29 November 2007
don't know who made this spot-on parody of Rob Bell's "Bullhorn Guy," but I want him to head the TeamPyro Film Division:
While I'm at it, here's another classic response to the Nooma disaster by our good friend (and honorary PyroManiac) Todd Friel:
Well, folks, another week, another Mystery Quotation.
Remember, no tricks—
- Use your memory (or guessing) alone
- No electronic tools
- No Googling
“…a diligent endeavor to have the power of the truths professed and contended for abiding upon our hearts, that we may not contend for notions, but what we have a practical acquaintance with in our own souls. When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth; when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us; when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the things abides in our hearts; when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for, — then shall we be garrisoned, by the grace of God, against all the assaults of men. And without this all our contending is, as to ourselves, of no value. What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense or sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul? What will it avail me to evince, by testimonies and arguments, that he hath made satisfaction for sin, if, through my unbelief, the wrath of God abideth on me, and I have no experience of my own being made the righteousness of God in him, — if I find not, in my standing before God, the excellency of having my sins imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to me? Will it be any advantage to me, in the issue, to profess and dispute that God works the conversion of a sinner by the irresistible grace of his Spirit, if I was never acquainted experimentally with the deadness and utter impotency to good, that opposition to the law of God, which is in my own soul by nature, with the efficacy of the exceeding greatness of the power of God in quickening, enlightening, and bringing forth the fruits of obedience in me? It is the power of truth in the heart alone that will make us cleave unto it indeed in an hour of temptation. Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him.”
Savor those thoughts for awhile, then have at it!
28 November 2007
If I had been slightly more awake last week, I would have made that a two-for-one post because it turns out that Mistake #4 on our list looks like this:
4. The Mistake of Whole Congregations in Direct Involvement, Not Professional Missions.
And I think it is pretty self-evident that is a different flavor of Mistake #3, which is at its root a mistake of replacing the local church with something else.
If I need to cover that more deeply, bring it up in the meta – as if you people needed any encouragement on that front ...
Anyway, Mistake #5 of the list looks like this:
5. The Mistake of Insisting that Devout Followers of Jesus Call Themselves “Christians” and Identify with the Western Church
And for those of you who have followed my inglorious career as a blogger and fusser, you'll recognize this as what I would call an "oldie but a goodie". That is, it's something that comes up now and again, and it simply doesn’t make any more sense when the next guy brings it up.
This discussion is triggering a flashback to Jesuit all-boys High School where I had a Jesuit for senior elective theology and he was chastising the hypothetical Christian who did not want to self-identify. It made sense, he reasoned, that a devil would want to be reckoned as an angel -- because if you knew someone was a devil, you'd have to be crazy to follow him anywhere, right? And it made sense that if one was on the side of the angels one ought to want the credibility that goes along with being on Heaven's team. But what did you gain, exactly, by being an angel and posing as a devil? How does that deception advance the cause of truth?
This from a fellow who frequently smoke and drank around the seniors when the opportunity arose, and who swore like a sailor. Father, as they say, absolve thyself.
At its root, however, is the problem of whether those who follow Christ "own" the whole Christian church. I think the answer, for good and ill, is that they do -- and trying to change one's name to avoid that is, frankly, a shell game.
Let's first reason from the lesser to the greater, and consider the Southern Baptist Convention. There was a bit of conventional wisdom about 10 years ago that if you took the word "Baptist" out of your name and converted to a "community church" or "fellowship" church, you could participate in church growth by separating yourself and your church from the stigma of being called a Baptist. Yet here we are today, and Lifeway has conducted some studies that indicate that now, rather than contributing to growth and bon home, the unchurched and even those who are attending these churches cannot answer the question, "what is a Baptist?"
Think about that – because it is a perfectly logical paradigm. If you change your name to escape the so-called "stigma" of those who are like you, what you are doing is blotting that name.
And in this case, the name is "christianos" – those who follow Christ.
That seems to me to be the baby, the bath water, the tub, and the kitchen sink – and probably throws away too much.
Now, here's the reasoning behind this: the name "Christian" has a lot of political baggage, and it impairs evangelism to have that baggage attached – even in the west.
Apparently it was fine to be a Christian like Torequemada, and a Christian like Chrysostom (who was an anti-semite), and a Christian like Innocent III, but Boar's Head forbid that one is a Christian as portrayed by the propaganda arm of the Islamist political movement and a liberal media which cannot gets its fact straight about the abolition of slavery and the rise of civil rights in the West, let alone the implications of the human right to life.
But then there is the problem, as they say in some circles, of "catholicity". That is, the problem of being the visible church in a circle larger than the one at your dining room table. We often use the apologetic device that people should judge the church by what Christ has done for it rather than what the people in it are doing (that is, if you are encountering lost people), but that's really the same answer as, "well, I'm not a 'Christian'." It's conceding the point that people allegedly like Jesus but hate the church.
Listen: there's no question that there are some people who are inside the boundaries of the church who, frankly, blow it. In fact, you cannot find any age of the church in which the church wasn't cross-populated with those who are in the unenviable position of needing the church most and also demonstrating they do not belong there. It goes back as early as the Galatian church, and the Corinthian church, and the Laodicean church – which were, btw, still called churches in spite of their problems.
But that fact did not cause the Apostles to rethink their branding: it caused them to press harder on the Gospel and correct or discipline those who were falling away.
And my opinion is that we should follow those apostles and not some others who are self-appointed and clearly off the Biblical map.
27 November 2007
Ah, yes: the perennial Terrible Two Topics. While there is much to say on the twain, I shall only say a jot or two today.
Religion is stacking up to be quite the topic during this election cycle. When questioners bring up the matter of religion, or try to pursue it very far, one of the common preferred responses is, "My religion is very private. I keep it separate from my politics. My religion will not influence me one way or the other in office."
What's surprising about this paint-thin response is how often it works. I suppose we can thank the mainstream media's abysmal ignorance of and incuriosity towards religion or philosophy for that.
This response — if it means anything at all — can only mean one of three things:
- The speaker is a liar
- The speaker is a hypocrite
- The speaker can't rub two live neurons together
I assume that most religions teach something about the meaning of life and all that. Wellsir, that's worldview: the way you look at things, the way you think about things. Your evaluative and interpretive grid.
So what our (not-so) fictional speaker is saying amounts to this: "My worldview doesn't influence how I relate to the world." Which is just as silly as it sounds.
If our speaker knows his statement to be a load of codswallop, then he's a liar. He is knowingly saying what is untrue. (To which many astute readers will doubtless respond, "Hel-lo? Politician?")
But our speaker may be sincere. In that case, he is a hypocrite. His religion is a mere formality. It really does not form his worldview, in which case he does not really believe it.
Still, the third option is a live option. Our man (or woman!) has somehow made it through four to six decades, held positions of power and influence, persuaded people to support him (or her!) to the tune of millions of dollars — and has never thought about anything deeper than an opinion poll. In fact, perhaps he (or she!) chose his (or her!) religion because it polled well.
In any of these cases, I think it is worth knowing. I'd like to know whether the man (or woman!) whose finger I'm going to position next to The Button, who is making me such billowy assurances and sketching out such grand plans, who is trying to hard to win my trust in his (or her!) judgment, who will make choices that could have an effect on my children and their children — whether that person, I say, is a liar, a hypocrite, or a fool.
(Additional related thoughts may be found here.)
26 November 2007
friend of mine learned on Thanksgiving Day that he has terminal cancer. I visited him in the hospital that afternoon, and he was devastated. Doctors had discovered an inoperable tumor during surgery, and they simply stitched him back up. He now has all the pain and none of the benefit from that surgical procedure, which was extremely invasive. He was not much improved when I saw him again a couple of days laterafter I had been to a memorial service for another friend's father.
So I've been thinking a lot recently about the frailty and the shortness of our human existenceand how sad death is, even for the Christian.
Of course, Christians understand that death is a consequence of sin, and death's sorrow ought to be a universal reminder of how evil sin is. The fruits of humanity's rebellion against God are invariably bitter, tragic, painful, and uglyand death is the culmination of it all: sin's wages. We all know the pain of loss from death, or we will at some time in our lives. It is simply impossible to live a long life in a sin-cursed world without being assaulted with the sorrow and tragedy of human loss. Even Jesus felt that pain, and He wept at the death of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35).
Have you ever wondered why He was weeping? It could not be just grief over the loss of Lazarus, because He was about to bring Lazarus back to life. Yet it's clear from Scripture that His tears signified real sorrow.
So what was He mourning about?
Surely He was grieving over the effects of sin on people He loved. He was sorrowing over the ravages of evil on His creation. He was thus identifying with those whom He loved, even in their anguish. "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15). He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And at Lazarus's grave He felt the full weight of anguish over the sinfulness of the human condition. He was deeply and sincerely moved by it.
Death is a horrible enemy. Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that death is "The last enemy that shall be destroyed." And when you sit with someone who is dying slowly, you come face to face with the fact that death is a formidable, tyrannical, universal foe. The searing pain and sadness of death seem almost unbearable at times. If we thought about it in merely human, earthly terms, we might be tempted to become chronically melancholy and despondent.
But Scripture gives us both hope and a reason to rejoice, even in the midst of the gloom of death. Remember: it was in this very same context that Jesus made one of His most glorious promises about His victory over death and hell. He told Lazarus's devastated sister Martha: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" (John 11:25-26). He meant, of course, that believers can never die spiritually, and that even their physical death is only a temporary condition.
But that promise, glorious as it is, does not erase death's temporal sorrows. It did not even keep Jesus Himself from weeping. The short verse that records His sorrow over Lazarus's death comes just ten verses after He made that promise. We who cling to that promise likewise still have profound sorrows, but thankfully, our sorrow is not a hopeless sorrow (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Pondering the universality of death and the inevitability of it, I have to wonder what certain Emergent leaders could possibly be thinking when they systematically try to downplay the hope of heaven and urge Christians to be more concerned with earthly matters.
Indeed, "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).
24 November 2007
posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Root of the Matter," a sermon preached 12 April 1863 at the Met Tab.
he tree can do without some of its branches, though the loss of them might be an injury; but it cannot live at all without its roots: the roots are essential; take those away, and the plant must wither. And thus my dear friends, there are things essential in the Christian religion. . . .
With regard to essential doctrines, it is very desirable for us to be established in the faith. A very happy thing it is to have been taught from one's youth up the sound and solid doctrines which comforted the Puritans, which made blessed the heart of Luther and of Calvin, fired the zeal of Chrysostom and Augustine, and flashed like lightning from the lips of Paul. . . . .But we always believe, and are ever ready to confess, that there are many doctrines which, though exceedingly precious, are not so essential but that a person may be in a state of grace and yet not receive them. . . .
Though Calvinistic doctrine is so dear to us, we feel ready to die in its defense, yet we would by no means set it up as being a test of a man's spiritual state. We wish all our brethren saw with us, but a man may be almost blind, and yet he may live. A man with weak eye-sight and imperfect vision may be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven; indeed, it is better to enter there having but one eye, than, having two eyes and being orthodox in doctrine, to be cast into hell fire.
But there are some distinct truths of revelation that are essential in such a sense that those who have not accepted them cannot be called Christians, and those who wilfully reject them are exposed to the fearful anathemas which are hurled against apostasy. I shall not go into a detailed list. Let it suffice, that I give you a few striking illustrations.
The doctrine of the Trinity we must ever look upon as being one of the roots of the matter. When men go unsound here, we suspect that, ere long, they will be wrong everywhere. The moment you get any suspicion of a man's wavering about the Divinity of Christ you have not long to wait before you discover that on all other points he has gone wrong. Well did John Newton express it
To try both your state, and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest,
Unless you think rightly of him."
. . . . A gospel without belief in the living, and true GodTrinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinityis a rope of sand. As well hope to make a pyramid stand upon its apex as to make a substantial gospel when the real and personal Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is left as a moot or disputed point.
Likewise essential is the doctrine of the vicarious sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Any bell that does not ring sound on that point had better be melted down directly.
I do not think we have many in our denominationwe have some who are not very clearstill I think we have but few that are unsound in the doctrine of the real substitution of Christ. But there are plenty elsewhere; perhaps I need not indicate the locality, for in the denomination where they seem to be tolerably prolific they have one earnest tongue and one ready pen that is always willing at all times to expose the miscreants who thus do damage to the cause of Christ, by giving up the precious blood of Jesus as the sole cause of the remission of sins and the only means of access to God. Why, my brethren, we have nothing else left after we have given up this choice seal of the everlasting covenant, on which all our hopes depend. Renounce the doctrine of Jesus dying in our place, room, and stead! Better for us all to be offered as one great hecatomb, one mighty sacrifice to God on one fire, than to tolerate for a moment any doubts about that which is the world's hope, heaven's joy, hell's terror, and eternity's song.
I marvel how men are permitted to stand in the pulpit and preach at all who dare to say anything against the atonement of Christ. I find in the Dutch Church, in the French Church, and in the German Churches, that men are accepted as Christian ministers who will yet speak hard things against the atonement itself, and even against the Deity of Him by whom the atonement was made.
There is no other religion in the world that has been false to its own doctrines in the way that Christianity has been. Imagine a Muslim allowed to come forward in the pulpit and preach against Mahomet! Would it be tolerated for a single moment? Suppose a Brahmin fed and paid to stand up in a temple and speak against Brahma! Would it be allowed? No surely; nor is there an infidel lecturer in this country but would find his pay stopped at once, if, while pretending to be in the service of Atheism, he declaimed the sentiments he was deputed to advocate.
How is it? Why is it? In the name of everything that is reasonable and instinctively consistent, whence can it be, that men can be called Christian ministers after the last vestige of Christianity has been treacherously repudiated by them? How is it that they can be tolerated to minister in holy things to people who profess and call themselves sincere followers of Jesus, when they tread under foot the precious blood of Christ, "reduce the mystery of godliness to a system of ethics"?
To use the words of a divine of the last century, they "degrade the Christian Church into a school of philosophy; deny the expiation made by our Redeemer's sacrifice; obscure the brightest manifestation of divine mercy; undermine the principal pillar of practical religion; and make a desperate shipwreck of our everlasting interests. They dash themselves to death on the very rock of salvation."
No; we must have the atonement, and that not tacitly acknowledged, but openly set forth. Charity can go a good way, but charity cannot remove the altar from the door of the Tabernacle, or admit the worshipper into the most Holy Place without the blood of propitiation.
So, again, the doctrine of justification by faith is one of the roots of the matter. You know Luther's saying; I need not repeat it; it is the article of a standing or falling Church. "By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works lest any man should boast."
Do you preach that doctrine? My hand and my heart are stretched out to you! Do you deny it? Do you stutter over it? Are you half-afraid of it? My back must be turned against you; I know nothing of you; you are none of the Lord's! What saith the Apostle Paul to you? Would he have communed with you? He lifts his hand to heaven and he says"If any man preach any other gospel than that ye have received let him be accursed!" That is Paul's saintly greeting; that is Paul's Apostolic maledictionan "Anathema Maranatha" upon the man that preaches not the Lord Jesus, and who does not vindicate the great doctrine of salvation by grace and not by works.
Well now, friend, you may have come in here to listen to our doctrine, and to judge whether you can hold fellowship with us. We have been talking about the root of the matter. Permit me to say that if you are sound on these three points, the One God in Trinity, the glorious doctrine of the substitution of Christ in the place of sinners, and the plan of salvation by simple faith in Jesus, then inasmuch as these roots of the matter are in you, God forbid that we should exclude you as heretical. If you are in other points unenlightened, and groping about in uncertainty, doubtless the Lord will teach you, but we believe the root of the matter is in you so far as doctrine is concerned.
23 November 2007
by Phil Johnson
he artist currently known as "Johnny Dialectic" cited a snippet in his comment on Monday's post that put me onto an article by Alan Rifkin that was at one time buried somewhere in obscurity on the Web. Although the only current Web-based html version of the article is untitled, undocumented, and badly formatted, I did a little research and discovered it was originally published in the 23 November 2003 Los Angeles Times Magazine. The title was "Jesus with a Genius Grant" (subhead: "Fuller Theological Seminary is Teaching that Smart Christians Can Have it All: Science and the Bible, Body and Soul, Left and Right. To Some, That’s Apocalypse Now. To Others, There’s No Turning Back.")
Here is the full article in .pdf format (courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine).
It's a surprisingly prescient analysis of postmodern religion from a left-leaning secular newspaper's Sunday magazine. It's also a window into the agenda of Tony Jones and Emergent Villagealthough when the article was written, Jones hadn't yet taken his current role as National Director, and the organization was merely an informal "Coalition". In fact, Rifkin's piece was originally published a full year before Christianity Today introduced "The Emergent Mystique" to its readers with a breathless cover article.
The LA Times article seems to have garnered only kudoseven though Rifkin says some of the very same kind of things I've been harshly criticized for saying. (For example, he writes that "a vocal vanguard of younger Christians who call themselves 'Post- Evangelicals' . . . have tasted the peyote of postmodern ambiguity and been steadily coming on.") But Rifkin was writing as something of an admirer, not a critic, so apparently he was free to speak plainly without being angrily deconstructed.
Note: Rifkin's article was published exactly four years ago today. He was describing a more or less deliberate strategy to sell liberal and postmodern ideas to young evangelicals without upsetting the older conservative donor base. The key to the plan (as most of Rifkin's post-evangelical interviewees described it) was stealth, speed, and subterfuge. The "post-conservatives" were determined to infuse their talking points into the evangelical agenda before conservative evangelicals saw what was happening and hit back with any kind of "organized criticism."
In other words, the goal from the start was not really "conversation" at all, but the preempting of critics.
Here are some salient excerpts from Rifkin's article (emphases added):
"Reaching out to the secular left." That's the post-evangelical holy grail. The quest for that prize is the byproduct of a value-system that dates back to the inception of Fuller Seminary and the high priority the founders of that institution placed on "academic respectability." By the 1960s a similar mentality defined the neo-evangelical strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission: Win the world by first winning the world's respect and affections. Now Emergent has taken friendship with the world one giant step further, pursuing the secular left's admirationbut not necessarily its conversionas the goal and end-game of their outreach strategy.
Apparently the Great Commission is not nearly as interesting to some Emergents as the media-relations handbook of the Democratic National Committee. Seriously. I'm currently reading Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change (in slow, small doses), and his list of The Biggest Problems in the World is borrowed straight from the doomsday eschatology of the secular left. As I've already noted elsewhere, McLaren's perspective is deliberately worldly, and this is why. In his big-picture outline of all the world's truly threatening evils, he has nothing whatsoever to say about humanity's sin problem.
In fact, by McLaren's way of reckoning, the real culprit in all the world's worst atrocities is not Original Sin at all, but (get this:) overconfidence. The damnable sin of certainty. Yes, you heard him right. "Excessive confidence"not greed, a lust for power, rebellion against God's law, or even the seven deadly sins, but too much certaintyis what "cost millions of people their lives and millions more their dignity" in the horrible pre-postmodern era.
In other words, McLaren accepts the standard postmodern substitute for Original Sin: Certainty is a cancer. Everything that's wrong in the world goes back to that. In fact, the world's woes pretty much started with René Descartes. (Of course, if you had simply listened to your college lit professor you would know all of this already.) Cartesian foundationalism is a deadly virus that has infected all our minds, our theology, and the church itself. So what we desperately need now is a "debugged version of the Christian faith."
Fortunately, Brian is here (like a kindly Mr. Rogers clone with his comfortable sweaters, Dockers, gentle voice, and soothing, avuncular style) to tell us how we can "reintroduce" a new, more comfortableand more likeableJesus to the world. It all requires a new "framing story" that borrows its key elements from John Dominic Crossan, Walter Rauschenbusch, and socialist dogma. It champions redistribution of the world's wealth as a kind of panacea for the ills caused by our ancestors' overconfidence, and it lobbies for practically every cause that energizes Hillary Clinton.
But Brian assures us this will win for us the world's respect and approval. After all, we wouldn't want to think of Jesus' Kingdom as anything other than a pure populist democracy, would we?
Hankering for the world's esteem is incompatible with authentic gospel ministry. Scripture is jarringly clear about this: "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). In the words of the apostle Paul, "Do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). And in the words of Christ Himself (Dan Kimball's latest book title notwithstanding), the world hated Jesus, and it will also hate those who follow Him faithfully:
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (John 15:18-21).We're not supposed to court the world's favor, and whenever you see church leaders utterly obsessed with being "liked" by non-Christians, you are looking at a brand of Christianity that is unbiblical, unfaithful to Christ, and unfit to bear His name.
22 November 2007
Well, brothers and sisters, how about another round of Mystery Quotation?
Remember, no tricks—
- Use your memory (or guessing) alone
- No electronic tools
- No Googling
Thus spake... who?
Jesus’ encounter with the ten lepers illustrates the importance of thanksgiving. Countless sermons have been preached about the healing of the ten lepers, focusing attention on the theme of gratitude. The thrust of many of these sermons has been that Jesus healed ten lepers, but that only one of them was grateful. The only polite response to such preaching is to call it what it is—nonsense. It is inconceivable that a leper enduring the abject misery he faced daily in the ancient world would not be grateful for receiving instant healing from the dreadful disease. Had he been one of the lepers, even Adolph Hitler would have been grateful.
The issue in the story is not one of gratitude, but of thanksgiving. It is one thing to feel grateful; it is another thing to express it. Lepers were cut off from family and friends. Instant cleansing meant release from exile. We can imagine them deliriously happy, rushing home to embrace their wives and children, to announce their healing. Who would not be grateful? But only one of them postponed his return home and took time to give thanks. The account in
Luke 17reads: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan” ( verses 15-16; italics mine).
21 November 2007
Just as a pre-blogopalooza series of updates, my child is much better, thank you. We slept through the night last night (first night in 4 nights), the hives are almost all down and gone, spirits are pretty much high (thanks, prednisone), and I'm well-rested enough to blog this morning.
For those who are worried that you can't cook a turkey, my annual turkey recipe post at my blog is up, and it has ZERO unsatisfied users. Phil has, of course, never tried it, but for a guy who says he will eat anything he sure is a fussy eater.
And as a last sort of update and segue, last week when I posted on mistake #2 of the 12 mistake series, alert reader "MadTownGuy" pointed out that Ralph Winter --- the author of the list of 12 mistakes – has his own problems. MadTownGuy put it this way:
Ralph Winter’s “Kingdom on earth” is a defined term in the parlance of the promoters of the New Apostolic Reformation, and Ralph Winter‘s connection to that movement is clearly known. It is taken by him to mean a government, both in the ecclesiastical and political senses of the word, and it is the chief aim of Winter and his close associate from Fuller Seminary, C. Peter Wagner. So when he uses that term he means the establishment of a hierarchical structure of apostles in the church and in the marketplace, along with prophets who do vision casting and spiritual warriors à la Joel’s Army who will promote their agenda in each apostle’s territorial or professional sphere of influence. Their highest goal is not the salvation of souls but the transformation of society. The living out of Christ’s life in us is done only as a means to an end, to promote the establishment of the kingdom, without which (in their view) the end time revival, and the return of Christ, will be delayed. This is what drives their methods which include spiritual mapping, intercessory prayer (as they define it), city-church movements and calls to unity while disregarding, or overtly disrespecting, sound doctrine.Now, while I wouldn’t deny any of that, here's what I'd say about that in the context of this blog and my posts about this list: until I read this list, I had no idea who Ralph Winter was. I had to Google the guy to get a bead on him, and I figured that most people are probably about as informed as I am – which, apparently, means "not very".
Ultimately, Winter's connection to the stuff MTG listed is "clearly known", or can be "clearly known" with only a little effort, but here's the thing: I think we can't let ourselves get flap-jacked by someone with, um, an over-realized eschatology. We can't let someone's wacky redefinition of terms push us off the scriptural ground in which those terms ought to be planted.
So, rather than make this an obscure series of posts about the quirks of Ralph Winter, I'm taking Winter's list at face value, reading standard theological meaning into the words, and asking the question whether these are mistakes or not. The more esoteric among you will find this off-putting. Let's be honest: I write as a pleb for the plebs.
So, that said, here's the so-called "third mistake":
The Mistake of Congregations Sending Missionaries, Not Using Mission Agencies
And you'll get right away why I think this mistake is incorrect because I'm the guy who thinks that the local church is God's plan, and maybe we should ourselves think a little more of it. But before I launch into my objection(s), let me properly issue the disclaimer that I am a, um, proud member of an SBC church and I am generally proud of the IMB and NAMB for the work they do or try to do in equipping and sending missionaries. One of the chief reasons my wife and I are SBC people is that we want to know that our church is rightly sending qualified missionaries to people who need the Gospel.
So, on the one hand, I think that it is possible to have a "mission agency" which effectively sends missionaries, and actually demonstrates a good kind of synergy among local churches – one which takes the limited resources of one body or another and multiplies them using what they call in the secular marketplace "economies of scale". "Mission agencies" can be good things.
But this is where the disclaimer as a member of an SBC church comes in: they are also not the be-all and end-all of missions work, and in fact we have to admit they are also not necessarily the biblically-mandated form of sending missionaries.
This is a big beef for me. The NT describes a church which is local, united, and discipling people toward two specific milestones: discipling toward personal maturity (cf. 1 Tim 1:5), and discipling toward making men into elders in the church (cf. Tit 1:5-9). That is, as Paul told Titus and Timothy, they were sent to preach the Gospel, teach it, exhort the people to live as an adornment of sound doctrine, and take the men who demonstrate this in life and practice and ordain them as elders.
Not to establish seminaries and mission agencies.
Now, while we can agree that seminaries and mission agencies can do good, and have done good, we also have to grapple with what Phil noted back in mistake #1, which is that institutions – especially Christian institutions – have a ridiculously-bad track record of fumbling confessional issues and sliding into (at best) syncretic habits. And the reason, I think, is that an institution is not a church.
Think about that a second: it's not a church. Now: why is that a critical distinction? For example, why is it important to realize that a bookstore is not a church? Isn't it because a bookstore is primarily a business which has as its chief end to pay the rent and all the employees, not to mention the owner?
That end doesn’t frankly square up to the end of the church – which Paul, btw, says plainly is not for monetary gain (cf. 2 Tim, if you don't know).
And while the chief end of a seminary, for example, may not be to make money, the sad fact is that institutions have self-preservation as an unstated goal. There's nobody who's going to take a seminary and turn a blind eye to its endowment or its enrollment or its ability to attract faculty even if its mission is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.
And the same can be, and ought to be, said about mission agencies: these are not churches. That doesn’t make them bad people, or people with nefarious self-interest wrapped up in some kind of holy: it makes them people who, like all of us, have divided interests and are prone to err on the side of practical.
For what it's worth, Paul defines the practicality of the church in this matter pretty plainly, like this:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.That is, I want you to insist on sound doctrine so that those who have a right faith will live out good works.
The doctrine comes first. And in that, institutions set up for pragmatic ends are prone to employ pragmatic means, thereby taking their eyes off the ball.
The brighter ones among you may want to apply that to the post I made in statement #1; that's what the meta is for.
Enjoy the gifts which you are about to receive from the bounty of the Lord, and be in the Lord's house with the Lord's people on the Lord's day this week because He has made it easy for you to do so.
20 November 2007
See afternoon update (below)
My mind isn't gripped at the moment by an idea big enough for a post — but I have seen some interesting and/or cool things here and there. I offer them with the expectation of responses ranging from "Cool!" to "Hm," and even unto "Well, I'll be."
Weltanschauung rap! Check it here; it's been going rounds such as Timmy Brister and (even!) Tom Ascol. (I wonder whether the prof says Weltanschauung right, or I do. Or neither.)
Kimball! Occasional Pyro-post fodder (and fellow Chicago fan) Dan Kimball laid down some sober words about the preaching of Hell, in the context of the relevance of the afterlife. It's interesting, and I think it's very Kimbally. Starts off friendly, rambling, chatty. Plugs Ron Sider's "wonderful" tome (to which, unless Sider's changed dramatically, I say "booo!"). And then Dan gets to the meat of his point, laying down that "balance" would mean
...making sure we teach and live out the good (great) news of the gospel and Kingdom living here and now in this life - that we still talk and teach about the reality of the after-life. That we still talk about heaven and we also still talk about the reality of hell.Further,
I understand fully the reality of how we neglected understanding the Kingdom of God on this earth and what that means and perhaps focused too much on the after-life only when we talked about the gospel. But at the same time, how can we forget about the reality of the after-life and not talk or think about hell and heaven?I like Dan — and there'll be no "but" to that. I have enjoyed corresponding with Dan, and we plan to get together next time he's in The Big Tomato. I commend the article itself to you for your consideration.
Many of you will feel (as I do) that Dan seems more apologetic than you or I might be. But then I remind myself that as a rule that Dan talks to different sorts than this Dan does, and that "The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive" (Proverbs 15:2a CSB). His commenters as a rule accept what he's said seriously. It seems to me that Dan is approaching the same things Phil recently talked about here and here, if maybe from the other direction.
And then Dan says this:
I believe from passages such as in Daniel 12:2 to a bunch of them in the New Testament which to me clearly indicate that there is an eternal separation of people in the afterlife. A horrifying and heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, mind-searing, painful thought. But a reality I personally cannot dismiss. So it doesn't mean that we take the gospel and only focus on hell, as the gospel is about this life too. But at the same time, we can't forget or dismiss the topic of hell either, which I am wondering if we are beginning to do in some circles.On the one hand, I think a fair reading makes Dan's personal convictions clear enough. But there's this: "a reality I personally cannot dismiss."
Do we preach the reality, though, and not merely share it? Are we not to proclaim the truths of Heaven and Hell, not merely as truths we personally hold, but as truths that Jesus personally held, and therefore which all personally must hold, or they are in rebellion against God? Isn't that what Christian preaching is, viewed from one angle: heralding King Jesus' personal beliefs, in the confidence that He is truth (John 14:6), and His words (= personal beliefs) are therefore non-negotiably true and binding (John 8:40; 18:37)? It seems to me that the Christian stance affirms the transcendence and binding nature of God's personal beliefs, expressed in His Word, as over and against all human beliefs (Proverbs 30:1-6).
I personally am looking forward to dialogging with Dan about this and more.
Software! In my recent review of Logos, some commenters brought up e-Sword, which I've often recommended. Christian Computing Magazine has put up a short review both of e-Sword, and of Zondervan's engine Pradis (h-t mgvh).
Ventriloquism? Can a ventriloquist do anything fresh? Turns out... yes! If you weather that well, check out the longer (and funnier Letterman version. (I tried to find some good Sr. Wences footage, but couldn't — apart from a brief documentary in Spanish with a lot of interviews and little performance footage.)
That's all for now.
19 November 2007
few weeks ago, I made a post about the failure of the Willow Creek strategy, in which I pointed out some of the ironies surrounding this videotaped admission from Bill Hybels.
Consider, for example, that various critics of the Willow-Creek model have been saying these things for two decades:
- Polling people to find out what they want and then giving it to them is an unbiblical approach to church growth (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
- The so-called seeker-sensitive strategy actually stints discipleship.
- It engenders worldliness and false conversions.
- In fact, it's filling the church with people who think they are Christians but have no basis for that confidence because they have little or no true understanding of basic gospel truthand no appetite for studying God's Word on their own.
That's the main irony I'm talking about.
Here's another one: Willow Creek's reflexive response was to do some more research by polling, and let that determine how they would respond to the collective failure of their many programs. The result is a slick new website, book, and yet another multi-phased program, which Willow Creek is now exporting to the same churches that followed the originalnow failedstrategy. And, of course, it all starts with a shiny set of new tools to make it easy for those churches to conduct their own opinion polls.
Anyway, I recommend you listen to Todd Friel's first-hour broadcast on Way of the Master Radio from 1 November. He did a much more thorough job than I did analyzing the Hybels's mea culpa video, and Todd had some excellent exhortations for all of us, as always.
Now (in matters only tangentially related to that) last week, right here at PyroManiacs, Mark "Marko" Oestreicher, president of Youth Specialties, paid a visit to our meta to lodge a (very polite and fairly mild) complaint about my insinuation that his company had a major role in derailing youth ministry, starting some three decades ago or so. Many of you will recall that my chief complaint was about the fun 'n' games approach to youth "ministry," where activities just-for-fun replace biblical teaching as The Main Thing. I referred to this as "the 'Youth Specialties' approach to student ministry."
You can read that comment-thread to see my reply to Marko. Just do a search on that page for his name.
But I've been looking for the apology Marko referred to. He might have been speaking of a famous article written by the late Mike Yaconelli: "The Failure of Youth Ministry" (which was later toned down with this apology). I don't think he was speaking of the infamous skit fiasco from earlier this year, in which both Marko and the Skit Guys admitted that one particular bit of fun 'n' games went too far.
Then I found this page of articles about youth ministry, mostly rants by Yaconelli. He had a few good things to say and a lot of really bad ideas. His discomfort with the direction of modern student ministry was evident in several articles. But I couldn't find the place where he specifically acknowledged and repented of the enormous role he and YS had played in bringing the problem about in the first place.
In fact, here's what disturbs me most about both Willow Creek's recent admission and Marko's tacit acknowledgement that YS did indeed have something to repent of: In neither case do we see any of the fruits of real repentance.
Instead of reemphasizing the centrality of Scripture in what we teach our young people, Youth Specialties took a hard turn toward the leftward extreme of the Emergent spectrum. They now publish Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, Spencer Burke, and several other similarly unorthodox authors you probably haven't even heard of yet. And that has been in addition to (not instead of) the fun 'n' games manuals they originally built the company on. Oh, and don't forget their brand-new study guide and "devotional" based on the hit movie, Evan Almighty.
All Willow Creek's rhetoric about their so-called "Wake-up Call" likewise seems only to signal a deliberate, headlong Shift in a self-consciously postmodern direction. It is clearly not going to mean a turn toward a more biblical philosophy of ministry.
I do think Bill Hybels's admission that his strategy has failed needs to be taken at face value. I believe it signals the beginning of the end for the seeker-sensitive approach that has dominated the evangelical movement for more than twenty years. But I'm also convinced that what's coming next will be even worse.
In fact, if you miss nothing else in all the current popular re-imaginings of various ministry styles, please don't fail to notice the absence of any stress on biblical principles of ministry. Coming in the midst of all these confessions of seeker-sensitivity's heedless, reckless failure, that dark silence is noteworthy. It belies the pretense of candor in all these mea culpas. I think it is a harbinger of some truly evil things on the horizon.
18 November 2007
eep praying for Frank Turk's child, whose allergic reaction didn't significantly improve with the first round of treatment. (I noticed Frankwho is obsessive about not exposing his family to Internet miscreantsdidn't mention the child's name, age, and current location, so I won't either.) But the child, who is very young, was taken to the emergency room this morning and given fluids and medication by IV for two hourswhich had no perceptible effect.
Doctors nevertheless say the situation is stable; it is an allergic reaction to antibiotics (prescribed for a bad case of strep throat); and while there will be several days of of itching and splotchy skin; the doctors have prescribed more medication for those symptoms and told Mom and Dad to keep close watch.
So keep praying.
On a similar but entirely unrelated note, Darlene received word via e-mail yesterday that our good friend Libbie (the English Muffin) was also hospitalized this weekend, likewise because of a negative reaction to some prescription meds. Please pray for Libbie and also for her husband. They have several small children, so pray that Libbie's recovery will be quick and complete. The latest report we heard was very encouraging. We'll try to post more news when it's available.
But keep praying anyway.
posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Form of Sound Words," a message delivered Sunday morning, 11 May 1856, at the New Park Street Chapel, Southwark. The entire sermon is filled with insight, as usual. But Spurgeon's remark in the penultimate paragraph of this excerpt is an especially fitting analysis for our timesperhaps more true today than when he first spoke it.
f you want to hold fast the truth, seek to get an understanding of it. A man cannot hold a thing fast, unless he has a good understanding of it. I never want you to have the faith of the collier who was asked what he believed; he said he believed what the Church believed. "Well, but what does the Church believe?" He said the Church believed what he believed, and he believed what the Church believed, and so it went all the way round.
We do not want you to have that faith. It may be a very pertinacious faith, a very obstinate faith, but it is a very foolish faith. We want you to understand things, to get a true knowledge of them.
The reason why men forsake truth for error is, that they have not really understood that truth, in nine cases out of ten they have not embraced it with enlightened minds.
Let me exhort you, parents as much as lieth in you, to give your children sound instruction in the great doctrines of the gospel of Christ. I believe that what Irving once said is a great truth. He said, "In these modern times you boast and glory, and you think yourselves to be in a high and noble condition, because you have your Sabbath-schools and British-schools, and all kinds of schools for teaching youth. I tell you," he said, "that philanthropic and great as these are they are the ensigns of your disgrace; they show that your land is not a land where parents teach their children at home. They show you there is a want of parental instruction; and though they be blessed things, these Sabbath-schools, they are indications of something wrong, for if we all taught our children there would be no need of strangers to say to our children 'Know the Lord.'"
I trust you will never give up that excellent puritanical habit of catechising your children at home. Any father or mother who entirely gives up a child to the teaching of another has made a mistake. There is no teacher who wishes to absolve a parent from what he ought to do himself! He is an assistant, but he was never intended to be a substitute. Teach your children; bring up your old catechisms again, for they are after all blessed means of instruction, and the next generation shall outstrip those that have gone before it, for the reason why many of you are weak in the faith is this, you did not receive instruction in your youth in the great things of the gospel of Christ. If you had, you would have been so grounded, and settled, and firm in the faith, that nothing could by any means have moved you.
I beseech you, then, understand truth, and then you will be more likely to hold fast by it.
17 November 2007
I don't want people posting prayers in the meta or anything, but my wife and kids went travelling this weekend (I stayed home to watch the bookstore and teach sunday school), and on the way to where they were going one of my kids started complaining about being itchy all over. That child has been fighting strep for about 3 weeks, and the antibiotics haven't licked it yet, but skin bumps after strep can be indicative of something worse.
Since you can't give that child a medical exam, restrain yourself from making diagnoses in the meta. My wife is seeking medical help; I'm seeking prayer help. Please pray for safe travel and for God to bring healing to my child.
It's times like that that we all feel sorta small. I'm glad we have a big God.
16 November 2007
Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893-1957) was the daughter of an Anglican pastor. Born at Oxford while her father was headmaster and chaplain of Christ Church Cathedral school there, she grew up in Cambridgeshire (the heart of Spurgeon country) and spent her college years at Oxford. (She was, as a matter of fact, one of the first women to earn a degree from Oxford.) In most ways she seemed an unlikely person to be an inflential lay theologian. Her main claim to fame was as a mystery writer and playwright. She had a turbulent romantic life and gave birth to a son out of wedlock (whose birth she kept secret even from her parents).
Sayers nevertheless kept the faith, holding devoutly to the same conservative Anglican perspective her father held. She was a friend of both C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams and thus a contemporary of the Inklings (but being a woman she was excluded from their get-togethers). Never one to shy away from controversy, Sayers had a gift for defending her views with grace and good humor. That quality is evident in this piece, which is as relevant today as is was when it was first published, posthumously, in The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement (London: Gollancz, 1963).
fficial Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrinedull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of manand the dogma is the drama.
That drama is summarized quite clearly in the creeds of the Church, and if we think it dull it is because we either have never really read those amazing documents or have recited them so often and so mechanically as to have lost all sense of their meaning. The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: "What think ye of Christ?" (Matthew 22:42). Before we adopt any of the unofficial solutions (some of which are indeed excessively dull)before we dismiss Christ as a myth, an idealist demagogue, a liar, or a lunaticit will do no harm to find out what the creeds really say about him.
What does the Church think of Christ?
The Church's answer is categorical and uncompromising and it is this: That Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God "by whom all things were made." His body and brain were those of a common man; his personality was the personality of God, so far as that personality could be expressed in human terms. He was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be "like God"; he was God.
Now, this is not just a pious commonplace; it is not commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that, for whatever reason, God chose to make man as he islimited and suffering and subject to sorrows and deathhe [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace, and thought it was worthwhile.
Christianity is, of course, not the only religion that has found the best explanation of human life in the idea of an incarnate and suffering god. The Egyptian Osiris died and rose again; Aeschylus in his play, The Eumenides, reconciled man to God by the theory of a suffering Zeus. But in most theologies, the god is supposed to have suffered and died in some remote and mythical period of prehistory. The Christian story, on the other hand, starts off briskly in St. Matthew's account with a place and a date: "When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King." St. Luke, still more practically and prosaically, pins the thing down by a reference to a piece of government finance. God, he says, was made man in the year when Caesar Augustus was taking a census in connection with a scheme of taxation. Similarly, we might date an event by saying that it took place in the year that Great Britain went off the gold standard. About thirty-three years later (we are informed), God was executed, for being a political nuisance, "under Pontius Pilate"much as we might say, "when Mr. Johnson-Hicks was Home Secretary." It is as definite and concrete as all that.
Possibly we might prefer not to take this tale too seriouslythere are disquieting points about it. Here we had a man of divine character walking and talking among usand what did we find to do with him? The common people, indeed, "heard him gladly"; but our leading authorities in church and state considered that he talked too much and uttered too many disconcerting truths. So we bribed one of his friends to hand him over quietly to the police, and we tried him on a rather vague charge of creating a disturbance, and had him publicly flogged and hanged on the common gallows, "thanking God we were rid of a knave." All this was not very creditable to us, even if he was (as many people thought and think) only a harmless, crazy preacher. But if the Church is right about him, it was more discreditable still, for the man we hanged was God Almighty. So that is the outline of the official storythe tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dullthis terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.
If this is dull, then what, in Heaven's name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a boreon the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him "meek and mild," and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.
True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as "that fox"; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a "gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners"; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people's pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.
He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had "a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly," and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness.
"And the third day he rose again." What are we to make of this? One thing is certain: if he were God and nothing else, his immortality means nothing to us; if he was man and no more, his death is no more important than yours or mine. But if he really was both God and man, then when the man Jesus died, God died too; and when the God Jesus rose from the dead, man rose too, because they were one and the same person. The Church binds us to no theory about the exact composition of Christ's resurrection body. A body of some kind there had to be, since man cannot perceive the Infinite otherwise than in terms of space and time. It may have been made from the same elements as the body that disappeared so strangely from the guarded tomb, but it was not that old, limited mortal body, though it was recognizably like it. In any case, those who saw the risen Christ remained persuaded that life was worth living and death a trivialityan attitude curiously unlike that of the modern defeatist, who is firmly persuaded that life is a disaster and death (rather inconsistently) a major catastrophe.
Now, nobody is compelled to believe a single word of this remarkable story. God (says the Church) has created us perfectly free to disbelieve in him as much as we choose. If we do disbelieve, then he and we must take the consequences in a world ruled by cause and effect. The Church says further, that man did, in fact, disbelieve, and that God did, in fact, take the consequences. At the same, if we are going to disbelieve a thing, it seems on the whole to be desirable that we should first find out what, exactly, we are disbelieving. Very well, then: "The right faith is, that we believe that Jesus Christ is God and man, perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Who, although he be God and man, yet is he not two, but one Christ." There is the essential doctrine, of which the whole elaborate structure of Christian faith and morals is only the logical consequence.
Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all. That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God, find him a better man than himself, is an astonishing drama indeed. Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.
Perhaps the drama is played out now, and Jesus is safely dead and buried. Perhaps. It is ironical and entertaining to consider that at least once in the world's history those words might have been spoken with complete conviction, and that was upon the eve of the Resurrection.