31 December 2018

Let the Church Seek God's Honor, Not this World's Acclaim

An addendum to last Friday's theme
by Phil Johnson

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.—James 4:4



cripture forbids believers to imbibe the world's values (cf. 1 John 2:6; Romans 8:5-6; Matthew 6:19-21) or set their affections on things of the earth rather than on heavenly things (cf. Colossians 3:2; 1 John 2:15; Matthew 16:23). Christians do not belong to this world. We are not beholden to the world. We cannot legitimately court the world's admiration or approval. And it is wrong to think otherwise. Jesus told His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:9).

That truth is ignored or rejected by multitudes of 21st-century evangelical Christians who wrongly believe that if the church does not first win the world's friendship and admiration, we have no hope of reaching anyone for Christ. Some of today's largest and most influential churches even take surveys to find out the desires and ambitions of unbelievers in their communities. Then they plan their Sunday services accordingly, putting on a performance that caters to what people say they desire.

Popular televangelists follow a cruder version of the same strategy, promising people health, prosperity, and riches in return for money. They are today's equivalent of the medieval indulgence-sellers. These religious charlatans make their appeal blatantly and directly to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life"—the same carnal cravings that 1 John 2:16 says are "not of the Father but . . . of the world."

Churches are full of people who are sinfully obsessed with the whims and entertainments of this world. They are desperate to keep up with various worldly fads and secular celebrities. They wrongly believe that if they embrace the icons of pop culture, the world will also embrace them and therefore be more open to Christ. So they wear the badges of worldly fashions; they echo the key elements of worldly wisdom; and they immerse themselves in worldly amusements. They cultivate an unhealthy appetite for attention, popularity, and worldly approval, convincing themselves that this is a valid evangelistic strategy.

Even in the highest echelons of evangelical academia certain scholars seem driven by an unhealthy yearning for academic renown. They become so desperate to win the admiration of their counterparts in the secular academy that they willingly compromise the truth and sometimes even apostatize completely.

The wish to be noticed and admired by other people is itself a carnal, illegitimate lust. Jesus condemned the Pharisees because, "They [did] all their deeds to be seen by others" (Matthew 23:5). They made a show of public piety to give the impression they were holier than anyone else.

Like the Pharisees, today's stylish evangelicals fancy the praise and recognition of other people. But unlike the Pharisees, most of them want to be noticed for being hip, not holy.

It dishonors Christ when Christians try to fit into the fraternity of those who hate Him. Scripture is very clear about this: "Friendship with the world is enmity with God."

According to Jesus, the only business the Holy Spirit has with the world outside the church is to "convict [unbelievers] concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). Those are precisely the themes that are typically omitted when churches become too interested in winning the world's approval.

The church must get back to preaching the gospel, remembering that the message of the cross, when faithfully preached, is by God's own design "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). The gospel alone is "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Christians should not be ashamed to proclaim it.

It's true that if we are faithful, many in the world will view us with contempt as enemies—and we must be prepared for that. "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). The world put Christ to death, and He said, "A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).

Furthermore, our Lord Himself didn't shy away in shame or retaliate in anger. Indeed, "to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. . . . When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:21-23).

Phil's signature


From 95 Theses for a New Reformation: For the Church on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, edited by Aaron B. Hebbard (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 144-45.

28 December 2018

An "Irresistible" Faith and Its "Likeable" Devotees?

The Bible Confronts a Major Modern Misconception

by Colin Eakin



"How do I know if I am a true Christian?"

Have you ever asked yourself that question? God says you should. Paul writes to the Corinthian church, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Cor. 13:5). So those who desire to be true followers of Jesus Christ are expected to assess whether Jesus truly lives within. How is this done?

This question was anticipated and answered by the Lord Jesus Himself. He told a group of recent Jewish believers, "If you abide in my Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31b-32). So according to Jesus, the criterion for knowing who truly belongs to Him is fidelity to His Word, which brings knowledge of truth, which brings everlasting freedom from the sin—its penalty, its power and (one day) its presence altogether.

Well, how hard could that be—staying true to Jesus' Word? One look at the modern evangelical church would indicate harder than you might think. In fact, one of the most astounding and appalling realities of our present day is how many would-be faithful followers of Christ regularly imbibe teaching that is not only not what Christ taught, but is in fact the exact opposite! And of all the topics where what the Bible teaches and what is commonly taught as true are most at odds, at or near the top is the anticipated response of the world to the Christ-led life.

Take, for example, the latest book from the pastor of one of America's largest churches. In it, he claims that if Christ-followers were to live out the faith as was originally taught and exampled by Christ, the appeal of that faith would be irresistible to a watching world. Similarly, another American megachurch pastor and popular author this past year exposited Matthew 5:20 for his congregation as follows:
To understand Jesus, we might actually translate Matthew 5, verse 20—a really core statement in the Sermon on the Mount—"Unless your 'likeability' surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." We think of righteousness as this kind of cliché, pious thing, but really it's very much . . . to be a likable, caring, loving person.
Is that true? Is the authentically lived, Christ-led life "irresistible" to a watching world? And is "likeability" an anticipated assessment we should expect those outside the Church to attach to the genuine Christ follower? What is the biblical testimony in this regard?

Answer: it would be hard to parody what the Bible has to say more outrageously. The modern evangelical notion that authentic Christianity and its eminently "likeable" Christ-followers should be "irresistible" to the surrounding world could not be further from what the Bible actually says. This would even qualify as outrageous lampoon—such as from the Babylon Bee—were it not for the fact that these teachers are 100% serious. As it is, the only way such evangelical charlatans can get away with this scandalous deception is that their listeners must never bother to open and read the Bible.



Here is how "irresistible" Christianity was at its outset. Nearly two years into Christ's ministry, the question on the mind of one witness was: "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" (Luke 13:23). And Jesus does not contradict this assessment, but informs His followers that the path to salvation is agonizing! (Agonizing paths, it should be obvious, are not irresistible.) Then, by the end of Christ's earthly tenure, after thousands upon thousands had heard His message while eating divinely-prepared food and being miraculously healed of every condition imaginable, the sum total of believers was not many more than 120 in an upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15), with 500 more in Galilee (1 Cor. 15:6). Even given generous approximations, the "conversion rate" of Christianity while the Son of God walked the earth seems to have been in the neighborhood of 0.1%—hardly an "irresistible" number.

As for the "likeability" of true believers, Jesus says to those He sent out during His ministry, "You will be hated by all for my name's sake" (Mt. 10:22). (Likeability, it should be obvious, does not induce hatred). He says of the future destiny of His followers in His Olivet Discourse, "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake" (Mt. 24:9). And in John 15:19, He declares to His Apostles, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you." So, according to Jesus, the faithful life of believers engenders hatred from the world, a far cry from "likeability."

Well, maybe these were ominous predictions of Christ simply because He knew that His fallible followers would fall so far short of His example. But Christ was "likeable" while here in earthly form, wasn't He? After all, if we as Christians are to be His "likeable" followers, our Mentor must have epitomized this quality, right? The answer is found in John 7:7, where Jesus says to His brothers (who, at this point, were not yet believers in Him), "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify about it that its works are evil." And in John 15:18 and 20, Jesus provides clarification to His above warning (John 15:19) to His Apostles: "If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you . . . Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his Master.' If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you."

Wow. Jesus says He wasn't likeable because of His message, and His Apostles were given the same unpopular message, guaranteed to make them pariahs. So Jesus was hated, as were His Apostles. But maybe that all changes by the time the Church gets off the ground. Doesn't God want His church to be popular? Isn't that how it grows, through pragmatic, "seeker-friendly" methods designed to optimize the appeal of Jesus? What is the expectation of the NT writers on this topic?

To this, we find that Peter's expectation of odium and mistreatment for faithfulness to Christ is no different from Jesus' day. He informs his readers:

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Pet. 4:12-14).
Paul, too, anticipates the unpopular nature of Christianity and its converts when he preaches in Lystra that entrance to the kingdom of God is fraught with many tribulations (Acts 14:22). In 2 Cor. 11:23-28, Paul itemizes exactly how "resistible" his message was as he details the litany of imprisonments, beatings, and near-death experiences that it brought. And toward the end of his ministry, he writes to Timothy, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12).

So, the anticipation of Jesus and His Apostles is animosity and persecution for the faithful, just as Christ Himself received. They anticipate that most will reject the far-from-irresistible message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47), and will turn on those who devotedly proclaim this gospel. In fact, the atrocious interpretation of "righteousness" as "likeability" in Mt. 5:20 is especially egregious, because not only did Jesus teach the exact opposite, but He did so only moments earlier in the same talk! He declares in Matt. 5:10-12:

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Clearly, Jesus is not on board with the idea that His message is supposed to be "irresistible" to the world and that his followers would be known for their "likeability." These specious musings are so opposite from what Jesus actually had to say that, again, the natural impulse is to assume it is all meant as satire, except for the dead-serious nature of its exponents.

So if, in reality, the biblically-expected response to gospel presentation is mostly rejection of its message and revilement of its adherents, how then are those adherents to stay faithful? After all, no one in right mind would choose a life of rejection and persecution without some compelling incentive. Without a gripping motivation to remain true, the tendency to defect would be overwhelming. In fact, even during the earthly ministry of Jesus, many of His followers deserted Him as the cost of discipleship began to hit home (cf. John 6:60, 66). As Paul writes to the Corinthians, "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19).

But it is not in this life that the believer has hope. Rather, faithful followers of Christ are those who have relinquished all earthly attachments, including their own lives, in hope of the eternal blessing to come (Luke 14:26). They are those who have denied themselves and daily take up the cross of shame and reproach originally intended for Jesus (Luke 9:23). As Paul explains to the Galatians, "But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." True followers of Christ are those who have already been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) and now consider it a small thing to forsake everything for His cause.

Referring back to Matt. 5:12, Jesus actually exhorts the maligned believer to "rejoice and be glad" for such mistreatment. Why? Jesus goes on to link suffering on account of Him with one's eternal reward. His undeniable implication is that one's experience of persecution is a barometer for how faithfully one is proclaiming the gospel, which in turn brings greater blessing in heaven. In fact, if one is not experiencing any persecution from the world, one must wonder if he or she is really living a life faithful to the Savior.

Finally, Jesus connects the suffering of His present faithful with the treatment received by His former Old Testament prophets. These "spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:24) now enjoy the incomparable bliss of holy communion and perfect fellowship with God as they await their promised resurrection (Dan. 12:2; 1 Thess. 4:14-16). Today's faithful are to look to these heroes of the past, those " . . . who died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (Heb. 11:13). These prophets of old—"of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb. 11:38)—desired something beyond this world, "a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:16), the same heavenly dwelling Christ has prepared for all who repent and believe in Him (John 14:3).

So, to review:
  1. Christ's true followers abide in His Word, a considerable challenge given the abundance of anti-biblical notions in today's modern evangelical morass;
  2. Christ's Word promises widespread rejection—not "irresistibility"—of the Christian faith, and widespread persecution—not "likeability"—for Christ's faithful followers;
  3. One's experience of persecution is a barometer for how faithfully one is sharing the gospel message of "repentance and the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 24:47);
  4. In like manner, one's eternal reward will directly depend upon one's faithfulness in the face of persecution;
  5. Christ's faithful followers are to endure persecution like the prophets of old by anticipating the glorious reward that awaits them in the coming age.
Dr. Colin L. Eakin Pyromaniac

Dr. Eakin is a sports medicine orthopædic surgeon in the Bay Area and part time teacher at Grace Bible Fellowship Church's Stanford campus ministry. He is the author of God's Glorious Story.

23 December 2018

The name of Jesus


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Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Christ's Incarnation, pages 19-20, Pilgrim Publications.

"Thou shalt call His Name JESUS: for He shall save His 
people from their sins."

He is not called Jesus because He is our Exemplar, though indeed He is perfection itself, and we long to tread in His footsteps; but He is called Jesus because He has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

He is Christ, too, or the Anointed, but then He is Christ Jesus; that is to say, it is as a Saviour that He is anointed. He is nothing at all if He is not a Saviour. He is anointed to this very end. His very Name is a sham if He does not save His people from their sins.

It is a gracious but very startling fact that our Lord’s connection with His people lies in the direction of their sins. This is amazing condescension. He is called Saviour in connection with His people, but it is in reference to their sins, because it is from their sins that they need to be saved. If they had never sinned, they would never have required a Saviour, and there would have been no Name of Jesus known upon earth.

That is a wonderful text in Galatians i:4,—did you ever meditate upon it? “Who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” It is true, as Martin Luther says, He never gave Himself for our righteousness, but He did give Himself for our sins.

Sin is a horrible evil, a deadly poison, yet it is this which gives Jesus His title when He overcomes it. What a wonder this is! The first link between my soul and Christ is, not my goodness, but my badness; not my merit, but my misery; not my standing, but my falling; not my riches, but my need.

He comes to visit His people, yet not to admire their beauties, but to remove their deformities; not to reward their virtues, but to forgive their sins.

O ye sinners,—I mean you real sinners,—not you who call yourselves by that name simply because you are told that is what you are, but you who really feel yourselves to be guilty before God, here is good news for you!

O you self-condemned sinners, who feel that, if you are ever to get salvation, Jesus must bring it to you, and be the beginning and the end of it, I pray you to rejoice in this dear, this precious, this blessed Name, for Jesus has come to save you, even you!

Go to Him as sinners, call Him “Jesus,” and say to Him, “O Lord Jesus, be Jesus to me, save me, for I need Thy salvation!” Doubt not that He will fulfill His own Name, and exhibit His saving power in you. Only confess to Him your sin, and He will save you from it. Only believe in Him, and He will be your salvation.

16 December 2018

Turning down the volume

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Only a Prayer Meeting, pages 146-47, Pilgrim Publications.



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"The much despised truth of election stands us in good stead in troublous times."

We sigh, and cry, because so many worship the deity of the hour; but the Lord answereth, "Yet have I reserved unto Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace."

The words of the apostle are true at this moment, "The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded, according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day."

I bow before the awful sovereignty of God, and the clamour of the people comes not into my ears.

Jehovah's purpose shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure. No drop of the redeeming blood shall be spent in vain, no line of the everlasting covenant shall be erased, no decree of the Eternal shall be disannulled.

This angers the adversary, but in its divine truth we find our consolation while the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing.   

09 December 2018

“It is time"

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from Only a Prayer Meeting, pages 157-58, Pilgrim Publications.
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"It is time for Thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void thy law." Psalm 119:126

We might urge, as reasons for the Lord's working, the sorrows of mankind, the terrors of the world to come, the glory of God, and the merits of the Saviour. 

We might plead the promises, the covenant, the prophecies, and the long weary time of waiting before they are fulfilled; but it is a bright use of a gloomy fact when we can turn even the infidelity, the superstition, and the rebellion of man into an argument for the Lord's interference. 

"It is time for Thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void Thy law." Thus we set our sail so as to use an adverse wind. We extract a reason for grace out of the reeking of iniquity. 

We observe that many men now deny the inspiration of the Scriptures, and that is making void the law of the Lord. Of what use is the Bible to us if it be not infallibly inspired of the Holy Spirit? An erring guide is as bad as none at all when a step may lead to ruin. 

If we have not the very mind of God in these pages, their essence, their authority, their life, and their power are gone. Yet certain ministers, ay, ministers of Nonconformist churches, speak of the Bible as though it were in considerable portions of it blurred with mistakes, and by no means to be relied upon. 

They talk of "essential parts of the Old Testament," as if other parts might be laid aside; and some of them set up the Gospels above the Epistles, as if the one Spirit had not dictated all the Word. It is grievous to hear divines undermining the foundations of the faith which they are supposed to preach. 

"O Lord, we turn from these Thine unfaithful servants to Thyself, and cry, 'Do Thou prove the truth of the Scriptures, fulfill the promises, and put power into the teaching of the cross, so that men may be compelled to own that Thy law is not void, but that the Scripture cannot be broken.'" 


02 December 2018

Have you?

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 49, sermon number 2,814, "Abraham's great reward."


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"You may have losses and afflictions; these are a part of your lot, but they shall not overwhelm you. You shall be no real losers in the end, but you shall be kept by the power of God, and shall be delivered out of every trial and affliction. He shall be to you also your shield, and your exceeding great reward."

Have you, dear friend, made any sacrifices for Christ? Have you lately been called to imperil your own interests by pursuing right course? Have you been steadfast even though you lost friendships? Have you been so firm in your adherence to principle that you have been judged to be obstinate?

Well, if so, you shall be no loser through your faithfulness. As certainly as God is in heaven, you shall prove, in some way or other, that in keeping his commandments there is great reward.

It is always a pity when any of the children of God begin to think that they can be enriched by the king of Sodom, or try to find their portion, in any measure, amongst they ungodly sons of men.

God’s command to his people is, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing;” and his promise to those who do so is, “I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”

25 November 2018

How to attract (or distract) a congregation


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Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Sword and the Trowel, August, 1883, Pilgrim Publications.

"If you want to know how to distract a congregation, you have only to go to the great drum-thumping establishments, and hear for yourself how noise can be glorified." 

Outside of those emporiums instruments of brass are in full blast, with their still small voices proclaiming peace on earth, good will toward men. To put it more plainly, the age of the tin-kettle and the banjo has arrived, and with these weapons of our warfare the strong-holds of evil are to be thrown down. 

In certain districts the Sabbath is made hideous, the streets are rendered dangerous, and quiet is banished, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and with the view of attracting the masses to Him. The design is admirable, the method intolerable. Among our natural rights and liberties there is one which is in some danger in these turbulent days, and that is the right of occasionally being free from the banging of drums and the blaring of trumpets in the open streets. 

A contemporary has been asked: “Can a man belong to a brass band and be a Christian?” It replies, “We see no impediment in the way; but if he is a member of a brass band, and is given to practicing on his cornet or trombone at home, it is an impossibility for the man next door to be a Christian.” 

This verdict is one in which I heartily coincide, only I extend it a little further, and include the equal difficulty of displaying a Christian temper when Salvation Bands go banging through the streets day after day. A tremendous noise is one way of attracting a congregation; but whether or not it is one which Jesus and his apostles would have followed, I leave to be decided by those best able to judge. 

The other day we read in an official report, “Brass band better than ever: thirteen blowing salvation through their instruments.” If this be so, let them blow till all is blue: it is not for us to rail at sounding brass if it has indeed become a channel of salvation. Blow by all means. If any of you judge that this is your high calling, pursue it ardently; and if outraged humanity should pelt you with mud and rotten eggs, do not reckon that a strange thing has happened unto you. 

If you should also create about twice as much blasphemy as religious feeling, do not be surprised: if your course of action should bring ridicule on all religion, and educate the mob in the art of rioting, which they may use by-and-by with unexpected results, do not marvel. If you conceive this to be your line of usefulness, listen to no advice; reckon all who differ from you as your enemies; become martyrs; and go forward like good soldiers, so long as leather and brass hold out.

Only be prepared for contingencies. Suppose the big drum and the tambourine should cease to charm, what next? What else is to be done? Will you stand on our head? Hornpipes have been tried; will you try the tight-rope? cannot suggest to you a novelty—since we have already heard of Brummagem Bruisers, devil-dodgers, converted clog-dancers, etc. 

No, I cannot continue the list, for it must include several profane titles if it become at all complete; and, above all, and worst of all, it must needs contain those blasphemous insults to the eternal and incommunicable name which arise out of the desecration of the word “hallelujah.” It only occurs to me to suggest the question—Might it not be possible to be a little less vulgar, and so to create variety without extreme exertion? It might be a novelty to some people to conduct a meeting in which there should be no slang;—let it be attempted.

20 November 2018

Voting and the 2018 Elections

by Hohn Cho



I     used to be a political activist when I was younger, an ardent hard-core Socialist in college and the beginning of law school, before settling in as a left-wing Democrat who thought Bill Clinton was a stealth conservative. I was especially active in the 2003-04 Presidential election cycle, before God radically saved me in December 2004. I may tell that story here another time, but for now I'll just say that as I learned more and more about the Word of God and began to adopt an increasingly Christian worldview, my political activism and government-centered leftism morphed as well.

When one's earnest desire is to put Christ at the center of everything, other things tend to change and fall away. My politics remained quite liberal for a few years, albeit with a growing unease and discomfort and ultimately full opposition to abortion, then shifted dramatically and swiftly in 2008-09 after a fleeting interest in theonomy, before once again settling in as what I would now approximate as conservative libertarianism . . . and that's libertarian with a small "l" because I'm no longer a "party" man.

In fact, as someone who was once deeply involved in political activism, I marvel at how something as temporal and transient as the biennial ritual of federal elections has so regularly become "the most important election of our lifetime" as many hype them to be. Having an eternal perspective can help keep Christians grounded when all around them are dire and even apocalyptic warnings and rhetoric about the consequences of this or that party gaining (or maintaining) power. In this regard, I believe it's extremely profitable to remember the theological fact that our sovereign God reigns, and my friend Nathan Busenitz just preached a tremendous sermon from the book of Daniel on the Sunday night before the midterms on this very subject.

Regardless, there are some overly zealous Christian electioneers who at times seem to forget that theological fact, particularly when they go beyond well-meaning encouragements and exhortations to vote. Unfortunately, some go so far as to say or imply that if we don't vote, or even more, if we don't vote a specific way, we're in sin. If someone were to say that to me, I like to think I'd reply, "And what possible verse can you cite that shows I am breaking a commandment of God by spending the time and vote-resource over which God has given me stewardship in the way that I choose, rather than in the way that you prefer?"

And no, general propositions such as seeking the good of the city or loving one's neighbor aren't quite the same as insisting someone else's conscience must be bound to vote—a particular act on which the Bible is silent, perhaps because we don't really see democratic systems of government during the periods of the Old and New Testament writings and their preponderance of theocracies, monarchies, and dictatorships—in an oddly specific manner. Because after all, in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 10:29-30, perhaps I will dare to seek the good of the city and love my neighbor in the way that I see fit, rather than the way that you think I should? Christian liberty and the freedom of conscience is an important doctrine, and R. Scott Clark has written extensively and helpfully on this topic.

To dig into this a bit more, I live in the extremely liberal state of California, so the chances that my conservative vote will have any impact whatsoever on the major federal or statewide offices is pretty much zero. Now, I do take the stewardship of my vote seriously, and there were a few local races and ballot initiatives that appeared like they could be close, and so both my wife and I did in fact vote. California makes this easier by allowing permanent vote-by-mail, and so there's no need to wait in line . . . it's just the time to read and fill out the ballot, and the cost of either a stamp or the gas (which remains more expensive in light of the failure of California's ballot initiative to repeal the gas tax, I believe due to the misleading advertising and summary of the initiative by the partisan Attorney General, but I digress) to one's local polling station.

But I would have no criticism for Christians who were to decide differently. Especially for states without vote-by-mail and long lines, I think I could make a strong case that the time driving to and from the polls and standing in line might be better spent evangelizing the voters, phone banking for a passionate cause, working some overtime and donating that money to missions, pleading with pregnant women at an abortion mill, or on one's knees in prayer for the nation. Frankly, to get a bit less spiritual about it, if a person were even just to spend that time joyfully with his or her own family, I would still have no criticism for that person!

At the end of the day, the decision of whether and how to cast a vote, and the time required for that vote, is between a person and the Lord, and my sense of it is that most people tend to have a highly overdeveloped sense of the significance of each individual vote, especially in a nation with over 325 million people. Yes, one vote really can make the difference in an election, but the reality is that only one vote in 89,000 is expected to make such a pivotal difference in a Congressional election, and an adult would typically make only about 38 such votes over the course of his or her lifetime between the ages of 18 to 80, inclusive. Your odds are a bit better at the state legislature level, but even there, it's one vote in 15,000. Instead, the great majority of votes are actually "wasted" votes, which are votes for either losing candidates, or winning candidates in excess of the precise number needed to win.

Now, obviously no one but the Lord knows how any given election will turn out in advance, and again, I take seriously the stewardship of the vote that citizens in this country receive. Generally speaking, I encourage Christians to exercise their right to vote! And I deliberately chose to wait until well after Election Day before posting this article, because I didn't want to cause any of my brothers and sisters who cared passionately about the 2018 midterms to stumble. With that said, humility is a fundamental virtue for Christians, and I think it's important to remember that each of us is merely one person in a very large nation, and that no one should expect any single vote to be either a panacea, or the property of any person or party other than the specific individual in question.

Anyway, that was a lot of methodological prelude to get to what I'd originally planned as an analysis of the 2018 midterm elections. As it stands right now, the Democrats look to be gaining thirty-something seats in the House, while the Republicans seem to be adding two Senate seats. Governor races were a mixed bag, with Democrats picking up seven statehouses from the Republicans in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, but falling short in the critical 2020 states of Florida (assuming the recount doesn't overturn the current results), Iowa, and Ohio, where projections at the "gold standard" of polling analysis, fivethirtyeight.com, had showed "likely" (for Florida) or "lean" (for Iowa and Ohio) Democrat.

Of course, both parties appear to be "spinning" the results for all they're worth, so much so that I felt a viewpoint from someone with a Christian (and politically, as I said, a non-Democrat, non-Republican, conservative libertarian) worldview might be interesting for some. This is already getting a bit long, so I'll focus the analysis on the House and Senate. (The governor races are interesting, and will definitely have significant local impact, particularly on the issue of gerrymandering. They may also serve as an interesting preview of how states might vote in the 2020 Presidential election, and even have a potential impact on that race as partisan governors potentially use their state-level machines to assist their chosen candidate. But I think that's enough about that.)

First, the House. It has become quite standard for the party of a newly-elected President to lose seats at the first midterm election. We saw this in 1982 (when Reagan's Republicans lost 26 seats), 1990 (when George H.W. Bush's Republicans lost a modest 8 seats), 1994 (when Clinton's Democrats lost a whopping 54 seats), and 2010 (when Obama's Democrats lost an even more eye-popping 63 seats). The only exception in recent history was in 2002, when a post-9/11 George W. Bush's Republicans actually picked up 8 seats, with American troops in Afghanistan and Congress having just passed a resolution authorizing any means necessary (including war) against Iraq, and that reckoning was apparently just delayed until 2006, when GWB's Republicans lost 31 seats.

By this measure, the Democrat pickups in the House this year appear to be as expected, perhaps a bit above average, and generally in line with pre-election polling and predictions, which according to fivethirtyeight.com was 36 seats at the midpoint of the estimate. And the fact that the Democrats now control the House will obviously have ramifications pertaining to both legislation (you can count on nothing conservative making it through, and a raftload of liberal proposals passing which will never make it through the Senate . . . and to the extent there is bipartisan desire and will, some possible compromise bills in areas such as infrastructure, the environment, and middle-class tax relief) and oversight (with many Democrats promising investigations of various Trump administration people and policies). Impeachment in the House has also been floated by some of the more left-leaning Democrats, but the unofficial leadership line from the Democrats is that doing so would be an unwelcome distraction at this time.

Next, the Senate. As with the House, the usual pattern has been for the party of a newly-elected President to lose Senate seats at the first midterm election. The pattern is less robust, however, likely due to the smaller number of seats at issue and the nature of the particular states voting for open Senate seats in the midterm election in question. Even so, the party of a newly-elected President typically does not gain Senate seats at the first midterm election, especially when House seats are concurrently being lost. So the likely addition of two Senate seats to the existing Republican majority is significant, and although it's still within the 80% confidence range of pre-election polling and predictions, it's quite a bit more favorable to the Republicans than the projected 0.5 seat gain at the midpoint of the estimate. You can see this come out especially strongly when you compare the Senate polls for Florida (showing D+3), Indiana (D+2), Missouri (D+1), North Dakota (R+5), and Tennessee (R+5) to the actual results of Florida R+0.2 (pending recount), Indiana R+7.5, Missouri R+5, North Dakota R+11, Tennessee R+11.

So the Republicans beat expectations in the Senate, and that has two major ramifications. First, for the next two years, President Trump has the continuing ability to nominate and confirm conservative judges and (potentially) Justices. More than that, with a cushion of three extra Republican Senators, the nominations can be even more conservative, as the margin allows for defections by the last two "pro-choice" GOP Senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, should the President nominate a clearly pro-life judge <cough>Amy Coney Barrett</cough>. And second, it will be easier for the Republicans to hang onto control of the Senate in 2020, which in turn would allow for continuing confirmations of conservative judges by a re-elected President Trump, or aggressive use of the Senate's advise and consent power against liberal judges by a newly-elected Democrat President. Given that the 2020 Senate map already includes a very likely pickup in Alabama and potential losses in increasingly blue Colorado and Maine (albeit in a race against a long-time survivor in the form of Collins), the battleground for control will likely be fought in (relatively) redder Arizona and Iowa, rather than, say, (relatively) bluer North Carolina and New Hampshire, depending on which party controls the tie-breaking Vice Presidential vote.

So what does all of this mean from one Christian's perspective? Speaking for myself, I consider the murder of nearly a million unborn children every year to be the single most important political issue (or rather, human rights issue, as Samuel Sey has so aptly written) facing the United States. And to say it again, I actually am not a "party man" and I am not a Republican. But the reality of our two-party system is that one party has enshrined into its platform that it will "continue to oppose-and seek to overturn-federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman's access to abortion" while the other (at least ostensibly) affirms "that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed."

Given that abortion was instituted not by legislatures but by the Supreme Court in 1973's tragic Roe v. Wade decision, and that subsequent efforts to pass laws against abortion have been similarly governed by the Supreme Court, at this point under our current system of government, it is only the Supreme Court that has the power to limit or reverse Roe. This is precisely why many conservatives have so prioritized the importance of the composition of the Supreme Court!

The problem is that in our (small-r) republican form of government, things are indirect. We elect Presidents and legislators who we hope will represent our views, and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't. The Supreme Court is one additional step removed, in that they are nominated by Presidents and confirmed by the Senate, but then they have a lifetime confirmation and the nine Justices have a separate body of their own, with rules and precedents and procedures.

And sometimes conservatives might elect a President who we hope and believe will appoint pro-life Justices, but then that President either doesn't follow through (e.g., Sandra Day O'Connor), or is prevented from doing so by the Senate (e.g., Robert Bork), or perhaps even believes a nominated and confirmed Justice is pro-life, but actually is not, or has a change of heart while on the bench (e.g., David Souter). Meanwhile, there is a competing ebb and flow over the years to both the Presidency and the Senate, such that Democrats are actively trying to nominate and confirm Justices who are fervently in favor of abortion.

All of this has resulted in a "five steps forward, four steps back" type of situation since 1973's Roe decision, and it has been a slow and at times very painful process. In fact, I have even seen some evangelicals (many of whom lean toward the "social justice" side of the discussion, incidentally) try to use this glacial pace in the fight against abortion as an apparent justification for reducing the importance of abortion in our political calculus.

From my perspective, this argument is at best naïve, showing a lack of deep understanding of the political process and the uncertainties that come along with representative democracy. At times, the argument comes across as bizarrely prioritized, as efforts to stop murder of the unborn are minimized (I previously objected to one example of this I perceived in a national secular newspaper) while efforts to promote, say, mere socioeconomic improvement among certain portions of society in an already incredibly wealthy nation are maximized. And sometimes, the argument is even intellectually dishonest, attempting to pretend as if imperfectly trying to do something good is the same thing as overtly promoting something horribly sinful.

Barring divine intervention, there is zero chance Democrats will move the ball on abortion in a positive direction, whereas Republicans might at least try to do so in certain (important) contexts. Despite his many faults, President Trump has at least been delivering on his promise to nominate conservative judges and Justices. And speaking as someone who didn't support him, deplores a lot of his rhetoric and some of his actions, and thinks voting is one of the least effective ways of either "doing justice" or engaging with the public sphere as a Christian, I've been pleasantly surprised to see the gradually increasing prospects of Roe being overturned. Meanwhile, unless the Lord returns first, I will continue praying fervently and supporting other active and lawful efforts to protect the lives of the unborn.

This probably was not "the most important election of our lifetime." However, at some point, these elections impact the composition of the Supreme Court and thus the future of Roe. Ultimately, the question I have for professing pro-life Christians is this. If you're truly concerned about abortion, about the nearly one million unborn lives ended every year in the United States alone, how high of a priority is it for you? Is it high enough of a priority for you to at least vote against it, should you opt to exercise your stewardship of voting? And when it comes to that voting, if one party proudly proclaims to the entire world that it is adamantly and fervently supportive of that murderous practice, while the other is at least attempting (however imperfectly, especially given the indirect nature of the process) to stop it, how will you vote?

I know my answer, for which I will be accountable to the Lord. And as you process through your own answer, I pray God will grant you clarity, wisdom, and the joy of a clear conscience informed by Scripture.

Hohn's signature

18 November 2018

“We shall get home"


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Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Sword and the Trowel, September, 1883, Pilgrim Publications.

Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which thou hast made for thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which thy hands have established. Exodus 15:17

Conversing just now with an elder of the church, I remarked that he must be somewhere about seventy-five, and he replied, “I am eighty-two.” “That,” I replied, “is a good old age.” “Yes,” said he, “it is”; and then he cheerfully nodded his head, and added, “We shall get home; WE SHALL GET HOME!” 

And so we shall, brothers; so we shall, sisters. In chorus we will take up our brother’s word, and say, “We shall get home.” “We shall get home.” There is music in that simple sentence; a soft melody, as of the evening bell. 

Early in life its sound may be more stirring and trumpet-like, nerving our youth to energy, and making us cry “Excelsior” but as our years increase, and the sun descends, its note is sweet and soothing, and we love to listen to it in our quiet moods, for each word has a silvery tone—“We shall get home; WE SHALL GET HOME.” 

This is our great comfort: however long the way, we shall get home. We may live to be eighty-two, or even ninety-nine; but we shall get home in due time. We may not doubt that blessed truth, for the Lord has taught us to sing in the song of Moses, his servant, “Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance.” 

The way may be rough, but it is the king’s highway, and no brigands can drag us off from it: we shall by this road get home to the Father’s own house above. Some of us are not nearing threescore years as yet, and perhaps we have many long leagues to traverse, but we shall get home—glory be to God!

His love has fixed the happy day
When the last tears will wet our eyes,
And God shall wipe those dews away,
And fill us with divine surprise,
To be at home, and see his face, 
And feel his infinite embrace.


11 November 2018

“Is it I?"


Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Gospel of the Kingdom, page 234, Pilgrim Publications.

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And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? Matthew 26:22

That short sentence fell like a bombshell among the Saviour’s body-guard. It startled them; they had all made great professions of affection for him, and, for the most part, those professions were true. 

And they were exceeding sorrowful: and well they might be. 

Such a revelation was enough to produce the deepest emotions of sorrow and sadness. It is a beautiful trait in the character of the disciples that they did not suspect one another, but every one of them enquired, almost incredulously, as the form of the question implies, "Lord, is it I?" 

No one said, "Lord, is it Judas?" Perhaps no one of the eleven thought that Judas was base enough to betray the Lord who had given him an honourable place among his apostles.

We cannot do any good by suspecting our brethren; but we may do great service by suspecting ourselves. Self-suspicion is near akin to humility.

04 November 2018

Charles Spurgeon: Parson Killer

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from C.H. Spurgeons Autobiography, volume three, pages 143-144.



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"Certain of our charitable neighbours accuse me of having 'a parson manufactory,' but the charge is not true at all. I never tried to make a minister, and should fail if I did; I receive none into the College but those who profess to be ministers already. It would be nearer the truth if they called me 'a parson-killer,' for a goodly number of beginners have received their quietus from me; and I have the fullest ease of conscience in reflecting upon what I have so done."

One brother I have encountered—one did I say?—I have met ten, twenty, a hundred brethren, who have pleaded that they were quite sure that they were called to the ministry—because they had failed in everything else! 

This is a sort of model story:—“Sir, I was put into a lawyer’s office, but I never could bear the confinement, and I could not feel at home in studying law. Providence clearly stopped up my road, for I lost my situation.” 

“And what did you do then? Why, sir, I was induced to open a grocer’s shop.” “And did you prosper? Well, I do not think, sir, I was ever meant for trade; and the Lord seemed quite to shut up my way there, for I failed, and was in great difficulties.

Since then, I have done a little in a life-assurance agency, and tried to get up a school, beside selling tea; but my path is hedged up, and something within me makes me feel that I ought to be a minister.” 

My answer generally is, “Yes, I see; you have failed in everything else, and therefore you think the Lord has especially endowed you for His service; but I fear you have forgotten that the ministry needs the very best of men, and not those who cannot do anything else.” 

A man who would succeed as a preacher would probably do right well either as a grocer, or a lawyer, or anything else. A really valuable minister would have excelled in any occupation. There is scarcely anything impossible to a man who can keep a congregation together for years, and be the means of edifying them for hundreds of consecutive Sabbaths; he must be possessed of some abilities, and be by no means a fool or a ne’er-do-well. 

Jesus Christ deserves the best men to preach His gospel, and not the empty-headed and the shiftless.