07 April 2008

Paul and Conversation

Another in our series on Acts 17
by Phil Johnson

aul declared the truth in the Areopagus without apology, without undue respect for their academic stature, and without artificial deference to their points of view. He preached the gospel; he did not sponsor a colloquium about it. In the synagogue and marketplace of Athens, Paul had engaged in discussions and debates about the gospel (Acts 17:17), but these were no doubt the typical sort of give-and-take every open-air evangelist would have with hecklers, inquisitive people, people under conviction, and people who are simply curious. Paul would have answered any questions or objections that came to him. It is inconceivable that he might have been holding round-table discussions with the goal of finding "common ground" and winning Athenians with persuasive words of human wisdom.

Especially now that he had his foot in the door and an audience with the Areopagus, he wasn't going to say, "Let's talk about this. I'm interested in learning more about your approach to the spiritual disciplines and your ideas about ethics. And tell me what you guys think about the God of Abraham, and maybe we can learn from one another."

Instead, he homes in on the very heart of what he wants them to know. He is preaching here, not inviting a conversation. Here's the start of his sermon: "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (vv. 24-27).

Notice: this is a simple declaration of truth, not an offer to exchange ideas. He starts with the basic principles of theology proper. He declares that God is creator ("God . . . made the world and everything in it"). That's the essential starting place of all biblical truth. He affirms the authority of God ("He is Lord of heaven and earth.") He affirms the spirituality of God to these materialistic philosophers ("[He] does not dwell in temples made with hands"). And he affirms the sufficiency of God, His sovereignty, His transcendence, His imminence, and His power as the giver and sustainer of all life. It's a remarkable course in theology proper in a very brief economy of words. And all of it was flatly contradictory to what these philosophers believed.

But there's no give-and-take exchange of opinions. Paul does not act deferential in the presence of these great minds. He does not assume a false humility and pretend he's just a truth seeker on his own spiritual journey looking for companions along the way. He declares the truth of God to them with authority and conviction. He does not use the conversational style and subdued demeanor most people today think we need to use so that we're not thought arrogant.

Paul wasn't arrogant, because he was declaring infallible truth God had revealed. He was not merely floating an opinion of his own for the philosophers to kick around. And he used an appropriate method: a sermon, not a conversation.

Phil's signature

77 comments:

ChosenClay said...

Preaching, not discourse!

I like that!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ"Notice: this is a simple declaration of truth, not an offer to exchange ideas. He starts with the basic principles of theology proper. ... And all of it was flatly contradictory to what these philosophers believed.

But there's no give-and-take exchange of opinions. Paul does not act deferential in the presence of these great minds. He does not assume a false humility and pretend he's just a truth seeker on his own spiritual journey looking for companions along the way. He declares the truth of God to them with authority and conviction. He does not use the conversational style and subdued demeanor most people today think we need to use so that we're not thought arrogant."

Whoa. Does this post about Paul's Scriptural example suggest that Paul's presentation of the Gospel is context-independent??!!? That it transcends the cultural context and is potentially applicable to all cultures everywhere, all peoples, and at all times??!

No way! Surely, this postmodern emerging method that PJ writes about builds up and edifies the Body and presents the Gospel of Christ in a winsome way: "He does not assume a false humility and pretend he's just a truth seeker on his own spiritual journey looking for companions along the way."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Ooops. I meant to write that the postmodern emerging method builds up and edifies the Body and presents the Gospel of Christ in a winsome way by assuming a false humility and pretending [or maybe they're not pretending!] that they're just a truth seeker on their own spiritual journey looking for companions along the way."

C'mon PJ. Surely the triune God would bless this postmodern emerging Gospel presentation as much as Paul's presentation. You're being too rigid and inflexible PJ.

(Although there's no way of verifying the results) Let's try an ecclesiastical experiment PJ. You try your historic Gospel context-independent methods based on Paul's example in Scripture and we liberal postmodern emergers who are culturally and contextualizationally sensitive and who respect the other person and his/her worldviews and who also don't possess the same arrogant epistemic certainty that you do about biblical truth-claims.... well let's just see which method is more effective in winning this generation of folks over to Christ. Which method will generate more true and humble disciples of Christ: the historic way or the liberal postmodern emerging way? Which method will God bless more?

(satire off...)

Andrew Jones said...

phil, its true that Paul preached a sermon, as was contextually and culturally appropriate in that place and among those people.

I also have preached hundreds of times in the open air just like this. There are sometimes occasions for it but less and less in our western world. I wonder how many of your readers venture out into marketplaces of ideas like Mars Hill to do this.

Most times I find evangelism happens in coffee shops and living rooms and over meals and a sermon is not always appropriate. Sometimes poetry or art works. Sometimes dialogue and discussion. Depends on the context.

the invitation to a monologue for a silent audience is not a common thing and i would hope we are all prepared for a variety of methods of sharing the gospel, especially the methods that get more air-play.

John said...

I'm not sure that the point of this post was "where" Paul was preaching, but the authority with which he preached.

It's fine to have a conversation in a coffee house. A conversation from a pulpit, however, would be an "abomination." (At least that's what Martyn LLoyd-Jones would call it.)

Andrew Jones said...

pulpits are for churches. where are the pulpits in the marketplaces?

are you suggesting paul talking to pagans in the marketplace is a model not for evangelization but rather for teaching christians in a worship setting?

isnt that a big leap without some explanation?

DJP said...

Andrew, is Phil talking more about form (monologue vs. dialogue), or voice (faux-epistemological humility vs. declaration)?

Is Paul even at the Areopagus because he went about in dialogue, saying, "We've all had it wrong all these years... I'm just as confused as you... maybe together we can link hands and grope in the darkness"?

In fact, his observers describe him as a καταγγελεὺς (katangeleus) in v. 18. That's a word with a sense of pronouncement, authoritative declaration; not merely a chatty, let's-share conversationalist.

Daryl said...

Seems to me the point is, marketplace or coffee shop, while there is a time for questions and answers, a kind of get-to-know-you thing, there is a time where the give and take has to stop and the truth proclaimed.

Clearly, while conversation is important, ultimately the truth is delivered by the foolishness of preaching, whether that be via pulpit (in church or in the public square) or whether it be one on one. As is "That's all very interesting John, but this is how it really is..."

Unless we are ready to "tell it like it is" at some point, rather than discussing,ad nauseum, the issue of God and the gospel (and all the possible variants in the world), how can the gospel be proclaimed?
I would venture to say that a significant part of the reason people hate Jesus (and they do, all those the Father is not or has not yet called) is that he tells us that there is no other way and (significantly to those who would suggest that one can be saved by Christ without knowing it or him) no other NAME by which we must be saved.
By nature, people (us included)don't like exclusive claims and it's only when the conversation becomes essentially one sided, that these claims can be made.

donsands said...

Excellent teaching on this passage of Scripture.

We need to be bold in our proclamation of the truth. Whether in church, the market, coffe house, work place, McDonald's, or wherever we may be asked what is our hope, and when anyone longs to hear about the salvation that we have.

Jesus Christ is my hope, and He's the only hope for a soul, that is under God's wrath.
He died on a Cross for the sins of the world, and He rose from the dead. And there is no other name under heaven wherby a soul can be saved.

steve said...

Andrew Jones wrote: phil, its true that Paul preached a sermon, as was contextually and culturally appropriate in that place and among those people.

Andrew, your statement implies that if it had NOT been contextually and culturally appropriate for Paul to preach a sermon, then he would NOT have done so.

It also implies that there are situations today in which it is NOT contextually and culturally appropriate to make an authoritative declaration of the gospel truth to unbelievers.

In both cases, you've placed the believer--and the declaration of God's truth--in subjection to the dictates of what is contextually and culturally appropriate.

Yet we don't see the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, or the apostles subjecting themselves in such a manner. They proclaimed the truth unapologetically and unashamedly, speaking the truth in love. They didn't shave the hard edges off God's truth for fear of offending unbelievers.

You say you agree with Phil that Paul preached a sermon. By extension, do you also agree with Phil's foundational contention that began this series on Acts 17 in the first place?

Mike Riccardi said...

Paul wasn't arrogant, because he was declaring infallible truth God had revealed. He was not merely floating an opinion of his own for the philosophers to kick around.

Something struck me as I read this. It makes sense that the emerging folks think that anyone who declares anything to be true is arrogant. Because it seems that a foundational tenet of their epistemology or philosophy (or whatever) is that we can't know what God said/says, so anything anyone (including them) says is merely "floating an opinion."

So really, it all goes back to the point that God really hasn't revealed infallible truth. Look at that! They actually do "land the plane there."

Mike Riccardi said...

...and a sermon is not always appropriate.

While I'd like to refrain from offering an opinion pro or con, I'd like to ask one thing.

Says who?

agonizomai said...

This is bang on. We are witnesses before we are anything else. Witnesses testify to the facts of which they have personal knowledge. Witnesses are not judges or attorneys. They simply testify to what they know.

The form does not have to be formal preaching. A woman sharing the gospel over coffee with a neighbour is still declaring the truth of the gospel - witnessing to the acts of God in Jesus Christ.

But in its presentation, the gospel is to be declared, not argued. In its defense, the truth that was declared is what is defended. And the truth is never argued about, but argued for.

(I know, I know - a preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with.)

DJP said...

Any post that brings agonizomai out is a good post.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I appreciate Andrew's response here, about different situations calling for different ways of communicating (e.g., private conversation v. sermon, etc). But I don't think Phil would disagree. I don't think Phil in Starbucks would "sound" like Phil at the Shepherd's Conference. Yet, the content of what he said would not be altered.

And isn't that the real point? The gist of these messages is that the CONTENT is being changed by pomo dynamics, and whether that comes out in a sermon or a coffee house, it's wrong. And we can be certain it's wrong.

steve said...

(I know, I know - a preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with.)

Ms. Thistlebottom may have taught that in junior high English, but top grammarians disagree. No less than HW Fowler, in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, comments on the silliness of that rule on pages 473-74 (in the 1965 edition). The book was originally published in 1926.

The Doulos said...

agonizomai: We are witnesses before we are anything else. Witnesses testify to the facts of which they have personal knowledge. Witnesses are not judges or attorneys. They simply testify to what they know.

Yes! Regardless of the "context" that we happen to be in, whether it is a modern-day Areopagus or Starbucks or the break room at work, we are merely witnesses. We testify to what we know to be true. How we testify may vary, but we nonetheless are first and foremost proclaimers. testifying confidently about what we know to be true, with passion and conviction, is not arrogance, but rather a result of our settled confidence in the Message and the Messenger.

Mike Riccardi said...

(I know, I know - a preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with.)

Not only did you end a sentence with a preposition, agonizomai, you ended your post with a proposition. They'll let you slide for the preposition. But speaking in propositions is punishable by death.

The Doulos said...

andrew jones: Most times I find evangelism happens in coffee shops and living rooms and over meals and a sermon is not always appropriate.

Agree in principle with this. A "sermon" may not be appropriate. But a unilateral procalamation of the propositional truth of the Gospel is always appropriate. The resulting objections, questions, etc may then need to be answered, defended, etc. But we can never forget that the Gospel itself is a declaration of what God has done, and it always must be communicated in those terms. Anything less is simply a sharing and debating of opinions.

agonizomai said...

Steve: I am humbled by the corrections and don't know what I was thinking about. From now on, prepositions are what I will try to end all my sentence with.

But I can see that you never been the beneficiary of one of Mrs. Thislebottom's knuckle raps, which is what the edge of her ruler was for.

Now back the real topic before the Pyros get cheesed off.

DJP said...

Hm; would "off" there be a preposition, or an adverb?

agonizomai said...

DJP: Yes.

The Doulos said...

Don't you just hate prepositional truth claims? So arrogant...

SolaMeanie said...

Pyros,

Please do not use terms such as "authoritative declaration!" Think about the inherent offensiveness of the very idea that Scripture just might have some declarative authority about it. I've got a new perspective on Paul. The poor old chap has been so misunderstood all of these years. He was actually being tongue-in-cheek in everything he said.

In fact, I have it on good authority (ooops, I mean suggestion) that Saul of Tarsus and Timothy Leary would have gotten along great.

Mike Riccardi said...

Hm; would "off" there be a preposition, or an adverb?

Traditional, prescriptive grammar would call that a particle.

(1) John ran up a big hill.
(2) John ran up a big bill.

"Up" is a preposition in (1), but a particle in (2).

Daryl said...

Is it possible (I know it is for me...) that the whole reason for the whole conversation vs. declaration thingy come as a direct result of our wanting to be liked?

Of course it is!!!

People, all people, like conversation and dialogue. We like to be believed or at least to have our opinions considered and to have them matter in the grand scheme of things.

What we don't like is to be told...anything...especially if in the telling, either implicitly or explicitly our opinions are rejected out-right.

Rick Frueh said...

But doen't this post point out the futility of these Larry King round tables in which John MacArthur participates? I personally feel it diminishes the truth by presenting all points of view as conversationally equal and especially when offered among all kinds of different religions and convoluted versions of Christianity.

MacArthur is eloquent and Biblical in his part of the spiritually expansive discourse, but doesn't the format run counter to what Phil is suggesting Paul is doing? Even though MacArthur doesn't "entertain" the aberrant points of view, the moderator and the rest seem to fill that vacuum and in reality present an acceptable kaleidoscope of opinions about truth for the consumption of the viewing public?

(Just asking from an Arminain who likes most of MacArthur's teachings except the part about...well, you know) :)

Daryl said...

Rick,

Moy thoughts on that would be that as long as Dr. MacArthur doesn't entertain the other opinions as possible options then yes, it's a good thing.
The minute Joel Osteen says he doesn't want to be dogmatic 'cause everybody has a pice of the truth...well, you know...he's off the apple cart and under the wheels.

DJP said...

Well, Rick, it highlights what I was saying earlier in the thread; whether that's Phil's perspective, he can say later.

But it is a good illustration of what I, at least, was saying. The format is not monological; but Mc doesn't speak with a deliberative or hesitant voice. He speaks in absolute terms where the Word is absolute. It flushes out his Gospel opponents very effectively.

I for my part have never yet seen him in that format without being glad that he was there to represent God's viewpoint, rather than allowing it (as usual) to lose by default.

Mike Riccardi said...

Rick,

I hear ya. I don't particularly think it's the best thing to do. Martyn Lloyd-Jones repudiated doing things like that as an abomination in his book "Preaching and Preachers," for reasons articulated similarly to the ones you've given.

At the same time, though, I, like you, extremely enjoy MacArthur's contributions on things like that. And we have to ask ourselves... would it be better if he wasn't there? I mean if it's not MacArthur, it's Rick Warren, or Doug Pagitt, or Joel Osteen speaking for Christianity. I guess I see it as "giving a defense" to those who ask. They say, "We want the conservative Christian perspective on this," and MacArthur gives it to them.

As MLJ says, the truth of Scripture isn't to be thrown around and circulated as just one of many ideas or viewpoints and then judged to be legitimate or illegitimate as people see fit. It is to be declared and believed. We are commanded to declare it and we are commanded to believe it.

But far worse if something that isn't the truth of Scripture is thought to be the truth of Scripture and then thrown around and circulated like one of many ideas to be judged by men... with God's name on it, Him being nowhere in sight.

So... I see the argument both ways. I understand your concern, but I also sympathize greatly with the advantages.

Rick Frueh said...

Daryl - from Phil's own post "But there's no give-and-take exchange of opinions."

MacArthur (or any orthodox participant) is forthright and Biblical, but the format is almost deceptively amiable. A one on one would be much more preferable to this round table, and even in Paul's discussions it was usually his views against all the rest (which were sometimes semi-unified).

In the Larry King round table it is constructed and moderated by an unbeliever and if you listen closely Mr. King attempts to soften any uncomfortable perspectives by either his own soothing transitive sentences or by immediately going to somelike Father Manning to help soften any sharp edged truth.

I just feel although there are some differences to Paul's circumstances, the television round table with idolaters and heretics sometimes confuses and dilutes more than it helps, especially when dispursed globally. And after all, that kind of round table sharing is a caricature of the emergent dicussion, no?

agonizomai said...

Daryl: I agree. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be liked. That's human. What is wrong is people wanting to be liked for themselves more than they want people to know and love God.

And since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of Christ (or the word) the Word must come first, above all else.

That's part of what Jesus was referring to when he called on us to "hate" our father and mother and even our own selves when it comes to our natural propensity for putting ourselves before God.

And whenever the "conversation" turns on our acceptance rather than on the (foolishness of the) declaration by which the Holy Spirit renders Christ beautiful to those who are made receptive through it, then we have put ashes for beauty.

It's that old tendency of postmodern/emergent to disbelieve the means that God has ordained because they don't quite trust them that seems to get up the Pyro's noses like marbles in playschool. Mine, too.

SolaMeanie said...

I love the way the late Dr. Walter Martin (affectionately known as "Uncle Wally" by those of us in the apologetics community) used to do things in broadcast settings.

He was invited onto TBN once to discuss cults, and before going on, Tammy Faye warned him not to use certain terminology in discussing Mormons etc, because it was "offensive." Dr. Martin said that he realized what he had to do, with full knowledge that he wouldn't be invited back. So he went on and proceeded to call Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses just what they are -- cultists. And then explained why.

So much for Kumbayah.

SolaMeanie said...

Oops. Not TBN. It was the Bakkers' "PTL" program.

Not that there would have been a different outcome of course.

Daryl said...

Aginizomai

"There's nothing wrong with wanting to be liked. That's human. What is wrong is people wanting to be liked for themselves more than they want people to know and love God."

Well said. Exactly the point.


Rick,

I hear what you're saying and I agree to a point. I agree that the format isn't ideal and that the host and participants leave a lot to be desired. That said, what I think is important to note, is that Dr. MacArthur doesn't participate in that same fashion as the others. His presentation is distinct and uncompromised.

In the same way, surely the pagan in the Acropolis who spoke after Paul weren't as uncompromised as he, but that doesn't make any difference as to the rightness of his presentation.

While we can't do anything about the unbeliever's response, I think the issue is the believers presentation, and Dr. MacArthur gets it right as far as I can tell.

Rick Frueh said...

Daryl - would you be willing to present the gospel and allow a secular medium to place it in the context of their choosing? That is exactly what happens on these shows, MacArthur's presentations are indeed uncompromised when they come from his lips, but when mixed with the moderator's reassuring views and the added ingredients of all the rest of the deceptive offerings, you are left with a truth amalgam except to the already enlightened.

I understand MacArthur's and other's motives but I still a reflection of what this post suggests was not Paul's method.

Mike Riccardi said...

Continuing on the heels of that... I often feel like I just want to stand up in my classes (especially whenever any sort of philosophy is presented), and just preach the Gospel to everyone. My spirit is "provoked within me" when I see the intellectual and spiritual idols that are rampant in my northeast, rank-liberal university... and all I want to do is proclaim the truth.

Then I have this thought that doing something like that would be out of place, hijacking a man or woman's classroom, etc. But I leave wondering if it's really tact or cowardice. What do you guys think about this? When related topics are brought up, say, in an ethics class, is it right for me to say, "Well, the problem is we're starting in the wrong place. The Holy God of the Bible makes claim on your life..." and then take off?

Daryl said...

Rick,

"would you be willing to present the gospel and allow a secular medium to place it in the context of their choosing?"

Probably yes. Isn't that what Paul did? The pagans had a place pretty much dedicated to the presentation of differing ideas (so does Larry King) so Paul took the opportunity given, by the pagans, in a place and format of their choosing, and presented the unvarnished truth.
I would see the comments of the on-lookers as recorded by Luke, to be similar to the response by the round-table participants on Larry King. Some laughed it off, some wanted to hear more.
I see that happening to D.r MacArthur, some (many) of the guests blow him off, Larry King appears to want more (witness the numerous Christian guests and how he pushes the waffly ones to say something real).
Isn't that what giving an answer is all about? Allowing the pagans to ask the question when angd how they want, and then giving them the straight goods?

Mike,

That's a great question. Perhaps the way to take it is to point out the inconsistencies and wait for the "well then how would you explain it since you think this idea makes no sense."
Maybe that's wishful thinking, maybe that wouldn't happen. But maybe you'd get some of the "we'd like to hear more of this" that Paul got.

DJP said...

(I'm starting to wonder whether my microphone is working.)

Let's try re-wording what I've been saying.

I think Larry King is a very close analogy to what Paul did at the Areopagus.

Paul stood up right in the middle of the competition, with the pagan shrines all around, before pagan philosophers with very mixed motives — the predominant one being idle curiosity as to the novelty of his message.

And in that context, he gave them more than they bargained for.

To my mind, that's pretty much exactly what Mac does on Larry King.

Rick Frueh said...

What Paul did was nowhere near the truth toss up in these round tables. Just the one hour format relegates each contribution to a paultry few seconds, almost not enough to recite verses 22 thru 31in Acts 17. I also believe the word "disputed" in verse 17 indictes more than an equal presentation.

And in verse 21 we have the definition of a round table discussion, "they spent their time in nothing else but either to tell, or to hear some new thing". I personally believe putting someone on television to present the gospel for one hour is infintely more effective than having him provide another perspective in what is orchestrated to be hyper-ecumenical.

Rick Frueh said...

And I mean no personal criticism of Dr. MacArthur, I just believe that ormat in no way mirrors what Paul was doing either in time, confrontaion, or even the reaction of the audience.

Daryl said...

Rick,

I think the trouble we're having in comparing the Areopagus to Larry King is that on Larry King we get to hear the dissenting voices, Luke doesn't record those.
It seems to me that, given the Greeks penchant for discussing things over and over, surely there were dissenting voices, but Lukes account reinforces to us that those voices are irrelevant.

Acts 17 :21 tells us:

"Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new."

Sounds like Larry King to me...

At the least, the verses leading up to the sermon in Athens describe the Athenian version of Larry King (in which Paul took part) and the result was the sermon on the Areopagus. I have to believe (given that the Word never returns void) that there are people who give Dr. MacArthur a hearing because of what they've heard on Larry King.

Clearly, in this case, Paul was involved both in the discussion period and the sermon, the one leading to the other. The trouble comes these days (and Spurgeon's too evidently) when Christians are content with the discussion and never get to the proclamation.
Paul did both.

The Spokesman said...

When it comes to “cultural-context” there are only two categories: (1) people who have the Scriptures, and (2) people who don’t.

With people who have the Scriptures you “reason” with them from the Scriptures. With people who don’t have the Scriptures you start with their ignorance of God and the witness of God in creation showing the greatness of God, the goodness of God, the government of God, and the grace of God.

Context never determines content; it only determines the starting point for the delivery of the content.

The Bible reveals that we are not responsible for the packaging of the Gospel – we are responsible to deliver it – and we are either delivering it to people who are near (those who have the Scriptures) or to those who are far off (those who don’t have the Scriptures).

To package the message by wrapping it in current cultural garb is to contaminate and corrupt the message – we are never to do that! We just deliver it starting where people are in proximity to it.

In his introduction (verses 22-23), Paul had contact without contamination; connection without infection! He connected in gentleness and reverence with their false assumptions and faulty presuppositions that were raised up against the knowledge of God (“Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects”), providing empirical evidence (“for while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship”), highlighting the most convicting piece of evidence (“I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD’), for the purpose of destroying their false assumptions and faulty presuppositions about God (“Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you”).

Paul indicted his hearers (the elite of Athens) as ignorant! Now that’s arrogant – unless he was speaking the truth!

Phil: Paul wasn't arrogant, because he was declaring infallible truth God had revealed.

Grace and peace,
Olan

SolaMommy said...

"But there's no give-and-take exchange of opinions. Paul does not act deferential in the presence of these great minds. He does not assume a false humility and pretend he's just a truth seeker on his own spiritual journey looking for companions along the way. He declares the truth of God to them with authority and conviction. He does not use the conversational style and subdued demeanor most people today think we need to use so that we're not thought arrogant."

AMEN.

agonizomai said...

Rick Frueh: I personally believe putting someone on television to present the gospel for one hour is infintely more effective than having him provide another perspective in what is orchestrated to be hyper-ecumenical.

But then, isn't the idea of presenting the gospel to declare Christ and how God was in Him reconciling the world to Himself. Isn't that what JM does on Larry King?

For the longest time when watching JM on LKL I questioned the utility of his being there at all. Then I understood that utility isn't the issue. Declaration is. JM isn't responsible for who hears or who listens or for how long, but for being salt and light in one of the deepest, darkest holes on earth (religious philosphy discussion on LKL). When I see Depak Chopra hissing his sibilant poison (a tautolgy, Mike and Steve, for which I apologize) for millions to hear I rejoice that God has raised up somebody who is prepared to look foolish and sound "unloving" and "intolerant" so that light might shine in darkness. God is the One who renders the truth spoken faithfully (even if in small bites) effectual. Jm knows that.

Jm isn't necessarily there to confute the panel, but to shine light into the world. JM isn't Jesus Christ, but the same Christ that came into the world and appeared to be an abject faiulure, rejected and abandoned - his message ignored and cast away - that same Christ is in JM doing the same thing. So why should we expect the results or the means to look any different?

Preaching Christ in a hyper-ecumenical environment like the LKL panel is not for everyone. It's for those God calls and equips. But ought the gospel not to be preached in the deepest, darkets, most difficult places? Isn't that where we see that the transcendent power belongs to God, and not to the earthen vessel that simply contains the treasure?

There may be better opportunites for Jm to more clearly articulate the entire gospel - which is why he has a pulpit, ineternet and radio ministry. And he's not doing LKl instead of, but on top of all that. So I hear you on the comparative effectiveness; I just think that's not the issue. And I hear you on the comparison between Pauls' methodology and JM's. I just don't think you're looking at the whole picture.

Johnny Dialectic said...

"...hissing his sibilant poison..."

Man, that's good. A pleasure to read.

Yes, sound bite city is not the ideal place. I feel this way whenever Dennis Prager is on one of these shows. He is best when he can lay a foundation, expand upon it, and interact intelligently. On these shows you have to compete with all the chatterboxes.

But I like Agonizomai's point, that it's better to have the Gospel there, as short as the time is, than not at all.

Phil Johnson said...

Andrew Jones: "I also have preached hundreds of times in the open air just like this. There are sometimes occasions for it but less and less in our western world."

You seem to be suggesting that culture has changed in some way that makes the apostolic evangelistic strategy ineffectual and inappropriate. My whole point (of course), is that it's the church that has changed, and in our zeal to fit into culture, we have abandoned the biblical strategy for church growth.

You'd have to give some evidence (certainly more just a bare assertion) to prove your position that "There are . . . less and less [occasions for the straightforward proclamation of the gospel] in our western world." I think that's one of the major false presupposition's of "emerging" Christianity.

My position would be that the current pandemic of postmodern uncertainty represents a wonderful opportunity for Christians to declare the divinely-revealed truth with certainty and authority. Emergents, sensing that culture doesn't like either certainty or authority, insist we need to tone it down. If that's what you mean by "less and less" occasions for preaching, you have given voice to the central idea that I think is most wrongheaded in the typical Emerging mindset.

John: "I'm not sure that the point of this post was "where" Paul was preaching, but the authority with which he preached."

Bingo. "Preaching the gospel" in NT parlance includes everything from one-on-one dialogismos (Acts 17:17) to sermons delivered to large audiences. The point here is not the setting or the size of the audience, but the authority with which the message is proclaimed. Our gospel witness is never supposed to be merely a give-and-take exchange of personal opinions with unbelievers. If you don't get to the point of saying "thus saith the Lord," you haven't given the gospel message at all.

John: "It's fine to have a conversation in a coffee house. A conversation from a pulpit, however, would be an 'abomination.'"

. . . but there I think you have confused and contradicted your first paragraph. When the issue is the gospel, a postmodern-style "conversation" with an unbeliever (where ideas are kicked around as mere personal opinions and individual interpretations) isn't an appropriate strategy for fulfilling the Great Commission, even in a one-on-one coffee-house setting.

DJP: "Andrew, is Phil talking more about form (monologue vs. dialogue), or voice (faux-epistemological humility vs. declaration)?"

Exactly.

Rick Frueh: "But doen't this post point out the futility of these Larry King round tables in which John MacArthur participates? I personally feel it diminishes the truth by presenting all points of view as conversationally equal and especially when offered among all kinds of different religions and convoluted versions of Christianity."

I do agree with the underlying point I think Rick is making here. The constant efforts of Larry King's producers to set up a round-table for the free-and-equal exchange of ideas between vastly different religious perspectives is a reflection of exactly the sort of postmodern approach to religion that we as Christians should not sponsor—and (by the same token) cannot let go unchallenged.

It's also true that if you listen to most of the supposedly evangelical participants in those news-network exchanges, it seems like their goal always is to find as much "common ground" as possible and convince people that at the end of the day, we all agree on everything important. Shame on them.

There are, however, a few evangelical participants who never really fit into Larry King's religious love-fests, and they stand out as dramatically different—including Al Mohler, John MacArthur, and a handful of less-regular invitees. They don't float personal opinions; they declare the authority of God's Word. Their agenda isn't to find common ground, but to underscore the antithesis between Scriptural truth and human religious opinions.

For those few men who have the courage and ability to do that in such a setting, I say go for it. When you can stand out as someone who confronts rather than chimes in with the religious experts' opinions, you are indeed doing precisely what Paul did on Mars Hill.

For the average Christian celebrity who is more concerned about how the world perceives us than he is with being a faithful ambassador of God's message, my advice is to avoid settings like that for the very reasons Rick Frueh suggests.

Rick Frueh said...

I believe Phil's perspective is the most balanced. And if there is a seat offered for a Biblical Christian, the men Phil suggests are the most viable, especially since Spurgeon and Luther are dead!:)

Daryl said...

To add to that if I may (even if I mayn't...)

I question the veracity of the claim that 1 hour of preaching on TV is more effective than showing up on Larry King Live. From a purely numbers standpoint, the number of unsaved folks watching LKL would far exceed the number watching Christian programming.

I'd hazard a guess that LKL presents a far more evangelistic opportunity.

The Doulos said...

agonizomai: Then I understood that utility isn't the issue. Declaration is. JM isn't responsible for who hears or who listens or for how long, but for being salt and light in one of the deepest, darkest holes on earth (religious philosphy discussion on LKL).

Again, yes! The point is not about winning a debate with other "religious" perspectives in a round table. The point is being there, in the forum, to declare the propositional truth of the Gospel. So that God can use that declaration and proclamation to accomplish His purposes in those who hear it. Which is what every believer in Christ is called and commanded to do. Whether it's on LKL or anywhere else.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson: "My position would be that the current pandemic of postmodern uncertainty represents a wonderful opportunity for Christians to declare the divinely-revealed truth with certainty and authority. Emergents, sensing that culture doesn't like either certainty or authority, insist we need to tone it down. If that's what you mean by "less and less" occasions for preaching, you have given voice to the central idea that I think is most wrongheaded in the typical Emerging mindset."

This paragraph should be at the top of every liberal postmodern emerging website and blogsite, and also for those who affirm, sympathize, and aid and abet it. From Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Dan Kimball, the I-Monk, Scot McKnight, Parchment&Pen, et al.

Preach it Brother Phil!!

J said...

Haven't had time to read all of the comments, but:

The gospel is GOOD NEWS, and it is PROCLAIMED. Whether from the pulpit of a church, or from a place in the crowd in the market place , or in a stadium, or in a coffeeshop among friends, or across you back fence to your neighbor, the gospel is proclaimed. It is not argued, or discussed, or dialogued. Argument or discussion or dialogue may follow the proclamation, but the proclamation is the gospel.

dac said...

RF
Contextually, Television/Radio/Internet are the new Areopagus. It is the public forum from which to proclaim Christ.

stratagem said...

I suppose the simple critique of this article will be that as Pyro has pointed out on many occasions, there simply are no Pauls in existence today. That is, no Apostles appointed by God, and therefore no one imbued with the authority to speak for Him with certainty. I don't necessarily buy into that critique, but I would appreciate hearing how some of you would respond to such a critique, if anyone is so inclined. Thanks much.

Daryl said...

"That is, no Apostles appointed by God, and therefore no one imbued with the authority to speak for Him with certainty. "

Stratagem,

I'd suggest that, in fact, there are "Pauls" out there. Any believer that can read and understand Scripture, in fact. The Spirit has graciously recorded for us all of Paul's arguements of consequence so that they are available to us.

The idea you presented is dangerously close to denying te perspicuity of Scripture, methinks.

Consider the ramifications, would that then mean we can no longer call men to a sure salvation?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson: "Emergents, sensing that culture doesn't like either certainty or authority, insist we need to tone it down."

Does anybody else besides me see the irony in this ... when the liberal postmodern emergers insist upon this? It's hysterical!

In general, here they are, insisting that the Biblical authority and the biblical certainty of the Gospel and the Living Truth attested to by the Written Truth be toned down, watered down, diluted, neutered, or even altogether eliminated from the contextual conversation.

The irony is this. By what authority do they possess or claim that the Message of Christ should be neutered? And how are they so certain that the Message of Christ should be diluted, and that God is offended when the whole truth of the Gospel of Christ offends someone?

In general, the liberal pomo emerger complains about authority and certainty while de facto assuming a position of authority and certainty from which they lodge their complaint!

Can you say left-wing legalism? That represents left-wing pharasaic hypocrisy. pheh.

Andrew Jones said...

wow- so much response, so little space here. i might do one more post and call it quits.

Phil - you said

Andrew Jones: "I also have preached hundreds of times in the open air just like this. There are sometimes occasions for it but less and less in our western world."

what i meant is not opportunities for preaching the gospel - they happen all the time.

but open air meetings in public places for sermon-giving among non-Christians, are not nearly as contextually appropriate in, say, southern california than they are in other non-western countries.

try standing on a soapbox at your local mall and see how long it takes for security to kick you out.

maybe a spoken word at an open mike night in the local coffee shop is a more congenial place to share thegospel

hey . . . must go. . . much more to say . . .talk later

Samuel said...

Great post,

I believe that you hit the nail on the head!

stratagem said...

Daryl

Although I appreciate and agree with what you are saying, I'm not sure what you said helps me in formulating a persuasive response against the argument I repeated, one which is often used by Emergents. In fact we are able to repeat what Paul said with authority, but Emergents are attacking what Paul meant, not (in every case) the words he said. In fact there are no Pauls today, in the sense that there are no Apostles, and no one we can be sure is led by the Holy Spirit of God to correctly apply what the author of God's words (God) meant. (Unless we are going to say they got a special anointing or message from God, and I'm not going there).
I would like a persuasive argument of how we can say "there are no Apostles" and at the same time say "...but there are trustworthy interpretations, and here's how we know who the trustworthy interpreters are, and aren't". I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who has had this objection to Biblical certainty thrust upon them, am I?

Strong Tower said...

Well, I do declare.

SSSSSibilant. Why dost thou maketh us to look up...

Daryl said...

Stratagem, Good point you make there...perhaps simple logic cold do the trick...or not.

I'll stay on the line in case someone has a brilliant answer for that. My money's on Mr. Riccardi...

The Spokesman said...

Strategem: I would like a persuasive argument of how we can say "there are no Apostles" and at the same time say "...but there are trustworthy interpretations, and here's how we know who the trustworthy interpreters are, and aren't".

Here is how I would respond:

Even the message of the apostles was to be examined in light of the Word of God - "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11-12).

There were false apostles in those days disguising themselves as apostles of Christ and servants of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). The people in that day were no different from us today - the only way for them to truly know if the man was an apostle of Christ was to examine the Scriptures to see if the message was indeed true and therefore actually revealed in God's Word.

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you..." (2 Peter 2:1).

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world....They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:1, 5-6).

Try this out: "If you want to advertise your church to the unchurched, you must learn to think and speak like they do." Compare this quote to 1 John 4:5 and what conclusion can you arrive at from the Word of God?

Grace and peace,
Olan

Mike Riccardi said...

While I sincerely and very much appreciate the vote of confidence, Daryl, I gotta say that your response as well as Olan's really hit the nail on the head.

We discern the spirit of truth from the spirit of error by listening to the apostles' teaching, graciously recorded for us in the Scriptures.

But stratagem's point is legitimate. You can quote Scripture at the emergers all day and they'll nod their heads in agreement (either because they know they have to or because they've trained themselves to hear entirely different things as a response to certain words and phrases). They do in fact disagree with what Paul meant and not what he said. (The wonder of wonders is that these seem to be different things to them.)

So in my estimation, there's a science-esque and an arts-esque way to answer this. The science-esque way is by hermeneutics. There's one interpretation of Scripture. There aren't many meanings. There are many applications, but one interpretation. If everyone agrees to use the same hermeneutic, everyone should get there, no? So the one way we can respond to those who say their interpretation is better than others is to call into question their hermeneutics. Are they letting the text speak for itself? That is to say, do they give right regard for the grammar of the written revelation? Do they give right regard to the historical context of the passage, interpreting it not in the light of our culture and context but of the culture and context of the writers and recipients? Do they let it say what it says? That is, is it a literal approach to the text? Is their interpretation controlled by the text alone? That is, are they following the principle of Sola Scriptura? Is their interpretation supported by the rest of Scripture, so that it can properly be said that "the Scripture cannot be broken" and contradict itself? That is, are they following the principle of Tota Scriptura?

That's the sciencey, hard-and-fast type approach. The artsy-type approach is the following:

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another.

and

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

and

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

The answer is let the word dwell richly in you. The answer is walk by the Spirit. These things are mysterious and don't have hard-and-fast ways of being taxonomized or categorized. They appeal to a wisdom and a maturity that only comes from seeking the face of Christ for a long time in a vital, life-transporting and -transforming relationship with Him. When the people of God are diligent to study the Word of God -- to pore over it and labor and sweat it in -- to take pains with and be absorbed in these things (1Tim 4)... and when they become filled with the Spirit so that they walk by the Spirit, and thus prove the goodness and the glory of God over and over in their lives -- when they taste and see, THEN they will move on to maturity. They will move on to a point where it can be properly said of them: "As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him."

They will not have to say, "Who will ascend into heaven to get the commandment for us?" or "Who will cross the sea to bring it to us that we may observe it?" "But what does it say? 'THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART'--that is, the word of faith," which is recorded for us in the revelation of God to us.

There comes a point when we so seek God's face and become so intimate with His Truth, that it can truly and simply be said that His sheep hear His voice and he knows them and they know it. The anointing of the Spirit makes it so that we know His voice from the voices among the crowd. It's really a beautiful, beautiful work of grace in the lives of God's people, and I pray He does it to the fullest degree in all of us.

But I realize the danger in saying something like this, and I wouldn't say it unless the Bible said it. Because so many people are gonna come running with a new interpretation trying to say that they have the anointing of the Holy Spirit or that God spoke to them. And then we have the charismaniac movement. So I'm not superstitiously saying that we wait to hear the still small voice. I'm saying that the sheep of God know the voice of their Shepherd, and when He speaks, they follow.

The amazing thing is, the crazy-glorious thing is, He never contradicts Himself. So if the sheep aren't at such a level of intimacy with their Shepherd (because of sin or otherwise), we can go to the Word revealed and apply those sciencey-type principles -- read: test everything against the Word of God.

::Huge breath:: All that to say: Read your Bible.

donsands said...

" ..here's how we know who the trustworthy interpreters are, and aren't".

Let's take Open Theism. How does Greg Boyd interpret "God repented"? He says, God doesn't know the future.
John Piper says, "Surely God knows the future".

I agree with John Piper. But only after seeing what the whole of Holy Writ has to say about God being omniscient.

Also, the Church throughout History is essential. Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, and so many others need to be considered. And there are some fine Theologians today as well.

There are many false interpretations of Scripture, and these who are false interpreters will be known by their fruit as well, not in all cases perhaps, but in many.

That's why I can read, study and observe what a servant of the Lord such as BB Warfield, or J. Gresham Machen wrote, and be fairly certain that they were Orthodox, and not Heretical.

Just a couple thoughts from the "peanut gallery".

Johnny Dialectic said...

"try standing on a soapbox at your local mall and see how long it takes for security to kick you out."

I'm not seeing that advocated here. Unless I'm truly missing it, the issue (again!) is the content of the communication. The Pauline strategy is not a matter of preaching or conversing, but of proclaiming.

Rick Frueh said...

Everyone has their own set of heroic interpreters, but in the end we will all give a personal account before God as to our view and interpretation of Scripture. That of course probably renders at least 90% of professing believers as unapproved since so many will never, ever do any kind of substantive research and/or in depth study of Scripture.

There are thousands of manuscripts with 1% deviation as to the words. The same with interpretation, thousands of former theoligians have written extensively on Scripture with 95% agreement on every essential.

The Yellow Bbrick Road to interpretation is to find the gospel and in it the path to salvation. If you have come to faith alone on the Lord Jesus Christ and His work on the cross substantiated by His bodily resurrection, you may proceed with caution. Never deviating from that and rejecting any who even blur that line.

Avoid any who assign forgiveness or remission of sins to anything but faith alone in the cross alone, including those who claim ceremonial conduits of grace (baptism, Lord's Supper, etc.).

Continue carefully and watch for those who tamper or redfine the essence and/or authority of Scripture. Look circumspectly at those who either encumber the gospel with religious traditions or who dilute it so as to make it attractive and acceptable to the natural man.

Now finally, when you have arrived this far, remember to be wary of so many who claim they have travelled the same path as you and believe all the same truths as you. What?? Oh yea, this journey has deceptions and false teachers that can pass a regurgitated doctrinal test with the best of them and yet will lead you astray.

Then how can I ever know the way?? Follow the Yellow Brick Road...

Daryl said...

Rick,

I have read and thoughtfully considered what you wrote just now. I have only one question of substance.

What is a theoligian? And relation to Fahrvernugen?

Rick Frueh said...

There is no removing all subjectivity to assessing who is a legitimate theolgian.(teacher) I would say there are thousands of mainstream men both alive and dead, and any borderline guys - reject.

stratagem said...

Try this out: "If you want to advertise your church to the unchurched, you must learn to think and speak like they do." Compare this quote to 1 John 4:5 and what conclusion can you arrive at from the Word of God?

Thanks Olan. I see two differences between the scripture cited and the quote above: 1) Speaking as the world speaks may mean you are growing your church at the expense of the truth, 2) The scripture uses proper English, unlike the quote! (insert smiley face). (But I wouldn't expect the Emerg***s to use proper English, after all they are trying to learn to speak in ther vernacular!)

Thanks mucho!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Phil Johnson insightfully writes: "...he wasn't going to say, "Let's talk about this. I'm interested in learning more about your approach to the spiritual disciplines and your ideas about ethics. And tell me what you guys think about the God of Abraham, and maybe we can learn from one another."

That's exactly right!

Reminds me of the story of Jesus talking to the woman at the well about the Living Water.

The Living Water is certainly better than anything else. We can talk about your ineffectual bottled water if you like, but only to show you that it can't satisfy your spiritual thirst like the Living Water of Jesus can. And to get this Living Water you have to repent of this false bottled liberal postmodern emerging water that's speckled with easy-believism, unrepentant sin that you've been drinking from, and drink instead from the biblical certainty and assurance from the fountain of the Living Water that's attested to in the Book

RememberPolycarp said...

Most excellent post today TheoPHIL (to)us! How thankful I am for Paul's approach, written plainly and clearly for us to see today. Direct, bold, and oh so unpopular today--indeed, So unpomo!

It is hardly necessary, although certain stubborn viewpoints require it, for many here (myself included) to explain at the length what is clearly so obvious in the text. The Bible makes it perfectly clear, just as you note, that not a shred of of this seeker-sensitive nonsense has even a shred of validity according to Paul's example! Oh, for those of the emergent bent who think I slipped when I said "seeker sensitive": emeregents are as seeker sensitive as they come, which makes it so ironic that they criticize the seeker sensitivity among the SS megachurches. They both adhere to a compromised and twisted gospel.

steve said...

emeregents are as seeker sensitive as they come...they both adhere to a compromised and twisted gospel.

Though emergents will deny it, they walk in the footsteps of their predecessors, the modernists and those of the seeker sensitive persuasion. While all three may have varied in terms of means, they have all brought forth the same diluted results: Gospel Lite.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hey Steve,

Don't forget the mainline liberals too. Or do you consider the mainline liberals the "modernists"?

gavin said...

Phil,

My initial thought after reading your post was that those who advocate dialogue/coversation over preaching would claim that the reason they hold such a position is because of an epistemological shift in the West since the Enlightenment, blah, blah.

It seems that many in the EC who have taken to some bad theology are doing so on the basis of their epistemology...in other words, if I think that certain ways of knowing have ceased or changed, then the way I read the Bible must accomodate these changes, which in turn changes my theology.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I am aware that some/many Protestants consider Roman Catholics an open harvest field for evangelism and fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Therefore, how 'bout this idea: When a conservative evangelical meets a liberal postmodern emerging Christian, just consider that Emerger as an open harvest field like the Apostle Paul did at Mars Hill, and, God willing, make a true convert/disciple of that Emerger and turn him away from the Emerging Church. Just like turning away a nominal Catholic away from the Catholic Church. Just turn the nominal Emerger away from the Emerging Church.

Classic, historical Evangelicals are on a search and rescue mission for Catholics, Liberal mainliners, postmodern Emergers!

stratagem said...

TUAD: That's a good way to think of it. The stumbling block is that Emergents want to be cool, and to become a disciple they'd have to give up on Emerging and would have to be willing to become the antonym and Submerge like the rest of us (in baptism and in repentance). But then, we all have that which we have to give up to follow, and God can get them to give up on Emerging just as He gets us all to give up various things.

steve said...

Truth Unites and Divides:

I would have included the mainline liberals immediately after the modernists and before the seeker sensitives, had I thought to do so.