24 February 2012

Exhortation? Well, OK, If You keep It Really Tame. But Reproof and Rebuke Aren't "Nice." Tell Us a Story Instead.

Continuing a series on 2 Timothy 4.
by Phil Johnson

"Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).



ow let's face it: the church in our generation has been cultivated in a hothouse of evangelical apostasy where unapologetic truth-speaking—especially if it includes rebuke for wrongdoing or the refutation of falsehood—is simply not tolerated. And yet the denizens of this refined society fancy themselves more tolerant than our benighted spiritual ancestors who held strong convictions about moral, ethical, and spiritual matters.



This softening of conviction would come as no surprise to the apostle Paul, because he told Timothy that times such as these were already on their way: "People will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."

Notice the theme of mythology (a recurring motif in Paul's pastoral epistles). Paul would include in his definition of mythology every manmade narrative—both the blind, misguided trust in "science" (falsely so-called) that led modernists astray, and the postmodern urge to re-tell every narrative from my own personal perspective. Paul calls all such forays into the reinvention of truth mythology.

Of course, the incessant exegesis of Hollywood's mythology in evangelical pulpits (as much as contemporary churchgoers seem to love it) would likewise earn Paul's vehement disapproval. Trends like that more or less epitomize the drift Paul was warning about.

We live in such a time. People today demand story-tellers, imagineers, comedians, and clowns. Most church-growth experts today acknowledge that people would rather be entertained than listen to biblical exposition—and an appallingly high number of these pundits actually encourage pastors to cater to the demand. There is no end of young pastors and church planters who think Conan Obrien and Chris Rock—or Steven Spielberg, or Bob Dylan, or Snoop Dog—are more fitting role models than the apostle Paul—or even someone like Charles Spurgeon.

That whole attitude is hostile to the authority of revealed truth and ultimately fatal to authentic faith. It is itself a deadly evil, even when—perhaps I should say especially when—it is married to an orthodox but merely lip-service confession of faith.

Phil's signature

48 comments:

Charlene said...

"And yet the denizens of this refined society fancy themselves more tolerant than our benighted spiritual ancestors who held strong convictions about moral, ethical, and spiritual matters."

Exactly the problem. The disciples want to be above their master. In a post modern society, to speak with authority=intolerant (which is actually a good thing when it comes to false teaching), unloving, rude, and mean. Oh yes, and arrogant.

Man is always trying to find a "better" way of speaking the truth than what the Bible has laid out.

Christopher Penkin said...
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Christopher said...

It's interesting the way people will defend false teachers. Just the other day I was talking to a colleague about some TBN type teachers that he enjoys watching which give him "great encouragement."

He was willing to acknowledge that some of their teachings were off but that he likes to watch them for the good things they have to say and just "ignore" the bad things.

So basically he'll eat a plate of food knowing that 30% is poisonous in the hope that he will know what the 70% good is and pick out the rest. Crazy if you ask me!

Robert said...

"It is itself a deadly evil, even when—perhaps I should say especially when—it is married to an orthodox but merely lip-service confession of faith."

This reminds me of Rick Warren. I'm sure there are plenty of others who come to mind, but he knows how to give the orthodox confession of faith and then turn around and want a world where Muslims and Christians work side by side...not in order to convert them, but just so that we have peace.

Jules LaPierre said...

There's no such thing as partial false teaching. "A little leaven leavens the whole lump." Galatians 5:9

GiftsandGiggles said...
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dac said...

Is today really any worse than any other time in history?

Who just are these "most church growth experts"?

There is "no end of young pastors and church planters who think Conan Obrien and .... are more fitting role models than the apostle Paul..."? Really? Not any that I know.

And perhaps some discourse on those "strong convictions about moral, ethical and spiritual matters" from our benighted spiritual ancestors would be interesting. Because all of those convictions were indeed truly biblical, right?

I would take your words to heart more readily if they dealt with things about the church "in your own eye", so to speak. Fundamentalist perversions of the bible such as dealing with the Landmark church in my hometown. Or the two (formerly) christian churches destroyed by hyper-calvinists in just the past five years, now shadows of their former selves (although, no doubt, they see themselves as hold true to the bible)

Lack of sound teaching? It's a problem alright. And it's in your backyard. Metaphorically speaking.

Tom Chantry said...

Fundamentalist perversions of the bible such as dealing with the Landmark church in my hometown. Or the two (formerly) christian churches destroyed by hyper-calvinists in just the past five years, now shadows of their former selves (although, no doubt, they see themselves as hold true to the bible)

Lack of sound teaching? It's a problem alright. And it's in your backyard. Metaphorically speaking.


Dac, sometimes I can't figure out whether whether you know what you're talking about or you don't know who you're talking to.

Is it me, or did you just call Phil a hypercalvinistic fundamentalist. (Were such a hybrid even possible.)

Kerry James Allen said...

As always, on target. Thanks again Phil. "For us to give ourselves to getting up entertainments, to become competitive with theatres and music halls, is a great degradation of our holy office. If I heard of a minister becoming a chimney-sweep to earn his living, I would honour him in both his callings; but for God's watchmen to become the world's showmen is a miserable business." CHS

donsands said...

There's a great shallowness in the Body of Christ. Like I have mentioned, our numero uno "Christian" radio station tries to be 100% positive. Joel Osteen is like that. The Dalai Llama is like that.
Sad.

What a expertly written piece. Thank you Phil.

I heard from my friend that Mark Dever's church is growing in the 20 year old age group in a great way. So here is some encouragement for us.
Of course Pastor Mark preaches the truth in a bold and dynamic way, and so to hear this is edifying. Makes me think there are those who do want to hear genuine words of truth from God's Word.
And one other note is that the true preachers that I hear, like the John MacArthurs, RC Sprouls, John Pipers, David Crums, and others, do have such wonderful stories, or testimonies, of how God has done multitudes of of things in their lives, and in the lives of others they know.

These stories are also good, when shared along with the text of their sermon.

Have a beautiful Lord's Day in the Lord's House, as you gather to worship our Father in Spirit and truth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UNQaxrMr2U&feature=related

Kerry James Allen said...

DAC, I'll let TC handle the heavy lifting here, but maybe that is why Proverbs (4:25-27, if I might apply it to these thoughts) tells us not to turn to the left (clowns, stand-up, movie based Bible "studies") or to the right (Landmarkism, hyper-KJVers, hyper-Calvinism). Spurgeon put it well when he stated that Satan knows how to handle Arminians and Calvinists.

Rubin O. Wits said...

I have found the dispensational churches to be the most exhuberant about providing entertainment-driven sermonettes.

bobfromchicago said...

All rebuking all the time is no way to build the kingdom, either. In some places, the pendulum's swung too far the other way.

Rubin O. Wits said...

I believe it to be quite biblical to ALWAYS rebuke bad doctrine (Dispensationalism, Emergents, Seeker-Sensitives, Prosperity Gospel, etc) ALL the time, in order to build the Kingdom.

Sir Aaron said...

Wow. Dispensationals lumped in with prosperity gospel, seeker sensitive, and emergents.

I get the impression that Rubin shops by merely dumping items in the basket as he walks down the aisle.

Tom Chantry said...

You know what's a really great word? "Perspective." It's related to "nuance," but is perhaps less annoying. It has to do with the way in which the eye perceives the physical landscape, fitting together distinct objects into a whole, measuring their relative proportion.

In a related definition, "perspective" has to do with the insight of the mind into a subject. When we speak of a person having "perspective" we mean that he is able to relate the details to the "big picture" and to properly appreciate the comparative importance of various problems. For instance, a person who lacks perspective may only say, "There is an animal in my living room." The person with perspective differentiates between "There is a mouse in my living room," and "There is a tiger in my living room." Each is a problem, but...well...we'll leave it to those of you with perspective to figure out the difference.

Incidentally, "perspective" in its literal sense also relates to how artists portray reality in a way which either confirms or distorts our optical perceptions. So, for instance, Steen displayed natural perspective, Escher toyed with it, Dali twisted it, and Picasso entirely ignored it. Similarly, those who write about theology (even on blogs) might be ordered and classified according to their capacity to communicate perspective.

So, as with "nuance," "perspective is a word originating in optical science that has wonderful application in the realm of religious discourse.

What's that you say? You thought I misplaced this comment - that it belonged in Frank's thread on "nuance"? Nope. I put it right where I intended.

Morris Brooks said...

The other side of the coin in II Timothy 4:3-4 and Phil's post is there will be "pastors" who are willing to play to the crowd so as to draw the numbers, be popular, gain an audience, and "build the church." If there weren't men willing to forsake sound doctrine there would be no one for the people with itching ears to accumulate. The desire to listen to myths will always be matched with those with the desire to preach myths.

Rubin O. Wits said...

Wow. Dispensationals lumped in with prosperity gospel, seeker sensitive, and emergents.

I get the impression that Rubin shops by merely dumping items in the basket as he walks down the aisle.

Sir Aaron,

Yep, I "lumping" bad, unbiblical doctrine in with bad, unbiblical doctrine.

I get the impression you are a Dispensationalist and you dump in everything, as you walk down the aisle.

Tom Chantry said...
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Tom Chantry said...

Rubin,

Is there a distinction between incorrect doctrine and heresy? Just wondering. If not, either my Lutheran sister or my Presbyterian sister (or possibly both of them) are going to hell. Thought I ought to ask.

(And before you ask, no, I'm not a dispensationalist.)

Rubin O. Wits said...

Rubin,

Is there a distinction between incorrect doctrine and heresy? Just wondering. If not, either my Lutheran sister or my Presbyterian sister (or possibly both of them) are going to hell. Thought I ought to ask.

(And before you ask, no, I'm not a dispensationalist.)

Tom,

I know you're not a dispensationalist.

A distinction between incorrect doctrine and heresy? In some cases, sure. I don't consider dispys to be heretics. I consider Rob Bell's theology to be heretical.

Tom Chantry said...

Rubin,

I don't consider dispys to be heretics. I consider Rob Bell's theology to be heretical.

That's good. Do you understand though, why you caused a touch of confusion with this statement?

I believe it to be quite biblical to ALWAYS rebuke bad doctrine (Dispensationalism, Emergents, Seeker-Sensitives, Prosperity Gospel, etc) ALL the time, in order to build the Kingdom.

If I may illustrate, I believe it to be quite legitimate to ALWAYS shoot at tigers that get into your living room with the largest caliber firearm available, ALL the time, in order to protect my family. You probably agree.

What would you think of me, though, if I said, "I believe it to be quite legitimate to ALWAYS shoot at animals in the living room (tigers, mice, kittens, etc.) with the largest caliber firearm available, ALL the time, in order to protect my family. Is there a problem with that statement?

Rubin O. Wits said...

Ya I see the problem with that statement but I think it's hyperbolic and doesn't quite match what I'm saying.

I wonder if you think I go into Dispensational congregations and start fights over doctrine - I don't.

But if I'm talking with someone, why shouldn't I give biblical reasons why dispensationalism is unbiblical. I expect them to do the same. As a Reformed pastor I would think you would get this.

Robert Warren said...

Or the two (formerly) christian churches destroyed by hyper-calvinists in just the past five years, now shadows of their former selves

dac:

By "shadows of their former selves", do you mean attendance is down? If so, is it possible that could be partially due to the application of church discipline? Could it also be partially due to expository preaching? Folks accustomed to entertainment might find it a little taxing to listen to 45-50 minutes of scripture exposition.

Also, can you help me out with your definition of hyper-calvinism? I have a strong suspicion that there are many who don't really know what a hyper-calvinist is.

Tom Chantry said...

As a Reformed pastor who is flawed, I'm sure I do many things that are wrong.

Two things I try not to do - either as a Reformed pastor or otherwise:

1. Make statements in which I put the prosperity gospel and dispensationalism into the same bin, as though they were in any way comparable.

2. Respond to a dispensationalist who is taking a stand against gross ministerial impropriety and calling for an expositional approach to preaching by saying, "Yeah, but you're dispensational, so what do you know?"

Or, to put #2 another way, I don't go into dispensational blogs and start fights over doctrine.

Kerry James Allen said...

Rubin, I think that if you think it through, the pragmatism doesn't flow from dispensationalism (yes, I am one) as much as it does from Arminianism. And some of the churches that would have a Calvinistic doctrinal statement go contrary to that with Arminian methodology. An old copy of the New Hampshire confession tucked away in the attic somewhere doesn't override the big church mentality that some succumb to. Spurgeon always taught and believed that Calvinism kept pastors and churches straight longer doctrinally and practically. And although he was not dispensational, he was pre-millennial and not a supercessionist which are certainly two important parts of dispensational thinking.

Robert said...

Rubin,

Two things:

1)"But if I'm talking with someone, why shouldn't I give biblical reasons why dispensationalism is unbiblical. I expect them to do the same." You didn't do that. You just threw in a smoke bomb and waited for people to come out running and screaming.

2) I'll just copy Tom's comment because it matches my thoughts -"Respond to a dispensationalist who is taking a stand against gross ministerial impropriety and calling for an expositional approach to preaching by saying, "Yeah, but you're dispensational, so what do you know?"

Which kinda falls in line with Frank's post, although it is a bit of a different application. Interseting, huh?

C. T. Bennett said...

Since the time of about Campus Crusade's "A billion dollars for a billion souls" campaign, the merger of mainstream capitalistic, mainstream entertainment/cultural, and mainstream political/pragmatic practices and products with mainstream Evangelicalism has made the two harder and harder to distinguish. David Brooks, among many others, wrote about this over a decade ago and the trend has continued.

One great harm of the Furtick/Noble/MacDonald/Jakes stream of performing arts is that it further marginalizes the impact of true Christian message in the broader culture because serious people view these guys and write them off entirely as circus acts doing parlor tricks to attract a crowd, applause and ticket sales. They don't criticize them, they just chuckle a bit and move on. It is an egregious example of Dan Block's (book on Judges) moving discussion of the Canaanization of Israel.

The Elephant Room has focused on the alleged elephant -- they have missed the root problem: the room.

Rubin O. Wits said...

I'm confused. My Reformed pastor and other great Reformed pastors (Riddlebarger) believe Dispensationalism is unbiblical. I never said it was equally unbiblical as the prosperity gospel, as evidenced by my earlier post of Dispys NOT being heretics.
But since they're both unbiblical I am dumping them in the same bin.

Your #2 point is strange. Ok, you don't go into dispensational blogs and start fights over doctrine. That's great. Neither do I.... please read what I wrote.

Kerry James Allen said...

BTW, if anybody is interested, go to Spurgeon.org and look at Phil's chart explaining the differences between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. Most of the people I talk to have the two mixed up and don't understand the differences.

Tom Chantry said...

Rubin,

If you cannot read your own statement and perceive that it did not communicate what you intended, that it lacked perspective, and that - in this context - it was combative, then I just don't know how to help.

I don't hold to dispensationalism, and of course the reason is that I don't find it in the Bible. Is that a problem? I suppose. But context matters. You're the one that brought up dispensationalism, and I suppose you know our host's theology. Maybe you didn't, but I doubt that.

There are tigers in the living room, Rubin. Truly. Phil is taking aim with a high-powered rifle. And your comment smacks of saying, "Yes, get those tigers! And that mouse over there, and the kitten who's scratching at the carpet!"

There's a time and a place to discuss dispensationalism. This isn't it.

Kerry James Allen said...

Tom, Rubin already stated the problem in the first two words of his last post. "I'm confused."

Rubin O. Wits said...

Every comment on here it combative.

Yes I brought up dispensationalism. We both find it unbiblical. I said I didn't put it on equal footing as the heresy of the prosperity gospel in that it's heretical, just unbiblical. You seem to agree, somewhat.

And no, I don't know the host's theology. Does he hold to Dispensationalism? I've only been here for a couple of weeks.

How come others get to go on tangents but I bring up one and you say this isn't the place for it. Fine.

DJP said...

Wait — Phil did a post about dispensationalism?

Rubin O. Wits said...

Robert,

1)"But if I'm talking with someone, why shouldn't I give biblical reasons why dispensationalism is unbiblical. I expect them to do the same." You didn't do that. You just threw in a smoke bomb and waited for people to come out running and screaming.

Smoke bomb? By saying dispensationalism is unbiblical? Hardly a smoke bomb. I guess I offended the dispys here. My bad. (Wonder if I should tell Dr. Riddlebarger and others that they're wrong and combative for being against dispensationalism).

Running and screaming? Why would anyone do that? I don't run and scream when someone tells me my position is unbiblical.

"Yeah, but you're dispensational, so what do you know?"

I never said this, nor do I hold to it.

It's clear I can't get a fair shake here as I'm getting ganged up on so I'll just read from now on and not post and my tangents aren't allowed.

Robert said...

Rubin,

I'm not trying to be combative...I just think that it was the wrong place to throw out the comment that dispensationalism is unbiblical. And I am sorry that I assumed that you knew that Phil Johnson holds a dispensational view of God's relation with man as being Biblical (I do, too). I'd just wait until there is a post about dispensationalism before randomly commenting that it is unbiblical. Mainly because that is such a hot topic in evangelical circles.

C. T. Bennett said...

Re Pastor Chantry's 11:20 comment with tigers, I would like to piggy-back with a slightly different metaphor: this site is often about trees. Up close they have tremendous differences but I am at a large secular university and they look at the forest, so to speak.

What they see is this: Chandler is at T4G this month with Dever and Trueman; last month he was at Furtick's with Jakes and then at Driscoll's church right after ER2 when Driscoll and MacDonald accepted Jakes who works with Osteen; Chandler and Piper were together at DG, Piper endorsed Warren last year and Warren endorsed Furtick. Chandler was at Noble's after DG, and will be at 9Marks and at Noble's church twice this year. This site can distinguish trees; many see a forest.

Because Noble et al have the larger and younger public presence they may likely play the kind of role that Warren has played in this generation in providing a mainstream face to the Evangelical message writ large. That they are so entwined with YRR, T4G, DG, A29, TGC, ... makes it a toxic problem for this (and the next) generation's true witness to its culture. This, as Pastor Chantry says, is a threat to the Gospel more serious than eschatological differences. It's genuinely a scary scary time.

Tom Chantry said...

Rubin,

Phil is an associate pastor with John MacArthur in a church which is known for Calvinistic soteriology, but also for a dispensational eschatology and a hermeneutic which leans dispensational. I rather thought everyone knew that, but I suppose perhaps you didn't.

The truth is, when you link non-heretical and heretical views, the lack of perspective will always come across as combative.

For instance, as a Reformed Baptist I argue against Infant Baptism as form of worship unsanctioned in Scripture. That doesn't mean I should go around saying things like, "We don't perform un-biblical rituals like child sacrifice or infant baptism in our services." It's a combative way of talking, even if there aren't any Presbyterians in the room. It's true that I believe that neither child sacrifice nor infant baptism are sanctioned in scripture, but the very suggestion that they are in the same category is repugnant.

Your statement, I believe, is similarly lacking in perspective. This lack of perspective, coupled with your statement that it is ALWAYS right to rebuke error ALL the time - including non-heretical error, it would seem, is simply not true. You said that it is always the right time to rebuke dispensationalism. I'm not even sure one ever "rebukes" fellow-Christians over non-heretical interpretive differences. There is a time to discuss, but that time is not always, nor is it all the time. You could make a much better argument that every time heresy comes up it ought to be rebuked. But your comment made no distinction between the prosperity gospel heresy and the dispensational interpretive difference. That is what we are opposing, not a "rabbit trail."

Kerry James Allen said...

"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."

Tom Chantry said...

KJA,

Spurgeon didn't say that. You're letting down the team! /humor

rom623rom828 said...

Back to the blog at hand (I think somewhat at least) ... a couple of weekends ago, My HUMBLED pastor :) was covering Philippians 3:2 "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision"

Basically he said, if the "dog" is your OWN pastor then find another church; if the "dog" is a close friend or someone you personally know well then "confront" the "dog"; otherwise mind your own buisness.

Sounds a bit limiting and perhaps self-serving imho. What thinketh thee?

You are loved! Even you, Tom :)

Kerry James Allen said...

That was a test Tom. You passed. Everybody on here probably already thinks I go into trances and channel Spurgeon, but that's a better channel than what I'm getting on Dish! What can I say? After reading about 50,000 pages of and about the guy, I bleed him!

Jennifer said...

Rom623Rom828,
Honest question here ... why do you attend Harvest? It seems, by your comments that are most often directed as slags against your pastor and church, that you do not trust or agree with your elders. I assume you have prayed for and about your elders and have spoken to them. So then, would it not be time to look for another place to worship and elders to whom you could submit? I do not want to assume anything and maybe you have a very good biblical reason.

Kerry James Allen said...

Someone needed Phil's chart on Hyper-Calvinism and it requires a little digging, but here it is, required reading for all Pyro regulars and visitors!
http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/hypercal.htm

rom623rom828 said...
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rom623rom828 said...

Jennifer:

When we started attending there 5 years ago, the teaching seemed fairly solid to us especially with Joe Stowell Sr on Staff, filling the pulpit when Mac was absent.

We were familar with Mac via Walk in the Word before attending and at the time he seem solid to us too.

We have talked to elders (via email) and have gotten some response. As you can imagine tho, being 1 of 13000 sheep over 6 campuses doesn't allow for a lot of personal interaction especially with a busy Sr Pastor.

The "we" and "us" part complicates things a bit in finding another church. (Besides, there are still some good parts there).

Perhaps I should be quiet and just let "outsiders" like Tom, Phil, Doug, and Frank comment/blog on stuff closely related to my church. Except my Sr Pastor may argue that its none of their business/concern (see my previous post).

Sidenote: would u ask Luther why he attended his church and why he just doesn't find another church? Seems we have gotten "church shopping" crazy in our modern era instead of confronting and facing problems in our local churches. As a result, issues go unaddressed as the concerned people just go away quietly.

Phil Johnson said...

Today's combox would be a top contender for the comment-thread that veered off topic faster, further, and more incorribily than any other in the history of the blog.

Phil Johnson said...

In fact. I'm going to declare it the all-time winner and close comments. It's the only merciful thing to do.