I Know Who the 666 Beast Is!

Revelation was written as a critique of first-century Rome. The writer is addressing emperor worship and refers to Nero as the beast. He also addresses the belief that some held, which predicted Nero’s resurrection. (He had committed suicide.) John believed the judgment of the Roman Empire would happen soon. He expected Jesus to return, the Roman Empire to fall, and peace to reign supreme as Jesus reigned from the new Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, the book of Revelation has been torn out of its historical setting and relocated by Christians to some future time, so now many conservative Christians speculate who the beast might be: Bill Clinton? Barack Obama? Joe Biden?

Although it makes for a cool movie plot with implanted microchips, black helicopters, and a rapture that snatches drivers from their moving vehicles, Christians need to stop trying to relocate the past to the future and instead be okay with just learning from the past.

Related Posts:
That strange book called Revelation
How rapture theology gets everything wrong…

Is White Privilege a Real Thing?

Some would say even asking that question proves one is a racist. But how can examining something to discern whether or not it is true ever be a bad thing? Socrates said that “the life which is unexamined is not worth living.” Likewise, the Apostle Paul said, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” So let’s go ahead and examine both the phrase and the concept “white privilege.”

Since “white” is self-evident, we’ll start with the word “privilege.” “Privilege” means a special favored status. So the phrase “white privilege” suggests people with white skin receive special favored treatment simply because they have white skin. But is this true?

Let’s consider a classroom where every student is graded justly. That is, all of their grades accurately reflect the quality of the assignments that are turned in. This is what we expect.

Now imagine that the teacher of this classroom decides for some reason to give left-handed students lower grades than they deserve while grading everyone else fairly.

Now, some might argue that since the left-handed students are now being treated unfairly, the right-handed students are now receiving special favored treatment.

Let’s examine this argument. We can all agree that the left-handed students are not be treated justly, but notice the right-handed students are still be treated justly and receiving the grades they should rightly expect to receive. Neither the method nor the criteria used to grade their assignments changed. They are not receiving unfair preferential treatment.

But the difference in grading now gives the right-handed students an advantage!!!

Of course it does, and this is the language we should be using. The conversation needs to shift to one of “advantages” because advantages do not imply some must be receiving special favor if others are treated unjustly.

Making some people feel guilty for being treated respectfully and justly in order to draw attention to the fact that some people are not treated respectfully and justly is a misguided strategy that will never achieve the goal we should all be aiming for.

“White privilege” is nothing more than a scapegoat which shuts down honest dialogue and prevents us from finding solutions to real problems. Instead of settling for easy scapegoats, let’s ask the hard questions such as…

Why do the rich experience advantages the poor do not?
Why do men experience advantages women do not?
Why do white people experience advantages black people do not?
Why do physically attractive people experience advantages other people do not?

Once we are willing to admit certain groups have relative advantages, we can start working toward creating a more just society.
1. Advantages are both relative and contextual: A group can have an advantage in one context while being at a disadvantage in a different context.
2. Some might say, “This is just semantics,” but that misses the bigger point: Unless we consider denotations and connotations to ensure we are using the most appropriate language, we can sabotage a meaningful cause.

Everything Happens for a Reason

It’s called “Cause and Effect.” Everything that happens is an effect, and effects cannot happen without prior causes. This is true regardless of whether or not we can identify the causes.

Colds are caused by viruses, earthquakes are caused by shifting plate faults, crime is caused by criminals, good grades are caused by studying, etc.

Everything happens for a reason, but typically there are multiple reasons and a causal chain of events. While this fact makes it difficult or impossible to definitively state, “Here is the reason this happened,” it usually doesn’t prevent us from identifying some of the reasons.

Now, here’s where it gets convoluted. People sometimes use the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” as a cliché to express an optimistic belief that everything that happens will ultimately produce a positive effect.

Although a positive mindset can help us get through difficult times, we have to be careful to examine our beliefs to ensure they are built on solid foundations.

Consider this scenario: A child is raped and then murdered by a pedophile. This tragic situation causes a parent to commit suicide as a result of overwhelming grief and guilt.

Obviously, the effect on this person was negative, but should we try to salvage the cliché by suggesting that the next link in the chain (or the one after that) will have a positive effect? Or should we point out that although the first tragedy led to a second tragedy for one parent, it caused the other parent to spend less time on social media and more time with his or her remaining children?

The answer to both questions is a solid “NO.”

The fact that everything happens for a reason does not mean that everything is orchestrated by a higher power or that everything will ultimately have a good or positive outcome. On the other hand, it does not mean that a “good” effect cannot come from a “bad” cause.

Often, good effects are produced by good causes (if you study hard, you get good grades), and bad effects are caused by bad causes (if you don’t study, you get bad grades). BUT there is no guarantee that life will work this way! So never, ever, Ever tell a person who experienced a tragedy that “Everything happens for a reason!” Although this cliché is usually intended as an encouragement, the fact that in real life everything does not have a happy ending will likely cause the hearer to feel that you are being callous and minimizing their pain.

It’s perfectly fine to express the fact that everything happens for a reason (at appropriate times), but to go beyond that simple truth and assert that everything is caused by a higher power or everything will ultimately have a good outcome is pollyannaish, illogical, and often very hurtful.

Related Post:
Why doesn’t God do more?

Over the Rhine

Over the Rhine (OTR) is a wonderful Ohio-based Americana/folk music band, consisting of a husband-and-wife team: Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist.

Their first three albums, Till We Have Faces, Patience, and Eve are forgettable, but in 1996 they released Good Dog Bad Dog: The Home Recordings. This album has a few gems, like All I Need Is Everything:

Other tracks on that album like Etcetera Whatever and Everyman’s Daughter showcase OTR’s fantastic lyrics and Karin’s voice.

In ’96 they also released a Christmas album, The Darkest Night of the Year, and a few songs like Thank You My Angel and Mary’s Waltz shine.

Films For Radio came out in 2001, and like Good Dog Bad Dog: The Home Recordings, it contains a few really good tracks, like this one: The World Can Wait.

Goodbye (This Is Not Goodbye) and Moth are also quite good.

In 2003, OTR released a double album entitled Ohio. Disc 1 contains the most gems including B.P.D., What I’ll Remember Most, Show Me, Ohio, Suitcase, and Anything At All; however, my favorite song, Long Lost Brother, is on Disc 2. The lyrics on this track, as on so many OTR songs, are superb:

I loved you like a long lost brother
On a bad day maybe I thought, why bother
I’ve seldom seen so much anger in a face

I wanna do better
I wanna try harder
I wanna believe down to the letter
Jesus and Mary
Can you carry us
across this ocean
Into the arms of forgiveness?

Disc 2 also contains a beautiful, sad track called She.

Drunkard’s Prayer, OTR’s 2005 album is just as good as Ohio. The title track is amazing as are I Want You To Be My Love, Born, Bluer, Spark, Lookin’ Forward, and Little Did I Know. Here’s the title track:

Unfortunately, starting in 2006 with the Christmas album Snow Angels, Karin adopted a new slurring style and started pronouncing most of her s’s as “sh” (think Jodie Foster); this is hard to take in anything but small doses. Nevertheless, that album contained a few good Christmas songs: All I Ever Get for Christmas Is Blue and Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming).

The Trumpet Child in 2007 gives us the great lyrics we expect from OTR but most of the tunes are subpar and probably the only track worth mentioning on that album is a fun song called Let’s Spend the Day in Bed.

Over the Rhine’s album The Long Surrender was released in 2011 on the band’s own label; however, it was produced by Joe Henry, and contains a duet with Lucinda Williams. Thankfully, Karin’s ‘schlurring’ has mostly disappeared and we now get a more bluesy, jazzy sound with more vocal fry (similar to Lucinda Williams’ style). The Laugh of Recognition, Oh Yeah By the Way, and All My Favorite People are pretty good.

The double album Meet Me at the Edge of the World was released in 2013. This album was also produced by Joe Henry, and Aimee Mann appears as a special guest vocalist on one of the tracks. Sadly, most of the songs on this album are forgettable, although Sacred Ground is pretty good.

In 2014, OTR released another Christmas album, Blood Oranges In The Snow, which is probably not worth buying, although it does contain a cover of Merle Haggard’s If We Make It Through December.

OTR’s latest is last year’s Love & Revelation. This album’s slow, quiet pace makes it great for winding down before bed, and Karin’s style is more natural here, and as a result more beautiful. There really aren’t a couple standout tracks here like you’d find on most albums. Instead, there are eleven beautiful, slow, sad songs that flow into one another creating a beautiful melancholy. Here’s Let You Down:

OTR also does a great live version of Neil Young’s Helpless on their album The Cutting Room Floor and a terrific version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

We Don’t Need Prophets

I’m seeing more and more Christian leaders calling for the Church to embrace her prophetic role. They say that unless the Church does this, she will continue her slide into irrelevancy.

The following statement has become common:
“There are no prophets today like the prophets in the Bible; God is not giving new extrabiblical revelations to people today. Nevertheless, _________________________ (Christians, priests, pastors, the Church) have an ongoing prophetic role.”

I find this way of thinking absurd, troubling, and counterproductive.

I believe the intent is good—to argue that the Church should attempt to guide society by pointing to the truth of scripture as the world becomes more secular—but since the Church is so fragmented with hundreds of denominations, the “truth of scripture” that everyone agrees on is relatively small. So in actual practice, you have hundreds of Christian denominations speaking different “truths” prophetically, and this, my friend, is a sure way for the Church to speed up her slide into irrelevancy.

I think it would be better for those within the Church to stop speaking of prophetic roles, and instead focus on building communities of Christians characterized by love and good works.
Related Post:
What do Christians believe?

New Testament Toleration

Tolerating behavior or speech that we disagree with does not mean that we approve of that behavior or speech. I think it’s interesting that the apostle Paul was not tolerant of behavior and speech he considered sinful (at odds with God’s commands) when it came from those who professed to be Christians. On the other hand, he was tolerant of behavior and speech he considered sinful (at odds with God’s commands) when it came from those who were not part of the Church.

I also think it’s important to mention that Paul said believers should not pass judgment on others over disputable matters. Again, this doesn’t mean we agree with others’ views on various disputable matters; it just means we don’t look down on others when their views on these matters differ from ours.

I think Paul’s approach was, and still is, the most reasonable approach.
Related Post:
Judge not! Right?

Will God Turn Women into Men?

Could it be God’s plan to populate the new earth with only men?

This question likely seems sexist, insensitive, and bizarre, but biblical data suggests to me that it’s possible women will not be women in the new world.

Let me explain:

In the Bible females are viewed as inferior to men. There are verses suggesting God created them to serve men (see verses below), make babies, and manage their households (1 Timothy 2:15, 5:14). But in the new world, men will be elevated to a position higher than the angels, so they will be served by angels (1 Corinthians 6; Hebrews 1:14) and immortality will eliminate the need for babies.

Why do I say the Bible shows women to be inferior?

  • Eve was created to be a helper for Adam (Genesis 2:18)
  • Eve was created after Adam and it was Eve who was deceived, not Adam (1 Corinthians 11:8; 1 Timothy 2:13-14)
  • Although both Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God punished women – pain in childbirth and subjection to a husband (Genesis 3:16)
  • The wife is listed along with a house and an ox as a man’s property in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:17)
  • If a master gave a woman to a male slave and the two produced children, the male slave could not take the woman or his children with him when he obtained freedom; they belong to the master (Exodus 21:4)
  • If a woman gave birth to a son, she was considered unclean for 7 days, but if she gave birth to a daughter, she was unclean for two weeks (Leviticus 12:2-5)
  • Man is the head of the woman because women were created for men, not vice versa (Ephesians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 9)
  • Wives are to be subject to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:23)
  • A man is God’s image and glory, but a woman is man’s glory (1 Corinthians 11:7)

Why do I say women might not be women in the new world?

  • In the new world there will be no marriage (Mark 12:25; Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35)
  • The righteous who obtain eternal life will be like angels (Mark 12:25; Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:36)
    *Every reference to angels in Scripture is in the masculine gender, and when they could be seen, they had male forms
  • The righteous who obtain eternal life will be called “sons of God”—no mention of daughters of God (Luke 20:36; Romans 8:19)

Given this biblical evidence, I think it’s not unreasonable to speculate that perhaps ancient Jews believed all of the righteous would put on immortal, imperishable male bodies at the return of Christ.

Why Was Jesus’ Death Necessary?

Almost 5 years ago, I wrote a post entitled, “Why was Jesus Crucified?” It answered that specific question, but it didn’t answer the question, Why was his death necessary? So, I’ll try to answer that question now.

Jesus died so God would forgive sins. His death was the payment. But why? God had already given his people a sacrificial system whereby their sins could be forgiven through the death of certain animals.

I think it boils down to kingdom and covenant.

In the Old Testament we read prophecies of an everlasting kingdom (Isa 9:7, 60:11-12; Jer 31:40; Dan 2:44) and of a new covenant that would be better than the Mosaic Covenant (Jer 31:31-34). Under the Mosaic Covenant, the blood of goats and calves was sufficient, but a new and better kingdom with a new and better covenant would require a new and better forgiveness that could only be obtained by a new and better sacrifice.

Of course the new kingdom and new covenant would not be for everyone; they would only be for the righteous (those who recognized Jesus Christ as Lord and obeyed his teachings) since the unrighteous would be destroyed when Christ returned to reign in his kingdom.
1. Throughout most of the New Testament, “saved” means not being destroyed when Christ returns to earth to reign.
2. Although the new kingdom and new covenant was a promise made to Jews for Jews, Paul tells Gentiles that salvation and the blessings of the new kingdom would extend to them if they recognized Jesus Christ as Lord and pursued righteousness.

Studying Early Christianity

To best understand early Christianity, readers should give priority to the earliest writings, those produced in the AD 50s and 60s, since they were closest to the ministry of Jesus and prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Many readers assume Matthew is the earliest book since it’s at the beginning of the New Testament, but the books in the Bible are not ordered according to composition dates. To date ancient texts, historians consider many factors, but these factors roughly involve content, style, and the material upon which the earliest known copy is written.

When dating ancient biographies, such as the Gospels, two important factors historians look for regarding content are embellishment and invention. The more embellishment and invention they find, the later and less accurate they deem a source to be.

This is one of the reasons New Testament scholars say the Gospel of Mark (AD 67-70) is considered more historically accurate than the other Gospels. Although the gospels of Matthew and Luke are longer, we can see that they used Mark as one of their primary sources and then embellished and invented to suit the authors’ purposes. Since most historians believe Matthew and Luke were written after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, they see a two-fold purpose in these writings: The authors wanted to tell the story of Jesus and encourage suffering Christians.

The Gospel of John (~AD 95) is considered the least historically accurate of the Gospels, since it shares little in common with the earliest Gospel, Mark. Many of the concepts, stories, and teachings of Jesus are unique to John and considered to be later inventions.

To best understand early Christianity, the following New Testament books should be given priority because of their early dates:

The Gospel of Mark (AD 67-70) – I’d read this first since it is a biography of Jesus and is likely the memories of Jesus’ chief disciple Peter, as recorded by Mark.

Paul’s uncontested letters …

  • First Epistle to the Thessalonians (AD 50-52)
  • Epistle to the Galatians (AD 48-57)
  • First Epistle to the Corinthians (AD 53-57)
  • Second Epistle to the Corinthians (AD 53-57)
  • Epistle to the Philippians (AD 52-62)
  • Epistle to Philemon (AD 60-62)
  • Epistle to the Romans (AD 55-58)

Hebrews and James – written in the AD 60s

Related Posts:
How The New Testament Canon Came To Be
Why is the Gospel of John so Different?
New Testament Chronology