31 August 2018

Sheep, or Wolf? A Call to Discern

by Dr. Colin Eakin



If you were asked to identify the Bible's most neglected command for the Christian today, how would you answer? Richard Stearns of World Vision has written that our greatest neglect—what he terms the "hole in our gospel"—is failure to address adequately the physical/material needs of the world's less fortunate. Is that true? Is this where Christians are most deserting Christ's work today?

Here is a survey of mission projects featured on the websites of a random selection of Bay Area churches this past year: homeless shelter, fair trade, sex trafficking, micro-lending to the Third World, food for the hungry, Africa relief, Haiti relief, flood relief, fire relief—the list goes on. Even a cursory glimpse of area churches across a wide spectrum of doctrinal beliefs shows a tremendous commitment to the downtrodden, to those most materially "at risk." There may be a "hole" in our outworking of true Christian faith, but it doesn't lie in inattention to the less fortunate. So if there is a so-called "hole," a most neglected biblical doctrine, wherein does it lie?

Looks Can Be Very Deceiving

As a hint, imagine this scenario. Maybe someone you know is alone, wandering in his own spiritual desert. Not only that, maybe he has unmet physical needs, maybe even actual hunger. To go even further, maybe to all appearances he cannot or will not recognize his innate capacity for success, his opportunity to exert his God-given aptitude for noteworthy accomplishment.

Then along comes someone of friendly countenance, one who is sensitive to the loner's difficulties. He appears on the scene just in time to encourage and uplift the forlorn stranger. He sees his hunger and provides an opportunity for food. He senses the loner's spiritual longing and encourages him with promises from Scripture. He grasps the unrecognized or unacknowledged potential in the loner and exhorts him to fulfill all that he is designed to be.

Pretty magnanimous, wouldn't you say? This would seem, at least on first glance, to mirror sound Christian practice in every sense. In fact, this outreach seems not unlike the Good Samaritan in action. He has come alongside the loner when no one else has or will. He has tended to the loner's physical, spiritual and psychological needs in a noble manner. And in so doing, he has walked in Jesus' footsteps, hasn't he? He has proven himself to be a true "Jesus-follower," right?

There's just one problem. The scenario outlined above is not hypothetical. This scenario actually happened and is recorded in the Bible. The loner described above is Jesus, as depicted in Matthew 4:1-5. The "friend" is Satan.

Whoa! What's going on here? How could this be? Isn't Satan always despicable in practice? Doesn't he only work in the realm of violence, hatred, wickedness, perversity and other forms of obvious evil? The friend here seems loving. The friend here seems kind. The friend here is meeting the loner's needs, addressing Stearns' "hole" in the gospel. The friend here couldn't be Satan, could he?

The process of detecting satanic activity from true righteousness concerns the vital area of spiritual discernment. It is the ability to separate biblical truth from falsehood accurately and reliably. And without a doubt, the lack of spiritual discernment among professing Christians is the most neglected demand God makes upon believers in our day.

Discernment: The Neglected Imperative

Where does God command believers to exercise spiritual discernment? Perhaps a better question is, where doesn't He? The answer is Philemon. Of all the books in the New Testament, this letter of twenty-five verses is the only one in which there is no instruction for the believer to be on guard against falsehood. All remaining twenty-six books of the New Testament (and many of the Old Testament) exhort the believer, to a greater or lesser degree, to discern truth from falsehood and to act upon it. In fact, Second Peter and Jude were written explicitly for this purpose. A summary statement on the need for spiritual discernment comes in Christ's warning at the end of His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15): "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

Wow! There it is in plain language, from no less an expert than Jesus! This is the climax of Jesus' longest uninterrupted teaching in Scripture. Jesus could have focused on a number of other issues as He concluded His momentous sermon, but He chose spiritual discernment. Not only that, He warned His listeners that the threat to them was as if being attacked by a wolf! Jesus is implying here that the threat of spiritual death—eternal destruction!—weighs in the balance. With such clear instruction from God, how could this imperative escape the Church's notice? How could today's professing believers be so blind to this threat? The answer is three-fold:

Ignorance. Many professing believers today are ignorant of what God's Word has to say and how it is to be interpreted, especially in the area of spiritual discernment. Many are not instructed in the complete counsel of God (Acts 20:27), and so are ignorant of its demands upon them. In fact, because a number of modern evangelical churches are themselves pastored by wolves, the teaching these congregations hear will tiptoe around any explicit warning to be on guard against spiritual falsehood.



Difficulty. Detecting falsehood from truth is challenging. It requires an awareness of how Satan operates (2 Corinthians 2:11). It requires constant vigilance, knowing that Satan is ceaseless and relentless in seeking to devour the unwitting and naïve (1 Peter 5:8). And it requires insight into his typical guise and ploy, that he resembles not the comically devilish caricature he has gone to great lengths to propagate, but rather an "angel of light," and that his demons resemble "servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). It has been said that Satan would always rather slightly pervert the truth than utter a complete falsehood. He does his best work, not by attacking the Church, but by joining it. This is why the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon once wrote that discernment is not telling right from wrong; it is telling right from almost right—an arduous task indeed, especially for the uninformed and disinterested.

Unpopular. Even when falsehood is discovered, it is rarely denounced. Why not? Because in today's evangelical morass, that is to be unloving. Rather than follow God's dictum to expose and denounce falsehood for what it is (Ephesians 5:11; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Titus 1:9; 2:15; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Rev. 2:2), today's pattern heads 180-degrees in the opposite direction, sweeping aside any doctrinal differences in the "broad-minded" search for unity. The modern evangelical ecumenical drive redefines love as acceptance and kindness as the universal embrace of any and all ideas with even the slightest patina of "Christian-ese." All that is required for entrance to the club is to be earnest and agreeable. Small wonder, then, that those raising their hands to identify unbiblical ideas and their source are more often scolded than applauded. The zeitgeist of today's Church finds it unkind and unloving to inspect the ideas of a would-be Christian leader or teacher, looking for any telltale seams in an otherwise congenial veneer that might uncover lupine intent.

Biblical Strategies for "Wolf Detection"

So how do we correct this disobedient drift? Supposing one wants to obey God's guidelines regarding the detection and denigration of falsehood, how does the believer exercise such biblical discernment? Christ's example in His confrontation with Satan gives us straightforward guidelines:

Read, study and apply God's Word. Jesus answers each of Satan's temptations with Scripture, quoting Isaiah every time in retort to the devil's lies. In doing so, He establishes the pattern for His true followers in their confrontations with Satan and his minions. Christians need to use the Word of God just as Jesus did, as a weapon for both defending the truth (1 Peter 3:15) and for tearing down falsehood (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). God describes His Word as a fire, a rock and a sword in destroying all forms of falsehood (Jeremiah 23:29; Hebrews 4:12). Christians must have a ready command for the martial use of God's Word against false doctrine, just as God intends.

Pray. Although Matthew 4:1-2 does not explicitly mention that Jesus was praying, we can infer that He did this along with His fast. Prayer and fasting are often linked in Scripture (Dan. 9:3; Luke 2:37; Acts 14:23). Moreover, all other passages where Jesus goes to be alone mentions His praying (Matt. 14:23; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 9:28; Mark 1:35).

Prayer helps the discernment-desiring believer in a number of ways. It brings him or her into a proper place of reverence, awe and humility before God, recognizing that there is a fearsomeness to His holiness and to His wrath against falsehood. It sharpens one's commitment to righteousness through repentance of encumbering sins so that one might be sober-minded and alert to falsehood. It invites the Holy Spirit to bring illumination of the Word and its uses against Satan. And it solicits the blessing of God for those wayward in their doctrine, that He might open their blind eyes and redirect them toward truth—the ultimate goal of any discernment ministry.

Test the spirits (1 John 4:1). What does that mean? It means to place what you are hearing, reading or witnessing from those professing like-minded faith alongside what God has put in His Word. Does it align? Does the would-be partner in faith know and embrace the gospel? Is he or she able to articulate it accurately and clearly as "the power of God for the salvation of all who believe" (Romans 1:16)? Or is it in some refurbished form focused more on earthly considerations and culturally-approved values? In His temptation, Jesus knew the Word of God so perfectly that He easily identified its violation in the wiles of Satan.

Differentiate a person from his/her ideas. The Bible says we are always to be ambassadors for people (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), even as we war for and against ideas (2 Corinthians 10:5). The Christian has no enemies, only opportunities to proclaim God's Word, that God might turn hearts and minds towards Him. As such, we need not fear the denunciation of falsehood as though it somehow endangers its proponent. After all, ideas are fungible. No one is inextricably connected to his or her own error, as though it is integral to his or her makeup. Part of the process of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ—which all believers are to do (2 Peter 3:18)—involves the abandonment of error for truth. So don't recoil from the confident censure of a professing believer's error, provided it is done in love, gentleness and respect (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). You are not undermining who he or she is as a person. On the contrary, you are opening him or her to the opportunity to exchange error for truth.

So how is your commitment to spiritual discernment? How sensitive is your antennae to the beckoning of Satan? Who are today's evangelical wolves? Can you recognize and name them readily?

The widespread and pervasive biblical exhortation to practice spiritual discernment is not an option for the believer. It is, rather, God's oft repeated and enduring command for those who would honor and glorify Him. With this in mind, let us commit ourselves to learning and applying God's Word, to praying, to testing the spirits and to exercising godly wisdom as we, as Christ's sheep, persevere on the lookout for wolves.

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.

29 August 2018

"Complicit Silence"

by Hohn Cho



Reader Graham and I have been having a fruitful exchange, and during it he said he was "stunned by the online reaction to a piece by Thabiti Anyabwile in The Washington Post in which Pastor Anyabwile argued that it was unwise for evangelicals to offer political support to Donald Trump." The original piece is here, and one reaction to it is here. Although the piece itself is now a couple of months old, I told Graham I'd try to offer some reasons why Anyabwile's article may have provoked the response it did. Besides, the general topic of the President's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court will surely remain highly relevant throughout autumn, especially with debate scheduled to begin in the US Senate imminently.

The title of Anyabwile's article was, "Overturning Roe v. Wade Isn't Worth Compromising with Trump, My Fellow Evangelicals." Even from the very top, questions spring to mind. Wouldn't overturning Roe v. Wade be a very good and important thing to most Bible-believing Christians, worthy of significant prayer and personal sacrifices? And if so, what does Anyabwile mean by "compromise"? Who is the target audience? Is it self-identifying evangelicals, constituting over 25 percent of America according to this poll, or only evangelicals who actually voted for President Trump, or perhaps evangelicals who currently support the President?

Regardless, even with some answers forthcoming in the article, the title alone could be received as thought-provoking and even somewhat controversial, especially coming from a left-of-center secular publication like the Washington Post. I don't doubt this could have been one of Anyabwile's reasons for choosing or consenting to the title, which is certainly within his rights to do, although I hope he would then understand why some reactions to it might be similarly inflamed, especially as readers reviewed the remainder of the piece. Because to me, the article as a whole came across as a finger-wagging scold, from a presumed position of moral superiority, regarding an issue—strategy and tactics relating to political engagement—which seems the very essence of adiaphora, or "disputable matters" as they are sometimes called, of the type described in Romans 14:1ff.

But if the title could be construed as somewhat controversial, Anyabwile's lede was even more so: "We are going to give an account to God for our complicit silence before the immoral policies and actions of the Trump administration. By 'we,' I mean the entire country, but I have a particular concern for pro-life evangelical Christians, because I am one."

Based on reading many dozens of his articles and hundreds of his tweets over the years—some of which I have appreciated, by the way[*]—I believe Anyabwile has an unfortunate habit of using sweeping, broad-brush rhetoric that treats certain groups as monolithic, and lumps them together in ways that are often accusatory, unhelpful, and would certainly be condemned were the groups reversed. For example, he has frequently decried the 80 percent of white self-identifying evangelicals who voted for Trump, but seldom has a mention for the over 90 percent of Black self-identifying evangelicals who generally vote for the Democrats. Are they also complicit via their vote when the Democrats routinely support certain issues that are antithetical to the Bible?[**]


"Complicit Silence"

But let's dig into the lede itself, specifically the claim of "complicit silence." This is a common accusation, but in all seriousness, are we biblically mandated to speak up in specific situations, or perhaps even required to become social activists? In asking the question, please note that I am not claiming that certain appropriately manifested forms of speech and activism are somehow prohibited in our Christian stewardship and liberty, of course. But the argument of Anyabwile (and others) appears to be quite different, specifically that Christians have some kind of overt obligation to speak out against certain "immoral policies and actions" which are arguably perceived.

Candidly, I've seen little Scriptural support for this argument. Anyabwile himself has previously cited Proverbs 31:8-9 for the proposition that "refusing to speak up for the voiceless is a sin." But that passage is in the wisdom literature of the Proverbs, which lends itself more to what courses of action in life are wise or foolish. Moreover, this particular passage is directed to a future King with the power and authority to make decrees and decisions in theocratic Israel.

But despite those distinctions, let's accept for the sake of argument that Christians today are commanded to speak up for the voiceless and the destitute. How are we then to balance that command with other commands, such as the ones in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Proverbs 24:21, and Titus 3:1-2, among others? These verses speak about living a quiet and peaceful and dignified life, minding your own business, fearing the King and not associating with those given to change, and praying for and submitting to the governing authorities rather than getting into quarrels or even worse, maligning or speaking evil of the rulers and authorities, a command that we have often seen Christians break with great regularly as it pertains to the United States Presidency! Ultimately, how are we to navigate the course of wisdom in determining this balance, when all over the Proverbs, silence is commended as wise, as in Proverbs 10:19, 11:12, 13:3, 17:27-28, 21:23, 26:17, 29:11?

Even when we consider the example of Jesus, He healed everywhere he went, but He did not abolish poverty, far from it . . . He acknowledged that the poor would always be with us in Mark 14:7, and emphasized the importance of the good news for the poor in Luke 7:22, prioritizing the spiritual over the temporal. He never sought to overthrow the oppressive Romans, He did not compensate the pig owners for their dead livestock in Matthew 8:32-34, and He declined the request of the crowd to always give them bread in John 6:34. Even when unjustly persecuted, He remained silent and did not retaliate, as we see in 1 Peter 2:21-23.

At the end of the day, especially when we consider the context of desperate poverty and routine oppression of the Ancient Near East, whatever obligation that we might have to speak up for the voiceless and destitute is greatest in our own personal lives, with the people who cross our paths, in our immediate proximity. As we sweep outward from there, injustice and poverty multiply exponentially. Are we somehow obligated to personally and publicly condemn every social ill and inequity, even those which we know next to nothing about, and thus have a high chance of rushing to judgment with an incorrect determination? I believe the answer is not only no, but plainly and obviously no.

I simply do not see how a Christian who is committed to charity and good works and speaking up about injustice that he or she might encounter daily, who is perhaps especially mindful about the wisdom of silence and not maligning or quarrelling in political or societal matters, is somehow guilty of "complicit silence" as Anyabwile accuses. There is no command to speak publicly about perceived injustice, and there are no plain Scriptural directions as to the time, place, or manner of such speech. And to the extent that one opts to speak out publicly, in one's own stewardship and liberty, care should be taken to avoid the real danger of "virtue signaling" like the publicly praying Pharisees in Matthew 6:5.

Finally, here are a few questions to consider for the person who does choose to speak up in the public sphere for the voiceless and destitute. Who is more "voiceless" than an unborn infant? (And in contrast, is any adult in a free country truly voiceless in today's era of social media?) And who is more destitute than the poor of the world who are genuinely starving to death? (And in contrast, is any able-bodied person living in a wealthy nation like the USA truly destitute?) Meanwhile, in other cases where the extent of voicelessness and destitution are at least matters subject to debate, as people who stand for truth, points of factual dispute are important for Christians to investigate and acknowledge, as Gagnon's response to Anyabwile sets forth in considerable detail.

Two Other Objections

Anyabwile also said, "In sheer numbers, more lives are ended by legalized abortion. Christians are correct to focus energy and concern on ending the practice. But in quieter, sometimes less observable ways, the carnage mounts in racial injustice and discrimination." I'm glad he recognizes as proper the desire among many Christians to end abortion, but the rather understated way in which he does it reminds me of the old saying, "But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" As I said in point E of an earlier article, in the US, abortion kills nearly one million unborn babies a year, a disproportionately high percentage of which are the children of ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, more people (189 in 2016) die in the US each year of constipation, than unarmed people of all ethnicities are killed by US police, despite much ink having been spilled by Anyabwile on that specific topic.

Finally, Anyabwile said, "Some Christians appear to have made a Faustian bargain for the mere price of a Supreme Court nominee. The Devil gets the better end of that deal!" Aside from the clear insult directed toward evangelical Christians who voted for President Trump—and indeed, it's hard to think of a worse accusation for a Christian than to be cozy with the Devil—the entire line of thought appears to relitigate the 2016 US election, a painful and acrimonious time for many Christians, to be sure.

Rather than recap this myself, I'm going to link to three articles that I believe are among the best I've read on this topic. First, we have Kevin DeYoung from 2012, on the topic of a functional (a.k.a. pragmatic, consequentialist, utilitarian) view of voting. Second, we have Dan Doriani from 2016, on an endorsement (a.k.a. principled, deontological, purist) view of voting. And third, we have Kevin DeYoung again, from 2016, on some thoughts from a functional voter who was practically confronted with the choices before us in that Presidential election.

In early-mid 2016, I personally maintained the endorsement view of voting, to an extent that, in retrospect, was overly dogmatic. Over the course of time, persuasive arguments from my friends Lance (a missionary in Europe who is routinely faced with multiple horrible electoral choices), Todd (a local pastor who I greatly respect, who took the other side of the debate), and Phil (a pastor in Omaha who summarized it all in a way that just "clicked" with me[***]) moved me more to the center, although I still find the endorsement view of voting to be best for me personally. Ultimately, with all California polls showing a blowout for Clinton in the state, Christians here perhaps had an easier decision to make than others who happened to live in battleground states.

What the entire raging debate convinced me of, however, is that as I alluded to earlier, trying to bind a person's conscience on matters of adiaphora like these is a clear violation of 1 Corinthians 10:29-30, and against God's explicit moral command in Deuteronomy 12:32, and could even be pharisaical pursuant to Matthew 23:4. And so acting with contempt or judgment toward a brother or sister on these "disputable matters" is clearly sinful as Romans 14:3 describes. This remains true whether a man confidently declares that supporting Trump is the moral choice, as Wayne Grudem did, or the immoral choice, as Anyabwile did.

The reality is that the moral and ethical calculus a person utilizes on a choice like this is between that person and the Lord, as Romans 14:10-13 clearly states. And perhaps we would all do better if we paid closer heed to Romans 14:19-23 and worked toward peace and edification, not causing each other to stumble, and keeping certain decisions between ourselves and God. Regardless, branding brothers and sisters who might have voted for Trump and celebrated his appointment of Kavanaugh and the prospect of overturning Roe v. Wade as making deals with the Devil, and accusing them of helping to commit a crime or do wrong (which is the very definition of complicit), falls far short of both civil discourse and the standards for Christian liberty to which Scripture clearly calls us.

Conclusion

So, Graham, I hope that will help explain why quite a few Christians took exception to Anyabwile's article. And I believe it would have been just as inflammatory had the lede instead said, "We are going to give an account to God for our complicit silence before the immoral policies and actions of the [Obama] administration. By "we," I mean the entire country, but I have a particular concern for [Black] evangelical Christians, because I am one." Perhaps Anyabwile genuinely believes that; he seems to say that very thing in this tweet.

If that's the case, I pray that he will have the candor and integrity of speech to say so (or similar things) from time-to-time, and in his higher-profile writings and speeches, perhaps, rather than merely in the depths of Twitter mentions, or what might be even worse based on his own apparent convictions, remaining in "complicit silence" about it. After all, to avoid the sin of partiality from James 2:9, we need to be especially mindful of displaying favoritism toward groups of which we ourselves are members. This is one reason that I often call out the sin of partiality that exists among many Asians, particular from older generations, when they object to interethnic marriages.

You see, I am adamantly and ardently opposed to actual sin displayed within the Body of Christ. The problem is, so much of what many "social justice" advocates are calling or implying is sin, is really just attempted heart—and motive—reading in violation of 1 Corinthians 4:5, or the "complicit silence" variety along with other perceived sins of omission, which is for the Holy Spirit to convict.

Speaking for myself, I'm far more grieved over my own many sins of commission, as well as those sins of omission which are commanded at all times, such as rejoicing, praying, giving thanks, and preaching the Word and the Gospel in season and out of season.

I've already outlined why I don't believe there's an overt obligation to speak out against specific immoral policies and actions, but if there's one that burdens me more than any other, it's the immoral policy that targets the most vulnerable, the most voiceless, and the most period, and that is abortion. And I will understand if some Christians might want to disagree with me on the importance of that particular fight . . . but what I pray you will never see me do is to seek publication, to the broadest possible secular audience, of a hit piece accusing my beloved brothers and sisters of making immoral deals with the Devil, merely for failing to sufficiently prioritize my own most cherished adiaphora.

Hohn's signature


Notes

[*] My impression is that the convention these days is to praise up front the character and contributions of a fellow Christian whose public works one is critiquing. Although I appreciate the graciousness that I trust practitioners of this intend, it has become such a convention that I personally feel it can sometimes come across as a distraction and/or insincere. So I'll simply say that I loved Anyabwile's 2008 and 2010 messages at T4G, I've appreciated some of his writings, in particular I think he had the better argument in his back-and-forth with Doug Wilson on the topic of the South and slavery. But I strongly disagree with many of his comments and emphases more recently. I've never met the man, but I'd be glad to greet him as a brother should I ever come across his path. I do think that some have gone over-the-top in their criticisms of him, and I personally believe that taking shots at his chosen legal name is an exercise in pettifogging which reflects poorly on Christian disagreement.

[**] Phil pointed this out in point #2 of his article responding to Anyabwile. Perhaps he never saw or read it, but since I mention it, I think it's important to reiterate that Phil clearly stated that he was not referring to Anyabwile as a "racist schlub" prior to the posting of his critique, which was predicated on that very (erroneous) assumption. Even though he was explicitly informed of this both on Twitter and in Phil's response, Anyabwile's critique of Phil remains posted and unedited to this day. Disagreeing strongly with an article published in the secular media, and its implications, is not uncharitable . . . but allowing a false critique to stand, even after being corrected about it? That certainly does seem uncharitable.

[***] The quote was, "If both candidates are unacceptable, then so be it. I don't have to "win" to be faithful to my convictions. And you don't have to agree with me to be faithful to your convictions, thankfully. Politics involves complicated ethical decision making and it is understandable that good people will differ . . . I respect [others] who differ with me. What I do not respect is those who demonize the opposition and who paint Trump as far better than he really is. From the comments of some of my friends you would think that Trump was Saint George the dragon slayer. I know you don't take that position, but I say this just to explain myself."

27 August 2018

Where Insistence on Representation Ultimately Leads

by Hohn Cho



Fred Butler and Shaun Marksbury have written responses to a piece where Terrence Jones accuses my pastor, John MacArthur (who is, among many other things, President of The Master's Seminary*), of the sin of partiality due to the nature of the curriculum independently chosen by TMS professors in their own academic freedom. Apparently, there are not enough books by and about Christians of a certain subgroup to suit Mr. Jones' preferences.

Putting aside for a moment the reality of where the Reformation geographically originated and then primarily took place, and the testimony that numerous early church fathers from North Africa apparently were and still are indeed taught at TMS, Mr. Jones' article illustrates the growing problem in both the world and increasingly even in the church of elevating equality of outcome over equality of opportunity. Reading his piece reminded me strongly of a controversy that arose a couple of months ago in the UK, when publisher Penguin Random House, apparently the largest general-interest paperback company in the world, virtuously declared that by 2025, their authors would reflect UK society. Author Lionel Shriver acerbically critiqued this policy. I think her whole piece is worth reading. (And by the way, did you happen to make the mistake of assuming her gender?) But this part is especially apropos:

I'd been suffering under the misguided illusion that the purpose of mainstream publishers like Penguin Random House was to sell and promote fine writing. A colleague's forwarded email has set me straight. Sent to a literary agent, presumably this letter was also fired off to the agents of the entire Penguin Random House stable. The email cites the publisher's 'new company-wide goal': for 'both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2025.' (Gotta love that shouty boldface.) 'This means we want our authors and new colleagues to reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.' The email proudly proclaims that the company has removed 'the need for a university degree from nearly all our jobs'—which, if my manuscript were being copy-edited and proof-read by folks whose university-educated predecessors already exhibited horrifyingly weak grammar and punctuation, I would find alarming.

The accompanying questionnaire for PRH authors is by turns fascinating, comical and depressing. Gender and ethnicity questions provide the coy 'prefer not to say' option, ensuring that being female or Japanese can remain your deep dark secret. As the old chocolate-or-vanilla sexes have multiplied into Baskin Robbins, responders to 'How would you define your gender?' may tick, 'Prefer to use my own term'. In the pull-down menu under 'How would you define your sexual orientation?', 'Bi' and 'Bisexual' are listed as two completely different answers (what do these publishing worthies imagine 'bi' means?). Not subsumed by that mere 'gender' enquiry, out of only ten questions, 'Do you identify as trans?' merits a whole separate query—for 0.1 per cent of the population. (Thus with a staff of about 2,000, PRH will need to hire exactly two). You can self-classify as disabled, and three sequential questions obviously hope to elicit that you've been as badly educated as humanly possible.

And check out the ethnicity pull-down. 'Asian or Asian British' may specify 'Indian,' 'Bangladeshi, 'Chinese', or 'Pakistan'; the correct adjectival form of the latter nationality seems to be mysteriously unprintable. 'Black or Black British' may identify as 'Caribbean' or 'African'. 'Mixed' allows for the options 'White and Black African', 'White and Black Caribbean', and 'White and Asian', but any other combo is merely 'Mixed: Other'. As for us crackers, there's 'White: British', 'White: Irish', and 'White: Gypsy or Irish Traveller', but the rest can only tick 'White: Other'.

Let's unpack that pull-down. If your office is chocka with Italians, Greeks, Spaniards, Germans, Danes, Finns, Bosnians, Hungarians, Czechs, Russians, Americans, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis, Argentines, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Romanians who aren't travellers and South African Jews—I could go on—together speaking dozens of languages and bringing to their workplace a richly various historical and cultural legacy, the entire workforce could be categorised as 'White: Other'. Your office is not diverse.



Predictably, outrage ensued, and I say "predictably" because the entire discourse on this topic tends to elevate emotion and personal experiences far above logic (and within the church, even above biblical revelation). Shriver was excoriated, disinvited to events, and ultimately wrote "a pedantic, leadenly prosaic rendition without any jokes" that rightly spoke out against the type of overt quotas that the Penguin Random House policy seems to favor, and which in the US has been declared illegal—for now—in various contexts by the Supreme Court.

When "social justice" advocates in the church accuse critics of inappropriately engaging in a "slippery slope" argument, their words might be taken more seriously were there not ample examples from real life that show exactly where this trajectory leads. The UK is not too far ahead of the US on issues like these, and the concern I have for my Christian brothers and sisters in the US who support "social justice" is that they either don't see it, or even worse, consider examples like Penguin Random House in the UK as a positive model to emulate, despite clear exhortations in Scripture to "regard no one according to the flesh" in 2 Corinthians 5:16. (Listen here to an excellent sermon by Mike Riccardi from the GCC pulpit on this passage.)

And instead of Christians being one "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" from 1 Peter 2:9, suddenly we're Balkanized into dozens of different subgroups, with each one apparently demanding equal representation, not via equality of opportunity, but rather via equality of outcome. And this type of "affirmative action" is actually a form of unbiblical partiality, as I've previously written. Even as I write this, I marvel at how God ordained all the disciples and apostles to be Jews, and yet the Gospel nevertheless obtained a far wider and deeper hearing among the Gentiles, whom Paul in particular ministered to and cared for and loved, even though he himself was a Hebrew of Hebrews!

Just like Phil, I never went to seminary, but were I ever to do so, I would want to go somewhere that God is glorified, the Word is held high, and sound doctrine is taught and lived out. And my desire would be to read books that advance those same goals, regardless of the ethnicity of either the authors or subjects. From every report I personally hear, The Master's Seminary would be one such institution, and I praise the Lord for that.

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[*] In the interests of full and clear disclosure, although I'm an elder at Grace Community Church, I have no affiliation with TMS, except for one 45-minute class I taught for the Institute for Church Leadership curriculum on the topic of deacons and deaconesses, and for the dear friends I love who work and have graduated from there.

26 August 2018

A word to soul winners

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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, volume 7, pages 124-26, Pilgrim Publications.   

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"Are you not willing to pass through every ordeal if by any means you may save some?"


I want to say a word to you who are trying to bring souls to Jesus. You long and pray to be useful: do you know what this involves? Are you sure you do? Prepare yourselves, then, to see and suffer many things which you would rather be unacquainted with. Experiences which would be unnecessary to you personally will become your portion if the Lord uses you for the salvation of others. 

An ordinary person may rest in his bed all night, but a surgeon will be called up at all hours; a farming-man may take his ease at his fireside, but if he becomes a shepherd he must be out among the lambs, and bear all weathers for them; even so doth Paul say, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” For this cause we shall be made to undergo experiences which will surprise us.

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 life-boat 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 any one 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 in his baptism.”


19 August 2018

The catholicon for church problems


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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 36, sermon number 2127, "Love's competition."   


"Love to God is a sort of natural consequence which follows from a sight and sense of the love of God to us."

Where there is much love, there is sure to be much service in proportion to the strength. Give us a church that loves Christ Jesus much. 

You will have mighty prayer-meetings; you will have a holy membership; you will have liberal giving to the cause of Christ; you will have hearty praising of his name; you will have careful walking before the world; you will have earnest endeavours for the conversion of sinners. 

Missions at home and abroad will be set on foot when love is fervent. When the heart is right, everything is likely to be right; but when the heart goes wrong, oh, what a fatal thing it is! 

A disease of the heart is looked upon as the worst of mischiefs that can happen to a man. One old doctor of my acquaintance used to say, “We can do nothing with the heart.” 

God keep us from a diseased heart: a fatty degeneration of the heart, or an ossification of the heart towards the Lord Jesus Christ!


15 August 2018

Responses to John MacArthur's "Social Injustice and the Gospel"

by Hohn Cho



"Racist." "Ignorant." "Fools." "Pope MacArthur." "Out of touch." "A pile of conservative ideological rubbish." "Old white evangelical Pastors." "He's got nothing. I can't get why all his followers are so excited. Cult of personality, I suppose." "Their heroes were slave masters." "Pope-like authoritarian leader." "Multimillionaire white man."

Such are some of the responses to John MacArthur's introductory article, Social Injustice and the Gospel, a piece so civil and rational and, well, biblical that I'm personally mystified at the shrill and hysterical nature of this type of reaction by some professing Christians.

One blogger, in a seeming attempt to rush out a "hot take" to MacArthur's article which he proceeded to spam in numerous places the article showed up, was so quick to speak per James 1:19 that he neglected to notice that he linked to a long-time conspiracy theorist with a plainly obvious axe to grind against MacArthur, as support for questioning of the extent and nature of MacArthur's involvement in Gospel ministry during the Civil Rights Movement! (When this was pointed out, he subsequently took the link down.) Regardless, all of this certainly appears to vindicate James White's prediction that "The Christian SJWs are going to be blowing up the net over the next couple of weeks. Mark my words."

I have long believed that Christians who have refused to buy into the viewpoint of many "social justice" advocates are and have always been more than willing to have a civil and rational discussion centered around the Bible with those who would disagree. And yet my perception has been that there is a distinct lack of interest in having such a discussion on the "social justice" side, in favor of mere declarations that their position is right, expectations that the orthodoxy of their position must not be challenged, and a dismissal or even vilification of people who attempt to do so.

This is often the case with socio-political movements, because they are typically too busy seeking to mobilize support, defeat opposition, and push forward some goal they deem to be desirable, to stop and consider for a moment whether or not their goals and positions are actually meritworthy. I can understand the reluctance to do this in the world, but in the church, if we are truly to be people of the Book who stand for the truth of the Word, we must take more than mere moments to discuss what the Bible says, understand what it means, and only then act according to our God-given consciences and calling and stewardship.

In having this discussion, I appreciated the words of Nate Pickowicz, calling for graciousness. My hope had been the same as Tim Challies, that after well over 50 years of faithful ministry-and nearly 50 of it at the same church-an older man who has been right about so many other issues over the decades would at least have "the credibility [to] gain a hearing." But even if that bare courtesy could not be extended, my prayer has been that people would at least heed 1 Timothy 5:1 and make respectful appeals rather than sharp rebukes... much less puerile and at times even ethnicity-based insults.

The initial signs are not particularly encouraging, but our God reigns, and we shall see where He would have us go. Finally, one final word to those who might be on my "side" of the debate, I can understand why some of us might be excited that the discussion many of us have desired to have could actually be happening, but let's also try to moderate and even restrain our impulses toward partisanship and cheerleading. I thought this word from Jacob Denhollander was both gracious and appropriate. And of course, let's also strive to maintain the highest possible standards of Spirit-filled speech, even as we engage in a vigorous debate about the Gospel, Christian orthopraxy, and individual consciences and convictions.

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12 August 2018

The Parting


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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 According to Promise, pages 28-30, Pilgrim Publications.   


"If my reader would feel freer and more at home in society than in the church of God, let him know assuredly that he belongs to the world, and let him not deceive himself."

Isaac and Ishmael lived together for a time. The self-religionist and the believer in the promise may be members of the same church for years, but they are not agreed, and cannot be happy together, for their principles are essentially opposed. As the believer grows in grace and enters upon his spiritual manhood, he will be more and more disagreeable to the legalist, and it will ultimately be seen that the two have no fellowship with one another. 

They must separate, and this is the word that will be fulfilled to the Ishmaelite: “Cast out this bond-woman and her son: for the son of this bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.” Grievous as the parting may be, it will be according to the divine will, and according to the necessities of the case. Oil and water will not mingle, neither will the natural man’s religion agree with that which is born of the promise, and sustained by the promise. Their parting will be only the outward result of a serious difference which always existed.

Outwardly, and in this present life, the heir of the promise did not appear to have the best of it. Nor, indeed, should this be expected, since they who choose their heritage in the future have, in fact, agreed to accept trial in the present.

Isaac experienced certain afflictions which Ishmael never knew: he was mocked, and he was at last laid on the altar; but nothing of the sort happened to Ishmael. You, who like Isaac are the children of the promise, must not envy those who are the heirs of this present life, though their lot seems easier than your own. Your temptation is to do so; even as the Psalmist did when he was grieved because of the prosperity of the wicked.

There is in this fretting a measure of running back from our spiritual choice: have we not agreed to take our part in the future rather than in the present? Do we rue the bargain? Moreover, how absurd it is to envy those who are themselves so much to be pitied! To lose the promise is practically to lose everything; and the self-righteous have lost it. 

These worldly professors have no spiritual light or life, and they desire none. What a loss, to be in the dark and not to know it! They have enough religion to make them respectable among men, and comfortable in their own consciences; but this is a sorry gain if they are abominable in the sight of God. They feel no inward fightings and wrestlings; they find no contention of the old man against the new; and so they go through life with a jaunty air, knowing nothing till their end come. 

What wretchedness to be so besotted! Again, I say, do not envy them. Better far is the life of Isaac with its sacrifice, than that of Ishmael with its sovereignty and wild freedom; for all the worldling’s greatness will soon be ended and leave nothing behind it but that which will make the eternal world to be the more miserable.


05 August 2018

Prescient medicine for social media (circa 1883)


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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 The Sword and the Trowel, May, 1883, "The use of wool in the ears."   


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"It will be a mark of wisdom to be impatient with the follies of human converse."

We are told concerning Bernard of Clairvaux that, after he had given himself up entirely to contemplation and walking with God, he met with a considerable difficulty in the visits of those friends who were still in the world. Their conversation brought back thoughts and feelings connected with the frivolities which he had for ever forsaken; and on one occasion, after he had been wearied with the idle chit-chat of his visitors, he found himself unable to raise his heart towards heaven. 

When he was engaged in the exercise of prayer he felt that their idle talk was evidently the cause of his losing fellowship with God. He could not well forbid his friends coming, and therefore he prepared himself for their injurious conversation by carefully stopping his ears with little wads of flax. He then buried his head deep in his cowl, and though exposed for an hour to their conversation, he heard nothing, and consequently suffered no injury. He spoke to each of them some few words for edification, and they went their way. 

We do not suppose that for any great length of time he was much troubled with such visitors, for he must have been an uncommonly uninteresting companion. If people once discover that their clatter is lost upon you, they are not quite so eager to repeat the infliction.

We are not admirers of Bernard’s monastic severity, but we wish it were possible to imitate his use of wool, in the spirit if not in the letter. We are all thrown in the way of persons who will talk; and their talk has in it about as much solidity as the comet, of which we are told that a thousand square miles, if condensed and compressed, would go into a thimble or an acorn-cup. Cowper made an accurate computation of the value of ordinary conversation when he said, —

Collect at evning what the day brought forth,
Compress the sum into its solid worth,
And if it weigh the importance of a fly,
The scales are false, or algebra a lie.

If it were of any use to these human fog-horns, whose noise so much disturbs gracious souls, we would reason with them: but, alas, it would be casting pearls before parrots, who would hop off with them, drop them, and come back to scream again. 

Still, though it may be wasted effort, we would tell them a little story, which we met with in a tiny book called “Gold Dust.” “‘ Mother,’ asked a child, 'since nothing is ever lost, where do all our thoughts go?’ ‘to God,’ answered the mother, gravely, ‘who remembers them for ever.’ ‘For ever!’ said the child; he leaned his head, and drawing closer to his mother, murmured, ‘I am frightened!’”

Do you triflers never feel frightened too? If so, permit this healthy fear to grow; and remember that idle words are worse than idle thoughts, for they lead others into evil, and murder good thoughts in those who else might have quietly meditated.

As the topics of conversation which are usually intruded upon devout minds are worthless, if not worse, the best way is to escape from them altogether; but when this is not possible; oh, would that the gift of deafness could be conferred upon us! Oh, to protect the drum of the ear with a plate of iron! Will no one invent us ear-shields? 

The process of letting chit-chat go in at one ear and out at the other is greatly injurious to the brain; and the mere passage of such traffic through the mind is painful to the spiritual man’s heart. It would be a far better thing not to let it enter at all. 

Could we not manage, by determinedly introducing holy topics, to become as truly bores to the foolish talkers as the chatterboxes are to us? or, better still, could we not turn the flood of conversation into a profitable channel, and subdue wild tongues to some useful service, as men tame rushing rivulets and make them turn their mill-wheels? Oh, that it were possible!

How often, immediately after a holy service, where in heart and mind we have been carried to the top of Tabor, so that we have beheld the transfiguration of all gracious truth, have we come down to the foot of the mountain to meet with very fools! They have inane remarks to offer upon the congregation, the faults of the singing, the mistakes of the preacher, or other worthless trifles. They behave as if, in the presence of God, and heaven, and hell, they found a fit place for acting the merry-andrew, and playing their fantastic tricks. 

If they have ever been in the presence of the King of kings, they have been more engrossed by the dust beneath his feet than with his majesty and glory. This dust they bring away, and throw into our eyes, so that with the pain thereof the holy vision vanishes away. Oh, that such beings should exist! 

02 August 2018

Sola Scriptura vs. Church Traditions

by Phil Johnson



I'm in Finland to speak to a group of Reforming church leaders on the subject of sola Scriptura. The conference here started tonight. I'll be covering topics like the authority, accuracy, and sufficiency of Scripture. I'll also be highlighting the dangers of vesting too much authority in ecclesiastical tradition—especially when our traditions might burden or obscure the simplicity of the gospel. Or worse yet, in some churches and denominations, long-treasured church traditions have often been used to adjust or nullify clear statements of Scripture (cf. Mark 7:13).

To be clear: I am not one of those who thinks we need to jettison every order of service, structure, or interpretation of Scripture that has some pedigree in church tradition. (I'm not an organoclast.) I would be the very last person to advocate ignorance of church history, show sneering contempt for the very idea of tradition, or recommend a haughty, overweening attitude toward godly churchmen and their beliefs and practices from past ages. Tradition has a legitimate place in the church; but that place is not near the top of the hierarchy.

Anyway, while I was at dinner with conference attendees tonight, a friend in America texted me a question about those very issues. He was asking if we could have an extended conversation when I get back in the office. I'm looking forward to that. Meanwhile, I thought his question so good and the issue so important that I decided to answer him briefly with a text message on the spot. My Finnish friends around the table were engaged in conversation with one another, so I thought I could dash off a quick reply without being impolite.

Wrong. My reply became a bit longer than planned, and by the time I finished thumb-typing, I was the only one left at the table. So with apologies to my Finnish hosts to whom I was unintentionally rude, here's my reply to my friend's question. My answer should give you sufficient clues to discern everything you need to know about the gist of what he asked. Here you go:

Short answer: as in all structures, authority is definitionally hierarchical. I think well-established ecclesiastical traditions can carry some authority, but never in a way that trumps the Bible.

In other words the practice and teachings of our spiritual forefathers ought to be studied and taken seriously, and though they have no authority to challenge or add dogmatic articles of faith to what the Bible teaches, certain traditions do have more authority than whatever "God told me this morning. . . "

I think one of the besetting sins of the current generation(s) is a tendency to ignore the voices of godly men who preceded us. Sola scriptura properly understood is not a recipe for each person arriving at his or her own interpretation of the text without any insights gleaned from commentaries, reference works, or the history of what godly men and councils have said in the past. (The notion that me and my Bible are all the instruction I'm willing to heed is what I would typically refer to as "nuda scriptura rather than sola Scriptura.")

In short, if I arrive at a belief or interpretation that no one before me has ever seen, my assumption should be that I'm probably wrong.

On the other hand, the danger of placing too much weight on tradition was shrilly rejected by Christ himself, so I'm inclined to think the greater danger lies there. But there's a deep, deadly ditch on both sides, and it behooves us to stay between those ditches.

See also: Sola Scriptura and the role of teachers in our spiritual growth.

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