31 August 2006

Personal trials, tragedies, and prayer requests

(Updated 9:00am Friday)
by Phil Johnson

  1. Frank Martens's grandfather is dying of cancer. Please pray for God's grace on behalf of the family; pray that even in the midst of sorrow, Frank will be able to make the truth of the gospel clear and the love of Christ evident to unbelievers, especially in the circle of his family and loved ones; and pray that Frank's grandfather will have every opportunity to partake of the water of life before his earthly life ends.
  2. Frank Turk has had some major trials the past week, but he's not a complainer, so he hasn't said much about it. His van was destroyed in a flash flood when water got into the engine. Keep him in your prayers, along with his lovely and infinitely-patient wife.
  3. The offices of Alpha and Omega Ministries were burgled Wednesday night, and virtually all of James White's best-loved technological gadgets were stolen (except for the green laser). That includes his amazing tablet computer, his iPod (with the complete S. Lewis Johnson sermon collection), and his Tungsten T5 Palm device. The burglar alarm malfunctioned.
         One remarkable thing you'll notice about A&O Ministries is that they rarely talk about ministry finances. That's not because they are heavily underwritten, but because James hates anything that smacks of fund-raising. But as a dispassionate observer who has benefitted from James's ministry for some fifteen years now, and as someone who has no selfish or personal interest in the financial affairs of A&O, I'm in a position to give this objective word of advice: support them financially. I'm sure they could use as much help as we can give them right now.

Friday morning addendum:

I have a very hectic day ahead of me and will not be able to post anything substantive today. But if time permits, sometime between now and Monday, I want to post a sequel to last week's post on "Guilt by Association." (I've been trying to write such a follow-up for several days, but I do have a job in the real world that takes priority over the blog.)

Ever since I made that post, there's been a frenetic effort to get me to repent of my refusal to join the dogpile against "Slice of Laodicea." I've been beseiged with private e-mails and backhanded with indignant blogposts from the fringes of the evangelical blogosphere, all of them upbraiding me severely for not publicly declaiming Ingrid Schlueter and her blog. Never before have the swamis of tolerance in the blogosphere been so hungry for a negative PyroManiacs post. Apparently, nothing less than a fulminating and final denunciation of everything remotely connected to "Slice" will quell the furor.

My response to that campaign is forthcoming.

Phil's signature

Is Christianity rational?

by Dan Phillips

A Mormon friend, in passing, remarked that religion is not rational, so he didn't expect it to make sense. It's a matter of faith, not reason.

You might think, "Right: Mormon. I don't expect rationality, either." Hang on.

He went on to give an example—but the example was not how a human could become a god, or how there could be only one god and many at the same time, or how God can keep changing His mind about things, or how two equally-inspired books could contradict each other. His example was the virgin birth. I said there was nothing irrational about the virgin birth, and the conversation simply moved on elsewhere. (I now wish I'd asked instead of stated; still looking for a do-over.)

But was he right? Is religion irrational?

"Religion," maybe. Christianity, no.

Now, before we stay too focused on my friend's Mormonociousness, I'd add that some Charismatic friends have said the exact same thing. Try to follow out some thinking to its uncomfortable conclusion, and you get a shrug and a dismissal. It doesn't have to make sense. It's faith, man. "A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument," I heard a Charismatic church elder say.

Perhaps definitions are part of the problem. There is a world of difference between rational and rationalism. The latter is a philosophy, a worldview that asserts that man can know truth by the use of his unaided reason. The former merely means that something is in accord with reason, it doesn't violate fundamental canons of thinking such as the law of non-contradiction.

Is Christianity rational? Without re-writing van Til, Gordon Clark, Carl Henry and the gang (—as if I could), I'd rather just focus on one generality and two specifics.

First, some who karaoke this tune are actually simply anti-intellectual. Their religion is a Schleiermacheranian mish-mash of feelings and sentimentality; and, lazily, they like it that way. Like Alice's queen, they have "believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." They can splop! down an absurd statement and, when challenged to try to make any kind of sense of it—let alone Biblical sense—they can loftily murmur that their religion is a matter of the heart, not of the mind.

This is of course to stand Biblical religion on its head (pun noted, but not intended). As soon as you assert anything about God, life, reality, you find yourself in the arena of thought and ideas. Even the assertion that nothing can be asserted about God is an assertion about God, open for analysis, criticism, acceptance or rejection.

This is by the design of God, who crafted us to analyze, understand, exercise dominion (Genesis 1:26-28). Thus He positions the first commandment as "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind"(Matthew 22:37; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5).

The resurgence of the irrational is not new, either. It was in vogue in the seventies, but was already old then. J. Gresham Machen had fought and slain this dragon a half-century earlier -- nor was he the first. The shade of rouge, the odor of the cheap perfume, and the color of the plastic jewels change, but it's the same old whore.

But second, even among Christians who are not anti-intellectual jellyfish, I've met some who very reverently think that some of our beliefs simply are not rational. They're mysterious, they have to be held by faith, not reason.

To this I'd just begin by noting that the opposite of faith is not reason; it is sight (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7).

But are some of our faith-tenets irrational? Two that I hear cited specifically are the Trinity, and the Virgin Birth.

The second example is just plain silly. I have never understood how this can be an issue to anyone who grants the premise of a God who created everything out of nothing. It's like saying, "Everything out of nothing? Sure! But make an existing egg alive without a sperm? No way!" Canons of rational thought are not even stretched, let alone violated, by the fact of the Creator and Ruler thus operating within His creation.

How about the Trinity? Surely the doctrine that God is three and one is not rational?

When I informally debated a Jesus-only heretic on the radio once, he described the Trinity as the belief that "God is three people and one person at the same time." That belief is irrational; if that were what the doctrine of the Trinity meant, I would agree with him. God is not one in one way, and three in the same way.

Yes, the Trinity, stated that way, is irrational. That statement is also irrelevant. Because Biblically-instructed Christians do not believe this.

(By the way, this is a classical straw man argument. You'll meet it in every anti-Trinitarian cultist or heretic. The procedure is as old as dirt: mis-state, then refute the mis-statement, then declare victory. This is yet another reason why it is so vital that we know what we believe better than those whom we seek to evangelize.)

The Trinity is the Biblical teaching that there is but one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), and that this one God is Father (2 Peter 1:17), Son (John 1:1), and Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). The simplest way I have been able to understand and express the truth is that God is one in one way, and three in another. Or, we could say that God is one "what" (i.e. one as to His essence), and three "who's" (i.e. three as to His persons).

Now, do we understand the Trinity exhaustively? Of course not! How exactly does God manage being what He is? We don't really need to know, since we'll never need to be God. Nor should the finite expect to understand the infinite exhaustively. It is as C. S. Lewis says:
If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about. (Mere Christianity [Macmillan: 1960], p. 145.)
But we know enough to love Him, to worship Him, and to discern truth from error. And we know enough to know that there is nothing irrational about the doctrine.

Is Christianity rational? I daresay it's the only worldview, ultimately, that is.

Put another way: if it isn't rational, it isn't Christianity.

Dan Phillips's signature

30 August 2006

Wednesday is apparently my day

by Frank Turk

I was going to blog about the symmetry between liberal and conservative anti-intellectualism today at TeamPyro (case in point), and how that relates to the Emergent circus tent, but merchandising got in the way.

I'm not going to pander here. I'm just going to link to the Pawn Shop and let you see for yourself what you're missing.

Piggybacking on what Frank said
by Phil Johnson

omeone pointed out that it's been more than a week since I've written and posted anything substantial on the blog. Quotes from Spurgeon don't count, because I didn't write them.

I beg your indulgence for my relative silence recently. It's not that I'm losing interest in the blog. But I've been very busy at work and with various pastoral duties for the past two weeks or so. I haven't even answered most of my e-mail for more than a week. So (if you're waiting for an e-mail reply from me, I'm working as hard as I can.) But meanwhile, be assured: my mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives. And I have some substantial issues in mind to bring up for discussion at PyroManiacs in the days to come.

One of those is apparently identical to what Frank is thinking about.

We Pyros don't consult with one another or plan who will blog about what and when. We all pretty much do our own thing. The chaos of such an approach is part of the fun of gangblogging. And the fact that we almost always agree with one another is icing on the cake.

Now, I have never mentioned this to Frank or discussed it with him, but I've been planning to blog about the very thing Frank mentions above: "the symmetry between liberal and conservative anti-intellectualism."

I think anti-intellectualism is a huge problem in the Emerging/Emergent Church/Conversation/Movement. The literature produced by the movement is shot through with deliberate naïveté about Christian doctrine and the history of heresy.

In my assessment, the Emerging brand of anti-intellectualism is fundamentally no better than the more lowbrow but equally deliberate ignorance of old-style backwoods fundamentalism. (I'm speaking here of the angry independent Baptist variety.) In fact, in some important ways, the two flavors of anti-intellectualism are one another's evil twins.

Here's what I mean: The lowbrow fundamentalists tend to employ angry preaching and a tone of intimidation to compensate for their lack of biblical and doctrinal content. Emergents are the mirror opposite. Some of them are altogether dismissive of the idea of preaching. Most of them favor always-affable group dialogues and an almost inexhaustible spirit of tolerance, which ultimately serves exactly the same purpose as the fundamentalists' high-handed authoritarianism. Both mindless dogmatism and mindless latitudinarianism are expressions of anti-intellectualism that all but eliminate meaningful debate and discussion about doctrine and history.

That's all I have time to say at the moment, but it's a thought worth pondering carefully, and I hope to expand on it in a future post, if the Lord permits.

Phil's signature

Piggybacking on what Phil said piggybacking on what Frank said
by Dan Phillips

Is this synchronicity, or what?

I wrote a post, and was about to put it up this morning, when I saw that Frank had already posted. So, since I never bump Frank, I just left it on our server in "Draft" status, and will sling it out tomorrow, DV.

The title?

Is Christianity Rational?

No collusion. I tell you, boys, we've got this group-mind thing going on!

Dan Phillips's signature

29 August 2006

Terrorism in church

by Dan Phillips

Preface. A remark of Spurgeon's from yesterday's weekly dose started me thinking. CHS wrote, "Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith"—though my thinking went in rather a different direction than the great man's.

Colors. Lately I've been exposed to a lot of WWII-ing. My Josiah (10) recently studied it, so we've watched a lot of the classic movies together ("Sands of Iwo Jima," "The Longest Day," etc.). Also, I'm making my way through Band of Brothers.

World War II was classic warfare, you might say. Opposing forces by and large were clearly identified, and identifiable. Soldiers wore distinctive uniforms, they had headquarters and unit locations, they had weaponry which could often be identified by sound. Though war always brings collateral damage, the soldiers of each army looked for warriors of the opposition, and concentrated fire on them.

Terrorists today operate in an almost precisely opposite fashion.

I thought this recently as I heard a terrorist representative taking a predictably-sympathetic MSM reporter on a guided propaganda tour of residences the Israeli's had allegedly targeted and destroyed. "Look at this building. Is it a military base? Or just civilians living in this building?" he whined. The reporter/mouthpiece affirmed that it they just looked like civilian housing to him, "no evidence apparent of military equipment."

My immediate thought evidently escaped the "expert" reporter on the scene: "Tell you what, sport: you give out the location of your army and its headquarters, describe your uniforms, and separate yourselves from civilians, and I'm sure the Israeli's will be happy to target them exclusively."

Because this is precisely what terrorists don't do. Instead, they disguise themselves as innocents, they hide their arms in non-combatants' homes and hold the residents hostage, they use civilians to carry their weaponry—and then they cry bloody murder when their deliberate tactics get non-combatants hurt and killed.

By contrast, it is their precise method to target non-combatants. They exult and celebrate when they kill, maim and wound scores of their target-country's civilians. Remember: 9/11 was not a "miss." Nearly three thousand moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons and daughters were murdered as they went about the course of their daily, productive, non-military lives. It was no mistake. It was a direct hit.

But wait—terrorists in church? The parallel between these terrorists and our Enemy's tactics rather stands out to me.

Now, in classic warfare style, Satan does still have his standing armies who fly clear colors. The more apostasy spreads, and compromise is embraced; the more error is tolerated, the bolder they can afford to be. Even the most weakly-professed Christianoid cannot sanely look at organizations like NAMBLA or American Atheist and think, "Ah, another Christian organization doing the Lord's work!"

But he also schemes as the terrorists do. Remember that Paul speaks of arrogant, apostate traitors as
holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof: from these also turn away. 6 For of these are they that creep into houses, and take captive silly women laden with sins, led away by divers lusts, 7 ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:5-7)
Note that these false teachers are not targeting pastor-teachers. They themselves pose as pastors, teachers, prophets (2 Corinthians 11:13; 1 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:1). They are on TV, or going door to door, focusing on those we might think of as non-combatants: vulnerable women. Ther goal is to have their talk spread like gangrene (2 Timothy 2:16-18). In this way, they sneak in, and ultimately overturn whole households (Titus 1:11). Although may be a strategic bonus to take out a shepherd (cf. Zechariah 13:7), the more mayhem done to the sheep, the better (Acts 20:29).

Is the church today in good shape to keep an eye open for these terrorists? Good heavens. We don't display the collective discernment to spot a wolf in wolf's clothing, let alone sheep's. "Evangelical" organizations, institutions, denominations, are not distinguishing themselves as able and willing to identify, isolate, confront, counter, and if need be remove even the clearest false teaching.

Let one person muster the courage to rise up, point, and cry "Wolf!"—and he's instantly surrounded by sheep disapprovingly baa-ing and bleating about how ha-a-a-arsh, and judgme-e-e-ental, and divi-i-i-isive, and cri-i-i-itical he is being.

This is why it falls to the under-shepherds to show discernment and stand watch, regardless of the cost. They most certainly are to "profile," cautiously but vigorously (cf. Acts 20:28-30; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 1:9-11). They must warn the sheep, and sharply direct them away from error and towards healthy teaching (Titus 1:13-14). They must counter the spiritual terrorists, silence them (Titus 1:11), and expel them after two warnings (Titus 3:10-11). They must do this even when God's professed people adore the false teachers (cf. Jeremiah 5:31; Micah 2:11; 2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Pastors, you might not be thanked now. You might even be criticized, shunned, disdained. Worse.

But which report would you rather bring your Commander in Chief? "Sorry, Sir; they didn't what to hear it, so I..."?

Or "Sir, they didn't want to hear it, but they needed to hear it, and You told me to tell them—so I did my level best"?

Dan Phillips's signature

28 August 2006

Spurgeon on the Maladies of Our His Time

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.

The following excerpt is from "Another Word Concerning the Down-Grade," which was the first blast of
Spurgeon's trumpet in the infamous "Down-Grade Controversy." This article appeared in the August 1887 Sword and Trowel.

he case is mournful. Certain ministers are making infidels. Avowed atheists are not a tenth as dangerous as those preachers who scatter doubt and stab at faith. . . .

The places which the gospel filled the new nonsense has emptied, and will keep empty.

This fact will have little influence with "the cultured"; for, as a rule, they have cultivated a fine development of conceit. "Yes," said one, whose pews held only here and there a worshipper, "it will always be found that in proportion as the preacher's mind enlarges, his congregation diminishes."

These destroyers of our churches appear to be as content with their work as monkeys with their mischief. That which their fathers would have lamented they rejoice in: the alienation of the poor and simple-minded from their ministry they accept as a compliment, and the grief of the spiritually-minded they regard as an evidence of their power. . . .

A little plain-speaking would do a world of good just now. These gentlemen desire to be let alone. They want no noise raised. Of course thieves hate watch-dogs, and love darkness. It is time that somebody should spring his rattle, and call attention to the way in which God is being robbed of his glory, and man of his hope.

It now becomes a serious question how far those who abide by the faith once delivered to the saints should fraternize with those who have turned aside to another gospel. Christian love has its claims, and divisions are to be shunned as grievous evils; but how far are we justified in being in confederacy with those who are departing from the truth? It is a difficult question to answer so as to keep the balance of the duties.

For the present it behoves believers to be cautious, lest they lend their support and countenance to the betrayers of the Lord. It is one thing to overleap all boundaries of denominational restriction for the truth's sake: this we hope all godly men will do more and more. It is quite another policy which would urge us to subordinate the maintenance of truth to denominational prosperity and unity.

Numbers of easy-minded people wink at error so long as it is committed by a clever man and a good-natured brother, who has so many fine points about him. Let each believer judge for himself; but, for our part, we have put on a few fresh bolts to our door, and we have given orders to keep the chain up; for, under color of begging the friendship of the servant, there are those about who aim at robbing THE MASTER.
C. H. Spurgeon

26 August 2006

Shall we do this once a week?

by Phil Johnson

  • Jeff Noble finds the PyroManiacs "insightful if not abrasive." He pins the blame for this post and its excoriatingly keen perception on Dan Phillips. Fact is, I wish I could be half as insightfully abrasive as Dan usually is.
  • Matthew Rupert at "From the Morning" likewise thinks we are "a decent read," but he wants it made clear that he disagrees with most of what we post here. (We would've guessed that, actually, because Matt's tastes run to Rob Bell and Velvet Elvis.) Matt also thinks we link to "nonsense." Hmm. It would be interesting to do one of those blind taste-tests: Show Matthew's blogroll and ours to any ten random church members and ask which list links to more "nonsense." If we were gamblers (which we're not) it would seem a pretty safe bet that most objective readers would think . . . well, nevermind.
         Frank Turk answers him well, with patience, good sense, and biblical wisdom.
  • Here's Jeff Williams with an actual PyroManiac decal in the International Space Station. (No Photoshop tricks.) Jeff has circled the earth close to 2,000 times since March—making him, hands down, the most traveled Pyro reader ever. Period. Please remember to pray for him and his family. The trials of life don't go away just because you are in outer space.
  • Paul Doutell is back. He is still looking for a fight.
  • Eddie Beal observes a clever irony in the story we posted about Mrs. Spurgeon's dairy business.
  • Erik Raymond gleaned some great thoughts from last week's dose of Spurgeon.
  • Will of "Prydain" has a good summary of Dan Phillips's latest post. Tim Ake gets it, too. A few commenters in the meta of that post are still arguing with Dan, though.
  • Eric Rung analyzes Billy Graham's Newsweek comments. In a different post, Eric also notes that it's not all that easy to parody evangelicals anymore.
  • Jared Wilson reminds us that "Dismissal is not one of the fruits of the Spirit. But patience is."
  • Nathan White links to the first blogpost I ever wrote.
  • Jon from Reidville, SC ponders the difficulties of guilt by association alongside the dangers of leaving one's flock with a favorable impression of bad theologians.
  • JD Hatfield celebrates his birthday by trolling for a BlogSpotting link. Happy birthday, Even So. . .
  • Ken Fields reminds you that there's a great large-format color portrait of Spurgeon available for free downloading from this blog.
  • PJ Tibayan summarizes and links to my message about postmodernism.
  • Christopher Barnette ("the fusion of greasemonkey and geek") "contextualizes" Spurgeon's message perfectly: "Lord, Save Us from These Postmodern Hipsters."
  • Brendt at "Musings from Two-Sheds Gomer" links here with a disclaimer.* He thinks you people who comment are "pretty vitriolic." (*I'm pretty sure he is talking about the people who disagree with me.) He has a pithy summary of some of my observations about Guilt by association.
  • Nathan Casebolt liveblogs (by taped delay?) our Saturday men's meeting with James White. His post are both funny and informative—and well worth reading. Darlene read them and asked me how much stuff Nathan was making up. Actually, everything happened exactly as he describes it. He just has a gift for highlighting the humor.
  • Perhaps Kim Shay doesn't realize that just linking to a post by DJP is enough to get her BlogSpotted again.
  • Ed Goode reminds himself how right Spurgeon is.
  • Charles Sebold is keeping score. He wants a link from Pecadillo. Pecadillo's gone to working night shift. He has a powerful flashlight that attaches to his Glock. These days, it's prolly better if he doesn't notice you.
  • Janet Lee has some thoughts about Rob Auld's fulminations against fundamentalism.
  • Greg Wertime is still mad as a wet cat, and now he is trying to overwhelm our Dan Phillips with the sheer volume of words.
  • Hey! Apparently, Tim Challies still reads PyroManiacs.
  • And James White is clearly bad to the bone.
  • Adam Omelianchuk Joins the ranks of people who blogged about the "Guilt by Association" post. Like several others who replied to that post, Adam is unhappy because I didn't seize an opportunity to jump on the dogpile against some specific high-traffic watchblogs.
  • Paul Lamey gives some interesting background about the author whom we quoted in Tuesday's post.

    Phil's signature

  • 25 August 2006

    "You can go your own way"

    by Dan Phillips

    Our Men's Fellowship is going through R. K. Law's version of John Owen's Communion with God (Banner of Truth: 1991). Law breaks up Owen's complex, involved sentences, leaves out the Greek and Hebrew excursions, and updates the language to a degree. Some of us try to stay up to speed while reading both versions.

    Last Saturday two passages in particular struck me. I shared the first in "Somebody up there must like me"? This is the second.

    The great John Owen, once again almost in passing, wrote this in part two, chapter three, digression two of Communion with God:
    It was but to leave them inexcusable, that his power and wrath against sin might be manifested in their destruction. And therefore he calls it “a suffering of them to walk in their own ways,” Acts 14:16; which elsewhere he holds out as a most dreadful judgement, — to wit, in respect of that issue whereto it will certainly come; as Psalm 81:12, “I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lusts, and they walked in their own counsels:” which is as dreadful a condition as a creature is capable of falling into in this world.
    Here's Law's update:
    Therefore God allowed "them to walk in their own ways," which is shown to be a most dreadful judgment (Acts 14:16; Psa. 81:12). To be given up to our own heart's lusts and to be left to walk according to our own ideas is as dreadful a condition as a creature is capable of falling into in this world.
    This absolutely arrested me, as we worked through it together last Saturday. I saw here, in the boldest terms, the colossal chasm dividing men in Adam from men in Christ.

    I saw two men standing before God. God says to both: "Go your own way."

    The first man leaps to his feet with a surprised, happy shout. "All right!" he cries. "Now that is exactly what I wanted to hear!" He dances a gleeful little victory-dance, then shoots out of God's presence faster than Satan heading off to do Job misery. You can hear his joyous laughter and whoops of delight fading in the distance.

    But at the very same moment, the second man also leaps up. "Oh, dear God, no! No, God, no—anything but that! Have mercy, Lord! Do anything, but don't leave me to myself!"

    Autonomy. It is the essence of Hell, it is sin's direst judgment, it is the Christian's most horrifying fear. Left to oneself, left to go one's own way.

    The rebel imagines that he knows what is best for himself. He believes in his passions, his drives, his notions. The word of his viscera and glands is the word of his god. Anything that opposes his will is his enemy; anything that would thwart him or frustrate him, or force consequences upon him, is his sworn foe.

    And his chief foe is God. Because "joy" to him is unbridled autonomy, unfettered self-will, God truly is a "cosmic killjoy."

    Charnock (Existence and Attributes of God, 1:142), says it wonderfully well:

    God cannot outlive his will and his glory: because he cannot have any other rule but his own will, or any other end but his own honor. The setting up self as our end puts a nullity upon the true Deity; by paying to ourselves that respect and honor which is due to God, we make the true God as no God. Whosoever makes himself a king of his prince's rights and territories, manifests an intent to throw him out of his government. To choose ourselves as our end is to undeify God, since to be the last end of a rational creature is a right inseparable from the nature of the Deity; and therefore not to set God, but self always before us, is to acknowledge no being but ourselves to be God.
    The sinner's very image of Paradise is the saint's vision of Hell. The saint knows what is in his heart. He knows that, left to himself and given the proper drives and opportunities, there is literally no sin, no degradation, no depth of depravity, of which he is truly incapable. He knows his heart to be "the laboratory of evil," as Bridges remarks on Proverbs 6:14. He knows the "way" in which his heart would ultimately lead him (Proverbs 14:12). And he has learned that the "way" of God is a way of ultimate, true delight and joy (Psalm 1; 16:11; Proverbs 4:18; Matthew 7:14; John 14:6).

    The rebel's greatest fear is that he would be denied the desires of his heart. The saint's is that he would be abandoned to his.

    Were God to offer the option, the first would bellow "Yes!", even as the other screamed "No!"

    And this, at bottom, is the stark demarcation between the heart left to itself, and the heart made alive by the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 2:1ff.).

    Dear God, whatever You do, don't let us go our own way.

    Dan Phillips's signature

    23 August 2006

    Pet Peeve

    by Frank Turk

    I have a lot of pet peeves – you might say I am the Dr. Doolittle of Pet Peeves. It’s because I am an intransigent man, and you’ll get no apologies from me for it.

    Anyway, the pet peeve I’m bringing to show-and-tell today is from 2 Cor 4 & 5 (ESV, sil vous plait):
    2Cor 4:7But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12So death is at work in us, but life in you.

    13Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," {Psa 116} we also believe, and so we also speak, 14knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

    16So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

    5:1For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened--not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

    6So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

    Yes, I know you were dying for a rather large does of 2Cor today, so I thought I’d serve it up here with all due fear and trembling – and keep in kind that my pet peeve is not with this passage but with those who abuse this passage to prop up their immaturity.

    For those people, let me say clearly that there is something that this passage can not and does not say: it does not say “we fumble around in the dark, blinded by our faith and trusting the faith blindly.” There’s no way to make this passage – culminating in 2 Cor 5:7 – say that. Paul is not saying that faith usurps our sight, or that faith trumps our sight, in order to make us do irrational things: Paul is saying here that faith improves our sight in order that we may, in fact, walk the right way toward the right goal with the ability to do the right thing.

    Think about where this passage begins (as I have cited it): Paul is underscoring that who we are as created beings – that is, as jars of clay – is intended to underscore that all the doing of the Gospel is God’s work and not our work. Isn’t that amazing? So, for example, when we are delivering the Gospel, we don’t have to invent a new tract or an interpretive dance that – if we just work hard enough – will turn men to Christ and His cross, at which time they can make a decision about what to do about that. That doesn’t mean we can be slack and do nothing, but it does mean that the pressure is off of our finite and fallible resources and the real “pressure” (if we can call it such a thing) is on God’s infinite and infallible resources. Amen?

    In that, we can suffer through anything for the sake of the Gospel! You know: we can suffer through some mockery for the sake of the Gospel, because the Gospel doesn’t depend on whether or not I maintain my dignity and social standing. We can abide, as another example, being cast out of good company for the sake of the Gospel. We can also accept poverty, disability, and loss for the sake of the Gospel.

    I know I have just told you why, but Paul says it clearly: because “we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”

    Now, think on that: the mode of operation for the sake of the Gospel – and the manifestation of God’s power – is that “death is at work in us” so that life may be at work on those who see and hear us.

    I’m going to get to my point here quickly so Dan doesn’t call the bandwidth accountants on me as I have just crossed over 1000 words in this post.

    It is in that assurance that we have courage; it is in the fully-fledged knowledge that God’s power is manifested only in our abject weakness and inability that we have courage and strength to be ministers of the Gospel – not just pastors and teachers and preachers, but people who bear Christ’s name rightly down to the last person who can give a cup of water to a thirsty man.

    And that courage, says Paul, is this: the Spirit of God is our guarantee that what we do is not in vain. When he says we “walk in faith, not by sight,” he means that we are not stuck with our sorry, fallible eyes to see if we can spot the trail out for ourselves: he is saying that God has prepared us for this work with the guarantee of the Spirit, and we have not traded our eyes for faith, but have been upgraded with eyes than now see all through faith.

    This is not a groping around, or a sort of commitment of last resort: it is our first line of reasoning, our foundation in doing the things which we will do. God was good to us when it was easy to hear Him and, at first blush, repent – but He is still good to us, and so much better for having prepared us, when by the world’s standard we are being beaten down and ruined. If we cannot see that, we must look again – because we do not have blind eyes that rely on a guide dog, but eyes that have been enlightened with a lamp for our feet and a light to our path.

    22 August 2006

    Personal Memories of Spurgeon

    posted by Phil Johnson

    This is an exerpt from:
    Recollections of a Long Life: An Autobiography
    by Theodore Ledyard Cuyler

    an anything new be said about Charles H. Spurgeon? Perhaps not, and yet I should be guilty of injustice to myself and to my readers if I failed to pay my love tribute to the most extraordinary preacher of the pure Gospel to all Christendom whom England produced in the last century.

    I heard him when he was a youth of twenty-two years, in his Park Street Chapel; I heard him several times when he was at the zenith of his vigor; I spent many a happy hour with him in his charming home. On my last visit there I had a "good cry" when I saw his empty chair in its old place in the study.

    Personal Glimpses

    I did not form any personal acquaintance with him until the summer of 1872, and it soon ripened into a most warm and cordial friendship. On each of my visits to London since that time I have enjoyed an afternoon with him at his home. His first residence was Helensburg House in Nightingale Road, Clapham, a Southwest District of London. That beautiful home was his only luxury; but he spent none of his ample income on any sort of social enjoyment, and what did not go for household expenses went for the support of his many religious enterprises.

    On my first visit to him he greeted me in his free and easy, open-handed way. I noticed that he was growing stouter than ever. "In me," he jocularly said, "that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing," We spent a joyous hour in his well filled library; he showed me fifteen stately volumes of his printed sermons which have since been more than doubled, besides several of his works translated into French, German, Swedish, Dutch and other languages.

    The most interesting object in the library was a small file of his sermon notes, each one on a half sheet of note paper, or on the back of an ordinary letter envelope. When I asked him if he "wrote his sermons out," his answer was: "I would rather be hung." His usual method was to select the text of his Sunday morning sermon on Saturday about six or seven o'clock, and spend half an hour in arranging a skeleton and put it on paper; he left all the phraseology until he reached the pulpit.

    During Sunday afternoon he repeated the same process in preparing his evening discourse. "If I had a month assigned me for preparing a sermon," said he to me, "I would spend thirty days and twenty-three hours on something else and in the last hour I would make the sermon, and if I could not do it then I could not do it in a month."

    This sounds like a risky process, but it must be remembered that if Spurgeon occupied but a few minutes in arranging a discourse he spent five days of every week in thoroughly studying God's Word—in thorough thinking—and in the perusal of the richest old writers on theology and experimental religion.

    He was all the time, and everywhere filling up his cask, so that he had only to turn the spigot and out flowed the pure Gospel in the most transparent language. A stenographer took down the sermon, and it was revised by Mr. Spurgeon on Monday morning. He told me that for many years he went to his pulpit under such nervous agitation that it often brought on violent attacks of vomiting and produced outbreaks of perspiration, and he slowly outgrew that remarkable sort of physical suffering.

    Twenty years ago [in August of 1880] Mr. Spurgeon exchanged Helensburgh House for the still more elegant mansion called "Westwood" on Beulah Hill, near Crystal Palace, Sydenham. It is a rural paradise. At each of the visits I paid him there, he used to come out with his banged-up soft hat, which he wore indoors half of the time, and with a merry jest on his lips.

    On my last visit, accompanied by my brother Hall, I found him suffering severely from his neuralgic malady, but it did not affect his buoyant humor. When I told him that my catarrhal deafness was worse than ever, he replied: "Well, brother, console yourself with the thought that in these days there is very little worth hearing."

    He took my brother Hall and myself out into his garden and conservatory and down to a rustic arbor, where we sat down and told stories. There were twelve acres of land attached to "Westwood," and he had us into the meadow, where we laid down in the freshly mowed hay and inhaled its fragrance. Mrs. Spurgeon, a most gifted and charming lady, had a dozen cows and the profits of her dairy then supported a missionary in London; and the milk was sent around the neighborhood in a wagon labeled, "Charles H. Spurgeon, Milk Dealer."

    After our return, the great preacher showed us a portfolio of caricatures of himself from Punch and other publications. At six o'clock we took supper and then came family worship—all the servants being present Mr. Spurgeon followed my prayer with the most wonderful prayer that perhaps I have ever heard from human lips, and I said afterwards to my friend Hall, "To-night we got into 'the hidings of his power,' for a man who can pray like that can outpreach the world." In the soft hour of the gloaming we took our leave, and he went off to prepare his sermon for the morrow.

    What Qualities Made Spurgeon Great?

    Spurgeon's power lay in a combination of half a dozen great qualities. He was the master of a vigorous Saxon English style, the style of Cobbett and Bunyan and the old English Bible.

    He possessed a most marvelous memory—it held the whole Bible in solution; it retained all the valuable truth he had acquired during his immensely wide readings and it enabled him to recognize any person whom he ever met before. Once, however, he met for the second time a Mr. Patridge and called him "Partridge." Quick as a flash he said: "Pardon me, sir, I did not intend to make game of you."

    He was a man of one Book, and had the most implicit faith in every jot and tittle of God's Word. He preached it without defalcation or discount, and this prodigious faith made his preaching immensely tonic. His sympathies with all mankind were unbounded, and the juices of his nature were enough to float an ark full of living creatures.

    Joined to these gifts was a marvelous voice of great sweetness, and a homely mother-wit that bubbled out in all his talk and often in his sermons. Mightiest of all was his power of prayer, and his inner life was hid with Christ in God.

    As an organizer he had great executive abilities. His Orphanage, dozen missionary schools and theological training school will be among his enduring monuments. The last sermon I ever heard him deliver was in Dr. Newman Hall's church on a week evening. He came hobbling into the study, his face the picture of suffering. He said to me, "Brother Cuyler, if I break down, won't you take up the service and go on with it?" I told him that he would forget his pains the moment he got under way, and so it was, for he delivered a most nutritious discourse to us. When the service was over, he limped off to his carriage, wrapped himself in the huge cushions, and drove away seven miles to his home at Upper Norwood. That was the last time I ever saw my beloved friend.

    A Sample Taste of the Pure Spurgeonic

    It seems strange that I shall never behold that homely, honest countenance again; and since that time, London has hardly seemed to be London without him. It is a cause for congratulation that his son, the Reverend Thomas Spurgeon, is so successfully carrying forward the great work of his sainted father.

    If my readers would like a sample taste of the pure Spurgeonic it is to be found in this passage which he delivered to his theological students:

    Some modern divines whittle away the Gospel to the small end of nothing; they make our Divine Lord to be a sort of blessed nobody; they bring down salvation to mere possibility; they make certainties into probabilities and treat verities as mere opinions. When you see a preacher making the Gospel smaller by degrees, and miserably less, till there is not enough of it left to make soup for a sick grasshopper, get you gone with him! As for me, I believe in an infinite God, an infinite atonement, infinite love and mercy, an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure, and of which the substance and reality is an Infinite Christ.

    Theodore Ledyard Cuyler, 1902

    21 August 2006

    "Somebody up there must like me"?

    by Dan Phillips

    How many times has someone told you some story of a narrow escape, a near-accident, a nearly-fatal disease, and concluded with words to this effect: "Someone up there must like me"?

    Often it's given as a bit of a sop to their religious-fanatic friend (i.e. you). It's meant to say, "Yeah, I'm religious too, in my own way."

    And no doubt they have a point. In fact, they have more of a point than they know. No doubt the fact that they've survived 17, 27, 87 summers does bespeak scores of divine deliverances. They're just clueless about most of them. Every single "near-miss" they noticed probably stands for scores that they didn't.

    What is of interest is the interpretation they put on the event. Deliverance is interpreted as approval. If God didn't like them, He'd have let them die. He didn't, so everything must be basically A-OK between them and The Big Guy, The Man Upstairs, "Somebody"—this Agnostos Theos (Unknown God) of theirs.

    And what they credit as unknown, we should proclaim to them (cf. Acts 17:23). They're right to discern deliverance; they're wrong in their interpretation of it.

    My thoughts were stirred this way again by an almost offhand remark of John Owen's, in part two, chapter three, digression two of Commuion with God. Speaking of the nature of Christ's patience, long-suffering and forbearance towards sinners, he asks and answers:
    What is there in that forbearance which out of Christ is revealed? Merely a not immediate punishing upon the offense, and, withal, giving and continuing temporal mercies; such things as men are prone to abuse, and may perish with their bosoms full of them to eternity.
    R. K. Law updates Owen's language thus:
    A sinner out of Christ thinks that because God does not at once punish sin, God will never call him to account. So he perishes full of faith in God's forbearance. [From his abridgement of Owen's Communion with God (Banner of Truth: 1991), p. 84.]
    What an image: having experienced God's patience all his life, and having interpreted that as a sign of Divine favor, he dies, assuming that this forbearance will last forever. But forbearance is not approval. Forbearance is a delay, a rescheduling of the court date. It is not acquittal, it is not dismissal, it is not cancellation.

    But surely I'm getting ahead of myself. Is the man right in his interpretation, or is he wrong? From what we see, we have no idea, no clue whatever. Maybe he's right. Maybe his neighbor dies, and he lives, because the latter's works were evil and his good. (So when he ultimately dies—and the odds that he will die one day are pretty impressive—will that signal God's displeasure?)

    We really can't tell. We have no way to tell. We'd need God Himself to disclose the truth of the matter.

    Here's where a Christian has an opportunity for a witness—assuming that his grasp of the Gospel goes beyond the Four Spiritual Laws. It could be as subtle as planting a seed of self-doubt, by asking, "How can you be sure?", or "Is there another possibility?"

    The truth is, God has told us what we can't see. Hear Him:
    Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:4-5)
    There it is: "forebearance," anoche, holding back, a temporary respite and delay of judgment in this case. These deliverance are real, and they do signal something about God. And they are a kindness. But they do not signal approval. They signal mercy, patience, generosity—forbearance. They are a temporary delay of judgment.

    Can the "lucky" man know this about himself? Certainly he can. Bring out the law of God, bring out the holiness of God. Show him how to measure himself by that standard. Tell him of the judgment and wrath of God hanging over his head even now (John 3:18, 36). Bid him to flee from that wrath, and tell him how.

    But let's not leave him in the position of misunderstanding God's forbearance, and thus piling yet higher the storehouse of wrath that awaits him.

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    20 August 2006

    Once more with feeling

    by Phil Johnson

    h, why not?

    I'm undecided about whether to bring back BlogSpotting as a regular, probably weekly, feature. But I'm thinking about it.

    And finally . . .

    Here's a post in honor of Dave Armstrong.

    Phil's signature

    19 August 2006

    Why It Is Not Necessary to Adapt the Gospel for Postmoderns

    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.

    The following excerpt is from "The Preacher's Power, and the Conditions of Obtaining It," chapter 11 in
    An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students.

    rethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age; but before we have done with it, by God's grace, we shall adjust the age to the Bible.

    We shall not fall into the error of that absent-minded doctor who had to cook for himself an egg; and, therefore, depositing his watch in the saucepan, he stood steadfastly looking at the egg. The change to be wrought is not for the Divine chronometer, but for the poor egg of human thought. We make no mistake here; we shall not watch our congregation to take our cue from it, but we shall keep our eye on the infallible Word, and preach according to its instructions.

    Our Master sits on high, and not in the chairs of the scribes and doctors, who regulate the theories of the century. We cannot take our key-note from the wealthier people, nor from the leading officers, nor even from the former minister.

    How often have we heard an excuse for heresy made out of the desire to impress "thoughtful young men"! Young men, whether thoughtful or otherwise, are best impressed by the gospel, and it is folly to dream that any preaching which leaves out the truth is suitable to men, either old or young. We shall not quit the Word to please the young men, nor even the young women.

    This truckling to young men is a mere pretence; young men are no more fond of false doctrine than are the middle-aged; and if they are, there is so much the more necessity to teach them better. Young men are more impressed by the old gospel than by ephemeral speculations.

    If any of you wish to preach a gospel that will be pleasing to the times, preach it in the power of the devil, and I have no doubt that he will willingly do his best for you. It is not to such servants of men that I desire to speak just now.

    I trust that, if ever any of you should err from the faith, and take up with the new theology, you will be too honest to pray for power from God with which to preach that mischievous delusion if you should do so, you will be guilty of constructive blasphemy.

    No, brethren, it is not our object to please men, but our design is far nobler.
    C. H. Spurgeon

    18 August 2006

    When is an argument over?

    by Dan Phillips

    Would we all agree that the argument is over about the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the canon, and the nature of the Gospel?

    Your instinct is probably to say "Yes"—but, since I'm asking it, you might hesitate, because you suspect a trick question. Your suspicion is both right, and not.

    On the one hand, I think it's fair to say that the argument on those matters is over objectively. That is, it is over in the sense that the basic facts have been gone over, the Biblical evidence has been well-analyzed and well-sifted from a thousand angles, major opposing arguments have been considered and dealt with, and (at the very least) the broad outlines of an assured answer have been laid out. So the argument is "over" in the sense that the main questions have been asked, and sufficient evidence and answers have been given. Nobody has a good reason for being on the fence.

    But on the other hand, is the argument "over" in the sense that nobody's arguing about it anymore?

    Clearly not; wearisomely not. Even on these comment-threads, right here at Pyro, every now and then someone will appear, announcing breathlessly the need for a Reformation on that traditionalistic myth of the Trinity, or brand-new "discoveries" about the nature of the Gospel, or the like. Cults and sects still proclaim error on such subjects and many others.

    Such as: Can truth be known? Francis Schaeffer pretty well slapped that down decades ago... but it's baaaaaack. Is the church necessary, can't we all just drink Coke and eat crackers in our tie-dyeds in the park, because "wherever two or three..."? Been there, did that in the sixties, pretty well grew out of it... yet it's back.

    But even on a smaller scale, this is a constant issue for bloggers and other writers. When do you say "Enough"? How many carping little "Yeah-but's" are you obliged to respond to?

    I admire the stuffing out of Phil Johnson's patience and persistence. I saw this pattern on a comment thread: after a well-written post, the Comments section furnished some challenges to Phil. Phil answered. Phil clarified. Then Phil re-answered, and he re-clarified... and then we got to the re-re-re's.

    Now, I thought at one point that Phil had pretty well put "Finished" to it, and it was over. Objectively, I think it was. Except that it wasn't—in the sense that Phil's opposition kept talking.

    So, if the opposition keeps talking, does that mean an argument isn't over?

    If so, then has any argument about literally anything ever been over?

    What is a reasonable goal for a blogger or author? Suppose a writer sets himself as his goal, "I will move on to another topic when everyone who disagreed with me either convinces me to change my mind, or admits his error and agrees with me." In that case, let's just say he'd better clear his calendar of family, church, work, appointments, eating, and sleeping—forever!

    It can be worse when you're a Big Fish like Phil, or when you illegitimately share that status by association with him (as I do). You're the gunslinger, the fastest draw. You get to be a target for every punk and wanna-be with a sidearm. They swagger in, they misread you. On that basis, they slap down some lame (but billowy and thunderously-announced) non-sequiturs, or irrelevancies, or sillinesses. They may link to their web site, blog, or message board. They're desperate for attention, for notoriety, for traffic at their site. They want to be the Big Gun Who Stood Up to _____ about _____.

    So what do you do?

    To answer is to give them what they want, and begin an endless discussion. They've misread you from the start, and they won't admit it. Will they suddenly become better readers if you put another few hours into it? History says "Probably not." In fact, responding is likelier to generate a few more thousand words of vapid, acid response, and spin an endless cycle.

    But if you don't answer, they will demand that you do. Then they may pout. They certainly will proclaim victory in the silence. In doing this, they prove that they read the Rules of this blog (yes, there are Rules, posted right on the front page) fully as well as they read your post. Which is to say, "Not." This validates your not wasting taking the time to answer—a point that will as surely elude them as did the point of your original post.

    So what is the right thing to do? My conviction is that it's a Proverbs moment. It isn't a matter of moral-right/moral-wrong, it's a matter of wisdom. You're not morally obliged to slap leather every time some would-be tough guy says "Draw."

    Sometimes indeed we should "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes" (Proverbs 26:5). On the other hand, "If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet" (29:9). So sometimes, you have to decide not to "speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words" (23:9).

    Paul certainly wasn't one for arguments that had no end. He warned Timothy not to "give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Timothy 1:4). Paul told Titus that some people just needed to be shut down, because the more they talked, the more damage they did (Titus 1:11). When we direct traffic to such, beyond a certain point (--and where is that point?), are we furthering the damage? In the church context, Paul further told Titus to give two warnings, then show the man and his issues the door (Titus 3:10-11).

    So you listen, you pray, you consider the audience, you weight the facts, you look at your calendar and priorities and "honey-do" list, you make a judgment call, you commit it to God—and you try not to go nuts. Your opponents will make large and damning accusations against you when you step off their merry-go-round. Do your best before God to be sure they're not true.

    So how do I keep any semblance of sanity and cheerfulness? Two things chiefly comfort me:

    1. The judgment of God. In the final analysis, this is the Final Analysis. This is the only verdict that ultimately matters. It's not a cop-out; it's a fact. The throne at which my stewardship will be finally and eternally judged will not be occupied by Pyro readers, dear as you are to me, nor any bloggers anywhere. It will be occupied by the only one who knows all the facts, and all the implications of all the facts. That is both terrifying, and comforting.

    2. The public nature of the exchange. I make my case in public, my critics make their case in public. People can read us both. If—I say if—I make an excellent, compelling, airtight case, and if readers are nonetheless persuaded when someone does a blustery, lame hatchet job on it... then there's probably nothing I could have done about it. Nothing, except waste irreplaceable time. Hard but undeniable fact: some folks cannot humanly be persuaded. Period. "A man convinced against his will/Is of the same opinion still."

    But in those situations, my case is out there for all to see. I just hope and pray they'll read and judge fairly.

    But if not... oh well! For me, the argument is over when the facts have been laid out and established to the best of my ability, within my limitations of time and smarts.

    And that's my answer to my question.

    If that works for you—terrific!

    If not... see above.

    POSTSCRIPT: the bulk of this was written some time ago. It's a standalone, a topic I've often thought about for decades. You'd be mistaken to tie it to any particular... any particular anything.

    Dan Phillips's signature