31 May 2006

Unanswered Bible questions and the need to know

by Dan Phillips

Submitted for your approval, two propositions:
  1. The Bible tells us everything we need to know, as Christians.
  2. The Bible does not tell us everything we want to know.
The former is the teaching of such passages as Deuteronomy 29:29; Psalm 19:7-11; 119; and 2 Timothy 3:15-17. The latter hardly needs to be proven... but it should be discussed.

If you're Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, or some kinds of Charismatic, you won't agree with the first. It's beyond the scope of this post to reinvent that particular wheel.

As to the second, I've come to see that the Bible is, in a specific sense, a very pragmatic book. That is, it is written with its actual or potential readers in mind. Put negatively, it is not written for the benefit of beings who will never read it.

We tend to lose sight of that fact. A lot of ink has been spilled, and a lot of thought expended, striving after answers to Category 2 questions, questions which are not countenanced as issues in Scripture.

This should upset us less than it does. Candor would force us to admit that we're not doing all that well in dealing with Category 1 answers, which is where we really should invest more energy.

How do I tell whether the question I have, or that I am being asked, is a Category 1 or a Category 2 question? There are at least two fairly straightforward ways to discern one category from the other. Simply pose two counter-questions:
  1. Is your question answered directly in Scripture?
  2. Why do you need to know?
We confuse "need" and "want." When Peter heard the bad news about the death he was going die, he became very uncomfortable. He suddenly found himself very interested in what was going to happen to that kid who always seemed to be hanging around Jesus (John 21:18-21).

Did Peter want to know what John's end would be? Certainly.

Did he need to know? Jesus didn't think so: "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (v. 22). Don't busy yourself with Category 2 questions, Peter; you've got your Category 1 information -- now focus on that!

Perhaps some examples of questions would help. You may not agree with my specifics. With such a sharp bunch of readers, I'm sure you know (or think you know) many answers that I don't. Regardless, I hope you'll profit from the principles.

Start with what should be a softball-question: "What must I do to be saved?"

If your Bible study, and your theology, don't instantly hand you the answer to that question on a shiny platter, there's something wrong with one -- or both.

So apply the test-questions. Is the question answered directly in Scripture? Absolutely: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). Why do I need to know? Because I want to be saved!

Okay, all right; that was too easy. Let's take a few others, progressively less easy and more emotionally involving:
  • When cats and dogs die, do they go to Heaven?
  • When infants die, do they go to Heaven?
  • What happens to heathen who never hear of Jesus?
How does the first question stand up to the two tests? Is it answered directly in Scripture? Certainly not in so many words. Some deduce a negative answer from Ecclesiastes 3:21. If so, it certainly isn't an inescapable conclusion. What's more, deducing too much eschatology from Ecclesiastes is a risky proposition. The least one has to admit is that no Scripture lays down a certainly positive answer.

So pose the second question: why do I need to know? Well, honestly, I don't. I'm not a dog or a cat. Until Fido stands up on his hind legs and yelps "Rars, rar rar ra roo ra ra rar'd?", we won't really need to have an answer.

Do I feel that I "need" to know the answer, because Heaven won't really be Heaven if ol' Butchie isn't there? (I actually have seen just such a statement, to my horror.) If so, then I have a serious problem. In fact, the Bible addresses that problem (Exodus 20:3), though it doesn't answer the question I pose.

What about the death of infants? That is a very poignant question to me, personally. I find clues and themes in Scripture that lead me to cherish hope.

But is that question directly answered in Scripture, in so many words? I have to admit that it is not.

Why do I need to know? I have to admit that I, personally, do not. You see, those who die in infancy will by definition never read the Bible. So it does not answer their (unasked) question. Aslan tells me my story; he does not tell me others' -- if the Narnian allusion may be forgiven.

But I do need to know that God will deal mercifully, and justly, and kindly, with such who die. Does the Bible give me reason to trust Him, His ways, His judgments? Do I have cause to trust His dealings with those I've lost? More than abundantly so (Genesis 18:25; Romans 11:33-36, etc.). I know that, when I know all the facts, I will agree from the heart with His judgment and His disposition, and I will praise His justice and His grace with perfect joy (cf. Psalm 16:10; Revelation 21:4).

And what of the last question, concerning "the heathen"?

Let's put this question where we most often find it: on the lips of someone who is trying to feel better about his refusal to bow the knee to Christ. "So," he scoffs, "you're telling me that Joe Hutu Tribesman, who's never been within five miles of a Christian missionary, is going to burn in Hell forever because he hasn't believed in a Jesus he's never even heard of?"

To be honest, in such cases, I skip right to the second question: "Why do you need to know? After all, you are not in that position. You are probably within a five miles of enough Bibles to make a stack taller than you are. You, right now, are talking to someone who can point you to Jesus. Are you really that concerned about the lost? Then what is your plan? Are you going to 'help' them by going to Hell with them?"

Isn't the point fairly self-evident? The Bible has nothing to say to people who will never hear -- because they'll never hear! Do we need to know? No. What do we need to know? We need to know that our business is to go and bring them the Gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 10:13-17). We need to know that Jesus Christ is man's only hope of salvation (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). And those we tell of Him need to know that they have no chance, no prayer, no hope of evasion from Him.

My biggest problem isn't divining answers to the burning Category 2 questions I can dream up. My problem is the Category 1 answers I already have, and am not doing that well in embracing, internalizing, and living out.

Let's learn to minor on speculation, and major on sanctification.

Dan Phillips's signature

30 May 2006

A promise is a promise

by J. Peterman

Look: a promise is a promise, and last week the pawn shop sold more than the requisite 3 t-shirts I needed to have enough credit to give away another t-shirt here at TeamPyro, so roll up your sleeves, people.

The picture at the right is the t-shirt we are giving away, and if you click it you'll notice it's the value-priced T. It's perfect summer wear as it is light cotton. I considered giving away a stein, but the mere metion of such a thing left the blog in a state of near civil war, so I chose this item instead.

Here's the contest: name the top 5 reasons you personally ought to receive the teamPyro shirt on the block. You have until Thursday at 5:00 PM blogger time to get your entry in. On Friday around lunchtime, I'll announce the winner -- and I'm setting the time right now so Dan can post something pithy immediately after I do to knock me off the top slot.

It is likely I will be the only judge as the other Pyros are not as amused by the contests as I am, but keep in mind that they may e-mail to spike your entry if you say things untoward about them.

Let the hoopla begin!

27 May 2006

The Justice of Calvary

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

I was doing some reading this week in connection with my ongoing series of posts on 2 Corinthians 5:21, and I decided to read C. H. Spurgeon's sermons on that text. (He preached five of them, and one was titled "The Heart of the Gospel"—same as Tuesday's post, but I didn't realize that when I titled the post).

Anyway, one of the sermons, "Christ—Our Substitute," begins with this anecdote that makes some vital points about justification, penal substitution, and how the love of God relates to His justice.

This sermon was preached in London at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on July 18th, 1886. But I am amazed at how well Spurgeon's message syncs with what we have been posting this week on the blog.

Here's something I've pointed out many times, but it's worth noticing again: The "modernism" Spurgeon opposed in Victorian times is in many respects indistinguishable from the post-modernized ideology of the "emerging church movement" today. Many of the issues are the same; the arguments are the same; there is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Specifically, modernists, just like their postmodernist offspring, could not endure the truth that God demands a blood-atonement to satisfy His justice and propitiate His own wrath against sin. The concept of "penal substitution," or propitiation, entailed a view of God that modernists quite simply hated. They believed "love" is inconsistent with any demand for punishment or retribution. In their view, God's "love" ought to nullify all His demands for justice. They argued (just like Steve Chalke, Brian McLaren, and lots of other postmodern pseudo-evangelicals do today) that the penal-substitution view of the atonement makes God seem too "harsh."

Here Spurgeon gives a simple response to those claims and shows clearly why that kind of thinking is folly.

On Punishment, Justice, and Atonement

SOMETIME AGO an excellent lady sought an interview with me, with the object as she said, of enlisting my sympathy upon the question of "Anti-Capital Punishment." I heard the excellent reasons she urged against hanging men who had committed murder, and though they did not convince me, I did not seek to answer them.

She proposed that when a man committed murder, he should be confined for life.

My remark was, that a great many men who had been confined half their lives were not a bit the better for it, and as for her belief that they would necessarily be brought to repentance, I was afraid it was but a dream.

"Ah," she said, good soul as she was, "that is because we have been all wrong about punishments. We punish people because we think they deserve to be punished. Now, we ought to show them," said she, "that we love them; that we only punish them to make them better."

"Indeed, madam," I said, "I have heard that theory a great many times, and I have seen much fine writing upon the matter, but I am no believer in it. The design of punishment should be amendment, but the ground of punishment lies in the positive guilt of the offender. I believe that when a man does wrong, he ought to be punished for it, and that there is a guilt in sin which justly merits punishment."

"Oh no; she could not see that. Sin was a very wrong thing, but punishment was not a proper idea. She thought that people were treated too cruelly in prison, and that they ought to be taught that we love them. If they were treated kindly in prison, and tenderly dealt with, they would grow so much better, she was sure."

With a view of interpreting her own theory, I said, "I suppose, then, you would give criminals all sorts of indulgences in prison. Some great vagabond who has committed burglary dozens of times—I suppose you would let him sit in an easy chair in the evening before a nice fire, and mix him a glass of spirits and water, and give him his pipe, and make him happy, to show him how much we love him."

"Well, no, she would not give him the spirits, but, still, all the rest would do him good.

I thought that was a delightful picture certainly. It seemed to me to be the most prolific method of cultivating rogues which ingenuity could invent. I imagine that you could grow any number of thieves in that way; for it would be a special means of propagating all manner of roguery and wickedness.

These very delightful theories to such a simple mind as mine, were the source of much amusement, the idea of fondling villains, and treating their crimes as if they were the tumbles and falls of children, made me laugh heartily. I fancied I saw the government resigning its functions to these excellent persons, and the grand results of their marvellously kind experiments. The sword of the magistrate transformed into a gruel-spoon, and the jail become a sweet retreat for injured reputations.

Little however, did I think I should live to see this kind of stuff taught in pulpits; I had no idea that there would come out a divinity, which would bring down God's moral government from the solemn aspect in which Scripture reveals it, to a namby-pamby sentimentalism, which adores a Deity destitute of every masculine virtue.

But we never know to-day what may occur to-morrow. We have lived to see a certain sort of men—thank God they are not Baptists—though I am sorry to say there are a great many Baptists who are beginning to follow in their trail—who seek to teach now-a-days, that God is a universal Father, and that our ideas of his dealing with the impenitent as a Judge, and not as a Father, are remnants of antiquated error.

Sin, according to these men, is a disorder rather than an offence, an error rather than a crime. Love is the only attribute they can discern, and the full-orbed Deity they have not known. Some of these men push their way very far into the bogs and mire of falsehood, until they inform us that eternal punishment is ridiculed as a dream.

In fact, books now appear, which teach us that there is no such thing as the Vicarious Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. They use the word Atonement it is true, but in regard to its meaning, they have removed the ancient landmark. They acknowledge that the Father has shown his great love to poor sinful man by sending his Son, but not that God was inflexibly just in the exhibition of his mercy, not that he punished Christ on the behalf of his people, nor that indeed God ever will punish anybody in his wrath, or that there is such a thing as justice apart from discipline.

Even sin and hell are but old words employed henceforth in a new and altered sense. Those are old-fashioned notions, and we poor souls who go on talking about election and imputed righteousness, are behind our time.
C. H. Spurgeon

Re-reading that sermon today, parts of it looked familiar. Then I remembered that I quoted a different part of this same sermon in a post last October. That post, and the comment-thread that followed it, are still worth reading.

Phil's signature

25 May 2006

The Golden Fleece [2 of 2]

by Frank Turk

Yeah, well, so what? One of our astute readers here at TeamPyro made this comment in response to the the new t-shirt design I have thrown together:
I must say something, and I truly do it in all humility.

First off, I love visiting this blog. I especially find James Spurgeon's posts insightful and edifying. Having said that...

I really wish that the Pyromaniacs blog wouldn't give into the temptation to "market"themselves and further fleece the flock by selling t-shirts and other logo-laden merchandise. Doesn't this just add to the whole atmosphere of consumerism and materialism that plagues the Church already? Why not encourage your readers to give to missions instead, especially those in the unreached 10/40 window? America is just so wasteful, especially in the Church.

You guys really do seem to have your fingers on the pulse of the Church when it comes to what we need to hear doctrinally, and yet there is a whole separate area, one in which the Church is failing miserably, that you could use your highly visited blog to address and impact for the positive.

There is a small, new ministry called "Good Measure International" that is selling t-shirts for $15 that say something like, "My t-shirt helped feed a hungry child for a month, what did your t-shirt do?"All the proceeds from the shirts go to ministries who minister the Gospel and help meet the physical needs of the poor. Now THAT's a worthy t-shirt and money well spent.

I don't mean to be a downer on this light posting, but I just had that on my heart to share.

Thank you for always sticking your necks out, and thank you for letting me do the same.
Now, before the fireworks begin, let’s make sure I agree with all the excellent points that were made here. By a long shot, it is far more important that we express the Gospel, support the church locally and globally, and that we stand for unity in truth, than it is to buy one of our little trinkets that are doing so well with the readers.

Note to Phil: While you are by far the best customer of the pawn shop, you only account for about 40% of the trade there as we review the sales data. However, you do account for 40% of the sales. Dude: 40%.


In fact, the point is so critical that I’m going to drop some links in here from my own blog which have been there for, well, at least since last summer:

This is the “Gospel Practicum", folks. Get after it. If you’re just toddling along with your Bible open and you go the church 3 times a week plus your gender-specific Bible study, and you blog about Jesus, but that doesn’t turn into something where some person is getting something personally from you which we can call “love" in the Gospel sense, you’re getting is all wrong.

And for the record, I can’t find a link to “good measure international", but the three I listed here are relief organizations which are Christ-centered and have good ratings with Charity Navigator.

So what’s that got to do with the cess pool which is CBA? Well, let’s look at some current t-shirt designs from the CBA marketplace, shall we?

For those who can’t make it out, the scripture references are “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says..."(Revelation 3:22) and “My sheep listen to my voice I know them and they follow me."(John 10:27) This T is produced by an organization in Berryville, AR, named “Kerusso"(which you may or may not take offense to). And let me be clear: they make a quality product from a retail standpoint. The Ts are nice weight, and the colors are always great – good looking stuff.

‘K? And I sell these things in my store, so whatever complaint I’m about to pony up, I’m in the boat with the guys at Kerusso.

Now, what’s the point of buying this particular t-shirt? Rather than tease you, let me suggest that the right reason for buying this t-shirt is that it looks good on you. That’s all: if it looks good on you, and you have $15 laying around, and you need a T, brother or sister, there’s nothing stopping you from buying this t-shirt.

But if that’s the point in buying this t-shirt, then let me say that anyone who buys this shirt because they think it makes them some kind of a Christian is significantly self-deluded. Same for putting the fish on your car. Same for reading this blog for that matter. You are not a “better"Christian, or a any kind of “adjective" Christian, because you are doing business – intellectual, retail, whatever – with other Christians and the stuff your pass back and forth has a verse on it or a fish or a celtic trinity symbol or whatever.

See: you are a Christian when you follow the Gospel. And anyone who tells you that their T-shirt helps you follow the Gospel … you should run away from them. They are clearly trying to sell you something, and I’m willing to go out on a limb and say it’s not just a t-shirt. It has something to do with "BUST HILL", but I'm not going to open up a controversy inside a controversy.

The t-shirts at the pawn shop? They don’t help you follow the Gospel. The only reason they have any scripture references on them is because those verses are in the premises of the blog – not because wearing them gives you any kind of an opportunity to preach and teach. If you wear one, you're a groupie -- becuase who else would wear a t-shirt with a blog logo on it besides a groupie?

Is it wrong to be a groupie? Only if you, for example, start calling us at work or start leaving messages for us with our employees.

The dreck at the pawn shop is over-priced – and it’s not because Phil’s licensing fee is so high. It’s because CaféPress has confiscatory vendor pricing. I make $3 on the black Ts which are priced at $21.99 – and “make", btw, is a euphemism for “which I then spend monthly to keep the pawn shop open, because the only profit I ever made from the CafePress store was the T I just bought for myself last week".

It is part of the punch line, folks. I really hate it when we have to deconstruct all of the gags and ironies and snide bits of social satire, but the whole point of the TeamPyro shop is to say, “this is not even close to the ‘good stuff’". If you’re reading this blog to be more “relevant" because you can show everyone you wear the t-shirt, I say “re-read this blog. I think you didn’t ‘get it’ on first pass."

Now, look: it costs me about $7 a month to perpetrate this gag, and to date I haven’t received a single check from CafePress. I bought a black “stoner"T from my shop with $17.99 + shipping, and frankly I don’t have any guilt over that. I needed a new shirt to work out in, and it is 100% serviceable. I gave away a t-shirt last month, and if we sell 2 more shirts this month I’ll give another away – because it’s fun.

Well, I think it’s fun. If you readers think it’s chintzy, I’ll call off the hounds. No sense being the only guy in the room laughing.

Last thing: let’s be careful how we throw around the word “fleecing" in the future. I haven’t fleeced anybody, and this blog isn’t fleecing anybody. It’s not like we’re charging you for the priviledge of posting your comments, for cryin’ out loud ...

The Golden Fleece [1 of 2]

by Frank Turk

h: Christian retail. Did you know this is my favorite subject of them all—including baptism and the inevitable “Iron Man vs. War Machine” blog-battles with iMonk? It’s my favorite because it is so misunderstood by most people, including those who are actually “doing” it, and it leads to so many problematic reactions.

Because, let’s face it: in spite of my half-hearted defense of the industry, the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) is a problematic industry at best. Now, why is that?

Let me give a real-life example, and then I’ll be excited to move on to my real beef this morning. The real life example is the WAL*MART Supercenter in Springdale, AR. Let me tell you that there are no facilities busier than this thing, but it is distinguished in the WAL*MART (WMT) chain by one significant detail: it has a fairly-amazing book department.

Seriously: their book department is about the size of an airport bookstore (~1000 sq ft), and it has a LOT of books. Interestingly, it has a long side counter of “inspirational” titles, which run the gamut from Joyce Meyer to Joel Osteen to Rick Warren (which, of course is not much of a spectrum, but I’ll get back to that). They also have a very cheap assortment of Thomas Nelson KJV and NKJV bibles – “cheap” meaning “the binding is complete junk”.

Now, here’s where the example actually starts kicking in: immediately next to the “Inspirational” section is two 8-foot sections with the header card:
Let that sink in for a minute. In the mind of the WMT book buyer(s), LDS and Joyce Meyer and Rick Warren are all the same kind of thing. The big fat irony, of course, is that they are actually the same kind of thing—but as Inego Montoya is famous for saying, “I don’ thin’ thad means wha’ you thin’ thad means.”

What has happened in WMT, of course, is the logical end of trying to supply spiritual truth using retail discernment. What sells “best” is what gets shelf space, and suddenly what you are left with is not content at all but marketing. And in those terms, the LDS gospel and the Joyce Meyer “ministry” and the Joel Osteen “best life” and the Rick Warren “method and message” all turn out to get the front of the shelf.

When your objective is selling the most copies, or snatching the most readers, inexorably you must be turning over the stones to find the next sizable group of people with a common interest to draw them in and frankly pander to their self-assessed needs.

So what does that have to do with CBA? WMT is not the CBA channel—CBA sees WMT as the big bad wolf, far more damaging than the internet channels. But not doctrinally damaging—sales at the register damaging.

Isn’t that ironic? Because WMT can cherry-pick the things from CBA and then get the publishers to cheap-down the bindings, and then create franchises around personalities, CBA sees that as a threat to sales.

What CBA ought to see it as is a threat to doctrine—because I promise you that even in the most personally-ignorant common CBA store, there is a lot of revulsion against selling things like statues of St. Joseph to bury in your yard. In the mind of the WMT buyer, no such revulsion exists.

So the problem with CBA is not that, store by store, there isn’t some nebulous sense that we ought to be teaching “what the Bible teaches”. The problem is that the guidepost CBA uses to measure success is the same guidepost that WMT uses to measure success. It’s the guidepost that gets LDS literature on the shelf next to Rick Warren, and Rick Warren next to Osteen, and Osteen next to Mrs. Meyer.

In case you haven’t noticed, that’s not the guidepost we use here at TeamPyro.

I’ll have more on this as it relates to the new T-Shirt design in a bit.

On men (great and otherwise) and our faith

by Dan Phillips

[Preface: these reflections grow out of the post Stupidity hurts. A lot.]

Name-dropping can be fun. It can blow up in your face, too.

It's always a great thing to have some Big Names on your side. Anyone who's written even semi-academically knows the value of some juicy corroborative footnotes, "proving" your point. Even on a personal level, if you can't find one soul in all of the ages of Christendom who sees a verse as you see it, you know you're probably wrong. But if you can say, "Well, John Calvin saw it the same way," you're golden -- thanks to enlisting a "gold-standard" Big Name.

I was at a Bible conference once, decades ago. The speaker, a well-known Bible scholar, was setting out his view of Ezekiel 38-39, which was very much a minority view. I asked him if he could name anyone else who took that view. He named one little-known scholar. I asked him if he could name anyone else. He glared at me.

"Ezekiel!" he snapped.

As long as I've been a Christian, I've noted how infatuated some of us are with names. We "prove" that Christianity is scientific by citing the names of a lot of dead Christians who were scientists, and one or two living ones. We like big names, actors and writers and politicians, scholars and poets and painters, singers and novelists, humanitarians and the notorious. It makes us feel, at some level, that our faith is validated. "See? [Jack/Jill BigName] was a Christian -- and (s)he's really smart/cool/attractive/famous!"

Perhaps it makes us feel "cool" by association. I'm a Christian, like those "cool" people. Therefore, it's a "cool" faith.

But there are problems with this fond attachment. If our faith is validated when the big and the mighty profess it, what happens when they don't, or when they bail on it? What happens when they apostatize? Or what of those in the same field (biology, archaeology, philosophy) who seem not to find a glimmer of compelling attraction in the Gospel, or the Bible?

If we are going to validate our faith in the Bible as God's Word by telling of William Ramsay's journey towards the truth, or William Foxwell Albright's -- then what of Bart Ehrman's apostasy from it? Does that discredit our faith?

This is where I think we need to hear Paul speak afresh.

What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)

For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:4-7)

...and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
In the final analysis, regeneration, conviction, conversion, saving faith -- these are all one-on-one transactions. God uses means, and He likely used someone to bring the Word to you, as He did in my case (Romans 10:14). But I did not savingly believe because Gregg, the endlessly-patient fellow who told me about Christ, believed. I believed because God struck His word to my heart, convicted me of my sin, convinced me of the truth of His word, and of the compelling glory of His Christ.

So when I found out that "cool" and impressive people were Christians, that was great. But it didn't convince me more of God's truth. Nor, did it lessen my conviction when I learned that some defected, went wobbly, or apostatized outright. They weren't why I believed; and they wouldn't cause me to disbelieve.

So in the course of my later education, I had the wonderful blessing of getting to know some real scholars, personally and from a distance, and it was an encouragement to me. But then I found that some had what we call "issues" and/or feet of clay -- I was saddened, but my faith was unaffected.

Their professed belief was not why I believed. Their professed disbelief would not cause me to disbelieve.

This is why I respect scholarship, and profit greatly from scholars -- but I don't follow them, and I certainly don't worship them.

And this, too, is why Bart Ehrman's story, as reported in the article I discussed, saddens me. It saddens me because of what it tells me about Bart Ehrman.

But it doesn't tell me one thing about truth, God, or His Word.

Listen to godly men. Learn from godly men.

But lean on God alone (Psalm 118:9; 119:99; 146:3).

Paul gets the closing thought: "Let God be true though every one were a liar" (Romans 3:4a)

Dan Phillips's signature

24 May 2006


by P.T. Barnum

Oh yes. New T-shirt.

23 May 2006

The heart of the gospel?

A brief footnote to the series just begun on 2 Corinthians 5:21
by Phil Johnson

Historic Protestantism was born out of Luther's realization that the doctrine of justification by faith is the heart of the gospel. That conviction of Luther's has always been part of the fabric of Protestant belief. That's a stubborn fact of history that tends to rankle some folks today who insist that the central principles of historic Reformed theology—starting with sola fide—are outdated and too narrow and therefore need to yield to "a more generous, catholic spirit."

Luther called justification the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. Calvin called it the principal hinge of religion. Every other major reformer likewise accorded sola fide the same kind of importance.

Actually, the word "importance" doesn't do it justice. Historic Protestantism has regarded justification by faith as the central distinctive and most essential truth of the gospel.

Among the Reformers there was disagreement about many other things, but when it came to justification by faith, there was always a remarkable unanimity. That consensus is reflected in every major Protestant creed, and it has been affirmed by virtually every significant Protestant theologian.

The handful of "exceptions" to the rule, including Puseyism and the Mercersburg theology, aren't really Protestant in spirit at all, but crypto-Romanist ideas. The long-term fruit of those movements and all others like them substantiates that assessment.

These days, it's quite popular in some circles to deny that justification by faith is the heart of the gospel. (Some deny the doctrine altogether; others merely deny that it is an essential tenet of authentic Christian belief.) Such denials are often made with arguments borrowed straight from earlier Romanizing movements. (That's one of the reasons some of us have insisted the contemporary attacks on forensic justification do not signal a new perspective at all, but something more like neo-tractarianism.)

Anyway, it was not only Luther and the Reformers who claimed justification by faith is the central evangelical essential. That's the very point made in Romans 4:5; John 3:18; 5:24; Galatians 2:16; and various other statements and principles gleaned from hundreds of New Testament passages.

But no single verse of Scripture is more clear about this than 2 Corinthians 5:21. The verse is Paul's simple one-sentence summary of the message he proclaimed as an ambassador of Christ. It explains precisely what he meant when he said in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

Here, in Paul's own words, is the heart of the true ambassador's message. This is Paul's own explanation of precisely what he meant when he spoke of preaching "Jesus Christ, and him crucified." In other words, this is Paul's most succinct summary of the heart of the gospel: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

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Stupidity hurts. A lot.

by Dan Phillips

To the media, there is only one kind of noble, admirable Christian fundamentalist: an ex-Christian-fundamentalist.

And so the Washington Post does a heroic profile of Bart Ehrman, perpetrator of Misquoting Jesus. In it, the Christian faith is (we are clearly meant to believe) reduced to ruinous shards by these devastating, faith-shattering revelations. I should really put them all in horrified, breathless, blinking italics -- but it would become wearying. So here they are -- hope you're ready to LOSE YOUR FAITH!!!
  1. You don't have to deal with the "Lord / Liar / Lunatic" conundrum if you pretend Jesus never existed! (Cue crowd-sound: "Oooooh!")
  2. John 8:1-11 is textually suspect and may not be original! (Crowd: "Ahhhhhhhh!")
  3. There are variations of detail between the four Gospels! (Crowd: "Eeeeeeeee!")
  4. John is different from the Synoptics! (Crowd: "Aiieeeee!")
  5. You should have reasons for what you believe! (Crowd: "Whooooaaaa!")
  6. You shouldn't believe something just because your parents did! (Crowd: "Ohhhhhhh!")
  7. Greek was written without capitalization or punctuation! (Crowd: "Arrrrrrrrrgh!")
  8. Emotional "conversions" born in ignorance may end up in apostasy. (Crowd: "Oooo-eeee-oooo-eeee-oooo!")
  9. There are professors at Princeton who do not affirm the inerrancy of the Bible -- and they may write that on your papers! (Crowd: "Ack-ack-ack-ack-ack!")
  10. There are differences between the ~5700 Greek manuscripts we possess! (Crowd: "Wooooooooooo!")
  11. We don't have the original manuscripts of the Gospels! (Crowd: "Wacka-wacka-wacka!")
  12. You can't prove the Trinity from 1 John 5:7! (Crowd: "D'oh!")
  13. There's suffering in the world! (Crowd: "Zzzzzzzz!")
  14. It can be fun to have lots of stuff, and fame! (Crowd: "Ungh?")
So I trust that your faith is now utterly decimated, lying in smoldering ruins at your feet, laid waste by these never-before-heard, astonishing, brand-new discoveries. Right? You're ready to go right over the wall, and embrace the first relativistic, nihilistic faith-position that validates the choices you want to make.

Why have these deep marvels been kept secret? How have all these epochal truths been deliberately shrouded in obscurity, all this time? Why, oh why, did no one ever tell us these things?

Except they did. And a long time ago. And over and over and over. Ever hear of B. B. Warfield? J. Gresham Machen? Francis Schaeffer? Edward J. Young?

Josh McDowell? Norman Geisler? Robert Thomas? Stanley Gundry? Alfred Edersheim? William Hendriksen? F. F. Bruce? D. A. Carson? Ned Stonehouse? Gleason Archer? (I could go on, and on, and on....)

These men didn't all treat the same questions, nor did they plumb the same depths nor come up with the same answers. But none of them was forced to abandon all confidence in Scripture. Indeed, most on that list maintained the inerrancy of Scripture.

My point is this: these issues have been known and discussed for years... no, decades... no, centuries.

And yeah, that's really it. That's the whole withering case, at least as this article presents it.

So what we are evidently are meant to learn is:

  1. We should stop lying about the Bible, telling people that it dropped straight from Heaven into their hands, black, leather-bound, and in the original words of the original writers.
  2. We should stop lying about variant readings.
  3. We should stop telling people to believe simply because we tell them to believe.
  4. We should stop telling people not to study the Bible intelligently.
  5. We should stop telling people that everyone in the academic world is a fundamentalist, Calvinist Christian. Or, in other words...
  6. We should stop pretending that a bunch of apostate professors don't exist.
  7. We should stop telling people that the four Gospels read as if written by one person from one perspective in one sitting.
It really is just that deep. Which is to say, not.

I can easily imagine scores of pastors reading these words, ready to tear out their hair and bellow at their computers, "I've been pleading with my people to study intelligently forever! I've been trying to get them to study and read broadly, to buy some books, to bone up on the facts! I do classes on the history of the Bible, and seven people turn up, with an average age of 5000! I write articles nobody reads! 'Stop lying'?! I'll retire to Bedlam!"

I know, I know, I know. The stupidity of articles like this is thick, palpable, almost sliceable and spreadable. It hurts in so many ways. Reporters who have probably never in their lives spent an hour in a Bible-teaching church, who probably literally could not name a single practicing Biblical Christian whom they count as friend, lecturing the Christian church on what a terrible job we're all doing. It hurts.

This all keeps bringing to my mind the saying: ignorance is curable, but stupid is forever. I keep looking at these reviews of Ehrman, wondering whether I'll finally see why it is that we're supposed to care about anything he says.

But no, I guess the "breaking news" here is that the world, which has never listened to us nor understood us, still doesn't listen to us nor understand us.

And of course the more serious and tragic note is that there are folks who will look at these articles and arguments, and be caught off-guard. In some cases, blame could be laid on the miserable state of some pulpits today; in others, on folks' refusal to avail themselves of healthy, God-honoring, Bible-teaching ministries.

And sadly, those whose most desperate aim in life is to reassure themselves that their rebellion against God is defensible will find false comfort in it all.

The world is stupid. It has to be. It's a matter of survival of the world qua world.

But not as stupid as Christians who take their cues from it.

[Two BTW's: First, some years ago I did a little send-up of the last, supposedly annihilating assault against Christianity -- the cutting-edge nineteenth-century radical "scholarship" of the Jesus Seminar -- in How to Make Your Very Own Jesus. Second, I intend a brief follow-up to this article.]

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21 May 2006

The Key to Revival

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.

This excerpt is from sermon 185, "The Great Revival," preached March 28th, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens:

We want every now and then a reformation. One reformation will never serve the church; she needs continually to be wound up, and set a-going afresh; for her works run down, and she does not act as she used to do.

The bold, bald doctrines that Luther brought out began to be a little modified, until layer after layer was deposited upon them, and at last the old rocky truth was covered up, and there grew upon the superficial subsoil an abundance of green and flowery errors, that looked fair and beautiful, but were in no way whatever related to the truth, except as they were the products of its decay.

Then there came bold men who brought the truth out again, and said, "Clear away this rubbish; let the blast light upon these deceitful beauties; we want them not; bring out the old truth once more!" And it came out. But the tendency of the church perpetually is, to be covering up its own naked simplicity, forgetting that the truth is never so beautiful as when it stands in its own unadorned, God-given glory.

And now, at this time, we want to have the old truths restored to their places. The subtleties and the refinements of the preacher must be laid aside. We must give up the grand distinctions of the school-men, and all the lettered technicalities of men who have studied theology as a system, but have not felt the power of it in their hearts; and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument, in the hand of the Spirit, for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.
C. H. Spurgeon

19 May 2006

Some thoughts on bad language

by Phil Johnson

This subject has been batted around the blogosphere for as long as I can remember. Ever since I began blogging, I have been planning to comment on it eventually.

Recently, heated discussions about the impropriety of vulgar language in the mouths (and blogs) of Christians have been provoked by episodes on two of my favorite blogs—one being a protracted comment-thread several days ago on our own Frank Turk's blog, and the other being a widely-discussed post at Challies.com today.

Where should we draw the line in deciding what language is appropriate or inappropriate for Christians, especially in a public context like a book or a blog or a sermon, when the whole world might be listening?

Here are some points I want to make clear:

  1. It's hard to be perfectly consistent on this question, because so much about it is inherently subjective. What's profanity in Hindi doesn't offend my ears at all, because it evokes no meaning in my mind. For that matter, certain English words that have no evil connotations throughout the Commonwealth are jarringly offensive here in America, and vice versa. (The late, greatly beloved founder of our ministry's New Zealand branch used to plead with me to try to convince our pastor not to use the word bum to describe a drunken derelict, because that word was simply not used for any reason in polite society by Kiwis from his generation. There's a totally innocuous British expression meaning "stay cheerful" that probably shouldn't be used in mixed company in America. I'd go on giving examples, but I don't want to offend anyone unnecessarily.)
  2. Nonetheless, we ought to aim at matching our words to our profession of faith. One of the World's Great Powerbloggers accused me of gross hypocrisy a couple of days ago for supposedly winking at Frank Turk's use of an earthy two-syllable Saxon expression. Powerblogger claimed I was being inconsistent with my own policy because I "didn't de-link him." But in point of fact, I did not link to that episode at Frank's blog for the very same reason I haven't linked to other posts elsewhere that have used PG-13 language. The reason I didn't comment publicly about Frank's use of the expletive when it happened is that I was quite literally in a plane on my way home from Europe on the day it happened, and I didn't catch up with the blogosphere until the whole thing was well and truly over. By then Frank had already apologized and spent his time in the penalty box. But he did apologize. And I resolved to post about "bad language" as soon as an opportunity presented itself. So here we are. There's no apathetic double standard here. We're going to try to keep it that way. (Note: Although I once refused to link to a post with an offensive expression at the Whimpering Nexus of the Intellectual Universe, I haven't totally de-linked them, either. Yet.)
  3. Dirty language and casual cussing seems to be a besetting sin in the "Emerging Church" movement. I don't know if it's a generational thing, a cultural thing, one of the ramifications of the blithe worldliness that pervades the philosophy behind the "Emerging Church," or all of the above. But I listened to the first few podcasts from Emergent, and I was floored by how freely vulgar language and "mild" profanity flows in the so-called "Emerging Conversation." "Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10).
  4. I heartily affirm everything Daniel at Doulogos said about this issue. The comments in reply to that simple post show how volatile the issue is, and how recalcitrant some Christians these days can be in defending their indefensible use of bad language. Ditto for the comments at Challies today. (Here's an issue where I think we would all do well to listen to what Carla, Kim, and the majority of the homeschool moms are trying to tell us.)
  5. The Bible isn't all that confusing in what it says about this issue. In the comments at Challies today, several commenters pointed out that the Bible contains some language that would not be deemed polite for public reading under most normal circumstances. Others seemed to be suggesting that if there's no convenient set of rules or list of disapproved words in the Bible, pretty much anything short of taking God's name in vain is OK. Granted that the Bible records some instances of indelicate language, and there are a few occasions when godly men—including Paul, Elijah, and Ezekiel—used some shockingly graphic lowbrow imagery. But it's not true that Scripture is utterly devoid of any restrictions on the use of coarse language.
  6. Ephesians 5:3-4, for example, was cited by several commenters (and summarily dismissed by several others) at Challies today. That passage and its cross-references do establish a clear, albeit subjective, principle governing the use of coarse, vulgar, and filthy language: "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." The Greek expressions for "filthiness . . . foolish talking . . . coarse jesting" are speaking of exactly the same kind of language your mother used to wash your mouth out with soap for. Check any lexicon. It's a pretty sweeping prohibition against every kind of "bad" words. See also Ephesians 4:29.
  7. Granted, there's no banned-word list, and based on Scripture's own example, the prohibition against the mere mention of fornication is not as absolute as a woodenly-literal reading of that text might suggest.
  8. What's more, all of us are guilty of violating the standard these commandments give us. We do it all the time. In practical terms, it's impossible for us not to sin in this. "We all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man" (James 3:2).
  9. Nonetheless, Ephesians 5:3-4 means something, and it's worth pondering carefully. When we have an admittedly subjective commandment like this, that's not a warrant to push the envelope and see how close to impropriety we can come, especially for the sheer shock value of being heard. Rather, it's a good time to exercise extreme caution and stay as far away as possible from whatever is obviously in bad taste—perhaps even what is merely questionable.
  10. Finally, for those who always insist that absolute guidelines or rules written in black and white are necessary to make sense of (or practically apply) a principle like that of Ephesians 4:29, I can't help you. Just keep your coarse and filthy words off my blog.
Phil's signature

PS:To save unnecessary comments, let me anticipate and address two arguments the pro-vulgarity lobby always makes:

  1. Are these biblical commands really concerned with words, or is this about attitudes and ideas? Both. Colossians 3:8 is expressly concerned with what kind of words we use. Ditto with Ephesians 4:29 and 5:4.
  2. Why are some words deemed taboo when an exact synonym might be perfectly acceptable in mixed company? The question has interested me for a long time. I work with words for a living, so I think about language a lot. The distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable words are admittedly hard to account for. But I still think there are good reasons to recognize and respect the boundaries civilized society places on language. For one thing, it affects our testimony. That alone should be sufficient reason for Christians to honor the distinction between bad words and their more socially-acceptable substitutes. After all, the fact that Paul bans "filthy language" in Colossians 3:8 without giving a banned-word list or any further guidelines suggests that he was expecting them simply to follow whatever convention was recognized in the polite society of that time. Again, there is a measure of subjectivity here. But that's no reason to throw out the principle altogether.

The Key to the Gospel

With an Unexpected Addendum about My Criticism of NT Wright
by Phil Johnson

I've been reading the comments for the past two days, and it occurs to me that someone desperately needs to post something of substance here. So I'm going to do something I've wanted to do since I started blogging last year: This is the start of a series on the doctrine of justification by faith and the principle of imputation.
Second Corinthians 5:21 is one of my favorite verses of Scripture: "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

The whole gospel message is contained in embryo in those words. That short statement is crucial to our understanding of the nature of the atonement, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and the twin principles of imputation and substitution. It teaches great truths about the character of God, the sinlessness of Christ, and the simplicity of salvation. It summarizes the core truth of biblical soteriology. It has important implications for Christology. And it even says something about theology proper, because it plainly assumes the sovereignty of God, the love of God, the justice of God, and the grace of God.

This is one of those crystal-clear verses that helps us make sense of all the rest of Scripture. It helps explain the significance of the priestly and sacrificial laws of the Old Testament. It thoroughly illuminates the meaning of the cross of Christ. It reminds us why Christ is the only way of salvation from sin. It shows why no good works performed by sinners could ever contribute an iota to their salvation. And it demonstrates how salvation was accomplished for us without any of our own works—and yet in a way that completely fulfilled God's law, upheld His justice, and vindicated His own righteousness.

In other words to borrow an expression from Romans 3:26, here is how God can "be just, and the justifier of [those who believe] in Jesus." This text explains how God can pardon sinners and treat them as righteous without compromising His own impeccable righteousness or lowering His perfect standards in any way.

I love John MacArthur's summary of the meaning of this text, and it bears repeating. It's also a pretty good paraphrase of the text itself: "On the cross, God treated Christ as if He had committed all the sins of every sinner who would ever believe, so that He could treat believers as if they had lived Christ's perfect life."

In a series of posts that will probably stretch across the next two weeks or longer, I want to explore further the far-reaching ramifications of this simple verse. I think it's a good corrective for much that is lacking in contemporary evangelicalism's truncated gospel message.

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PS: The Pulpit Live blog now has open comments and an RSS feed. We've put a graphic link in the form of a small ad in our right sidebar to highlight the best of whatever is current over there. But here's something a lot of people missed anyway: Some interesting details about the size and shape of the pulpit at Grace Community Church.

The Wright Stuff

PPS: Somewhat germane to the topic of sola fide and justification by faith, over at Reformed Catholicism, Jamey Bennett posts this critical review of my comments on NT Wright and the New Perspective on Paul. (He's reviewing a chapter of mine from the book Fool's Gold, which chapter was a slightly edited version of a seminar I did at the Shepherds' Conference a couple of years ago.)

I'll say this for Jamey: his comments are measured and reasonable, absent the tone of smug and ill-humored snideness often favored by a few of the regulars over at Reformed Catholicism. He rightly zings me for referring to Wright as an "Archbishop." (But then he commits a similar gaffe by referring to John MacArthur as my editor. Well, OK. On second thought, JM does sometimes edit me.)

Jamey at least did me the favor of reading the chapter before criticizing it, and he interacts with what I actually said (something some better-known critics have egregiously failed to do), as opposed to merely questioning my right to criticize the Bishop at all.

As a matter of fact, Jamey turns the normal defense of Wright completely on its head. Instead of complaining that no one has a right to critique Wright's popular-level books without first doing dissertation-level work on all his scholarly tomes, Jamey acknowledges that he himself has read only Wright's "... for everyone" commentaries. He confesses that he hasn't even read the book I was critiquing.

Nonetheless, Jamey objects to my criticism of Wright's view of justification as an incomplete process which culminates in a "declaration [that] will be made on the last day on the basis of an entire life." My complaint was that Wright seems to smuggle the believer's own works into the justification formula with that definition. But Jamey says he sees no difference between that and John MacArthur's view that salvation (note: MacArthur does not say "justification") is a process that won't be complete until we are glorified.

Jamey's comments reflect a point of confusion—the equating of justification with all of salvation—that I would regard as the source of many evils in the world of contemporary Protestant soteriology. It's the very same error made by the advocates of antinomian no-lordship theology (though they push it to the extreme opposite conclusion from the "Reformed Catholicism" gang).

Anyway, the timing of this is propitious. My current series of blogposts on 2 Corinthians 5:21 will enable me to elaborate on some of the issues Jamey's review deals with.

18 May 2006

Great Blogging Advice

by Frank Turk

Listen: this is still one of the great blog entries on any blog at any time under any circumstances. And yes, I wrote it -- typos and all -- but it still applies to all kinds of people. It applies to people who are nominated for high office and somehow are bloggers. It applies to the lowly college kid who is bored today because his XBOX is in the shop. It applies to the guy who thinks he's an "artist" but his greatest work of art is his hair.

It's a great post. More people should print it out and read it before they blog each day. If you have never read it, let me tell you: it shows in your blogging. And you don't want it to show in your blogging. Why? Because it says things about you like, "I am so self-absorbed that I have no idea how other people can't see me the way I see me."

Get a grip! It's blogging, not the last address of western civilization to posterity! And you're not Cicero for pete's sake -- you're not even Melito of Sardis. You're a person with a blog, and your red union suit with one missing button is showing.

And if you aren't sure if I mean you personally, I mean you, personally. Especially if you're reading this blog and you ought to know better. And believe it or not, the "usual suspects" did not set me off today.

That's all I'm going to say about that. Carry on.

17 May 2006

Rioting in the … what?

by Clark Kent
As news of the Da Vinci Code dominates the Today show in the hope that no one will notice that Katie Couric is leaving for really big money at CBS, Christians and people who wish they were Christians are causing chaos worldwide in protest of the new movie starring Tom Hanks.

No fewer than 7 books have been published by Protestant and Catholic scholars refuting the historical errors of the work, and they are selling at a tepid pace. Nuns are praying at the foot of the cross. Opus Dei is opening up its trade schools and inviting the press to come in and have a look around at the lives it is changing.

"I've never seen anything like it," said Frank Turk, owner of Kingdom Bound Books in Siloam Springs, AR. "Christians are completely off the chiz-ain about this. You'd think that Dan Brown's book glibly desecrated the most sacred beliefs of almost half the world population. Next thing you know, somebody's going to call for a boycott of Playstation and the Andy Griffith Show and all Aich-Eee-double-hockey-sticks is going to break loose."

Protests worldwide have resulted in innumerable costs in human lives and property damage -- because nobody has been killed and nothing has been burned or looted.

Al Jezeera released a video taped joint statement from Osama bin Laden & Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said, "We can't compete with this kind of rampant unrest. We have suspended Jihad by order of the imam in the bottom of the well until you loopy bread-eaters get a grip. Burning embassies is one thing, but you people are making us gassy with fear!" CIA analysts have yet to make anything of the donkey-like laughter clearly heard in the backround of that recording.

UPDATED: In related news, Pat Robertson has heard from God, and of course it's a prophecy of doom -- against the United States. A brief statement from Al Qaida was aired on Al Jezeera: "Werd Dat". Again, CIA analysts have yet to make anything of this cryptic statement.

16 May 2006


by Frank Turk

ather than force Phil to spend time and money to find me, I'll post this here and let the dogs sniff it in their own back yard. The first place I want to start is the dictionary.
Bib-li-cal also Bib-li-cal adj.
1. Of, relating to, or contained in the Bible.
2. Being in keeping with the nature of the Bible, especially:
a. Suggestive of the personages or times depicted in the Bible.
b. Suggestive of the prose or narrative style of the King James Bible.
3. Very great in extent; enormous: a natural disaster of near biblical proportions.
The word compares in scope and meaning to words like "constitutional" or "confessional": is means the object being described agrees with some other source document. Does it mean it is identical? No: it means it does not violate that source document.

In that, I have in the past had a discussion with a fellow who said this to me:
If I say that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the immaculate conception [sic] (or any other RCC distinctive), wouldn't you argue that such a belief is "unbiblical?"
The answer is, "Yes, I would. I have in fact, as you know." The issue is whether the doctrine resembles what the Bible says or not -- and whether the matter is taken with the kind of weight the Bible places on such a thing.

Before I go on, this has some pretty significant implications on the link-trolling British blogger's discussion of the T4G affirmations and denials. In my view, when we spend time discussing things in an apologetical context, or in a "bunch of guys who are Christians chewing the fat" context, like Dr. Mohler's choice of words to describe the authority of Scripture rather than why we should desire God when he has spilled the righteous blood of Christ for us, that's like spending a $100 bill on sawdust. Pheh.

Let me give you a Protestant example of this biblical/unbiblical thing first, then we can turn to the matter of the Immaculate Conception (as one example, which this Roman Catholic person presented to me), and then sum up. There is a small KJVO Baptist sect (I would call them a cult, if that matters to you) that doesn't just demand baptism by immersion, but by "straightway" immersion, which is to say straight down and straight up -- because Mt 3:16 saith in KJV, "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water".

You and I might laugh at these folks (I laughed when I met a fellow who told me this is what he believed), but they think that everyone else is going to hell because they have faulty baptisms. Now let me ask you: wouldn't you agree that's it's fine for them to perform the baptismal right "straightway", but that to demand that this is the only way baptism can rightly be performed is unbiblical? That is to say, the demand goes beyond the bounds of what the Bible teaches us and demands something that the Bible does not demand.

"Cent, how can you say such a thing?" you might say, astounded. "You are yourself a Baptist and would deny the infant baptisms of all Lutherans and Presbyterians -- not to mention Catholics! You're completely inconsistent and self-incriminating here!"

Well, if I thought all Lutherans and Presbyterians were going to hell based on the kind of baptism they are taking or giving, you might be right. The problem is that I don't think that at all: what I think is that baptism is for the believer, and it is an outward sign of an inward reality -- a symbol of identification with Christ done in obedience. So those who baptize infants might, in my view, put the cart before the horse, but they're not going to hell for it. They are allowed their mistake in that belief. The difference between me and the straightway advocate is that I allow for the fact that the method of baptism is secondary, and that there is no violation of the Gospel if one is sprinkled or dipped or comes up straight-way.

In that, let's consider the immaculate conception. You know something? Up until 1854 when Pius IX declared that anyone who disagreed with this was "condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church", I'd say that he is welcome to believe it as long as it doesn't lead one to lift Mary above the status of faithful human being. The 4 Bible texts Pius used to make his declaration are thin at best, but that's his faith: I leave it to him to work it out. However, when he makes the demand that those who reject this idea are "condemned, shipwrecked and separated", what he is saying is that the belief that Mary had no original sin is of equal importance and equal weight to the belief that Christ was both God and man, or that Christ rose from the grave.

What forces this belief into "unbiblical" rather than extra-biblical is the demand that it is an integral part of the faith. Just like the straight-ways who think that anyone dipped sideways, or who goes down forward and comes up, have fallen into Satan's snare of lies, the demand that everyone accept the immaculate conception as a core belief on-par with the Resurrection over-reaches the bounds of what the Bible teaches about saving faith.

One last pass at this for clarity's sake. The Bible certainly does not teach which operating system to use on your computer, or whether Linux, Mac or Windows is Christ's choice for computing output. However, I prefer Mac OS, and most people prefer Windows. Now which choice is "biblical"? None of them are. However, that does not mean that any of the are unbiblical -- unless someone demands that Mac OS is God's OS and all other PC users are heretics based on a very thin interpretation of Deu 32:10, Ps 17:8 and Prov 7:2.

At the place where we make demands that Scripture does not make, and burden people with rules that Scripture does not endorse, we have become unbiblical. Let's keep that in mind as we say we are people who are preaching and teaching the Gospel.

British link troll

Some odds 'n' ends
by Phil Johnson

  1. Adrian Warnock is giving away books. In the interests of full disclosure, we note that he asked for this link. (He could've had ten links without the Gollum picture if he had simply given me one of the books as a bribe.) But he links to PyroManiacs a lot, and I like Adrian, so we're happy to do it. His goal is to stir up discussion about the "Together for the Gospel" statement.
  2. I'm strongly in favor of the T4G statement. Do I need to say more to qualify for a free book?
  3. What Frank Turk said.
  4. Speaking of Centuri0n, if he doesn't post here soon, we're going to file a missing-persons report.
  5. Jaroslav Pelikan, Yale's famous Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, died at age 82 on Saturday. His magnum opus, a five-volume set titled The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, is indisputably the most important and most comprehensive work on historical theology published in the past century. Though Pelikan began his study of church history because of his interest in Luther (his father was a Lutheran pastor), he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. But the range of his expertise was incredibly expansive, and anyone interested in the full sweep of church history and doctrine will benefit from his scholarship. (One of his books on my "to-read" list is Bach Among the Theologians.) Pelikan's works are as readable as they are comprehensive. His 2003 book Credo—a wonderful theological survey of Christianity's creeds and confessions of faith—is a real treasure.
  6. Here's a poignant post that I somehow missed several weeks ago, but Darlene pointed out to me this week. David "Gunner" Gundersen and his wife Cindy and both of their families are longtime friends of ours. (Gunner was my son's roommate in college, and he's also one of the regulars at foolishblog.com.) Gunner and Cindy are in the adoption process, and that opened up an opportunity for him to minister in Uganda. Back in February, it seems, he posted a beautifully written testimony about his first experience in Africa.
  7. My long dialogue and debate with militant fundamentalist separatists continues in the forum at SharperIron.org.
  8. For a slightly different approach to "dialogue and debate," James White posts his "Caner Correspondence File." James has shown ten times the patience and stamina I would have in dealing with the yapping style of Ergun Caner.
         Meanwhile, Michael Spencer makes an observation that may be worth pondering: "The Caners are playing this purported Calvinism debate for one purpose: to put SBC Calvinism right in the middle of the road and run over it for years to come." (Spencer knows something about how that tactic works against Calvinism. So I think he has a point here.)
         Still, in the chronicle of correspondence James White has posted, Caner has already managed to overthrow the old canard which suggests that Calvinists have some kind of monopoly on mean-spiritedness. Caner seems to think the word debate means "a cage match with steel chairs."
         Seriously, he sounds like a cheap wrestler taunting the competition. If he shows up for the debate in tights and a Mexican wrestling mask, I hope White and Ascol will politely duck out the back door.

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15 May 2006

Truth is old, but the reverse may not hold

by Dan Phillips

There is a danger in saying that truth is always old.

In itself, the statement is certainly true. Truth is always old. Our perception of it, however, is not. Our statements of it, are not necessarily always old. I would add that anything "new" should be viewed with suspicion, and put to the most rigorous test. It should never be accepted simply because it is new, or popular.

Let me give an example: Dispensationalism. (Please read carefully what follows.) A constant criticism is that it is new. Some reject it for that reason alone.

This has always struck me as ironic, coming from Calvinists. Our forefathers met with exactly the same criticism from Romanists, in their day. They responded by citing church fathers who stated or accorded with the same truths, but mostly they responded that Scripture isn't new, so their (Scriptural) view also is not new.

Reject Dispensationalism if you believe it does not accord with the Bible. Put forth your better, more Biblical view. But don't reject it solely because you think it is new.

Take a more specific example of a traditional thought that right-minded folks have held for centuries, if not millennia: seeing Canaan as a type of Heaven, and crossing the Jordan as death. If there is a direct Biblical basis for this identification, I've never seen it.

On the contrary, I find it a distressing equation. Canaan was filled with giants and fortified cities (Numbers 14:38-39). After they entered it, Israel faced many bloody battles, some of which they lost. While living in it, they were tempted to and committed apostasy, and they were severely judged by God.

Eventually, they were thrown out of it.

That's Heaven? I hope not! More importantly, not by anything I read in Scripture!

I love Spurgeon dearly. (Surprise!) He's probably my favorite preacher to read, ever, by a vast margin. But in his March 15 evening devotion, he wrote: "When I cross the Jordan, the work of sanctification will be finished...." Where did this imagery of Jordan/death start? If it's in the Bible, I've missed it. Crossing the Jordan certainly presented no crisis in Israel's sanctification.

Or again, in Spurgeon's March 13 morning devotion, the great preacher encourages the downtrodden by quoting a couple of lines:
"A few more rolling suns, at most,
Will land thee on fair Canaan’s coast."
If that's true, I'm not encouraged! Is that what going to Heaven is? I'm going to go from a land where I constantly face my own miserable pronenesses to sins within, and disheartening battles without -- to a land where I'm constantly going to face my own miserable pronenesses to sins within, and disheartening battles without? There will be giants and pagans and well-fortified villages in Heaven? There's a chance I might be thrown out?

As Jonathan Edwards once was heard to remark, "Yikes!"

Okay, Edwards probably never said that, but I do. Of course I know what Spurgeon meant, and what he meant was true. But what he said was simply, in my view, a mistake. But it is old! It's very old! Old, yet mistaken. It happens.

I want old truth, only old truth. As old as the Bible. Let us just make sure that our "old truth" really is that old, and not just an old misconception that should have been reconsidered and retooled ages ago.

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13 May 2006

A few ethics short of a Happy Meal®

by Phil Johnson

A PyroManiacs special Mother's Day news bulletin for Homeschool Moms

Apparently Ronald McDonald isn't wearing white makeup, orange hair, and striped stockings for nothing. McDonald's sponsors a website that wants your daughters to embrace the Goth lifestyle.
Christian parents who think the large portal websites designed for little kids must be perfectly safe ought to take a second look at the KidzWorld site, whose biggest corporate sponsor is none other than McDonald's. (In fact, McDonald's name and logo are so ubiquitous at KidzWorld that it looks like a McDonald's-owned site.)

"Get the Goods on Goth Style"

According to KidzWorld, death as a "lifestyle" is really cool. "If you identify more with Marilyn Manson than Britney Spears, or if you'd rather date your mom than be caught wearing anything floral or J. Lo inspired, you should check out the ins and outs of gothic style," the page tells little girls. The graphic to the left, replete with skull and crossbones on the bottle, is from the KidzWorld site.

Overall, KidzWorld's pages are brightly colored, and that may not seem to fit well with the Gothic mood, but no worries. The article carefully gives your daughter all the helpful tips she needs on Goth basics like black nail polish, black boots, hair dye, studs, and black eyeliner ("Great for lining lips, eyes or drawing stuff on your face").

Those are the "Five Goth Essentials," according to KidzWorld. Links on the page will take the kids to an informative biography on Marilyn Manson. Warning: follow the "Goth clothing" links too far and you will be on the bad side of the Internet pretty quickly.

There's even a place for feedback from the kids. One fourteen-year-old ominously calling herself "Slipknot_4ever" writes, "Thank you so much for the article the goods for goths! I really wanted to go goth and this will really help me! I really needed this article and thank you again! I just have one question, do you know where to find a lot of kool black clothes in Canada? Thanks again!"

At least one 15-year-old critic with obvious expertise in things Gothic (nickname: Acidalayde) thinks KidzWorld's advice is a tad lame. She offers this helpful addendum for the younger girls: "[They] forgot to mention Tape. Duct-Tape, and electrician's tape, can be your best friend. And GAH. Remember kiddies, being the mime is bad, go past the chin-line and to the neck. And neon colours work too. If you want help with style look up Switchblade Symphony, Rasputina, Sisters of Mercy, Cradle of Filth on search engines such as Google"

Hmmm. I certainly wouldn't try those searches. Googling "Cradle of Filth" sounds like a pretty bad bit of advice for adolescent girls. I guarantee it's not what most parents think their kids are being exposed to when they this large, colorful website for kids that promises to keep your children "safe" from the dark side of the Web.

As if that weren't enough...

KidzWorld furnishes links to teen horoscopes, another page on our old friends Hoobastank, a special feature on The Pioneers of Punk, and a surprising array of pages peddling more disgusting aspects of culture's dark side than you can imagine.

KidzWorld is promoting this stuff aggressively and directly to little kids. It's a pretty safe bet that most parents aren't even watching. After all, a website supported so heavily by McDonald's wouldn't deliberately corrupt our kids by promoting Marilyn Manson behind their parents' back—would they?

Well, check out this a sampling of what the KidzWorld search engine serves up for your kids if you put in the word punk. If your kids try the word gay, they'll be offered, among other things, an article that tells what Rosie O'Donnell is doing to help gay parents adopt children.

You may wonder why a website for kids which bills itself as "a safe and secure portal to the best the web has to offer" feels it is their prerogative to instruct your kids on values, lifestyle, and moral issues. Actually, the article on gay adoption is carefully written in totally amoral tones. KidzWorld will surely insist that they are not advocating anything one way or the other. They just want to know what your kids think about such things. Feedback from the kids, as always, is solicited.

Anyway, don't be fooled by the bright colors and fuzzy animals at the top of every page on the site. Someone at KidzWorld is working pretty hard to corrupt your kids.

Shame on McDonald's for underwriting this. Their food is not that good anyway. I'm sticking with In 'n' Out.

Update: Wiccan work it out

An alert Canadian commenter, Rileysowner, points out that KidzWorld also includes a page celebrating "The Wonderful World of Wicca," which aims to instruct your little girls and boys on the finer nuances of witchcraft.

Try these two searches at the KidzWorld search engine, and note the stark difference in the results displayed:

  1. Wicca
  2. Christian
In the response section of this page, a 12-year-old reader asks: "I read your article on Wicca and it really interested me. I have one question though: Can be you be another religion and still be a Wiccan or do you have to be strictly a Wiccan?"

I deliberately haven't dug further into the KidzWorld website, and I'm not going to. It's one of those websites I know my mom wouldn't approve of, and I try to stay away from them.

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