a video in Issue #66 explaining this view.
I’m not convinced by it, and the main reason I’m not is discussed in the podcast: that Hebrews 11 seems to commend the faith of Abraham.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
— Hebrews 11:17–19 (ESV)
Middleton has given me some unanswered questions though. Is there something Abraham could have done better? Does God invite me to question my circumstances and pursue him? The books of Lamentations and the Psalms do exactly that. But in the end, we must trust that God’s will is always the highest good even if our circumstances don’t change.
Mere Orthodoxy also has a lengthy text review of the book that explains the argument in more detail, linked below.
- Revisiting the Sacrifice of Isaac | Andrew Arndt 📃
- Abraham's Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God | J. Richard Middleton 📚 (Affiliate Link)
Explore the Scriptures 📖
If you’ve ever started reading Leviticus, you know how challenging it can be to interpret. The tedious repetition, strange laws, and ancient format often leave modern readers scratching their heads in confusion or zoning out in boredom. To heighten our focus and engagement, it helps to understand the purpose of this biblical literature. So what is Leviticus all about?
First, let’s get some context and see the significance of Levititcus’ placement in the Torah (i.e. first five books of the Bible). At the end of the Exodus scroll, Moses is unable to enter the tabernacle, the holy tent where humans can be in God’s presence. But the Numbers scroll begins with “God spoke to Moses in the tent.” What is happening here? How did Moses, the representative of Israel, get from outside the tent to inside? The scroll of Leviticus answers this question!
Placed right in between Exodus and Numbers, Leviticus acts as a bridge, highlighting the need for restoration of the relationship between God and humans. This scroll is not just a long list of laws and rituals—Leviticus is a story about God’s desire to repair his relationship with Israel, so they can live with him in a restored holy space and rest with him as reformed people who represent his character to all the nations.
They then walk us through three movements of Leviticus:
- Repairing the Relationship (Leviticus 1–7)
- Restoring the Holy Space (Leviticus 8–16)
- Reforming the People (Leviticus 17–27)
Leviticus is so hard for us to read, partly because it is so strange and foreign to us. This article from the BibleProject team helps us understand what Leviticus is trying to do as a book so that the parts make more sense when we read it.
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
Debate: Are the Gifts of the Spirit Still In Operation? | Doug Wilson, Michael Brown, and Justin Brierley 📽 →
I enjoyed this simple debate between Pastor Doug Wilson (who believes the gifts of the Spirit don’t still happen) and Dr. Michael Brown (who does). This debate is interesting because Wilson believes that God still does miracles, but not the “gifts of the Spirit.”
Note: I have severe concerns about some of Doug Wilson's statements and beliefs in other areas, but they don't weigh into this particular debate.
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
Does the Bible contradict itself?
Most people answer this question either with an adamant “Yes!” or passionate “No!” Too often, though, both sides fail to understand or represent the other side. Not everyone who says that the Bible contains contradictions is an angry, arrogant, card-carrying atheist. And not everyone who believes there aren’t any contradictions is a backwoods, unscientific, raging fundamentalist with his head in the sand.
There is a middle ground. One where someone has actually examined the apparent contradiction and humbly weighed the evidence, and yet concluded that what appeared to be a contradiction wasn’t one at all. There are also some who cherish God’s word, submit to its authority, and yet still acknowledge that there are some passages that contradict each other.
The Bible, they say, is God’s word to humankind, but it’s been mediated through human authors and therefore might contain some mistakes. Not everyone who believes that there are contradictions is hosting a Bible-burning party every Friday night.
While I believe the Bible is inerrant, that word often takes on meanings that it didn’t carry when it was originally coined. Sprinkle helpfully pushes back both against the idea that the Bible is filled with contradictions and the idea that the Bible was created as though God wrote despite the written authors, not through Spirit-inspired human authors.
For example, Sprinkle gives helpful advice in this article about the difference between a contradiction and a difference in scripture. For example, a Gospel account says that there was an angel at the tomb of Jesus after the resurrection, while another says there were two angels.
This is a difference, but not a contradiction. To be a true contradiction, one Gospel would need to say, “There was one and only one angel,” while the other says, “There were two angels.” Do you see the difference?
He also points out that while skeptics often bring up apparent contradictions, there are also incredible, unexpected agreements, often called undesigned coincidences.
Consider the Culture 🎨
Do people who are Christian and pro-life just want to impose their religion on others? Or are they pro-life because of white supremacy? Moore tackles these attacks on Christian pro-life advocacy, but he doesn’t stop there.
When one looks past the power brokers and politicians, one can see countless small pro-life ministries around the country, where people genuinely believe in caring for the suffering of their neighbor—for the unborn child in danger of dying, the pregnant woman in peril of facing violence or poverty, or the born child in need of food or a home.
Are there those who use abortion as simply a cudgel to say, “If you don’t vote for otherwise reprehensible candidates or policies, you are guilty of murder?” Yes. And are there pro-choice employers who pressure women to abort because they refuse to provide the support and benefits for women with small children? Sure. Does either case nullify the central question? Are there people who support democracy because it’s the way they can get votes to hold office? Yes. Does that mean that’s all democracy is? No.
Do not let your allies determine who your neighbor is.
Once, while putting together an event on human dignity from womb to tomb, someone told me that he would participate, but only if I promised not to mention race, refugees, or migrant children. He said it was because he thought “pro-life” applied only to abortion.
I asked if we could also talk about adoption and foster care. He said yes. I asked if we could talk about the wrongness of euthanasia. He said yes. About the sexual exploitation of women and girls? Yes. About genetic engineering and other bioethical questions? Yes. I realized he didn’t want anything mentioned about race or migrants or refugees because that would get him in trouble with his political allies.
I was urged to make some people invisible because an acknowledgement of their presence would be inconvenient to someone with power. But to me, that sounded exactly like the abortion culture, and I refused to avoid talking about those “inconvenient” people.
I’ve seen it work the other direction too. People will work diligently on matters of migrants, refugees, the trafficked, or the poor but who will blanche at the mention of the unborn—not because they don’t believe the unborn are persons deserving of protection, but because it would put them in a camp with people they don’t like or respect.
Whichever way that goes, Jesus told us that defining our neighbors according to the expectations of our tribal allies can lead to nowhere good.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
For the second debate in this issue, pastor Sean DeMars and author Rebecca McLaughlin debate the use of the word “woke” in church. Should we seek “wokeness” in church?
On one side are Christians who believe Scripture demands the church lead the way in addressing topics like racism, injustice, gender inequality, poverty, and climate change. On the other are Christians who accuse the “woke” gospel of just being a new generation of the “social” gospel, which in previous iterations often meant gradual theological compromise. What are we talking about when we use the word “woke”? And which should be the bigger concern for the church today: caring too little about activism on the social issues of the day, or caring too much about the wrong issues?
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
— Matthew 10:16 (CSB)