31 July 2008

The Church-Marketing Fad

by Phil Johnson

More on the Fad-Driven® Church
Part II of a series

(First posted 20 July 2005)


n the book Tony Campolo co-authored with Brian McLaren (Adventures In Missing the Point: How the Culture-Controlled Church Neutered the Gospel) Campolo seems to suggest that seminarians ought to pay more attention to marketing techniques and less attention to theology, exegesis, original languages, and other traditional seminary curricula. After all, those are academic subjects with limited practical significance, and pastors these days hardly ever use such stuff after seminary. In Campolo's own words:

What if the credits eaten up by subjects seminarians seldom if ever use after graduation were instead devoted to more subjects they will actually need in churches—like business and marketing courses? It is not true that with a gifted preacher, a church will inevitably grow. Good sermons may get visitors to stay once they come, but getting folks to come in the first place may take some marketing expertise.

It was a marketing degree, not an M. Div., that Bill Hybels had when he launched the tiny fellowship that would one day be Willow Creek Community Church. It's not that Hybels is a theological lightweight, contrary to some critics. His sermons are biblically sound and brilliantly relevant to the needs of his congregation—and the relevance comes not from giftedness or theological discernment, but from thoughtfully studying his congregation. As any good marketer would, Hybels deliberately surveys his people with questionnaires in order to determine what they worry about, what their needs are, what's important to them. . . . Then he schedules what subjects he will preach on in the coming year, and circulates the schedule to those on his team responsible for music and drama in the services.

The result is preaching that is utterly biblical and acutely relevant. But the process isn't something you'll learn in most seminaries. Maybe it's time that some business school courses find their way into seminary.

I don't know where Tony Campolo has been for the past twenty-five years or so, but if that advice sounds the least bit fresh or novel to you, you haven't been paying attention to the drift of the church growth movement and its influence in seminaries over the past three decades. What Campolo is suggesting is precisely what many evangelical seminaries started doing some twenty years ago.

Pastors these days are thoroughly indoctrinated with the notion that they must regard their people as consumers. Religion is carefully packaged to appeal to the consumers' demands. There are even marketing agencies that specialize in church marketing. (Typical slogan: "Changing the Way the World Looks at Christians.") There are seminars for church leaders who want to learn how to "brand" their churches as a marketing strategy.

This stuff is everywhere. Fad-driven® pastors can even buy prepackaged, market-tested sermon ideas or whole sermon series. ("New fall message series designs!" now available.)

Church leaders these days are obsessed with image, opinion polls, public relations, salesmanship, merchandising, and customer satisfaction. They have been taught and encouraged to think that way by virtually every popular program of the past two decades.

It has been nearly twenty years since George Barna published Marketing the Church. In that book, he proposed this then-revolutionary notion: "The audience, not the message, is sovereign." That is the basic idea that underlies every Fad-Driven® church. And it's a notion that thousands of pastors and church leaders have uncritically imbibed—and it has been parroted in virtually every major book on church leadership up through and including The Purpose-Driven Church. The audience is sovereign. Their "felt needs" should shape the preacher's message. Opinion polls and listener response become barometers that tell the preacher what to preach. That's what Barna was calling for back in 1988. He wrote,
If [we are] going to stop people in the midst of hectic schedules and cause them to think about what we're saying, our message has to be adapted to the needs of the audience. When we produce advertising that is based on the take-it-or-leave-it proposition, rather than on a sensitivity and response to people's needs, people will invariably reject our message.

Compare that with the words of the apostle Paul, who said, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

What was Paul's point? Do you think he would have agreed with Barna, who said we must adapt our message to the preferences of the audience, or risk having them reject the message?

I think not. Here's what the apostle actually did say to Timothy: "But you . . . fulfill your ministry." "Preach the word! . . . in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching."

That is what pastors are called to do—not ape the fads and fashions of our culture. Not even to follow the silly parade of evangelical fads. I'm convinced that those who do not get back to the business of preaching the Bible will soon see their churches shrivel and die—because, after all, the Word of God is the only message that has the power to give spiritual life.

And, frankly, the death of the fad-driven churches will be a good thing in the long term. It's something I hope I live long enough to see.

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Guess who said it: best thing for America = "winning people to the Lord one at a time"

by Dan Phillips

Well, I did. But more significantly, this comes from Tony Perkins, president of an organization whose work I appreciate: Family Research Council.

What's more, Perkins
took the unusual step of telling his staff members not to come to work [Monday] in Washington, but rather to take part in a day of prayer and fasting for the nation. The pro-family leader says many Evangelicals and "values voters" are discouraged because there is not one presidential candidate who clearly lines up with their values and beliefs.

"While we need to be involved in shaping public policy, just as we need to be involved in education or entertainment or any other realm of society, I think we have oftentimes placed our hopes on a political candidate in hopes of being able to turn the nation back into the right direction," Perkins contends. "I think we're left only with the choice of returning to God and to Jesus Christ."
I'm trying to see how someone would find fault with that, and not succeeding. (Has he been reading Pyromaniacs?)

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PS: We don't see many things on "Out of Ur" that we can link to with hearty agreement, but here's an exceptional one, and it's right in line with Dan's post.

30 July 2008

My Hope and Refuge, Inc.?

by Frank Turk

Briefly today, (no, seriously) I wanted to say something about idolatry.

I was the last man out that my bookstore yesterday, and as I was locking up I started praying about God's provision for me and my family. I don't know about you, but my kids are brilliant and healthy, my wife is brilliant and loving, and frankly we have never spent a day without a meal or a roof over our heads. That's not bragging: that's just what it is, and I know that some of our readers may have had parts of their lives which have not been so fortunate.

Those readers probably know something the rest of us don't know -- because the rest of us live in what can only be called ridiculously-opulent wealth. Most of us don't consider ourselves "rich" -- because we compare what we have to what the top 5% of Americans make and have, and we see our lives as quite modest compared to people with multiple, gigantic houses and so on.

But you know something: when we are in danger of losing what we have in this life -- for example, because our employer has a business model that's not expanding and what we do is in danger of being "right-sized" -- I think many of us are afraid that God doesn't love us anymore even though we have more wealth and more opportunity for wealth than 99% of all people who ever lived.

When our hope lies in money or in some job in particular, we are idolators. And while it is a wholly-biblical axiom that if you don't work, you don't eat, our hope for our provision shouldn't come from some job or career. God is still God when you have to find a new job. Some trust in chariots, some trust in paychecks. We trust in the name of the Lord our God. Please, God: don't let the one we trust have an "Inc." at the end of His name.

I'm as-guilty of this stuff as anyone, so consider this a protestant act of confession.


Just in case you think I forgot about the God and Politics stuff, I haven't. But last week, Dr. John Piper podcasted a little something that was relevant to that topic, and I was edified by it. My edification, btw, came not from his clarity and simplicity but from his own admission, as you can read below, that this is a very difficult ball of twine to untangle:
Bob Allen: Should we try to legislate the Bible in today's society?

Dr. Piper: It's not inappropriate to seek to apply the Bible, provided that we apply it wisely. And the wisdom lies in realizing that—since coerced faith and coerced obedience are unbiblical—the Bible itself provides the guidance and the ground for making space for a culture in which people have the right to choose which moral elements they will or will not obey. It sound almost contradictory. In other words, the Bible insists that there must not be coercion for every single moral command that it contains.

For example, "Thou shalt not covet." Are you going to make that into a law? No, because coerced non-coveting won't work. It's a self-contradiction. It's the same thing with belief in Jesus. The Bible clearly commands, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Should we turn that moral religious command into a moral law? No, because a law-constrained faith in Jesus is unbiblical and has no validity. Therefore, in a sense, the Bible shows that we should not turn all of its commands into law.

So your question boils down to, Well, which ones then?

Don't kill? - We all agree on that one. Make that a law.
Don't steal? - We all agree on that one. Make that a law.
Don't commit adultery? - Hmm. Now what about that one?
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy? - We used to have laws about that.

The way it works practically is that for the laws where we can get overwhelming consensus in the culture we're going to use coercion. The irony is that we believe in using coercion as a culture for the things that don't seem to matter very much. For example, I've got to get all the dog poop out of my back yard or I'm going to get cited, and coercion will be used to make me cut my grass or clean my yard. And yet, we can't use coercion legally to save a baby's life if he is still in the womb.

What we need to do is find those things in the Bible that we believe should be lived by, and then try as Christians—through preaching, teaching, and prayer—to bring about as much consensus as we can. And yet we will not press for the legislating of things where there is massive unwillingness to do it, because we would wind up making coercion the ground of our morality.

29 July 2008

Your best life, later

by Dan Phillips

When Joel Osteen was just a little kid, there was "Reverend Ike." His sound-bite was, "Don't wait for pie-in-the-sky, by and by. Get yours now, with ice cream on top!" He was not the first to take this bold route, and he hasn't been the last.

But isn't that a violent perversion of the very heart of the Gospel? We look to a crucified Savior, not a man in a solid-gold Cadillac. We preach a crucified Savior. Crucifixion is the polar opposite of such triumphalism. Insofar as we breathe the apostle's spirit, we make a decisive determination to "know nothing ...except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).

But of course, the Cross is not the end of the story. It was "for the joy that was set before him" that our Lord "endured the cross, despising the shame"; and so He now "is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).

But our, our epoch is not the glory-days of triumph. That is, unless we count ourselves better than the apostles, who were put on public display "as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men" (1 Corinthians 4:9; read the following verses as well). The word to us is, "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).

But it isn't pie we're looking for in the sky, or from the sky; "we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). It's the hope of being rid of this body of death (Romans 7:24), being transformed (Philippians 3:20) — all "because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2).

That is the dividing-mark of genuine Christian faith. Is that enough for you, for me? Will you and I put all your eggs in that basket? Can we gladly sacrifice a comfortable now for a glorious then? Is the prospect of eternity in the awesome and resplendent presence of Christ enough, that this life is deigned a relatively small and passing thing, of significance only insofar as we can invest it for him?

Christian faith is about our "best life." That much is true: gaining life out of death, by sovereign grace; living our best for God's glory now; and enjoying God's best in glory —


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28 July 2008

If you spend an evening, you'll want to stay

by Phil Johnson
'll be speaking next month at Cape Cod Bible Church, during their "Pursuing God" conference. I normally don't publicize my travel schedule ahead of time here on the blog, but last time I was on the east coast, lots of Pyrofans showed up, and a few others e-mailed me afterward to scold me for not saying ahead of time that I was coming.

So if you're in the vicinity of Cape Cod or want to come there in mid-August for a conference, join us. My friend Lou Faustino is the host pastor, and he assures me he wouldn't mind having some Pyro-readers show up.

Incidentally, a few close friends have remarked that my blogging and preaching rarely overlap. That is by design. I don't like to preach about what I am currently blogging about (and vice versa), because that would tempt me to be obsessive about the blog. Sometimes I'll adapt a sermon for a blog series, but only after I'm well past preaching it.

Yesterday, however, I preached on Ephesians 5:3-7, which is one of those passages that forbids filthiness, foolishness, and crude jokes. I'm thinking about blogging on that subject next month or thereabouts. Get some steel-toed work boots, and get ready for a long comment-thread. When this subject has come up on the blog before, it's always been volatile.

One other thing: I'm going to start feeding my blogposts to my Facebook page. I confess I don't get Facebook's appeal. I'd rather use e-mail. But Darlene likes Facebook more than the blog. This way she can have both.
PS: Speaking of Facebook, Frank and Dan are Facebook members too. All of us (especially Frank) could use more friends. If you're on Facebook, feel free to add us as friends, but don't poke us. We get poked too much. (Pecadillo's there somewhere, too, but let's leave him alone for a few weeks.)

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The Fad-Driven Church

by Phil Johnson

The worst of times: Evangelicalism in critical condition
This was the opening post in the first major definitive Pyro-series. It pretty much epitomizes and explains why we're suspicious of evangelical trends, disturbed about the state of evangelicalism—yet not at all interested in joining the Emerging and post-evangelical stampede. We think young evangelicals' infatuation with everything postmodern is just another disturbing fad-driven step in the wrong direction. What is needed, instead, is true reformation—driven by biblical, not cultural, concerns. Anyway, have a read:

(First posted 16 July 2005)

ith the wild popularity of so many evangelical fads like "Forty Days of Purpose"; the lucrative success of the Christian publishing and contemporary Christian music industries; the growing influence of the "emerging church" phenomenon; and a recent cover story by Time magazine featuring "The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," lots of evangelicals might be tempted to think these are the best of times for their movement.

My own assessment would be that evangelicalism's spiritual condition at the beginning of the twenty-first century is reminiscent of the medieval church just prior to the Protestant Reformation.

No, I take it back. Things are much worse among evangelicals today than they were in the Catholic Church in those days. Modern and postmodern evangelicalism is just like medieval Catholicism was—only more superficial.

Think about it: Luther was provoked by Tetzel, the charlatan fund-raiser who went through Europe promising people indulgences in return for money so that the Pope could build St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. We've got at least a dozen Tetzels appearing daily on TBN, promising people material prosperity in exchange for money. Jan Crouch uses that money to make the sets of the TBN studios more garish and more gaudy than any room in the Vatican, and she has added so many tawdry pink hair extensions to her hairdo that it now rivals the size of the dome on St. Peter's.

Tetzel peddled his indulgences with trite songs and sayings ("As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs"). Modern evangelicals are experts in writing doggerel and banal platitudes and have even made silly, superficial songs the centerpieces of all their liturgy.

The medieval church was overrun with superstition. We've got people reciting the prayer of Jabez every day who are convinced it's a magic formula that will bring them wealth and good luck.

The Medieval church produced Niccolò Machiavelli, the cynical and unscrupulous political theorist who believed the end always justifies the means. We've got a host of evangelical celebrities with shady reputations, from Gary Ezzo to Benny Hinn. We've also got a thousand church-growth "experts" who insist pragmatism is the only workable philosophy for the church today, and that we will never "reach" this generation until we first study which way the winds of popular culture are blowing and follow along.

Evangelicalism as a movement has bought that lie. That's why we have so many Fad-Driven® Churches and so few where Christ is honored and His Word obeyed. That's why the gospel is not only in eclipse but actually under attack on several fronts within evangelicalism.

We don't need more hype and activity and mass movements. We need the pure light of God's Word—"the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises" (2 Peter 1:19).

The alternative is a postmodern darkness that is shaping up to be worse than the murkiest spiritual gloom of the Dark Ages. We could sure use a new generation of Reformers.

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27 July 2008

Would You Look for Edible Tidbits in the Compost Bin?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "A Mournful Defection," a sermon preached at a Sunday-evening service in 1877 at the Met Tab.

eceivers will beguile the weak; some have been turned aside by [post]modern doubt; and positive infidelity has its partisans. They begin cautiously by reading works with a view to answer scientific or intellectual scepticism. They read a little more, and dive a little deeper into the turbid stream, because they feel well able to stand against the insidious influence. They go on, till at last they are staggered. They do not repair to them who could help them out, but they continue to flounder on till, at last, they have lost their footing, and he that said he was a believer has ended in stark atheism, discrediting even the evidence of the existence of God.

Oh, that those who are well taught would be content with gospel teaching! Why should you be so unwise as to go through pools of foul teaching merely because you think it easy to cleanse yourself of its pollution? Such trifling is dangerous. When you begin to read a book and find it pernicious, put it aside. Someone may upbraid you for not reading it all through. But why should you?

If I have a joint of meat on my table of which the smell and the taste at once convince me that it is putrid and unwholesome, should I show discretion by eating the whole of it before giving my judgment that it is not fit for food? One mouthful is quite enough, and one sentence of some books ought to suffice for a sensible man to reject the whole mass. Let those who can relish such meat feed on it, but I have a taste for better food.

Keep to the study of the Word of God. If it be your duty to expose those evils, encounter them bravely, with prayer to God to help you. But if not, as a humble believer in Jesus, what business have you to taste and best such noxious fare when it is exposed in the market?
C. H. Spurgeon

26 July 2008

TeamPyro Wordled

25 July 2008

Unrelateds: truth going bad; shameless net-casting

by Dan Phillips

First: The Duncan. I'm listening to m'man Ligon Duncan preaching through 2 Timothy. In his sermon on 2 Timothy 1:12-18, he says this:
...and those who truly understand God's sovereign grace to them are people who are gracious to other people, and they are merciful to other people, because they know the mercy that has been shown to them undeservedly. ...The truth will go bad on you unless you turn it into prayer, and turn it into practice; unless it is changing the way you think and relate to God, the way you think of yourself, and the way that you show the love of God to your brothers and sisters in Christ and to all mankind. God's mercy changes us. And so a real knowledge of the truth of God always has a corresponding impact on our experience and on our living.
Ligon is talking about verse 13: "Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."

Second: me. anybody in the Middlebury, Vermont area open to a Calvidispiebaptogelical guest-preacher on August 17? We plan to be in the area for a happy event, on which perhaps more, later. Just doing that "networking" thing, and my dance-card is open. (Or, if you prefer, my standing-in-one-place-and-swaying-rhythmically card.)

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24 July 2008

Facts, understanding, faith, and discipleship

by Dan Phillips

Ladies and gentlemen, consider if you will Mark 8:14-21 —
They had forgotten to take bread and had only one loaf with them in the boat.

15 Then he commanded them: "Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod."

16 They were discussing among themselves that they did not have any bread.

17 Aware of this, He said to them, "Why are you discussing that you do not have any bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Is your heart hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and not see, and do you have ears, and not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the 5,000, how many baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?"

"Twelve," they told Him.

20 "When I broke the seven loaves for the 4,000, how many large baskets full of pieces of bread did you collect?"

"Seven," they said.

21 And He said to them, "Don't you understand yet?"

Now, reflect:

First, did they lack information? No; the disciples had all the facts they needed to have both understanding and faith.

Second, what was the problem? The problem was that they did not remember nor reflect on the facts in evidence, the information they all possessed.

Third, what was the result? The result of the disciples' failure to make use of the information they had was that they had neither understanding nor faith. In fact, they were about as dim as one of Mr. Edison's original bulbs would be, today.

Fourth, what do we learn of Jesus? A couple of things. For one, in dealing with them, Jesus did not give up on them. They were dim, dense, and dumb; but they had not rebelled and rejected. They were still enrolled; and He still taught.

But also note: Jesus did not spoon-feed them. He did not baby them, nor coddle them. Rather, He challenged them. He poked them. He jabbed at their thinking, by a series of brief, terse, pointed, rather confrontive questions.

He was not the feminized Jesus of popular, religious sentiment. He did not say in effect, "Oh, my precious 'iddle oojie-goojies! Is 'ums puzzled? Aww, let Uncle Jesus make it better!" Far from it. He did not hand them the answer. He forced them to bring out the facts and do something with them; He rebuked them; and He left them with a challenge.

Our Lord's attitude would be better captured by "Boys — you've got to grow up!" (We'll later see the same reflected in Apoll... er, the author of Hebrews, 5:11-14.)

Now, ask yourself this:
  • Might this cast any light on how Jesus has dealt with you, in your Christian walk?
  • Does it give any instruction for how we should deal with ourselves, as we strive to grow in Christ?
  • Does it give any instruction as to how we might deal with others whom we disciple?
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23 July 2008

Prayers requested

by Frank Turk

Had a post I was mulling for a bit for this morning when, instead, I received a link to a blog in our sidebar regarding Jim Bublitz, who used to run a blog called Old Truth.

If you follow the link, you'll find this post:
I've enjoyed interacting with many of you and posting on so many of the issues that effect today's church. I have, as of late experienced some medical problems that make it impossible for me to continue blogging at this time. I recently learned that I have "Non Alcoholic Cirrhosis of the Liver" which will require a liver transplant in order to survive beyond the next several years. For the past month I've spent a double-digit number of hours per day sleeping and have lost over 60 pounds in water retention. As some of you know, I've also been battling broken bones this last year, several of which are still giving me some problems.

Through all of this, my family and church in Milwaukee have been incredibly supportive, and I'd like to thank them all. A special thanks goes out to Chad who has not only helped me with blogging through the months, but has also been a loyal friend and brother in the Lord. I am looking to the Lord through all of this and know that he has good that comes from these things (Romans 8:28). I'm at a loss as to how unbelievers are able to make it through these types of things without looking to the Lord for strength.
So today I'm just asking for prayer for Jim. He's a friend of this blog, a brother in Christ, and my prayer is that God will heal him -- whether it be through medicine, a skilled surgeon, or a flat out miracle if God will ordain it.

That's all I have to say about that -- except that your prayer requests can go in the meta, since we have people with their heads bowed and lifting needs up to the Lord.

22 July 2008

Witnessing: mess-ups, regrets, pastoral leadership

by Dan Phillips

I was thinking of creating a new Pyro tag: "Regrets." By year's end, many posts would bear that tag (also retroactively), most of them carrying the same byline.

One would come from last Friday. I saw a movie, and was wedged in next to a dad and his daughter. Chatting with him afterwards, I completely bobbled an opportunity to talk with him expressly about Christ. We came close, touched on related subjects; but "close" doesn't count, and there really isn't any good reason for it. (I'm forcing myself to tell you this.)

It may not have been a golden opportunity, like Philip and the eunuch. But it was certainly silver, and it was certainly an opportunity, and I certainly botched it.

But that was the only time I've messed up like that.

{Soundtrack: gales of laughter}

But seriously, I think of another time. This was decades ago, and I was a brand-new Christian. I was eager to share Christ at every opportunity. This time, I was talking with a neighbor lady. She asked me some questions, I forget what. I responded that I didn't know all the answers, but I knew One who did.

Then she asked me what my parents thought of my pastor. I thought it an abrupt change of topic, but I went with it. There was more conversation along that line, then that was it.

I eventually muzzily realized that it wasn't a change of topic — to her. Unable to see the capitalization in my head, she thought that "the One" who I believed had all the answers was my pastor. She didn't get that I was talking about Jesus. Ungh. Thirty-five years later, I still regret my obtuseness.

These are just two of many such stories I could tell.

Why am I telling you this? Three reasons.

One, it's an exercise of that transparency-thing we talked about a while back. Leading to...

Two, it's also sort of a conscience thing. I know I've shared conversations where I (allege that I) have let fly some witty or devastating remark. I also know that readers might have the impression that Phil, Frank, and I never mess up, never are flummoxed, never botch opportunities, never make fools of ourselves, never are like trout on flat, dry rocks, our mouths opening and closing but nothing of any value coming out.

Now, I'm right there with you about Frank and Phil. But conscience constrains me to tell you that for every sparkling or (suitably) withering remark I've made (and relayed to you, Gentle Reader), there are at least a dozen or two... er... less-stellar moments. Times when I've had not one clue what to say, or have said the wrong thing. Times I came on inappropriately strong and heavy-handed, or let ripe opportunities slip altogether, because I was afraid of coming on too strong or heavy-handed.

I don't want to be perceived like a pastor I know of, who I've virtually never heard tell a story that didn't make everyone else look like idiots, and himself like a brilliant, holy sage. I like talking about those times when I've found le bon mot, because they were rare treats on a pretty dismal landscape. But honesty compels me to mention the other times, as well.

If that encourages you — and I hope it does — be encouraged. Leading to...

Three, I'm thinking ahead to pastoral leadership in evangelism. I'm thinking how I would feel a terrible hypocrite if I tried to press anyone else to do anything I'd not done myself. How I can't reproach truckers, security guards, bookstore clerks, or everyone else for not witnessing to folks when I hadn't done as I should myself.

And I'm thinking that part of the solution will be going out and doing it with the folks — even as I did with my first church, a hundred years ago.

And I'm thinking that that means that my sheep — who I hope will be able to find in me some kind of example such as the Lord calls pastors to be in 1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7, and 1 Peter 5:3 — will see me stumped, they'll see me flummoxed, they'll see me give lame answers (or none at all), they'll see me mess up one way or another. They'll find that what I already will have told them was true: I'm not a prophet, not Pope Pinhead XIV, not always able to give the perfect magisterial, sagacious Word From Above on everything.

And I'm thinking I'm going to have to be A-OK with that.

And so will they.

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21 July 2008


posted by Phil Johnson

This is where I was over the weekend:

Photo by Linda McIntyre

More pictures here, courtesy of Leila Bowers.

Mr. and Mrs. Pecadillo
18 July 2008
Photo by Bonnie Freeland

Time does fly, huh?
What I wrote when Pecadillo entered the LAPD Academy

(First posted 10 November 2005)

LAPDI spent all day yesterday (Wednesday [9 November 2005]) in an orientation seminar with the illustrious Pecadillo, who enters the Police Academy this month. The hiring process for LAPD is long and arduous. For every 1,000 applicants who are considered, fewer than 50 are selected. So I'm very proud of Pecadillo for all he has gone through to get this far. He won't want me to blog much about it, because one of the cardinal rules for a recruit is not to stand out or call attention to yourself in any way. (And this rule of thumb was stressed repeatedly. They are not kidding.)

Even the normally upbeat and jovial Pecadillo sees no humor in any of this, and I don't blame him for taking it so seriously. Every one of his training supervisors intimidated me, and I'm not easily intimidated. That includes a couple of petite young women who I'm absolutely positive could beat me into a coma in a matter of seconds without raising much of a sweat, take great delight in doing so, and yet never even crack a smile in the process.

Since some of my readers are also fans of Pecadillo, I thought I'd mention that he might be putting his blog on hiatus or posting very sporadically for a while. Life for him is not going to be all that funny for the next 8 or 9 months. Nor will he have a surplus of spare time. His mornings for the next few months will be starting at 3:30 AM. That's not a lifestyle that is very compatible with writing a humor blog. I think he'll blog at least once more before officially launching his new career. After that, I predict his posts will be pretty spotty and perhaps even nonexistent—at least until he gets back into a less stressful routine.

The Illustrious PecadilloIncidentally, when he was a little kid, Pecadillo was the least literate of all our sons. He hated every minute of school. He struggled with learning how to read. His two elder brothers loved Sesame Street and learned the alphabet and basic reading skills before entering kindergarten. Pecadillo's tastes ran to the Three Stooges, and he didn't read anything voluntarily until late Junior High, when someone gave him a biography of Curly. He was the least likely person in our family to blog. He started his blog quietly, without even mentioning it to me, while Darlene and I were out of town a few months ago. I have been amazed by his latent literary abilities. It took me completely by surprise. I honestly don't know when and where he developed his writing skills, but—wow.

I just wanted to put on the record how proud I am of him.

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19 July 2008

Shallow Conversions; Shallow Religion

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Constancy and Inconstancy—A Contrast," a sermon preached Sunday morning, 24 January 1869, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

hough I rejoice in sudden conversions, I entertain grave suspicions of those suddenly happy people who seem never to have sorrowed over their sin. I am afraid that those who come by their religion so very lightly often lose it quite as lightly. Saul of Tarsus was converted on a sudden, but no man ever went through a greater horror of darkness than he did before Ananias came to him with the words of comfort.

I like deep ploughing. Top-soil skimming is poor work; the tearing of the soil under surface is greatly needed. After all, the most lasting Christians appear to be those who have seen their inward disease to be very deeply seated and loathsome, and after awhile have been led to see the glory of the healing hand of the Lord Jesus as he stretches it out in the gospel.

I am afraid that in much modern religion there is a want of depth on all points; they neither deeply tremble nor greatly rejoice, they neither much despair nor much believe. Oh, beware of pious veneering! Beware of the religion which consists in putting on a thin slice of godliness over a mass of carnality. We must have thorough going work within; the grace which reaches the core, and affects the innermost spirit is the only grace worth having.

To put all in one word, a want of the Holy Ghost is the great cause of religious instability. Beware of mistaking excitement for the Holy Ghost, or your own resolutions for the deep workings of the Spirit of God in the soul. All that ever nature paints God will burn off with hot irons. All that nature ever spins he will unravel and cast away with the rags. Ye must be born from above, ye must have a new nature wrought in you by the finger of God himself, for of all his saints it is written, "Ye are his workmanship, created anew in Christ Jesus."

Oh, but, everywhere I fear there is a want of the Holy Spirit! there is much getting up of a tawdry morality, barely skin deep, much crying "Peace, peace," where there is no peace, and very little deep heart-searching anxiety to be throughly purged from sin. Well-known and well-remembered truths are believed without an accompanying impression of their weight; hopes are flimsily formed, and confidences ill founded, and it is this which makes deceivers so plentiful, and fair shows after the flesh so common.

C. H. Spurgeon

18 July 2008

At least the comments are open ...

by Frank Turk

Dan has publicly poked me about being less that posty this week at TeamPyro, so this is what you get. Almost TWO WEEKS ago I started a series on church and government, beginning with the difference between corporate responsibility and personal responsibility, and then speaking VERY briefly (and I would suggest too briefly) to the question of what the New Testament says about the church speaking to Government.

There are other examples which I have considered to enhance the bibleliness of my case here – for example, Jeremiah who wholly-criticized the synergism of his day between the ones working in the temple and those working in the world (especially the idolaters); I considered thinking about Jesus and Pilate, with the looming phrase from Christ to the Roman governor, “My kingdom is not of this world . . . my kingdom is not from the world”.

But what I am going to consider, instead, is a question I left off with last time: given our system of government – a republic with free voting rights for citizens – don’t Christians have a different playing field than the first-century church had? Shouldn’t we do things about abortion and education and the definition of marriage because in some way we are the government and we know better?

I am going to say this in a very ponderous way, and it is not meant to talk down to anyone. But what I don’t want is to skip any of the calculus we have to employ to get the answer I would suggest.

[1] There is no question that every citizen of our country ought to vote when they have the opportunity.

[2] Among those citizens, (those who fear being yoked to Belial notwithstanding) Christians especially ought to vote – and vote conscienciously, having been informed by the Scripture about the world we live in.

This, now, is where the matter gets sticky – because we don’t want to bifurcate our lives. We don’t want to put our faith in God in a private prayer closet and our political reasoning, safely shielded from our personal preferences, in the public square. We want to live as people who are redeemed by the blood of Christ who are being sanctified by His word.


[3] We must use sound Scriptural reasoning, something robustly Trinitarian, when we step into the public square – and not merely fight as though were conventional political partisans. Because we know the truth is this: we are sojourners. Right? We ought to desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God will not be ashamed to be called our God, for he has prepared for us a city.

There’s a post in there someplace for young men who want to redeem “the world” using “the church”, but I leave it for another day, and for them to find it for now.

For us, the middle-aged people with something to lose (for good and for ill), let me say this: we have to choose whether we are more concerned about either the way unbelievers act, or the way they will be saved.

There is no question that Scripture obligates Government to punish the evil-doer – but it does so by conceding that even the unbeliever can see the broad strokes of justice (which is established by God) in the created order. But the church is established to do something greater than the civil law.

For example, one of the problems as I see it with the church in politics today is that “gay marriage” is an issue. While every culture has some form of marriage arrangement (see: Romans 2 – even the unbeliever can see some kind of ordained order in creation), the Western view of marriage is founded on the Scriptural principles that God has made man for woman and woman for man, and that when they are joined together, they must not be torn apart.

It is a Church principle which the Government has recognized.

Our problem today is 2-fold. In the first place the church has frankly abdicated its role in being the minister of this command from God – through many things, but specifically through being very care-free about divorce even though God hates divorce. We don’t raise our children to hate divorce, do we? I wonder why ...

In the second place, since the church has abdicated its role in being the standard-bearer for marriage, we have foisted that role onto the government – making the question one only of law and of voter preference and not one of transcendent order.

So when we go back to the public square with, “but God didn’t create marriage for two guys or two girls – God created marriage to be between a man and a woman and the government should enforce that,” the rightly-reasoned response from our opponents is, “this is a matter of political rights, not religion (because look at you: you people don’t take your own scriptures seriously about marriage because you divorce) – and I don’t believe in your ‘God’ anyway.”

Because the church has given the state the responsibility to administer marriage, its ability to minister the blessing of marriage is in ruins.

And in the end, we are seeking to minister a truth which is greater than merely what constitutes a family: we are seeking to minister the truth of the union of Christ and His church.

That, btw, is the Gospel – and judgment, they say, begins in the house of God. We don’t have to be perfect, but we have to be at least serious about teaching our children that love means “sacrifice” and not “emotional sugar coating” in marriage.

[4] When we are doing our job in the church, as the church, our methods of political engagement will change. It’s ironic, I think, that the church has been able to historically manage the highest rate of change and the highest value of social change when it is most willing to die for the Gospel rather than fight for political ends with political means.

“Die for the Gospel”, btw, doesn’t mean “roll over when someone says we’re mean”. It means that we would rather die than deny what is true about Christ. In 20 years, James Dobson and Pat Robertson have not defeated abortion or gay marriage, have they? And Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton haven’t defeated “racism”, have they?

Here's something to think on for a second: I have a suspicion that one group of readers are right now grossly offended that I would lump Jackson with Dobson into the same bucket -- but I'll bet that on the other side of the political fence, there are people who will be offended that I would lump Dobson with Jackson into the same political bucket. And that, in and of itself, demonstrates that these guys do not have a Gospel agenda. They have a partisan agenda apart from the Gospel.

There's where the fireworks begin, and I'll leave the comments open on this for a couple of days to see where you people want to take it, or to ask questions about where this is right now.

As they say over at my blog, be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people in order to end political differences and to overcome political idolatry. You'd be surprized what the Gospel will do for you.

17 July 2008

July 4 in the Sierra: pyrotechnics with a Pyro

by Dan Phillips

July is likely to end up being a Tale of Two Jonathans for Phil and me. We may both temporarily leave off the customary theology and exposition and whatnot. And so, for my part, at the urging of some kind souls....

At the last moment, it was decided that my Jonathan (8) and I would keep our family's annual date with fireworks in the Eastern Sierra. It keeps a half-century-plus-long Phillips tradition of vacationing in the area between Mammoth Lakes and Bishop, California. It was hot, and smokier than I've ever seen it, but Jonathan and I had a great time. Let me show you some of it. (Click on any picture to see a larger version.)

First we stopped at a stream where highways 88 and 89 intersect, and Jonathan was eager to do some splashing. The water was cool...

...and the wildflowers were beautiful.

Then we descended into Nevada, passing through Gardnerville, where we took advantage of the much lower gas prices. Then we stopped at a favorite restaurant at Topaz Lake, enjoying a sumptuous dinner. Jonathan finished his with some chocolate ice cream.

The next step has been a Phillips Men tradition for many years. We stop at a day area campground by the West Walker River, and we — well, we....

Ahh. (Yes, I dipped too. But since my camera is worth more than I am, I just set it safely aside rather than asking Jonathan to snap a shot.)

After a nice sleep, the next day we made our way to Mammoth village, and enjoyed the annual craft fair. Jonathan was pretty sure he recognized a guy who'd commented at Frank's blog.

Jonathan made several passes through a pretty tough, inflated obstacle course. Among other things, it involved a slide....

...and walking across a rolling barrel.

(Jonathan accepted some help.)

Then we went up to the Mammoth lakes proper, the lowest of which is (are?) Twin Lakes. Here's the gorgeous view of upper Twin Lake, and the waterfall that flows from Lake Mamie, with Crystal Crag in the background.

Then we went down to Lake Crowley to take our places, waiting for it to get dark enough for the fireworks show. We had a good view of the neck of land whence the displays would be launched.

Then the show began!

Finishing with the Grand Finale.

After a good night's sleep, the next day found us hiking the length of beautiful Convict Lake. (Jonathan brought along his longtime friend [and mine], Bear. For one sermon, Bear [full name: Bear-Bear] graciously lent his services as an illustration. It was very apropos. Remind me to tell you about it some time.)

Once again, Jonathan cooled his feet...

...and heeded my counsel to stay well-hydrated.

Jonathan enjoyed the lovely, subtle fragrance of the wild roses by the lake's shore.

That evening we enjoyed barbecued steaks and S'mores in a campground by a creek.

One more sleep in Bishop, and we headed for home the next day. But no need to hurry!

We explored by a creek we'd never seen before, and found some of my Indian Paintbrush...

...and another lovely wildflower.

On the way back, Jonathan was determined to get a really good, deep dip in the East Walker.

Leaving the last adventure to me, at the 150-plate buffet:

Hey — I can't let Phil have all the fun!

Thanks for your interest and patience. Jonathan was absolutely delightful company, the scenery is always a balm to my soul, the food was great, and we filled some of the drive-time by listening to Jonathan Park and Adventures in Odyssey. Hope to make it back up to the Sierra with a different configuration of Phillipses later this year.

(Are there any Pyro readers in the Mammoth-Bishop area?)

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