10 September 2013

The peril of "We've got to do something!"

by Dan Phillips

Many really horrific ideas owe their genesis to really horrific needs.

This is obvious in the realm of politics. It goes like this:
  1. Bob says, "Yikes! Has anyone even noticed {crying need}? Isn't anybody doing anything about it?
  2. Bill says, "Holy smoke, yes! That's terrible! Quick: let's empower the State to confiscate more liberty and money from the productive, and create vast legislation and huge bureaucracies to solve that problem!"
  3. Bob: "Oh, well, gee, I dunno; are you sure that's the best way to...?"
  4. Bill: "This is an emergency! There's no time for discussion! We must act now! What — don't you care about The Children? Besides, this is only temporary."
  5. Bob: "Oh, yeah, good point. Okay. Go ahead."
And another permanent blight is born. The problem not only is not addressed, but it is compounded and institutionalized.

Perhaps this same phenomenon is less obvious in the realm of theology, doctrine, church polity. The general course, however, is very similar:
  1. PelArminKesWesHam says, "Oh dear Lord, the church is {something direly unspiritual}."
  2. Simplicius replies, "Ooh, mercy, yes. I see that!"
  3. PelArminKesWesHam: "The solution must be to {do some horrifically un-Biblical thing}!"
  4. Simplicius: "Oh, gosh, I don't know. Are you sure that's really Scriptural?"
  5. PelArminKesWesHam: "There's no time for debate! Doctrine divides! Souls are dying! Christ's name is dishonored! The hour is late! We must act now!"
  6. Simplicius: "Oh, gee..."
  7. PelArminKesWesHam: "What — don't you love God? Don't you care about people?"
  8. Simplicius: "Well, sure."
  9. PelArminKesWesHam: "Then we must act now!"
  10. Simplicius: "Oh. Okay."
And another bad doctrine / harmful practice takes its permanent place to blight the landscape. The problem not only is not remedied, but it is compounded and institutionalized.

If later generations try to undo this dreadful "solution," it goes like this:
  1. Biblicus: "You know, ________ism really isn't Biblical."
  2. DriscTickLer: "You're a fear-driven unbelieving libertine Deist hater who drives people away from Jesus. You're ignorant of the book that came out last week proving that we're right. Plus, you're jealous of our superpowers."
  3. Biblicus: "Oh. Right. I forgot. My bad. Um... sorry."
What to do?

The wrong way of responding is to ignore or minimize the problem that gave birth to the error.

For instance, how many false teachings have arisen as well-intended attempts to counter the lassitude, the lukewarmness, the worldliness, the timidity, the carnality, the cowardice, the ineffectiveness, the powerlessness, and the general pathetic anemic ill-health of the bulk of professed Christians? I daresay a majority of false teaching and bad philosophy was swaddled in that manger.

So we're told: The problem with these pathetic lumps is that their Calvinism has made them passive slugs, their Biblicism has made them isolated lab-technicians, their cessationism has made them functional materialists.

And we're told: What they really need is to realize that, if they don't work harder, they'll lose their salvation. They need to see that a deeper, more powerful Christian life is only one deeper, climactic work of grace away. They need the baptism with the Spirit. They need God to mutter holy nothings in their ears. They need to babble cathartically. They need their hunches validated and respected and canonized — though not in any accountable way! They need to modify their convictions to be friendlier to the world. Sand off the edges. Fit in.

There y'go. Problem solved.

But of course the problem isn't solved. In fact, it's compounded, and now it's institutionalized. Christians are still carnal, but now they're super-spiritually carnal and proud and immune to Biblical admonition. And so on.

So in responding, here's what we must do:
  1. We must grant the seriousness of the problem when applicable — and it usually is applicable.
  2. We must perform a rigorously Biblical analysis and diagnosis of the problem, calmly and deliberately.
  3. We must execute a rigorously Biblical, clear-eyed, and unsparing examination of the un-Biblical "solutions" that have been proposed, expose them unambiguously, and issue a clarion call for their instant and decisive repudiation and rejection .
  4. We must produce a rigorously robustly Biblical prescription to address the problem, showing insistently and repeatedly and in detail and from a dozen angles how it actually does address the causation and remedy the misery.

And there, in truth, you go. So do that. On "three."

I'll wait right here.

One... two...

Dan Phillips's signature


Michael Coughlin said...

Sweet. Good points. I'll wait with you, DJP. DrisTickLer may be your best work yet.

A few comments.

1. Are you saying false doctrine is born in a manger? How Christlike. ;)

2. I had a hunch validated this week. I still remain cessational. Isn't that sensational? No, cessational.

3. I get Pel & Armin, but I'm not getting Kes or Wes. Please help!

4. I don't think Ken Ham should be lumped w those other guys.

Thanks for exalting God and His Word on your blog.

DJP said...

I'll let some other guesses come in. Fun for the whole family.

Eric said...

Hi Dan,

"We've got to do something about Syria!" (or maybe not, or maybe we'll let the Russians lead while we follow, which is now called leading from behind)

As interesting as it is to observe this phenomenon politically, I think your observation about how this happens theologically is accurate and insightful.

I was struck by a couple phrases that you used and how they can be seen and illustrated in a recent AP News article: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_REL_SPEAKING_IN_TONGUES_NO_MORE?SITE=MABED&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

Your sentence: "They need to babble cathartically" is illustrated well by this quote from the article: "The emotional and spiritual connection of speaking in tongues, the visceral experience, is what appeals to those in need during a time of economic and social instability, and is arguably the heart of the Pentecostal movement, he said."

Your sentence: "Plus, you're jealous of our superpowers." is echoed in this quote from the article: "After the service, Farone placed his right hand on his forehead and began to speak again. This time, the words were impossible to understand, streaming out in a long, rambling string of sound. He had just spoken in tongues, he said later. 'This is our power,' he added, acknowledging he was unsure of what he had just said. 'We shouldn't be ashamed.'"

Michael Coughlin said...

Weird, Eric! I also placed my right hand on my forehead after reading your last paragraph.

DJP said...

IT'S A SIGN!!!!!!1!

Of, you know... something!

Don Hatfield said...

Ummmm... how about Keswick? Wesleyan? Charles ParHAM? Just because certain things being discussed came from those places and people???

Good topic. I have many I called friends from my time spent in that movement thirty years ago who even now won't engage in any discussion of the reasons I left...I always get the "well, brother we'll keep praying that God will move and the Holy Ghost will speak to your heart and let you see your error" smile.

Tom Chantry said...

My day is shot. I have to find a way to discover "Frank Turk" in those bad-guy names.

Don Hatfield said...

Um...KeswickWesleyanParham. Maybe.

Try placing your right hand on your forehead while standing at the bathroom sink shaving. That seems to work for Copeland, Hagin, etc.,they hear quite clearly when doing mundane stuff. Guess God can communicate better if I'm looking at myself in the mirror?

DJP said...

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

The thing I thought of when I read your post was those who use what X Christian celebrity said as a trump card. I've done it, so I recognize the problem.

Maybe it's a symptom of a deeper problem of Biblical illiteracy and laziness (non-concern at worst, if I'm being honest), where we depend on said Christian celebrity to run truth through their processor, leaving a nice, easy to swallow truth-shake that we believe will somehow work its way through our spiritual digestive system and provide proper nutrition for growth. And by that process, we become dependent on them for all we know concerning God and His Word - so it only makes sense that we consider our source to be the trump card for any argument.

I know of an un-Biblical solution to this issue where someone says "I learn from the teaching of no man, I only read the Bible, and the Holy Spirit teaches me" and I've known someone to use that faux-spiritual defense. But there has to be a more deceptive, more right-looking false correction than this blatantly false one, I just don't know it. I'm assuming one because my sinful heart works best in choosing things that are *almost* right, and the enemy works his best that way.

Maybe you older, wiser, more mature Godly men can elaborate this.

Good post!

Robert said...

You forgot to put in Pharisee with those words used to describe people who take the Bible literally. I hear that one from time to time.

What is interesting for me is the timeliness of this post. Within the past week, I have seen God work miraculously in answering prayer and providentially working out things to alleviate tension between my in-laws. I know that He was answering prayer, but at no time did I have to attribute His actions to the involvement of a particular person. See, I do believe that God still performs miracles, I just don't think He ordains any particular people to perform them since the time of the apostles. Anybody who claims that I (or other cessationists) don't believe that God can work miraculously because I am a cessationist is just being lazy. And to be honest, that is just the way of the world these days.

Clark Dunlap said...

Good stuff! I can use this...ummm... what was I s'posed to do on three?

Terry Rayburn said...

Excellent article! I would only add that even though Dan's solution is far superior to the unbiblical first one, we can't assume that there is a solution to every problem.

Though the following is only a metaphor for my far-ranging point, it illustrates it:

"The poor you will always have with you."

We could substitute "the poor" with "the rich", "sin", "unbiblical solutions folks", "spinners [liars]", "books", etc.

(At least in this Age).

My sub-point being that we need not have a life of angst because we are not in a Utopia, secularly or in the Church.

To think otherwise is often the catalyst for what Dan rightly criticizes here.

trogdor said...

I totally thought Ham was the Hamburglar. And really, is there a difference between "robble robble robble" and modern 'tongues'? Maybe all this time he was speaking in a divine code only Grimmace could interpret.

"Try placing your right hand on your forehead while standing at the bathroom sink shaving. That seems to work for Copeland, Hagin, etc.,they hear quite clearly when doing mundane stuff. Guess God can communicate better if I'm looking at myself in the mirror?"

Well, it makes sense when you realize they are their own gods.

Michael Coughlin said...

True Terry, but to Dan's point, if you follow the steps he provided, that scripture would have slowed you at step 1 and then halted you at step 2. The solution being, no solvable problem exists.

Rob said...

"We've got to do something!" Read the headline and initially thought this was going to be about adding new contributors to TeamPyro...

Michael Coughlin said...

Providing better pay would be a precursor to that, Rob.

Anonymous said...

If that pay could be bacon we'd surely have a long list of volunteers and a short wait time...

Andrea said...

While it is true that there are problems that cannot be solved by human actions, it would be dangerous to assume that these problems require no action on our parts. That, too, is a potentially non-biblical response.

The same Christ who said that there would always be poor with us also said that we should be concerned with meeting their needs. He just didn't encourage the disciples in believing that their actions to do so would end poverty, especially if we treated those needs as more important than honoring the God who made us all.

And, yes, sin will remain in the world (and, alas, even the church) until Jesus comes again. But to throw our hands up and say "oh, well..." is not what the Bible advocates when it talks about how to respond to false teaching.

While Mr. Phillips rightly pointed out that a panicked "We've got to do SOMETHING!" can lead to "cures" that rival or surpass the disease, the alternative "There's nothing *we* can do about it" will, without fail, lead us into complacency and sins of omission. I am certain that that's why he includes a clear-minded scriptural assessment of the issue and the biblical response thereto as his first step.

DJP said...

Andrea: "a panicked 'We've got to do SOMETHING!' can lead to 'cures' that rival or surpass the disease"


Anonymous said...

Excellent post. How many times have we seen this scenario repeat itself?

I will say though, one place where almost all Christians did respond Biblically is when some anti-abortion zealots said we had to use violence or other illegal means to fight abortion. "We've got to do something!", the anti-abortion zealots would say. Followed by "Don't you care about babies?"

DJP said...

Word of instruction: given my pastoral concern and strategery here, if a comment is excellent right down to the last word, and the last word is (say) an approving link to a modern Roman Catholic site, I'm about as likely to publish it as I am a link to a Mormon site, a Jehovah's Witness site, a Church of Satan site, or a DNC site.

Which is to say, not. However reluctantly, still, not.

Michael Coughlin said...

And that is very appreciated, brother Dan.

I'd venture to say that Paul would have done the same thing.

Anonymous said...

I apologize DJP. I do not approve of Roman Catholicism in the slightest, and have never actually seen the site, having found the quote somewhere else. Which is not to say you did something wrong, it's just that I wanted you to know my ignorance. I'm really, really sorry. Please forgive me.

Here's the post again.

Another problem is that we tend to suffer from myopia. We look at the immediate, the obvious. We sing the music that hits our heartstrings just right. We look at results that are immediate, forgetting God waited thousands of years before he sent his Son.

We call Abraham the Father of the Faithful. What was his life like? By our modern standards, he was merely another herdsman, perhaps a bit richer than the average one, but still just a wanderer. I'm sure Lot's herdsmen were sure Lot went the right way, to choose Sodom and Gomorrah. We don't really remember Lot much, except his wife. But that's for different reasons; something to do with salt. And what happened in the end? The wickedness in which he lived, prosperous wickedness, but still wickedness, so warped his daughters' minds that they did what is still unthinkable.

By the end of his life, Abraham was a rich herdsmen, something he could have been had he stayed home.

But he had Isaac. And he trusted. And he died, looking to a city built by God. Isaac didn't fare better, all he had were two sons, and one apostatised and rejected his birthright. The other was a cheater and con man. Isaac died. Jacob found himself dying far away from the land of promise, but he trusted. And he died.

Many years later, a slave-born Egyptian prince-turned-shepherd (long story) is spoken to by God, and he introduces himself, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Moses himself died, and didn't enter the Promised Land. Meanwhile, the magicians he had striven against were courtiers of great Pharaohs and a kingdom that would last forever. Or so they thought.

It was the same with Calvin, he only reformed one city, and the church in his home country was practically massacred. Cromwell died, and Charles returned. Bunyan wasted years in prison. There is not a single Puritan church left.

But to this day, who would we rather be like? Our hindsight is 25/20, but we fail to see that it isn't that much different now. Revivals have come, revivals have gone, like in the Book of Kings. It is all excitement, and crying and singing. They feel the πνεῦμα, but it is mere wind.

If you want to *feel*, as C.S. Lewis said, a bottle of Sherry will do that. Maybe that is why in readdressing the Corinthian church Paul reminds them, that we walk by faith, not by sight.

DJP said...

Oh, no offense taken. I was sorry to have to delete, and could find no way to contact you directly.

Anonymous said...

No apologies needed. Thank you, DJP. I have been reading through your blog since some time; two days ago I finally became a cessationist. Just so you know the difference you have made. It's not a small one. And I feel free, very free.

Solameanie said...

The Nadir,

I enjoyed your comments very much, and also couldn't help but note a bit of irony with that handle, wondering when the current spate of apostasy will reach its nadir, should the Lord tarry in His coming.

Like BTO said long ago, "You ain't seen nuthin' yet." But we had best be careful with BTO quotes. I didn't know Randy Bachman was a Mormon until fairly recently, LOL. ;)

Anonymous said...


Soli Deo Gloria! I had no intention of being ironic with my user name, and actually did explain it a bit on my blog.

I think apostasy is a part of every age (1 Cor. xi:19); after all, even Jesus had a Judas among his Apostles.

I actually prefer it that way. I mean, how many of our greatest books, like the Institutes, would never have existed unless there were heresies? Seeing some of our best and brightest (I'm sorry Karl Barth, but Cornelius Van Til was right!) get sidetracked and sucked in can really help keep us little guys desperately searching Scripture and seeking God.

Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses tend to keep a low profile on their beliefs. I once knew an old man who I met quite regularly. One day he casually drops, "You know, Jesus is not God."

On a side note (and more on topic) I guess one area we are all weak in is that we equate good results with right belief. Especially Charismatics tend to do this. Some say that ever since they've begun praying in tongues, they have seen great answers to prayers; to which I retort, "Do you really expect God to never answer a prayer, never do a single miracle, and downright ruin your life to make you stop praying in tongues? Is that really what you want?" But if prosperity were indications of right faith, then many Christians are miserably wrong; the Apostles chief among them (1 Cor iv:10)!

Macdaddy Music said...

Dan - fantastic article! I frequently make this point from a political perspective but haven't made the obvious step with the same concept into the theological (obviously much more important) sphere. I'll be sharing this with lots of people since it so winsomely and clearly puts the ideas into words. Thanks for this!

Clark Dunlap said...

OK somebody help with the TickLer, I got the Drisc part. IS Ler Matt ChandLer?