30 March 2012

Spurgeon on Depression

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. Here are a few resources from the Prince of Preachers on a topic he was intimately familiar with:

From The Soul Winner (chapter 9, "The Cost of Being a Soul Winner"):

ome years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Certain troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went away to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in soul, for my spirit was overwhelmed.

Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed, I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heart-breaking words. I felt to the full of my measure the horror of a soul forsaken of God. Now, that was not a desirable experience. I tremble at the bare idea of passing again through that eclipse of soul; I pray that I may never suffer in that fashion again unless the same result should hang upon it.

That night, after sermon, there came into the vestry a man who was as nearly insane as he could be to be out of an asylum. His eyes seemed ready to start from his head, and he said that he should utterly have despaired if he had not heard that discourse, which had made him feel that there was one man alive who understood his feeling, and could describe his experience. I talked with him, and tried to encourage him, and asked him to come again on the Monday night, when I should have a little more time to talk with him.

I saw the brother again, and I told him that I thought he was a hopeful patient, and I was glad that the word had been so suited to his case. Apparently, he put aside the comfort which I presented for his acceptance, and yet I had the consciousness upon me that the precious truth which he had heard was at work upon his mind, and that the storm of his soul would soon subside into a deep calm.

See also:

"Comfort for the Desponding"
"Encouragement for the Depressed"
"Darkness Before the Dawn"
"To the Saddest of the Sad"
"Consolation Proportionate to Spiritual Sufferings"
"The Christian's Heaviness and Rejoicing"
Now hear the sequel. Last night, of all the times in the year, when, strange to say, I was preaching from the words, "The Almighty hath vexed my soul," after the service, in walked this self-same brother who had called on me five years before. This time, he looked as different as noonday from midnight, or as life from death. I said to him, "I am glad to see you, for I have often thought about you, and wondered whether you were brought into perfect peace." I told you that I went to Mentone, and my patient also went into the country, so that we had not met for five years.

To my enquiries, this brother replied, "Yes, you said I was a hopeful patient, and I am sure you will be glad to know that I have walked in the sunlight from that day till now. Everything is changed and altered with me."

Dear friends, as soon as I saw my poor despairing patient the first time, I blessed God that my fearful experience had prepared me to sympathize with him and guide him; but last night, when I saw him perfectly restored, my heart overflowed with gratitude to God for my former sorrowful feelings. I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit: it is good for me to have been afflicted that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.

Suppose that, by some painful operation, you could have your right arm made a little longer, I do not suppose you would care to undergo the operation; but if you foresaw that, by undergoing the pain, you would be enabled to reach and save drowning men who else would sink before your eyes, I think you would willingly bear the agony, and pay a heavy fee to the surgeon to be thus qualified for the rescue of your fellows.

Reckon, then, that to acquire soul-winning power you will have to go through fire and water, through doubt and despair, through mental torment and soul distress. It will not, of course, be the same with you all, nor perhaps with any two of you, but according to the work allotted you, will be your preparation. You must go into the fire if you are to pull others out of it, and you will have to dive into the floods if you are to draw others out of the water. You cannot work a fire-escape without feeling the scorch of the conflagration, nor man a lifeboat without being covered with the waves. If Joseph is to preserve his brethren alive, he must himself go down into Egypt; if Moses is to lead the people through the wilderness, he must first himself spend forty years there with his flock. Payson truly said, "If anyone asks to be made a successful minister, he knows not what he asks; and it becomes him to consider whether he can drink deeply of Christ's bitter cup and be baptized with His baptism."

And from the same book, chapter 14:

    often feel very grateful to God that I have undergone fearful depression of spirits. I know the borders of despair, and the horrible brink of that gulf of darkness into which my feet have almost gone; but hundreds of times I have been able to give a helpful grip to brethren and sisters who have come into that same condition, which grip I could never have given if I had not known their deep despondency. So I believe that the darkest and most dreadful experience of a child of God will help him to be a fisher of men if he will but follow Christ.

C. H. Spurgeon

29 March 2012

"After all, Pastor, it's your church"

by Dan Phillips

I would imagine every Christian pastor has had the experience I did last week, and I would imagine that they all have winced, too.

After the funeral, I was approached by a textbook Texan I hadn't met before, not an attender. He seemed like a good guy, and I liked him instantly. He stood maybe 6'4" or 6'5" (well above my 6'), and yes he actually was wearing a cowboy hat and, I believe, boots. His voice was rich and resonant, like well-oiled leather. He had a question:

"Where can I go to smoke?"

By the way, we're not at the cringe-part.

For the ___th time since I'd begun here a week and a half previously, I was being asked a question to which I had no real answer. I chuckled and said I didn't know, anywhere not inside a building should be fine, it didn't really matter to me.

"Well, it's your church," he said. Then I winced.

"Actually, it's God's church," I smiled in response. It felt kind of cliched to say, because I knew what he meant. And yet if I hadn't said it, I would have felt bad all day; and since I don't really like feeling bad all day, I made the point that perhaps didn't need to be made just in case it did need to be made: it isn't my church, it's God's church.

That keeps coming back to me in odd moments. As I've thought of it, I think there are a few things worth saying. Of course, you'll be the judge of that. But it occurs to me that there are some ways in which thinking of Copperfield Bible Church as my church would always be wrong and always be harmful, but also there are some ways in which thinking of CBC as my church are both true and helpful.

Let me 'splain.

First: "My church"? Absolutely not! Never!

It's Christ's church. Frankly, this point is so massive and important that it virtually renders the phrase unusable (Matt. 16:18, etc.). The church is not my church, the elders' church, a denomination's church, the majority's church. It's Christ's church. It was His idea. He created it. He's building it. It is truly and really all about Him (Eph. 4:15). Any mortal who loses sight of that is pretty much lost, period.

The church is constituted by the Holy Spirit. It may and probably should have a Constitution, but the Constituter is the Spirit, by that waterless baptism which both created the church and enrolls members (Acts 2; 1 Cor. 12:13). No mortal does any of that, either.

The church is made up of saints whom I am to serve, and with whom I work for their joy and edification (Rom. 12:4-5; 2 Cor. 1:24). What any leader does must have Christ first in view as He exercises Lordship by His Spirit-breathed inscripturated Word. At the same time, it must have Christ's people in view, and their edification (1 Cor. 14:26b; Eph. 4:11-13). There's no shelter here for a kind of Christ-centeredness that makes no effort actually to pastor the actual people in the actual assembly one serves.

Those are important points. One should never, ever think of a local assembly as "my church," if each of those considerations isn't firmly in place.

But if they are? Is there a useful, even an important and necessary use of the words? I think so:

Second: "My church"? Good point, in that...

Christ has entrusted it to me for protection, and I must own that. I am charged with guarding against grievous wolves (Acts 20:28-31). I am charged with preaching healthy doctrine, and decisively refuting and shutting down those who are advocating otherwise (1 Tim. 4:6; Titus 1:9-13; 3:10-11). That's my job. I can't shrug it off by hoping that they buy some professional apologist's materials, listen to the right podcasts, read the right books. They are my charge for my protection.

Christ has entrusted it to me for edification, and I must own that. I am to preach the Word to them no matter what (2 Tim. 4:1-5). I am to work with them for their joy (2 Cor. 1:24). The Word that builds them up is the Word that I am to preach emphatically and wholly (Acts 20:27-28, 32). My ministry should personally encompass every person entrusted to my care, and that's hard work (Col. 1:27-28). I can't hope they read Piper or Spurgeon for their edification. That's my job under God.

Christ will call me to account for how I care for this body of believers, and I must own that. This can be grievous or it can be joyous (and right now, I can't ever remember being happier in what I am doing), but either way, it's down to me under God (Heb. 13:7, 17). They're mine to care for and watch out for, and it's me God is going to take to task for how I do that — not MacArthur, not Sproul, not DeYoung, but me.

I've preached this message along those lines here and at my blog for many years. Now it's me in that office, and everything I said that was true is still true. In other words, all those grand theories and ideas I've had and blogged about? Now's the time, and this is the place, and I am that guy.

So is this church "my church"? In the most important sense — in the sense of who owns it and defines it and possesses it — absolutely and most emphatically NO.

But is it "my church"? In the sense that it is mine to serve, mine to love, mine to care for, mine to protect, mine to nourish and feed and lead, and mine to answer for before God in the Last Day? My responsibility, under God? My charge?


It's hard even to write the words, candidly. But Scripture forces the conclusion.

In that sense, yes.

(Thank God I share the task with good, godly fellow elders!)

Dan Phillips's signature

28 March 2012

Making it up on Volume

by Frank Turk

I admit this is not a very theologically-driven post this week.

Watch this video:

If you click over to youTube to scan the comments (which is, of course, usually like reading the restroom walls at a dilapidated bus station) you find that people there are afraid that the National Debt is too high to ever be repaid -- we're doomed.

OK: fair enough.  I admit that I think the national debt is too high by a factor of about 100, and that if it was only $140 billion (you know: "only") I'd be somewhat unfazed by it because $140 billion is really only about 3 days float for a global operation doing all sorts of things, and it's healthy to have enough cash reserve to fend off three days of banking glitches. (and true enough: we could really be well-off to have three days cash on-hand for the same purpose)

Now, that said, is the analogy given by the good doctor Davies really all that sound?  Some say, "no," because a government is really nothing like a household, and the way it spends money is not analogous to household spending.  Meh -- I think that objection overlooks the way analogies work, and it's also a little thick when it comes to recognizing that a budget is a budget whether the budget pays for food and socks and internet access or it pays for tanks and roads and policemen and a court system and so on.  The analogy is established to make the numbers into dollar avlues which we really deal with every day -- and to show that by scale, the problem is rather disastrous.

That is: if the government can be seen as a self-sustaining entity.  And I think that's where this analogy actually goes off the rails.

See: the government is, instead, a service provider in the economy at large.  Now, I'll grant a few things here: I didn't ask for, and don't really want, a lot of the services it provides.  I think for all the good it does, the harm it does to (for example) families and economic liberty are pretty serious if not actually severe.  But as a service provider, the question is only who has chartered it and do they have the resources to pay off the debit it has incurred.

Think about this with me for a second.  The right analogy here is that our society -- our nation -- is the household, and the national debt is sort of like our mortgage.  Right now it clocks at about 100% of our national income, and we have to ask ourselves, "is that too much for a mortgage?"

By comparison, in 2005 the average household mortgage was about $167,000 and the average household income was between $46,000 and $56,000 (the lower number being "households," and the higher number being "families").  For the sake of this comparison, if we take the higher number as the baseline for calculating the ratio of income-to-mortgage, the average mortgage was 2.982 times the average annual household income (it's 3.63 times if you use the lower income number).  So most households -- even in this day and age when about 3-4% of homes go into foreclosure due to financial hardship -- carry a debt someplace north of 2.5 times their annual income and generally survive it.

But here, I admit, the analogy really does fall apart.  For the mortgage holder, at the end of the mortgage term, they own an asset which will usually appreciate at the rate of inflation.  For the United States as a nation, what we get is a larger debt every year with little or no assets to show for it and no headway after we pay billions in interest only against debt service.  The come-back from the investment as a nation is practically nil versus the household buying a house over the long run.  But my actual point here is sound enough: a debt even the double the size of one's current annual income can be paid back (with interest) if one is disciplined enough to actually pay it back on a schedule.

Thus: So what?  My point is very simple: the US Government is not like a house that lives outside of its means.  It is rather like a department of a larger operation which is running without a budget, leeching resources from other more necessary and more profitable operations.  What the Government needs is not actually to be shut down but to be scaled back to the right size for what it ought to be doing -- rather than continually growing every time some new manager comes in with big ideas about all the new customers he can sell below cost to and then somehow "make it up on volume."

Let's not elect somebody who sees it otherwise this year -- either at the local level, the state level, or the national level in all races.  I really don't care who you vote for as long as he or she understands that the Government is spending too much money, and that has to stop.  Immediately.  And they have to have a commitment to pay back what we owe right now because, on principle, borrowing money for things that aren't assets which cannot be resold and cannot generate a quantifiable return on investment is wasteful at best -- and a kind of stealing at worst.

Pray about that, and we'll be more theologicaly-minded next week.

27 March 2012

Delight and de danger of de metaphor (from 2006)

by Dan Phillips
Last Sunday I had the pleasure of preaching The Church's Call — Big Picture, primarily drawing from Ephesians 3. In the course of that sermon, we looked at the fact that the church is an organism, but it is an organized organism, giving attention to the fact that it's a danger to excise one aspect of truth from the Bible and develop it at length without reference to other controlling truths. In my mind, I was thinking of this post, from almost exactly six years ago. A lot has changed; a lot hasn't.
Thank God that the Bible as a whole doesn't read like a legal document or — worse — anything written by any department of any branch of any government. Whereas legaloids, bureaucrats and eggheads tend to generate documents addressed mostly to themselves and the rarefied atmosphere of their peers, the Bible is addressed to craftsmen, tradesmen, farmers, parents, kids. Folks like us.

For that reason the Bible bristles with vibrantly colorful ways of communication, including stories, riddles, poems, aphorisms, personal letters, alliterations, similes and metaphors. We pretty instinctively know what a metaphor does: it illustrates something about something. It doesn't illustrate everything about anything. We shouldn't go nuts with it.

So when we read that Yahweh is our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1), we're usually smart enough to let the psalm itself bring out the implications of that word picture. We don't go nuts, and depict God as wandering around in the desert, carrying a literal stick, picking grit out of His stew and being bitten by bugs. That's leagues beyond, and beside, the point of the metaphor.

On the other hand, of course we don't sniff, "Well, of course, He isn't literally a shepherd," and then simply ignore the point of the psalm. The metaphor is used for a purpose, and we're both fools and the poorer for it if we evade that purpose.

We should similarly avoid going to either extreme when it comes to Biblical metaphors applied to believers. There are many of them.

Take the one I think is most misunderstood: disciple. What does that word itself mean? Ask any church gathering and, assuming that you know the answer, you'll be a bit disheartened. "Follower?" the first brave soul will venture. "Apostle?" "Believer?" "Disciplined, uh, person?"

They'll all mean well, and they'll all probably be wrong, because disciple has just become one of those words we use without definition. In Greek, it's quite unambigous. Mathetes is related to the verb manthano, which means "I learn," and it simply means "a learner," "a pupil," "a student." (See how much better sense that understanding makes of Matthew 28:18-20, and John 8:31-32.)

It's a neglected and much-needed metaphor, in my view. How many professed Christians come to church, Sunday after Sunday, mentally and physically prepared to do everything but learn? No pen, no pencil; no laptop, parchment, crayon, stub of coal. More often than I can bear to think, no Bible. They simply come to watch, to observe, perhaps to sing, hopefully to be entertained to some degree -- but not to participate, not to catch what they hear, tie it up, make it their own, and do something with it. They feel that their mere bodily presence fulfills all requirements.

Pastor, next Sunday, surprise your congregation with a pop-quiz on last Sunday's sermon. (No; on second thought, better not.)

So we'd move on a good bit towards the reality of Hebrews 5:11-14 if we stressed that image, that picture, that metaphor, more insistently. But it is not the only metaphor! Is the only goal of a church's function to fill up notebooks, or load heads with facts? Is a pastor doing his job if he develops a vocabulary that only his special students can understand, and develops the atmosphere of a college classroom?

Not at all. The Bible also pictures the church under the metaphors of a body (1 Corinthians 12:12), a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5), a temple (Ephesians 2:2), a new man (Ephesians 2:15), a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5), and a family (Galatians 6:10) -- among others.

But no one of these metaphors captures the whole. I knew a pastor who "camped out" on the family metaphor, almost exclusively. Church was at 10:00am, but folks always straggled in later and later. Rather than trying to address the lack of respect or discipline, he just said, "It's a family," and moved the service to 10:30. What happened? You guessed it. They adjusted their straggle-in time to 10:45, 10:50. and the service started at 11:00. Babies were allowed to wander all over the floor, right up to the pulpit. Kids ran around. Few brought Bibles; but the ladies did bring knitting.

Maybe it resembled some families... but it didn't do much for the other Biblical metaphors.

In sum: the Bible is a big book, on purpose. In crafting our view of anything, we should take in the whole range of revelation, and not just isolate the bit that strikes us at the moment.

Dan Phillips's signature

26 March 2012

Celebrity Pastors and the Roots of American Evangelical Dysfunction

by Phil Johnson

everal weeks before the Shepherds' Conference, all the plenary speakers were sent a sheet of survey questions. Their replies were excerpted and published in the Official Conference Guide.

The first question was, "What books have you read recently and how have they made an impact on your thinking?" The answer I gave was wordy and my reading list was—let's say "eclectic." (Some would say "motley.") So—no real surprise to me—my answer to that question didn't get published in the Guide. But I wanted to mention part of my answer here, because it prompted an interesting observation.

In answering that first question, I divided the lists of books I've been reading into "Biography & History; Theology; Commentaries; and Biblical Subjects." I didn't plan this, but the first three volumes I listed in the "Biography & History" category revealed an intriguing pattern:

The Life and Times of Cotton Mather, by Kenneth Silverman

The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher, by Debby Applegate

Apparent Danger: [J. Frank Norris,] The Pastor of America's First Megachurch and the Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920s, (also published under the title The Shooting Salvationist) by David Stokes

The first two books on that list won Pulitzer Prizes. The third one is as compelling as any Pulitzer winner—a pastoral biography in classic true-crime genre. All three are books I would highly recommend.

The subjects of all three books are celebrity pastors—Cotton Mather, Henry Ward Beecher, and J. Frank Norris—three very different men whose ministries left indelible imprints on three successive centuries of American history. They represent three vastly different strains of evangelical Protestantism. At the peak of their ministries, each of these three men could have legitimately claimed to be the most famous pastor in the country. All three were too enthralled with their own celebrity status. And all three were at the center of scandals that diminished their reputations.

Consequently, all three books are instructive about the various dangers of evangelical mass movements and man-centered leadership models. Large personalities often have large character flaws. Celebrity leaders and the personality cults they tend to cultivate are fraught with danger. Sycophants and simpletons tend to mimic and exaggerate the shortcomings of men with big egos while spurning the lessons of their failures. The aftermath leaves a long wake. It's my belief that ripples of the various errors made by these three men are still reverberating on the surface of American evangelicalism.


Cotton Mather is the most likable of these three superstar historical figures. Two of his grandfathers (John Cotton and Richard Mather) were respected and respectable Puritan pastors who came to America with some of the first settlers. Their goal was to found a Puritan society. Cotton's father, Increase Mather, was also an excellent pastor and an influential political leader in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. So the heavy mantle of two previous generations fell on Cotton Mather.

The controversy for which Cotton Mather is remembered—and the episode that tainted his reputation in American history—was of course the Salem Witchcraft crisis. Mather chronicled the events of that catastrophe in a manner calculated to put himself in the hero's role, but when the witch trials were discredited and even one of the leading judges, Samuel Sewell, publicly repented for his part in condemning people to death who turned out to be innocent, Mather became the main target of critics and satirists. His sometimes pompous, overbearing demeanor made him an easy mark for ridicule.

In later years Cotton Mather became intrigued with German pietism. The virile, gospel-centered Reformed teaching he had learned from his grandfathers slowly, almost imperceptibly became mixed and diluted with whiny moralism and pious-sounding platitudes. Mather was satirized by young Benjamin Franklin, whose imaginary alter-ego, a cranky, outspoken, holier-than-thou woman named Silence Dogood, was based on Mather's personality. (Mather had written a famous book titled Essays to Do Good.) It's my conviction that Mather's moralistic shift unwittingly helped open the door for Socinianism and Deism in the generation that followed him.


Henry Ward Beecher was likewise the son of a very famous preacher, Lyman Beecher. (The whole Beecher family were famous. One of Henry's sisters, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. Another sister was an influential women's-rights activist. A niece was married to Edward Everett Hale.) The elder Beecher was originally a strict subscriptionist to the Westminster Confession. At first he opposed the doctrines and methodologies ("new measures") that Charles Finney made popular. But Lyman Beecher later softened his stance against Finney and he himself began to advocate the "new measures." The famous patriarch of the Beecher family was subsequently charged with heresy and tried by his session, but he was acquitted.

The son, Henry Ward Beecher, a young, struggling pastor at the time, seemed to take his father's shift (and acquittal) as permission to throw off the shackles of orthodoxy completely. He began to employ methodologies and teach doctrines that were novel at the time but have become standard fare for today's seeker-sensitive and highly-contextualized ministry styles. Beecher was openly and proudly devoted to worldly values and stylish causes. He reveled in his celebrity status and the petty scandals his lifestyle provoked.

Then a major scandal broke when a parishioner (the wife of one of Beecher's assistants) admitted to her husband that she had engaged in an adulterous affair with Beecher. In those days adultery was a criminal offense, and Beecher was formally charged. After a scandalous public trial, which was played out on the front pages of every newspaper in America, the jury was unable to reach a decision, and Beecher returned to ministry. In my judgment Henry Ward Beecher bears as much responsibility as (perhaps more than) Charles Finney for the pragmatism that dominates evangelical ministry philosophy today.


Frank Norris had a decidedly different style and he was a classic fundamentalist with regard to doctrine, but he shared Beecher's love of celebrity and his penchant for scandal. Norris pastored two churches concurrently—one in Detroit and one in Ft. Worth, TX. Before the era of jet travel, he would fly back and forth between the two cities, preaching on alternate weeks at one location, then the other.

Norris's most notorious scandal occurred when he shot a man to death in the pastor's study in Ft. Worth. He claimed it was self-defense, but there were no witnesses, and he was charged with murder. Norris's trial was also meticulously covered by every newspaper in America. Ultimately, he was acquitted, but he incurred the contempt and distrust of many, including a number of his own former followers.

That wasn't even Norris's only criminal trial. He was charged on another occasion with arson when the Ft. Worth Church burned under highy questionable circumstances, but Norris was acquitted of that charge as well. The various trials and acquittals seemed to make Norris more brash and pugnacious. He epitomized the "fighting fundamentalist" style. Later fundamentalists, including Jack Hyles and Peter Ruckman, openly revered and imitated him. The Bible Baptist Fellowship considers Norris a founder, and his controversial style is definitely still alive in that group.

Three centuries. Three celebrity pastors. Three completely different ministry philosophies. And yet there are so many similarities. Reading these three books in relatively close succession drove home the point for me that evangelicals historically haven't been very good at differentiating between men who have character and men who merely are characters.

There's nothing inherently wrong with fame, of course. But a love of fame for fame's sake—the modern notion of celebrity—is deadly, especially in the church. We ought to learn the lessons of our own past, and we ought to heed the words of the Lord Jesus, who said, "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:26-28).

Phil's signature

25 March 2012

True Wisdom Is Not Academic

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 "The Sluggard's Farm," one of the sermons in the book Farm Sermons.

ertain persons call themselves "cultured," and yet they cultivate nothing. Modern thought, as far as I have seen anything of its actual working, is a bottle of smoke, out of which comes nothing solid; yet we know men who can distinguish and divide, debate and discuss, refine and refute, and all the while the hemlock is growing in the furrow, and the plough is rusting.

Friend, if your knowledge, if your culture, if your education does not lead you practically to serve God in your day and generation, you have not learned what Solomon calls wisdom, and you are not like the Blessed One, who was incarnate wisdom, of whom we read that "he went about doing good." A lazy man is not like our Saviour, who said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." True wisdom is practical: boastful culture vapours and theorizes. Wisdom ploughs its field, wisdom hoes its vineyard, wisdom looks to its crops, wisdom tries to make the best of everything; and he who does not do so, whatever may be his knowledge of this, of that, or of the other, is a man void of understanding.

Why is he void of understanding? Is it not because he has opportunities which he does not use? His day has come, his day is going, and he lets the hours glide by to no purpose. Let me not press too hardly upon anyone, but let me ask you all to press as hardly as you can upon yourselves while you enquire each one of himself—Am I employing the minutes as they fly? This man had a vineyard, but he did not cultivate it; he had a field, but he did not till it. Do you, brethren, use all your opportunities? I know we each one have some power to serve God; do we use it? If we are his children he has not put one of us where we are of necessity useless. Somewhere we may shine by the light which he has given us, though that light be only a farthing candle. Are we thus shining? Do we sow beside all waters? Do we in the morning sow our seed, and in the evening still stretch out our hand; for if not, we are rebuked by the sweeping censure of Solomon, who saith that the slothful is a "man void of understanding."

Having opportunities he did not use them, and next, being bound to the performance of certain duties he did not fulfil them. When God appointed that every Israelite should have a piece of land, under that admirable system which made every Israelite a landowner, he meant that each man should possess his plot, not to let it lie waste, but to cultivate it. When God put Adam in the garden of Eden it was not that he should walk through the glades and watch the spontaneous luxuriance of the unfallen earth, but that he might dress it and keep it, and he had the same end in view when he allotted each Jew his piece of land; he meant that the holy soil should reach the utmost point of fertility through the labour of those who owned it. Thus the possession of a field and a vineyard involved responsibilities upon the sluggard which he never fulfilled, and therefore he was void of understanding. What is your position, dear friend? A father? A master? A servant? A minister? A teacher? Well, you have your farms and your vineyards in those particular spheres; but if you do not use those positions aright you will be void of understanding, because you neglect the end of your existence. You miss the high calling which your Maker has set before you.

The slothful farmer was unwise in these two respects, and in another also; for he had capacities which he did not employ. He could have tilled the field and cultivated the vineyard if he had chosen to do so. He was not a sickly man, who was forced to keep his bed, but he was a lazybones who was there of choice.

You are not asked to do in the service of God that which is utterly beyond you, for it is expected of us according to what we have and not according to what we have not. The man of two talents is not required to bring in the interest of five, but he is expected to bring in the interest of two. Solomon's slothful was too idle to attempt tasks which were quite within his power. Many have a number of dormant faculties of which they are scarcely aware, and many more have abilities which they are using for themselves, and not for him who created them. Dear friends, if God has given us any power to do good, pray let us do it, for this is a wicked, weary world. We should not even cover a glow-worm's light in such a darkness as this. We should not keep back a syllable of divine truth in a world that is so full of falsehood and error. However feeble our voices, let us lift them up for the cause of truth and righteousness. Do not let us be void of understanding, because we have opportunities that we do not use, obligations that we do not fulfil, and capacities which we do not exercise.

As for a sluggard in soul matters, he is indeed void of understanding, for he trifles with matters which demand his most earnest heed. Man, hast thou never cultivated thy heart? Has the ploughshare never broken up the clods of thy soul? Has the seed of the Word never been sown in thee? or has it taken no root? Hast thou never watered the young plants of desire? Hast thou never sought to pull up the weeds of sin that grow in thy heart? Art thou still a piece of the bare common or wild heath? Poor soul! Thou canst trim thy body, and spend many a minute at the glass; dost thou not care for thy soul? How long thou takest to decorate thy poor flesh, which is but worm's meat, or would be in a minute if God took away thy breath! And yet all the while thy soul is uncombed, unwashed, unclad, a poor neglected thing! Oh it should not be so. You take care of the worse part and leave the better to perish through neglect. This is the height of folly! He that is a sluggard as to the vineyard of his heart is a man void of understanding. If I must be idle, let it be seen in my field and my garden, but not in my soul.

Or are you a Christian? Are you really saved, and are you negligent in the Lord's work? Then, indeed, whatever you may be, I cannot help saying you have too little understanding; for surely, when a man is saved himself, and understands the danger of other men's souls, he must be in earnest in trying to pluck the firebrands from the flame. A Christian sluggard! Is there such a being? A Christian man on half time? A Christian man working not at all for his Lord; how shall I speak of him? Time does not tarry, DEATH does not tarry, HELL does not tarry; Satan is not lazy, all the powers of darkness are busy: how is it that you and I can be sluggish, if the Master has put us into his vineyard? Surely we must be void of understanding if, after being saved by the infinite love of God, we do not spend and be spent in his service. The eternal fitness of things demands that a saved man should be an earnest man.

C. H. Spurgeon

23 March 2012


by Phil Johnson

e're often told by gurus of church-growth and guardians of postmodern values in the evangelical community that we mustn't erect "boundaries."

I gather from the way such comments are often bandied about that the word boundaries is supposed to have totally negative connotations. Honestly: I don't see why. I can understand how worldly people whose minds are enslaved to earthbound, man-centered, self-indulgent thoughts might wish for a world without any lines or borders. But candidly, it's an attitude that's hard to reconcile with the whole tenor of the New Testament.

Contemporary evangelicals' resistance to boundaries is especially hard to reconcile with the fact that pastors (the word means shepherds) are expressly charged with guarding the flock and keeping predators out of the fold. And there simply is no realistic way to keep sheep in the sheepfold and wolves out if you refuse to observe any boundaries. In John 10:7, Jesus famously said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep." I cannot envision any useful purpose for having a "door [for] the sheep" if there is no sheep-pen or enclosure of some kind with well-defined, secure barricades, sturdy fences, or a protected perimeter of some kind.

But mainstream evangelicals have been indoctrinated along with the rest of postmodern society to think walls and borders are inherently sinister. We're conditioned to favor a whole different set of more stylish and more politically-correct values: tolerance, openness, diversity, mystery, indecision, broad-mindedness, and liberality. It's considered humble and generous to entertain perpetual qualms about what we believe. We're not supposed to think any single perspective can righteously claim to be true to the exclusion of all others.

So today's evangelicals bend over backward not to sound the least bit dogmatic. Because certainty is perceived throughout our culture as a kind of cruel arrogance. Clarity, authority, careful definitions, and firmness are likewise looked upon with deep suspicion. Stating your beliefs with settled conviction is a sure way to start trouble these days.

Want proof? Just page through our blog and read any random comment thread where 30 or more people have replied. You'll see, I think, that the most common complaint we get from angry commenters is that we sound too sure of our position—or some variation on that theme. (We're too rigid; too reluctant to change our minds; too emphatic in the way we make our case; or whatever.) We're expected to qualify and over-qualify everything we say in a way that practically nullifies every critique and ultimately countermands every concern. We are told we always ought to look for things to commend if ever it is absolutely necessary to criticize something, and above all, we must be brotherly to everyone who comes in Jesus' name.

See: the concept of "unity" commonly touted today has nothing whatsoever to do with "being in full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2:2). Instead, it is a broad, visible, ecumenical homogeneity without boundaries.

And that is nothing like the biblical concept of unity.

For an audio recording of the complete message from which those thoughts were excerpted, click here.

Phil's signature

22 March 2012

Initial Houston thoughts

by Dan Phillips

In the months and weeks leading up to this massive, major change, Valerie and others would say how happy I must be, how excited I must be, and all that. Those were totally realistic expectations. Any normal person would have been.

And then there's me.

I was more tense, apprehensive, overloaded, and did I say "tense"? I was glad of the possibilities, but most of what I could see were the details and the uncontrollables and the unpredictable-but-criticals and my own endless limitations and failings. I said I would probably start feeling after I got here.

And that has indeed been the case. This ministry started off at a brisk pace. In general, of course, there's everything in the world to learn, and I naturally want to learn it all at once. One of the elders asked if he could do anything for me. "Yes you can," I answered. "Download everything you know about this church, and all your experiences, directly into my brain." Sadly, he was unable to comply.

More specifically, one of the dear souls I'd looked forward to getting to know better was in the hospital and not doing well. So I spent a few hours with him on my first day, and then when the next day his health trajectory seemed grim, I spent some time with his wife. The following day, sadly, he died. Thus followed ministry to his wife (in which, once again, this loving church stepped right up) and family, and the planning of the funeral — the first I've conducted in over 25 years.

Once again, this church came through, with many taking time off work to come, help, sing, assemble a choir, and show love for the deceased and his wife.

Back to the larger picture: At the same time, this dear church family had greeted us so warmly and affectionately that it was simply overwhelming. Plus I had the wonderful prospect of my dear friend Frank and his terrific wife and kids coming into town, and the whole joy of the installation service. But each day started at oh-dark-thirty and ended in the 11-12+ range.

Now, in my previous job, I doggedly resisted overtime. I was happy to leave IT work at the building. Now I'm putting in long long days, and absolutely loving it. I am so grateful, glad, joyous, challenged, charged, out-of-my-depth, blessed, and hopeful. It is terrific. (Of course, I'm going to have to work to balance the schedule to allow for family-time, so thank God that both my family and our church understands.)

The installation service was a real blessing to me. First, Dr. Paul Shockley, the most frequent interim preacher as CBC searched for a pastor, gave a charge to the congregation and to me. It was very gracious, and very moving to me. Then the one and only Frank Turk held forth, also pretty wonderful (as you already know).

I found myself tussling with tears more than once. And when it was my turn to preach, I had to catch myself at the first step, fight back the tears, get a grip, and get on with it. The sermon was (relatively) brief and a joy to present to this gracious, responsive assembly of saints. Afterwards, we enjoyed a fellowship meal (pot luck) together, as I continued to flog new names into my memory.

Aside: One of the coolest things? Not trying to say everything that could be said about 2 Tim. 4:1-5 in one sermon, but instead remarking "we may well revisit this later." Understand, for the last fourteen years or so, my preaching has as a rule been dozens of delightful one-offs and two-offs and conferences here and there. No continuity. But now, God willing, I'm going to be here for a good long while. I don't have to try to say everything in this sermon — because, Deo volente, there's next week! And the next! Or I can start a study! Or two! Or five!

It is very, very cool.

I'm only scratching the surface of what life here has been. These folks are being such a joy to get to know, and so is the area. Tuesday night, a brother was telling me about the major intersection just down the street from the church. It's full of all sorts of stores now, including Target and what-not. But in the seventies, he used to hunt coyotes and wolves there, and receive a bounty for them. Just cool.

And where else can you have a church-member visibly wearing a pistol say "I've got a bone to pick with you," and not break out in a sweat?

I am loving it here.

Thanks again to all who have prayed for an opportunity like this.

Please don't stop, now that it's here.

Dan Phillips's signature

21 March 2012

How Kind of You

by Frank Turk

This weekend DJP was installed as the pastor of Copperfield Bible Church, and I was there with my family to celebrate the occasion.  I was asked to give a charge to the congregation, and by the wisdom of my wife I briefly gave the following message:

My friends, I’m grateful this morning to be with you as you receive and install my dear friend and brother Dan as your new pastor. I am reminded today that I am not myself a pastor but only a fellow sheep. For that reason I ask you to remember what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.
Here we most often read Paul to be speaking of the provision we have in Christ, and that’s fair enough. But there is something broader Paul is speaking to which I think is a challenging and fruitful point to reflect on when a local assembly of believers installs a new pastor and teacher.

1. The Christian life is an uneven field full of ups and downs. This is the part of the passage we are most familiar with, but notice that Paul says that even he – an apostle, chosen by Christ – had needs. He knew what is meant to be brought low because he had been brought low; he knew how to prosper because he had in fact prospered. But let’s be certain not to miss this: Paul knew these things in spite of being an apostle, chosen by Christ, and specially gifted to serve God’s people. The apostle abounded, and the apostle knew hunger and need. If that’s true of the man who God used to write 30% of the New Testament, how much more is this true of us who, frankly, have a long way to go in our running the race to keep the faith?

2. Certainly, it is unmistakable that Christ is the cause and foundation and resource for us to have what it takes to do all things and face these ups and downs. Paul says it plainly enough: I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. The “all things” there is certainly a reference to the variations of abundance and neediness Paul has faced, and what we will certainly face over time as we live in this world. But think about this with me: the context for Paul’s statement here is not merely generic suffering and rejoicing where Christ is sort of hovering above it all with a beatific demeanor. The context here is that Paul was in need, and his need was met by his fellow believers. “I can do all things through Christ,” he says, “yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.”

3. One of Christ’s provisions to strengthen us to do all things is the one most obvious on a day like today: being together as a local church. This is true for all of you who have spent time together without a pastor seeking through your elders to find the right man for this work, but how much more true is this now that you have found a man you say you want to follow under God’s authority? It is kind of you to share in each others’ trouble, and much more so that you can take hold of and revive a concern for the man you have called to lead the charge of love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Listen: you have called this man and his family to lead and teach your church. This is no small burden you ask him to take up. You are asking him to take up the burden of the ministry of the Gospel. Share in this burden with him.

You have not called an angel or a wooden saint: you have called my dear friend. He is not a monument. He is not a figurehead. He is a man. And like all Christian people – like me, like yourselves, like Paul whose words I am charging you with – he needs his fellow believers to share in his burden.

This is the thing, my friends: you are here, and seek forgiveness in Christ. Offer it to each other, and especially to your pastors and elders, because you are forgiven. You are here seeking the love of Christ. So offer it to each other, and especially your pastors and elders, because you are beloved. And because you are sinful people, and you will fail to love and forgive, be kind to each other. Share in your burdens. Share in the burdens especially of those whom you call to wade into these burdens ahead of you. As the Philippians shared in Paul’s burdens – that is, as Christ strengthens you for both the times of plenty and the times of need – share in the burdens of one another both in the times of plenty and the times of need.

Let’s pray: Jesus, help this assembly to labor side by side with these men whom you have called to shepherd them for the sake of your Gospel. Let their reasonableness be known to everyone. Teach them to be anxious for nothing, but in everything let them turn to you in prayer, and petition, and thanksgiving. Teach them what it means to rejoice in every circumstance as Christ strengthens them, and to share in one another’s burdens, especially the burdens of their pastor whose calling to this place we celebrate today. And we pray this today, Lord, by the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Amen.

20 March 2012

"Total depravity," a Biblical doctrine

by Dan Phillips

One old canard is the notion that "total depravity" is (at worst) a uniquely Calvinistic doctrine, or (at best) a uniquely Pauline doctrine, unknown to OT writers, all of whom are supposed to have had an optimistic view of human nature.

One doesn't get very far in Genesis before running into contrary evidence. Of course, there is simply chapter three, which details the death of the first parents, a narrative continued in Adam's fathering of a son in his own (now fallen and depraved) image and likeness in 5:3, with its subsequent, somber refrain of "and he died...and he died... and he died."

But a very clear statement comes in Gen. 6:5 — "The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Neither Paul, Calvin nor Owen said anything more comprehensive, extensive or damning.

However, one might attempt the plea, "This is an especially bad generation, not a universal statement. It was why the flood was brought. You can't extend that to everyone."

So what happens next? Noah finds grace in God's eyes (Gen. 6:8), and he and his family alone are preserved alive, while the rest of mankind is destroyed. They, then, are the exceptions. Right?

Wrong. Look at Gen. 8:21 —
And the LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done."
This is just as universal and unconditional a condemnation as 6:5. But note that it comes (A) after the eradication of the entire evil generation of 6:5, (B) after an act of worship on Noah's part, (C) while the chosen remnant is just beginning its new life in the new world, and (D) before any of them had committed any sin, as far as the narrative is concerned.

Surely it is simpler to let the whole Bible say what it says, and understand that this is why Solomon could, without further qualification, assert that "there is no man who does not sin" (1 Ki. 8:46), and why Paul could say what he said. Even if it forces a revision (one could almost say reformation) of our theological system.

(This is developed Biblically at greater length in chaps. 2 and 3 of TWTG.)

Dan Phillips's signature

18 March 2012

It Is Not Death to Die

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 "The Tomb of Jesus," the 18th sermon in the New Park Street Pulpit series. It was preached on Sunday Morning, 8 April 1855, at Exeter Hall in London.

ie I must—this body must be a carnival for worms; it must be eaten by those tiny cannibals; peradventure it shall be scattered from one portion of the earth to another; the constituent particles of this my frame will enter into plants, from plants pass into animals, and thus be carried into far distant realms; but, at the blast of the archangel's trumpet, every separate atom of my body shall find its fellow; like the bones lying in the valley of vision, though separated from one another, the moment God shall speak, the bone will creep to its bone; then the flesh shall come upon it; the four winds of heaven shall blow, and the breath shall return.

So let me die, let beasts devour me, let fire turn this body into gas and vapor, all its particles shall yet again be restored; this very self-same, actual body shall start up from its grave, glorified and made like Christ's body, yet still the same body, for God hath said it. Christ's same body rose; so shall mine.

O my soul, dost thou now dread to die? Thou wilt lose thy partner body a little while, but thou wilt be married again in heaven; soul and body shall again be united before the throne of God. The grave—what is it? It is the bath in which the Christian puts the clothes of his body to have them washed and cleansed. Death—what is it? It is the waiting-room where we robe ourselves for immortality; it is the place where the body, like Esther, bathes itself in spices that it may be fit for the embrace of its Lord. Death is the gate of life; I will not fear to die, then, but will say,

"Shudder not to pass the stream;
Venture all thy care on him;
Him whose dying love and power
Stilled its tossing, hushed its roar,
Safe in the expanded wave;
Gentle as a summer's eve.
Not one object of his care
Ever suffered shipwreck there."

C. H. Spurgeon

16 March 2012

Providence Is Sweet

by Phil Johnson

ast week during the Shepherds' Conference John MacArthur was presented with one of the first copies of the Arabic version of the MacArthur Study Bible. The Bibles were printed and officially released a couple of weeks ago in Beirut, Lebanon, and the first printing sold out immediately. A few copies were sent to America to be on display during the Shepherds' Conference.

I was unprepared for the reception the Bible would get. At least two dozen people stopped me during the conference to ask how to obtain copies. (Answer: Grace to You will make them available for purchase shortly, as soon as the second printing is available.)

One man who asked about the Bibles was visiting from Europe, where he ministers to a congregation of Arabic-speaking people, mostly expatriates from the Middle East. He was more eager than most to get a copy of the Study Bible as soon as possible, and I found his thumbnail description of his ministry so fascinating that I invited him to my office the week after the Shepherds' Conference. I resolved to get my hands on one of the display Bibles if possible and give it to him before he returned to Europe.

Turns out I was able to do that. When that pastor came to my office and I handed him the Bible, he took it with the kind of care and gentle touch you'd use when someone hands you a newborn baby. As he opened it, tears came to his eyes, and he turned to the middle and started reading aloud.

When he finished, I asked, "What was the section you read?"

"Psalm 121," he said.

"I have a special request," I said. "Would you read that psalm again? And may I record it as you read?"

He gave me permission to tape and post this short video, as long as I did not put his face on the Internet:

When he finished the second time, I asked, "What made you choose Psalm 121? Because that is the very text I'm currently studying." (I'm preparing to teach a series on the Psalms of Ascent:)

"That's my favorite psalm and the first text I ever preached on," he said.

The whole encounter was a wonderful reminder of how precious the Word of God is, how gracious God's providence is, how amazing the fellowship of the saints is, and how enjoyable heaven will be. If two believers from completely different cultures living half a planet apart can meet for the first time and instantly have so much in common and find so many reasons to rejoice together, I can't wait until heaven when our fellowship will be unhindered by sin, selfishness, language differences, or anything else.

By the way, I was able to get my hands on one other display copy of the Arabic MSB. I gave it to the Arabic-speaking cook at a Mediterranean restaurant I frequent. He's not a Christian (yet), but a friend of mine has been explaining the gospel to him. He also teared up when I gave him the Bible.

Phil's signature

15 March 2012

Which matters in a church: good works, or sound doctrine?

by Dan Phillips

Revelation 2:19-20 makes for arresting reading. This is the glorified Lord Jesus, writing to the messenger of the church in Thyatira. First, verse 19 says: "I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first."

Who wouldn't want to hear that as an assessment of his church's health? Jesus Himself says that He knows their works. That right there is a sit-down-and-think-about-this revelation. Sure, it makes sense; He is after all omniscient. But He takes note, takes specific and personal note, of the works of this one church that probably entirely fit in someone's house.

Further, He specifies their love, faith, service and patient endurance. These are all wonderful qualities. They're central. He doesn't merely say "Nice choir, tasty pot-lucks, beautiful ambiance." These are central signs of the work of the Holy Spirit.

It gets even better: "your latter works exceed the first." They aren't resting on their laurels. They aren't reminiscing about the glory days, back when Brother X was pastor, or The Great Revival happened, conducting slide-shows of yesteryear. They were growing now, today, in the present tense. This is a splendid sign of life.

You want this to be the end. You expect Him to say, in effect, "So, terrific work, I'm happy with you, your reward will be great," and roll the credits.

However, surely as night follows day, verse 19 is followed by verse 20: "But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols."

It is beside this post's point to focus on interpreting Jezebel or her false teaching. The point is that, in spite of all the wonderful signs of robust spiritual reality in Thyatira, they had one problem, and to Jesus it was a big problem: they tolerated a false prophet, a false teacher.

The bare minimum of what we need to learn from this is, one would hope, fairly obvious. All the good works and character qualities in the world are insufficient if a church tolerates harmful teachers, and harmful teaching.

One clear and simple takeaway is that we should not focus on spiritual reality and hope that divine truth will take care of itself naturally and organically because of our generally terrific spiritual health. Remember Thyatira.

Another takeaway is that we cannot focus on discernment alone, and trust that spiritual reality will take care of itself because of our commitment to God's truth. Remember Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-11).

We must encompass both in our aims and concerns, both as church leaders and as church members.

Dan Phillips's signature

14 March 2012

Crawl out of Our Books

by Frank Turk

After having a little spat with Collin Hansen at TGC yesterday, I thought that the following post needed some review and updating.

One of our readers, back in 2010, said this:
It’s well accepted that 1 Peter 3:15 forms the basis for the entire concept of apologetics. But for our purpose, let’s keep it simple, without straying into the specific aspects of apologetics theory.
And to that I say “poppycock”.

Before I tread one word further in my disabusing of that fallacy, I know that this verse is one of the theme verses of Alpha Omega Ministries, and it’s important to note two things about their use of that verse:
[1] They do not say about it what this reader said about it, and
[2] They use it exactly as Peter does use it, not anticipating that every Christian will be a debating machine.

So when this reader says his piece here about 1Pet 3:15, he’s putting himself out on a limb which, if he were an adequate apologist and a reasonable commentator, he wouldn’t do. This verse is not hardly “the entire basis for the concept of apologetics”. And frankly, I’m not the first one to say so. Here’s the Geneva Study Bible on this passage:
He will have us, when we are afflicted for righteousness sake, to be careful not for redeeming of our life, either with denying or renouncing the truth, or with like violence, or any such means: but rather to give an account of our faith boldly, and yet with a meek spirit, and full of godly reverence, that the enemies may not have anything justly to object, but may rather be ashamed of themselves.”
Here’s the emminant John Gill on the same passage:
Now, a ‘reason’ of this is to be given; not that they are to account for the Gospel, upon the foot of carnal reason; for that is not of men, nor according to the carnal reason of men. Nor is it to be thought that every Christian should be capable of defending the Gospel, either in whole, or in part, by arguments and reasons, in a disputatious way, or to give a reason and argument for every particular truth, but that he should be well acquainted with the ground and foundation of the Christian religion. At least, with the first principles of the oracles of God, and be conversant with the Scriptures, and be able to point out that in them, which is the reason of his holding this and the other truth, though he is not able to give a gainsayer satisfaction, or to stop his mouth.

And this is to be done with meekness and fear; with meekness, before men; in an humble modest way; not with an haughty air, and in a morose and surly manner, which serves only to irritate and provoke: and with fear; either of God, and so the Ethiopic Version renders it, with the fear of the Lord. Considering the subject of the argument, and the importance of it, and how much the honour of God is concerned in it; and taking care lest the answer should be delivered in a light, trifling, and negligent manner, and that no part of truth be dropped or concealed, in order to please men, and be screened from their resentments; or with all due reverence of, and respect to men, to superiors, to the civil magistrates, who may ask the reason; for they are to be treated with honour and esteem, and to be answered in an handsome and becoming manner, suitable to the dignity of their persons and office ...
And for laughs, here’s John Calvin on that passage:
But it ought to be noticed, that Peter here does not command us to be prepared to solve any question that may be mooted; for it is not the duty of all to speak on every subject. But it is the general doctrine that is meant, which belongs to the ignorant and the simple. Then Peter had in view no other thing, than that Christians should make it evident to unbelievers that they truly worshipped God, and had a holy and good religion. And in this there is no difficulty, for it would be strange if we could bring nothing to defend our faith when any one made inquiries respecting it. For we ought always to take care that all may know that we fear God, and that we piously and reverently regard his legitimate worship.

This was also required by the state of the times: the Christian name was much hated and deemed infamous; many thought the sect wicked and guilty of many sacrileges. It would have been, therefore, the highest perfidy against God, if, when asked, they had neglected to give a testimony in favor of their religion. And this, as I think, is the meaning of the word apology, which Peter uses, that is, that the Christians were to make it evident to the world that they were far off from every impiety, and did not corrupt true religion, on which account they were suspected by the ignorant.
You know: because we say we’re “Calvinists”, right?

What this passage is talking about – as these learned men make clear – is that Peter is not establishing the office of apologist here: Peter is calling the believer to respond in trial and persecution with the testimony of the Gospel and not the mace and broadsword of argumentation.

You’re not trying to shut anyone up if you abide by 1Pet 3:15, but the only way to see that is to see how Peter has positioned this statement in his larger exhortation.
    Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. [ESV]
The first thing we have to recognize – and by “have to” I mean “in order that we understand what Peter actually says” – is that Peter is not talking about what happens every day in the life of the Christian here. This is not an exortation for what you do at lunch when someone starts yammering about the new Dan Brown book or what have you. This is what one ought to do “if [one] should suffer for righteousness’ sake”. That’s a far cry from the raison d’etre for blogging or writing books, isn’t it? Peter is talking about the martyr’s role, the persecution which will come to some.

But the next thing we have to notice here is that there’s no fear motive in this passage. Peter actually says, “have no fear”, right? So the reason for doing whatever it is one is doing here is the motive to honor Christ.

Think about that, legions of warrior children: elsewhere Paul instructs Titus that we should “adorn the Gospel”, and here Peter instructs those in persecution to “honor Christ”. And we have to wonder what kind of “honor” it is that is full of “gentleness and respect”, but not actually specifically said to be (for example) systematic, argumentative, logical, philosophical, fully-reasoned, or convincing.

That is not to say it would be just a bunch of blubbering when you’re in trouble – but it is to say that Peter is here saying that whatever it is you will do, it will be “good behavior” which put slanders and reviling “to shame”.

And let me suggest something to you about “a reason for the hope that is in you”: When Peter does this at Pentecost, it’s not a philosophical display of forensic acumen. When Stephen does it at his stoning, he didn’t appeal to the Cosmological argument. When Paul was at Mars Hill or before Agrippa, we didn’t address the existential matter of the problem of evil.

To these men – who are our examples – the “defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” is that Christ has died and risen from the dead.

If that’s what you want to call “apologetics”, then it turns out you are saying what I am saying. But look around you – seriously: look at all the “apologists” running around starting fights for Jesus with unbelievers. Is that what Peter was talking about here – being the WWE champion of apologetics for Jesus?

There’s no way that’s what Peter’s talking about here – yet that’s what most “lay apologists” for the faith do every day. Let’s stop doing what we want to do here and start doing what Peter actually asks us to do here – and stop pretending that we’re “apologists”. Let’s be disciples first, and foremost, and crawl out of our books and walk into people’s lives in a way that actually causes them to ask us what kind of hope causes that – in an unironic way.

Now, that's great, yes?  So how to I get away with adding comments to the TGC blog which basically call out any of the authors there for apologetic matters?  It's easy: they ought to know better.

That's not actually about apologetics: that's about Christians having a responsibility to each other to tell the truth when we are slack or slippery or somehow enamored with things that the world loves but from which we ought to be walking away.  That's more like James 5 or Matthew 5 than 1Pet 3.  And we should be  of sturdy enough stuff to take that sort of rebuke at face value.