28 June 2006

"TR" is not enough

by Phil Johnson

Brad, from Broken Messenger, posted a comment in reply to Dan Phillips's post from yesterday. I was going to reply to Brad in the comment-thread, but I decided to make a full post of it. Brad has raised a critical issue that I wanted to say something about anyway.

Besides, I still have admin authority on this blog, and this is one of the prerogatives of that power. Might as well wield it:

Brad: "Many Reformists simply deny Christ daily by their actions, and yet their doctrine is sound. Which of these is worse? Ignorance or willful disobedience?"

OK, let me start by saying I'm baffled about how DJP's post prompted such a reply. It seems to me the point Dan was making does indeed apply equally to a "Reformist" (or anyone else) who practices hypocrisy. What such people do is just another way of giving lip service to "faith, grace, and the glory of God" while actually denying it—and then denying that their denial is a denial.

(Note, by the way, that Dan's post was arguing in favor of a contented heart—not merely an orthodox creed.)

For the record, we're not in favor of hypocrisy here, especially when a practical denial of Christ (Luke 6:46) is masked behind the facade of a truly sound statement of faith.

So in answer to Brad's direct question: willful disobedience is worse than mere ignorance. Much worse. And the point Brad is making therefore underscores the actual point Dan was making; it doesn't detract from it.

In other words, I don't think there's any real disagreement here.

However, as long as Brad brought it up, and while we're on the subject, let's acknowledge that what Brad is saying is all too true on a disturbingly frequent basis. Way too many "orthodox" thinkers are heterodox doers. The Reformed community's admirable stress on the importance of being hearers of the Word is vital and necessary, especially in an era where many ears are itching for anything but the Word of God.

But it's no more vital or necessary than our duty to be doers of the Word (James 1:22).

We ought to highlight that truth more than we do.

A profession of faith—even with the most thorough, biblically informed, and accurate doctrinal statement backing it up—is no substitute for actual obedience. Such a profession will be of no value whatsoever when it really counts (Matthew 7:21-23).

Is hypocrisy really more common among Reformed types than elsewhere? I don't know, because there are no hard statistics to measure by. But:

  1. When secret sin surfaces (or when overtly bad behavior is manifest) in the life of a sound believer, it's certainly more shocking and more evil than when a badly-taught Christian stumbles.

  2. Because there's a higher ratio of talk-to-action within the Reformed community, it may well be easier—and a bigger temptation—for Reformed types to mask their sin with erudite-sounding theological discussions. (Drunk-in-the-Spirit-type charismatics aren't given to such discussions and aren't particularly impressed by them. So their hypocrites tend to mask their sin by other means.)

  3. But this elevated focus on academic theology is not entirely a point in favor of Reformed theology. Theology should never be merely academic. We need to be less impressed with mere talk and debate (without giving up our legitimate concern for sound doctrine), and more concerned about putting feet to our doctrines.

  4. No one's doctrine is truly "sound" if he or she doesn't believe it enough, and fear God enough, to obey Christ (John 15:14). "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10).

  5. My gut feeling tells me that if Reformed people in this postmodern era have a serious besetting sin, it is precisely the kind of hypocrisy Brad has put his finger on. Not to compare Brad to Shimei or anything :-), but if David could hear a legitimate admonition from the Lord in the taunts of a drooling, rock-throwing maniac (2 Samuel 16:10), we also ought to pause and listen when both friends and critics keep saying the same thing.

  6. I'd count Brad in the former category, for anyone who wonders.


Selah.

Phil's signature

27 comments:

Phillip M. Way said...

Good points, as usual!

The truth is if we really do believe something it will show in how we live. If we claim to believe something but there is no visible evidence (aka, FRUIT), then we really don't believe what we profess to believe.

I am also convinced that there are some in the reformed community that have itching ears. They want to hear sound doctrine and make attending a reformed church a necessity in order to boost their own self righteous pseudo-spirituality! Just as some crave false teachers to feed their own fleshly desires, some crave sound teachers in order to try and convince themselves and others that they are right with God. It boils down to pride.

Remember, a right action with a wrong motive is still self-righteousness and sin. And we all know how impressed God is with our righteousness!

~pastorway

Jeremy Weaver said...

In Galatians 2, Peter and Barnabas are portrayed as acting out of fear of the Judaizers who came to Antioch. As a result, they separated themselves from the Gentiles in their fellowship. Paul says the Peter and Barnabas' conduct was not in step with the Gospel.
Even though they were both theologically accurate, and even though Peter was an Apostle and Barnabas a missionary, they were living a lie through their actions. Though they had not denied the Gospel with their words, their actions spoke differently.
They were hypocrites.

So I think it is naive for anyone to assume that just because we have our theology right that we are doing O.K.
It is likewise naive for anyone to think that just because they live a good life that they are doing O.K.
We must have both theology and practice in accordance with the truth of the Gospel.

Good post.

donsands said...

I had a two hour discussion with a pastor the other night, who is semi-connected to Erwin McManus' Mosaic Church. There were strong views on both sides.
This pastor is a doer. He's light on doctrine in my opinion, but does understands it's important.
I challenged him to not ever compromise the essential truths. He encouraged me to love the lost.
I feel we both grew in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Good post. Thanks for the great thoughts. This is where the rubber meets the spiritual road.
To whom much is given much is required.

Broken Messenger said...

OK, let me start by saying I'm baffled about how DJP's post prompted such a reply.

For the record...

1. I agreed with Dan's post, appreciated it and took no issue with it until the last few lines. My apologies to Dan for not balancing my own response by mentioning this...

2. What prompted my reply was Dan's points about contentment in relation to the doctrinal errors of Mormons and Catholics when many Reformists have a tendency to teach right, and yet outwardly show their own lack of contentment by their disobedience. Since I thought Dan opened a crack in the door with his examples, naturally being the loud mou..er..passionate zealot that I am over this issue, I replied as I did.

3. I know that you guys don't tolerate hypocrisy...yeah, even you Frank... ;o)

It wasn't that I thought Dan was being hypocritical or even unfair in his examples, but I did think that there was a gaping hole in the picture that was being painted, that as you know, I am very sensitive too - particularly if I happen to sense a lack of balance.

Many thanks for this response Phil, and for your and the fellow "Pyroistas" continued patience and willingness to address sincere, yet passionate responses like this one.

Brad

TheBlueRaja said...

Nice.

ScottyB said...

Good thoughts. Thanks, Phil.

philness said...

Yes, yes, but that icon of the feet thing is killing me. Brads got some good stuff over at his website but those feet? I cant bare it anymore. Yuk!

SolaMeanie said...

Thanks for this, Phil. I find it convicting myself. All too often, the church these days seems not to place a high premium on holy behavior. The term "church discipline" is seldom mentioned, unless you're in a congregation where the leadership wants to go Emergent or Purpose Driven and they run over people who oppose them. Yet they could have someone living together outside of wedlock and allow them to participate in choir and other church ministries. Go figure.

Indeed, let's get orthopraxis in line with orthodoxy. Including living obedient lives.

Broken Messenger said...

Yes, yes, but that icon of the feet thing is killing me.

Philness, I'll work on that whole icon thing...

Brad

centuri0n said...

Listen:

God forbid that any of us will ever have a day when we will read this post and realize it is about us. Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart.

If I could get in your face right now -- you personally, you whosoever -- and make you think about the fact that we are only clanging cymbals without the actual love of God in us which changes us from men with hearts of stone to men with hearts of flesh, I would do it.

We deface the Gospel and bring shame upon the cause of Christ when we talk theolgical trash and then act like trailer-park-ological trash. Don't be one of those.

candyinsierras said...

In Galatians 2, Peter and Barnabas are portrayed as acting out of fear of the Judaizers who came to Antioch. As a result, they separated themselves from the Gentiles in their fellowship. Paul says the Peter and Barnabas' conduct was not in step with the Gospel.
Well said Jeremy! Even though they were both theologically accurate, and even though Peter was an Apostle and Barnabas a missionary, they were living a lie through their actions. Though they had not denied the Gospel with their words, their actions spoke differently.
They were hypocrites.


Well said Frank! We deface the Gospel and bring shame upon the cause of Christ when we talk theolgical trash and then act like trailer-park-ological trash. Don't be one of those.

philness said...

Sorry, but can someone tell me what "TR" is and while your at it Selah please? Pretty please?

Phil Johnson said...

Philness: "TR" is a derisive term meaning "Truly Reformed," usually applied to people who try to be more-Reformed-than-thou. I first saw it applied years ago apply to certain stuffy Presbyterians who thought the Scottish Covenanters were the pinnacle of sound doctrine and practice. Lately, it has been co-opted by our friends at the Boar's Head, who employ the label indiscriminately as an all-purpose put-down for anyone who is more concerned about doctrinal soundness than they (which of course would include just about everyone with any doctrinal scruples whatsoever).

The BHT dudes define the term this way: "TRs are the “Truly Reformed,” which refers to Calvinists who play the role of theological watchbloggers over other Christians. TRs function as the Barny Fife’s of the Christian blogosphere." (Yeah, but even ole Barn knows better than to use an apostrophe to make a plural proper noun.)

Selah is a Hebrew term with a somewhat uncertain meaning. It appears at key places in the psalms and seems to mean something akin to "stop and think about it."

Phil Johnson said...

Incidentally, Frank, I'm sure you noticed Rule 40 (the banned bloglist) at the BHT was revised. While the PyroManiacs still have the heart of the list nailed down, they took your blog off the list.

Dear brother, are you backslidden? How can I pray for you?

TheBlueRaja said...

Phil,

I'm not any kind of representative of the Boar's Head, but I'd say that it might mischaracterize more than a few of the many contributors to label them as "not concerned about doctrinal soundness" or "without doctrinal srcuples" at least as much as some feel mischaracterized by the TR label.

Phil Johnson said...

Raja: " I'd say that it might mischaracterize more than a few of the many contributors to label them as 'not concerned about doctrinal soundness'."

I'm sure you're right. I've seen Dale show a scruple now and then. And I keep forgetting that although the Tavernistas love to make sweeping generalizations, they don't like having them made about their own virtual beer-hall. My apologies.

On the other hand, there's an important point in my generalization. Once you get past the deity of Christ, it's pretty hard to think of any doctrines that have not been hackey-sacked around the Tavern at one point or another.

DJP said...

hackey-sacked

A nouned verb is born!

centuri0n said...

Phil --

I'm abashed by the BHT revision.

I ... I ... I ... I'm stammering. I'm just hoping that the paper trail has been eliminated so I can claim that I had not part in this miscarriage of justice.

It's a plot by Spenser & his menagerie to come between us, bro. He did it to discredit me among my people. I understand he is going to have Armstrong de-anti-catholicize me as well, and Kevin Johnson is going to publish an apology.

They think they can break me, but it won't work.

TheBlueRaja said...

You must have missed where I said that labelling everyone 'TR' was just as bad as labelling everyone "without any doctrinal scruples whatsoever". I guess it doesn't matter as long as you find some opportunity for a biting remark.

As for the hackey-sacking, the fact that people are talking about various doctrines doesn't mean they're denying them, and it actually reinforces the fact that they are, in fact, concerned about doctrine.

Whether your problem with the BHT is due to an unwillingness of particular members to recieve sound doctrine or instead due to impatience at the speed and prowess with which others try to think through matters upon which you've already drawn firm conclusions, I guess the reader can judge.

centuri0n said...

Raja:

Yeah, I didn't miss you. No offense -- it just seems that the desiderata of your pericope here is to exclude any motivational choices on the part of Team Pyro which would be edifying.

For example, maybe we don't like BHT because they have their own version of legalism (which would be the legalism of liberalism; the tyrrany of "tolerance") that is just as ugly as the fundamentalist version of legalism. That would be a good reason to object to them, wouldn;t it?

Or maybe we don't like their inability to discern humor from vulgarity from soberiety of discourse. Lack of basic critical discourse skills would be a good reason to say, "hey! Waitaminit here!"

Maybe we don't like their definition of ecumenicism. If intellectual discernment is a good reason to draw the line, surely spiritual discernment would also be a good reason.

Maybe we are really irked by their lifeless & pasty blog template. And I grant you, that's a wholly aesthetic reason to be spiky like a blow fish about them, but it is 2006 after all: time for us to put the Commodore64 not in the garage sale but in the recycle bin.

Those would all be reasons which give us the benefit of the doubt. But then again, maybe you're out of joint due to impatience at the speed and prowess with which others try to think through matters upon which you've already drawn firm conclusions. I guess the reader can judge.

TheBlueRaja said...

Cent:

Liberalism is an intolerant legalistic blight. But I wouldn't characterize any of the members of BHT as "liberals", so I don't get the objection. All of the interactions I've had thus far don't seem so sinister - but maybe I've haven't had as much interaction and experience there as you have. Moreover it seems like you're objecting to people from different backgrounds exhcanging ideas (differing ones), which is what I think the BHT is all about. No one's launching grenades at one another, but it doesn't mean that they don't disagree pretty deeply about a lot of stuff (like ecumenism, for example). The fact that it's a looser coalition than the buxom bombadiers over here makes it a different kind of website, but not inappropriately so. If this is a pulpit, that's more of a forum. There's a place for both, I think.

As for the vulgarity quotient (which doesn't necessarily reflect on a person's 'critical discourse skills'), I could take your point there - I just haven't personally witnessed anything I'd deem inappropriate since I was invited to join - at least not like the occasional profanity dropped in Doug Wilson's blog (which I love).

The BHT blog template, I would say, though, definitely leaves something to be desired.

In any case, it may be a little bizarre to rebuke me for not being patient in watching you "work through the issues" when the issue is whether I'm a "liberal without doctrinal scruples". But maybe it's some kind of spiritual discernment thing I've just haven't caught onto yet. ;)

Cest la vie. I can see how the atmosphere might be distasteful to you and it probably shouldn't be a surprise to anyone if the discussion of controversial topics generates *gasp* controversy.

Matt Waymeyer said...

Blueraja,

I've just got to ask: Is it Doug Wilson's blog that you love? Or is it the profanity that is sometimes featured there!!!

Your old (and still) buddy,

Matt

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey buddy old pal!

It's Doug - if it were just profanity there'd be better places on the internet to go. Maybe Eddie Murphy has a blog.

centuri0n said...

Oddly, BR, you didn't answer the objection.

Maybe if I ask Chamblee's chicken god ...

TheBlueRaja said...

What was the question? If it was:

"we don't like BHT because they have their own version of legalism (which would be the legalism of liberalism; the tyrrany of "tolerance") that is just as ugly as the fundamentalist version of legalism.That would be a good reason to object to them, wouldn;t it?"

If so, the answer was:

Sure - if you were right about it espousing a rabidly liberal platform. But oddly, you didn't respond to my explanation.

Gummby said...

Phil: what you said made me think of this post from Cent.

Thanks for the reminder of the importance of belief and practice.

cramdon said...

I personally enjoy the iMonk articles. In my opinion, Mr. Spencer has an ability to "call it" better than most. I do sometimes question what is posted on the BHT. There was a link to an Onion article about (I am not even sure if this is appropriate here), self-gratification. This was supposed to be funny, apparently, but the humor was lost on me. I think Centurion's comment is fitting:

"Or maybe we don't like their inability to discern humor from vulgarity from soberiety of discourse."

Granted, the reader was warned before hitting the link. Still, what's the point?