24 September 2006

On New Ideas, PostModern Doublespeak, and the Danger of an Uncertain Trumpet

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Greatest Fight in the World," the inaugural address he delivered at the Pastor's College Conference in April 1891—less than a year before his death.

hat marvel if, under some men's shifty talk, people grow into love of both truth and falsehood! People will say, "We like this form of doctrine, and we like the other also." The fact is, they would like anything if only a clever deceiver would put it plausibly before them. They admire Moses and Aaron, but they would not say a word against Jannes and Jambres. We shall not join in the confederacy which seems to aim at such a comprehension.

We must preach the gospel so distinctly that our people know what we are preaching. "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?" Don't puzzle your people with doubtful speeches.

"Well", said one, "I had a new idea the other day. I did not enlarge upon it; but I just threw it out."

That is a very good thing to do with most of your new ideas. Throw them out, by all means; but mind where you are when you do it; for if you throw them out from the pulpit they may strike somebody, and inflict a wound upon faith. Throw out your fancies, but first go alone in a boat a mile out to sea. When you have once thrown out your unconsidered trifles, leave them to the fishes.

We have nowadays around us a class of men who preach Christ, and even preach the gospel; but then they preach a great deal else which is not true, and thus they destroy the good of all that they deliver, and lure men to error. They would be styled "evangelical" and yet be of the school which is really anti-evangelical.
C. H. Spurgeon


Colin Maxwell said...

100% again CHS. Clever word play on "I just threw it out" - "about a mile out to sea" is a humorus retort :-)

Neil said...

This is about my favourite of the Spurgeon posts of the past few months.

Taliesin said...

Those I described as having a postconservative mood had no intention of departing from evangelicalism or discarding that heritage or label. But they were willing to question aspects of the “received evangelical tradition” and experiment with new ways of interpreting scripture and appropriating cultural changes in theological reflection. from a paper on "Postconservative Evangelicalism"

They had no intention of departing, but were willing to question aspects? This is doublespeak. We are the same as before but different. He goes on to note open theism as one way they have questioned "tradition". These ideas should have been buried at sea.

Better to follow Charles Hodge, quoted unfavorably in the paper, because he would not allow "new" ideas to be taught at Princeton Seminary.

Carla Rolfe said...


there is an old saying of many that tells us to "eat the meat and spit out the bones". In other words, benefit from the good and dump the bad.

But then I read this:

"We have nowadays around us a class of men who preach Christ, and even preach the gospel; but then they preach a great deal else which is not true, and thus they destroy the good of all that they deliver, and lure men to error. They would be styled "evangelical" and yet be of the school which is really anti-evangelical."

And I have to wonder if the meat & bones cliche is something we ought to be suggesting in the first place? (I never liked it anyway, unless we're talking about non-salvific issues or what many would call non-essentials - but that's a brand new bucket of worms).

I'm going to have to go with Buggy on this one, probably the best Spurgeon quote I've seen in a good while, and tremendous food for thought.

Thanks once again for your work here Phil - it matters.


David B. Hewitt said...

Truly an excellent post.

Surely God does do His work in spite of doctrinal error; if this were not so then all of us would be in trouble.

At the same time, I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon. Far too often are we content to remain where we are and not pursue, and even fight for, biblical fidelity. Also, never should we introduce our "ideas" without rigorously scutinizing them with the Scriptures. More often than not, such ideas would be better if they were to be thrown out to sea.

May we always be able to say "Thus says the LORD" when we speak to the people under our spiritual care, and never just put forward our own ideas.

David Hewitt

Sharad Yadav said...

Saying something like this requires so much qualification that it's almost better not said. The idea that there are no "new" ideas is impossible to defend - certainly not from the Old Testament, when "new revelation" awaited, and certainly not from the New Testament where the idea of "canon" didn't yet exist. Still much less defensible from the history of doctrine, which is full of "new ideas" - all, of course, in the course of trying to understand God's Word. If no thought can be "new" to God's people that means we already know everything that can be known - which isn't true (is it?).

God forbid someone hear a statement like this and assume that THEY shouldn't have any new thoughts - since that would make "renewing their minds" impossible.

Phil Johnson said...


That's a very interesting take on what is required in the renewing of a fallen mind. It explains a lot about your opinions, your style of voicing dissent, and the direction your theological musings are taking you.

Too bad Spurgeon is not alive today and blogging. It would be interesting to watch you try to straighten him out.

Sharad Yadav said...

I think I get what he's saying, and it's a strong rebuke to those who innovate in a way that isn't consonant with Scripture (i.e. heresy) - but Spirit-filled reflecting on the Scriptures can and should bring new insight. It's application is certainly always changing as the times change (are those "new ideas"?).

The comment about "renewing the mind" was saying that there may be danger of misunderstanding Spurgeon's sentiments here to mean they already know everything there is to know, and learning anything new (to them) would of necessity be "error".

Just thought it was stated too strongly, such that it dies the death of a million qualifications.

As for where my theological musings have "taken me", you'd have to be more specific as to what's troubling you - I theologically conservative in just about every way imaginable. There's no pleasing some, of course - but nothing I can do about that!

Steve said...

Blue Raja, are you sure you understood what Spurgeon meant by "new thoughts"? The context makes it pretty clear he's referring to bad doctrine and unbiblical teaching.

Such "new ideas" don't renew the mind at all. Rather, they cause believers to be "tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men."

John Haller said...

Good point Carla. The old meat and bones cliche is really pretty poor. It's not biblical. The Laodicean church was criticized because of the mixture of good and bad. The mixture is what made it distasteful.

James Scott Bell said...

2 Peter 3:17:

"Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position."

That's the sort of "new idea" Spurgeon was talking about, I think. Not new insights about Scripture, but error posing as innovation. And a subtext that suggests this comes from men who are "throwing things out" without due reflection and correction. The lone wolf in sheep's clothing, as it were. We've all seen where that can lead.

donsands said...

The prince of preachers. What a blessing for us to be able to read his thoughts and most excellent words.
Thanks again for Spurgeon Monday.

The meat and bones thing is interesting isn't it.
The Scriptures are meat for sure, and even milk for the babe.
I know when I share the truths of the Bible in fear, I hope and pray that it is always solid meat, and no bones.
But if there is bones I pray those who are mature in the Lord will spit them out, and come to me and help me see my error.

John H said...

"Throw them out, by all means; but mind where you are when you do it"


Easy to forget what a great sense of humour Spurgeon had - indeed, I gather this is something he struggled with, as he was tempted to overuse humour in preaching. But I think we can be grateful that he occasionally succumbed.

@The Blue Raja: my reading of Spurgeon's remark was not that he was saying, "Never have new ideas", but rather, "Don't inflict on your congregation half-baked new ideas that pop into mind in the pulpit".

John H said...

Oops, I meant "ROFL" rather than "RTFL". Perhaps if I actually used English - "That was most amusing, my good man" - then these mix-ups wouldn't happen...

Sharad Yadav said...

Yeah, I know he was talking about false doctrine - but I guess my concern is that people might assume that every "new idea" was somehow false doctrine simply because it's new. I love the idea that "we must preach the gospel so distinctly that our people know what we are preaching." And he certainly didn't rule out ALL new ideas (he said "most") - nevertheless alot of the rhetoric I hear about "rejecting all things new" and "all truth is old truth" and "there's nothing new under the sun" is often used as an excuse to refuse insight that could otherwise prove helpful simply because the person hearing it is unfamiliar with it. That observation, is just my own personal (and relatively short) pastoral experience, but there you are.

As for chewing the meat and spitting out the bones, I don't see how there's any other option when learning from sinful men. There's no such thing as boneless meat as long as those teaching and interpreting are wicked men. I suspect everyone will realize that they've swallowed many a bone when they finally meet Jesus!

Taliesin said...


I think I understand what your concern is (and if so, I would agree). There are some forms of "conservative" Christianity that reject any "new" idea, where "new" idea is defined as anything other than what their preacher has taught for the last 20 years. In this regard I remember a comment from Dr. Mohler, who stated that his church history professor stated that his (the professor's) task was to convince the students that someone between Jesus and their Grandmother mattered.

If, however, you mean "new" in the since of something that the Holy Spirit has not revealed to the church through the Scriptures in the last 2000 years, then I would disagree.

Taliesin said...
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