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Cultural Commentary

Why is the God of the Old Testament so vengeful?

Fresco in the Sistine Chapel. The Creation of the Sun and the Moon (Credit: Michelangelo Buonarroti/Sistine Chapel)NOTE: In the Cultural Commentary we occasionally depart from the morning news to explore more perennial faith questions.  Recently I asked readers to suggest common misconceptions or roadblocks to the Christian faith.  The fourth issue in our series has to do with war in the Old Testament.

One reader says, "I would like to hear your thoughts on the acts of brutality in the Old Testament on the side of the Israelites.  I have had several people ask how a loving God could encourage complete annihilation, violence, the killing of children, etc. This seems to be a problem for many people."  A second reader adds: "Why is God so vengeful in the Old Testament and in the New Testament is portrayed as "turning the other cheek," loving, forgiving, etc.?  I get asked this by non-believers."

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How do we explain predestination?

The Five Points of Calvinism are easily remembered by the acrostic TULIP (Credit: Reformation Church, a Non-Denominational Reformed Congregation in Boerne, Texas) You may have heard of "five-point Calvinism."  John Calvin (1509-64) wrote Institutes of the Christian Religion, which are still foundational to the movement known as "reformed theology."  Well-known pastors such as John Piper, Matt Chandler, and Mark Driscoll have made this theology popular in recent years.  "Five points," as later expounded by the Synod of Dort (1618-19), are seen to summarize his theological system:
  • Total depravity: the fall affected every part of mankind, mind as well as will
  • Unconditional divine election: we do nothing to earn salvation
  • Limited atonement: Christ died only for those elected by God for salvation
  • Irresistible grace: the elect will accept the grace of God
  • Perseverance of the saints: those "elected" by God will not lose their salvation.

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How old is the world?

This earth from space photo comes from a digitally enhanced, 1972 NASA Apollo 16 Mission negative - one of the last manned flights at this distance - 10,000 miles, or 16,000 kilometers (Credit: Royce Bair via Flickr)Shortly after I became a Christian, I purchased my first study Bible, an original Scofield Reference Bible which was first published in 1909.  That edition included in its notes the year in which Scofield believed that creation occurred.  Beside Genesis 1:1 I found the date, 4004 B.C.

I learned later that Scofield had followed the chronology of an Irish archbishop named James Ussher (ca. A.D. 1650), who added up the biblical genealogies to arrive at that year for creation.  As a result, generations of Bible students believed the Scriptures to teach that the world is 6,000 years old.  Since current scientific estimates date the Earth at 4.54 billion years and the universe at 13.8 billion years, the Bible and science seem to be in conflict.

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Did King James create the Bible?

Frontispiece to the King James Bible, 1611, shows the Twelve Apostles at the top. Moses and Aaron flank the central text. In the four corners sit Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, authors of the four gospels, with their symbolic animals. At the top, over the Holy Spirit in a form of a dove, is the Tetragrammaton (YHWH). (Credit: Church of England via Wikimedia) NOTE: In the Cultural Commentary we occasionally depart from the morning news to explore more perennial faith questions.  Recently I asked readers to suggest common misconceptions or roadblocks to the Christian faith.  The first subject in our short series is foundational to the rest: Can we trust the Bible?

A reader asks: "I would like to know how people can state that the Bible was created by King James to keep his subjects in line."  A related question: "How can we determine that the canonized Bible is THE Bible and the other books are not?  Can we rely on them?"

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World's most powerful woman is mad at Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) chat during dinner at the Chralottenburg Castle in Berlin June 19, 2013 (Credit: Reuters/Michael Sohn) Imagine this scene from a Jason Bourne movie: the chancellor of Europe's strongest economy receives intelligence that the United States is monitoring her personal cell phone.  She calls the American president to tell him that she "unequivocally disapproves of such practices and sees them as completely unacceptable."

She then adds that "between close friends and partners there should be no such monitoring of the communication of a head of government.  That would be a grave breach of trust."  The American president assures the chancellor that "the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor [her] communications."  When reporters later ask if her calls had been tracked in the past, the president's spokesman says he does not have an answer to that question.

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