13 August 2006

On New Perspectives and Such

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 "Progressive Theology," an article appearing in the April 1888 issue of
The Sword and the Trowel. The article echoes some of the Spurgeon material we have posted before, where Spurgeon seems to speak directly to the postmodern spirit.

In fact, we've pointed out such comments from Spurgeon many times. We think they offer convincing proof that "evangelical postmodernism" is really little more than Victorian-style modernism decked out in tattoos and punk clothing. See especially here and here.

o men really believe that there is a gospel for each century? Or a religion for each fifty years? Will there be in heaven saints saved according to a score sorts of gospel? Will these agree together to sing the same song? And what will the song be? Saved on different footings, and believing different doctrines, will they enjoy eternal concord, or will heaven itself be only a new arena for disputation between varieties of faiths?

We shall, on the supposition of an ever-developing theology, owe a great deal to the wisdom of men. God may provide the marble; but it is man who will carve the statue. It will no longer be true that God has hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes; but the babes will be lost in hopeless bewilderment, and carnal wisdom will have fine times for glorying.

Scientific men will be the true prophets of our Israel, even though they deny Israel's God; and instead of the Holy Spirit guiding the humble in heart, we shall see the enthronement of "the spirit of the age," whatever that may mean. "The world by wisdom knew not God," so says the apostle of the ages past; but the contrary is to be our experience nowadays.

New editions of the gospel are to be excogitated by the wisdom of men, and we are to follow in the wake of "thoughtful preachers," whose thoughts are not as God's thoughts. Verily this is the deification of man! . . .

It is thought to be mere bigotry to protest against the mad spirit which is now loose among us. Pan-indifferentism is rising like the tide; who can hinder it? We are all to be as one, even though we agree in next to nothing. It is a breach of brotherly love to denounce error.

Hail, holy charity! Black is white; and white is black. The false is true; the true is false; the true and the false are one. Let us join hands, and never again mention those barbarous, old-fashioned doctrines about which we are sure to differ. Let the good and sound men for liberty's sake shield their "advanced brethren"; or, at least, gently blame them in a tone which means approval.

After all, there is no difference, except in the point of view from which we look at things: it is all in the eye, or, as the vulgar say, "it is all my eye"! In order to maintain an open union, let us fight as for dear life against any form of sound words, since it might restrain our liberty to deny the doctrines of the Word of God!

But what if earnest protests accomplish nothing, because of the invincible resolve of the infatuated to abide in fellowship with the inventors of false doctrine?

Well, we shall at least have done our duty. We are not responsible for success. If the plague cannot be stayed, we can at least die in the attempt to remove it.

Every voice that is lifted up against Anythingarianism is at least a little hindrance to its universal prevalence. It may be that in some one instance a true witness is strengthened by our word, or a waverer is kept from falling; and this is no mean reward.

It is true that our testimony may be held up to contempt; and may, indeed, in itself be feeble enough to be open to ridicule; but yet the Lord, by the weak things of the world, has overcome the mighty in former times, and he will do so again.

We cannot despair for the church or for the truth, while the Lord lives and reigns; but, assuredly, the conflict to which the faithful are now summoned is not less arduous than that in which the Reformers were engaged. So much of subtlety is mixed up with the whole business, that the sword seems to fall upon a sack of wool, or to miss its mark. However, plain truth will cut its way in the end, and policy will ring its own death-knell.

C. H. Spurgeon


Learning Grace said...

I'm always amazed when I read spurgeon's tearing down of the modern age. I know there is nothing new under the sun, but it's hard to fathom the fact that we've come absolutly nowhere in 100 years.

Great post Phil. Thanks for the reminder.

Steve said...

Spurgeon said, "Every voice that is lifted up against Anythingarianism is at least a little hindrance to its universal prevalence."

Anythingarianism--now there's a word that aptly describes much of what we see around us today.

I have always marveled at how Spurgeon was able to take a strong stand and do so with great wit. You can't help but smile at the clever sarcasm interwoven through his forthright rebuke.

DJP said...

"Pan-indifferentism".... "Anythingarianism"....


Phil Johnson said...

Anythingarianism was not original with Spurgeon. The term was coined by Jonathan Swift in the 1700s. It's a particularly useful word in times like the present.

DJP said...

It 'minds me of Francis Schaeffer's "pan-everythingism" -- though, by that, he meant something different.

(See, I can link-reference my comments too!)

Unknown said...

this is off topic but... a while back I downloaded your series of sermons about various heresies in church history - i wanted to recommend them to a friend but then couldn't find them. are they still online?

4given said...

This post reminded me of another Spurgeon sermon called The Need of Decision for the Truth where he says, ...some doctrines are true, and that statements which are diametrically opposite to them are not true,—that when "No" is the fact, "Yes" is out of court, and that when "Yes" can be justified, "No" must be abandoned. ...We are not left to fabricate the message as we go along."

In other words, right is right and wrong is wrong. If something is true then all opposed is not true.

There is no duty in this world more acceptable to God than fervent prayers for a right understanding of his mind and will in his Word. On this, everything else depends. --John Owen

What was Spurgeon... some kind of future-telling psychic ... or truly there really is nothing new under the sun. Just new terms for the same junk in different clothing.

reglerjoe said...

Wow. Very good stuff.

What is truly sad/amusing is that those who are infatuated with the post-modern philosophy really think they are cutting-edge. They're just summer re-runs.

Caddiechaplain said...

"Re-runs and end-runs." Postmoderns just don't run up the middle!

donsands said...

These words are truly edifying, and what else can be said about how C. H. Spurgeon put his words together. What a master at expounding the Word of God.

The truth is so exciting to me. My heart rejoices in the truth!

Thanks again for an uplifting post.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Jonathan Edwards:
Friday, May 21, 1725: “If ever I am inclined to turn to the opinion of any other sect: Resolved beside the most deliberate consideration, earnest prayer, etc, privately to desire all the help that can possibly be afforded me from some of the most judicious men in the country, together with the prayers of wise and holy men, however strongly persuaded I may seem to be that I am in the right.”

Chris Tenbrook said...

This is very funny (though not surprising). Nothing new under the sun. You can even go back much further and quote John Owen from his Biblical Theology where he describes the very same people existing and doing their thing in his day (1600s). The quote is striking. I wish I could remember what site I saw it on...

Chris Tenbrook said...

One of Owen's points was (paraphrase): "You would think with these people words have no meaning..." It's a striking passage because Owen hits on a litany of points like this which describe these current 'postmodern' cutting-edgers.

Chris Tenbrook said...

Ha, ha... The iMonk has felt the sting of Spurgeon's words this morning. He writes:

Spurgeon has recently come out against N.T. Wright for teaching a false Gospel and denying the doctrines of the Bible. Also, we’ve learned that you should generally be suspicious of anyone with tattoos and punk clothing. Apparently Rick Warren shirts are still compatible with orthodoxy.

Translation: I hate it when I'm outed as a Victorian modernist.

Phil Johnson said...


Yes, I notice that the iMonk always pretends to miss the point when he has no rational reply. If you skew what has actually been said, then dismiss it with sarcasm, you can fool a lot of people into thinking you have given an answer.

Sometimes it's pretty good entertainment. But, then, stuff like this is even better. And a lot more edifying.

ZF said...

Good grief!!! Is Spurgeon ever off the mark? Phil, I think you need to challenge yourself with Spurgeon. Perhaps this sinful and provocative but I think you should find a quote (if one exists) where he is absolutely whacked and see if the post-modernists have a problem with him. I am curious.

James Kubecki said...

I found this line interesting (in Spurgeon's original article but not in the excerpt above):

"Nor is this all; for our 'improvers' have pretty nearly obliterated the hope of such a heaven as we have all along expected."

Reminds me of some of the "current" effort (via inclusivism and other means) to re-define the Kingdom of God, and, by extension, the Gospel.

Sharad Yadav said...

I noticed that some tend to use older writers to address newer ones as if every disputed theological issue has been decisively addressed by the late 1800s. If you skew what newer authors have actually said by cramming it into controversies of old, then dismmiss it with authoritative quotes from beloved heroes of the faith, you can fool a lot of people into thinking you have given an answer.

I rarely find it entertaining - especially the phrase "there's nothing new under the sun", as if Qoheleth was actually advocating the idea that there are no new thoughts about anything (except science and technology, of course).

thearmoury said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
thearmoury said...

Ecclesiastes 1:10 "Is there anything of which one might say, 'See this, it is new'? Already it has existed for ages Which were before us."

Quoting sound theologians from the past is extremely helpful for many reasons, one of which is to remind us all that while the forms and appearances of innovative theological movements may vary from generation to generation, in the end they all boil down to the same old corruptions of truth. The very battles that existed in Spurgeon's day are here with us today, though the names, faces and theological labels are different. Actually, there is nothing funny or entertaining about it at all - the whole world lies in the power of the evil one [1 John 5:19], and he [Satan] raises his same old ugly head, generation after generation: "...did God actually say?" Gen 3:1 (ESV)

Sharad Yadav said...


The author of Ecclesiastes is opining the monotony and redundancy of life, not claiming that there is "nothing new" from the beginning of time to the day of his own existence (was there something new before he wrote this?). Kings were always in search of new accomplishments to distinguish themselves from their predecessors. Fundamental aspects of life such as birth, loss and death remain unchanged as well as cycles of nature. The ravages of time continue.

But Jesus made a "new creation" in the Church, didn't he? Airplanes are new, aren't they? There was new revelation given since Ecclesiastes was written, right? And likewise there has been new understanding of Scripture since it was first collected. Not every idea has "been around forever".

So as helpful as quoting theologians from the past can be, supposing that they address all the complexities of new problems, and new discoveries, or new proposals is naive and misguided.

As for theological innovation, any Church historian will tell you that there has always been new ways of talking about Scripture and formulating doctrine, right from the very beginning. When the Trinity was developed with very precise language, no one had ever discussed the Scriptural concepts in that way before. That spawned new debates about issues the Scripture has never directly addressed (like whether the Son eternally proceeds from the Father or not, or whether we're to see the incarnate Jesus in the Old Testament). The same thing could be said for a hundred different doctrines at different times in history. The nomenclature changes, new concepts are introduced from Scripture and the locus of debate shifts as it has shifted and will continue to shift throughout church history.

thearmoury said...

Blueraja -

I am in agreement with you that it is crucial that we understand the point and conclusion of Ecclesiastes in this discussion:

Ecc. 11:13-14: 13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

The book of Ecclesiastes is a description about life in a fallen world. There is only "good or evil" the author says, with nothing in between - and God will judge it all in the end. In short, a central point in this book is that mankind produces nothing new; that is, the substance of his fallen nature generates the same old thing, generation after generation, and therefore, mankind's wisdom is no match for God's wisdom. Frankly, I believe that Ecclesiastes is a book that is greatly needed in our present generation.

So that you might understand, there is nothing in my earlier post that would suggest that I deny that airplanes are new; nor have I suggested that Ecclesiastes 1:10 denies the reality of progressive revelation. The point is this - when men rise up and call any false teaching "new" - then they have missed an important point. Sure, the nuances of the false teaching may be new (its manner of description, the approach and terms used etc.), but the fundamental substance of the error is not. As men march about in this fallen world, under the governance of the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:1-3), they do so as the co-belligerents of the one who wispered in the ear of the woman "...did God actually say?" (Gen. 3:1). The Serpent promised the woman something beyond what God had revealed and hence, the pattern of false teaching throughout history has offered this same old false promise of something "new" to any unsuspecting hearer who is willing to step away from the sure foundation of God's revelation. But according to Paul, we shouldn't be so easily deluded, after all "we are not ignorant of his [Satan's] schemes" [2 Cor. 2:11] - at least, we shouldn't be.

You mentioned the doctrine of the Trinity - clearly, the early church wasn't inventing or inovating anything; they were simply clarifying what had already been revealed, as sufficiently unveiled in the NT, and partially veiled in the OT (Genesis 1:26 "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.").

On another note, I should add the other value of applying Ecc. 1:10 and 11:13-14, and it is this: Not only has mankind's foolishness and evil permeated this fallen world from the beginning, but God's abounding goodness and grace has also been evident throughout history as well. Mentioning Spurgeon in the context of the heresies that he battled in his day should then remind us of this other important truth - that though the church of Jesus Christ will be attached by heresy on all sides, yet she ever will prevail. That's an encouraging reminder to those who have become distraught over the present problems in the church.

Finally - mechanized flight is a new invention; what is not new about it all is that men often look to use their inventions for wicked and vain purposes; thus, because scientists are convinced that our present Earth cannot endure forever (cosmologically speaking), they're looking to colonize Mars (or other planets/moons). They are doing this in order to save the human race from final destruction.

I would call that vanity (2 Peter 3:10-12).

Sharad Yadav said...

Hi Mike,

Ecclesiastes doesn't divide the world into "good and evil" as if that's all there is (7:16-18). The last verse in the book doesn't imply that there are only good or evil acts - and the rest of wisdom literature affirms that, since it is given to help navigate issues which may not be good or evil, but still fall into the category of wise or unwise.

If you want to make the point that there is no new "false teaching", that's not really the point of Ecclesiastes, and it's not true in any non-trivial sense anyway. If you're saying that it's not new because it's all "false" and denies what God says is true, I guess that's true. But the description, the approach and terms used to advocate some particular doctrine aren't trivial, are they? Surely they carry some weight for what counts as "the substance" of such teaching.

But that's not what you were saying, anyway - you were saying that innovative theological movements may vary from generation to generation, in the end they all boil down to the same old corruptions of truth. My problem is with assuming that if something sounds "new" or "innovative" it must be "false teaching" because "there's nothing new under the sun". That's faulty reasoning.

The new nomenclature of Trinitarian theology invented a way of talking about God which is obvously Biblical, but gave rise to debates about issues that aren't necessarily in the Scriptures. The trinity is easily a Biblical (and essential) doctrine, but it was a "clarification" people hadn't heard before which changed the entire face of theological debate since that time. Could that kind of "clarification" happen again? I think it has happened since then (like in the extremely precise and technical formulations of justification by faith, not found in the same way in the early church fathers, for example?), and it could happen again. New ways of talking about and looking at theology which grounds itself in Scripture shouldn't be automatically ruled out as "false teaching".

thearmoury said...

Phil - Please forgive the small book here...

Blueraja -

Again - Ecc. 11:13-14: 13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Therefore I said: "The book of Ecclesiastes is a description about life in a fallen world. There is only "good or evil" the author says, with nothing in between - and God will judge it all in the end. In short, a central point in this book is that mankind produces nothing new; that is, the substance of his fallen nature generates the same old thing, generation after generation, and therefore, mankind's wisdom is no match for God's wisdom." My point in this statement is to point out that the preacher measures the sum of his descriptions of worldly vanity in view of this eschatological judgment of mankind, which will reveal the acts, thoughts, and intentions of men living in this world. When I say "life in a fallen world" I'm not talking about hamsters, trees or airplanes - but men. Such a conclusion in the book of Ecclesiastes discloses the fact that men will be revealed as either the worshippers of God, or the servants of wickedness. We also see this language employed in the NT -

* Concerning the wicked opponents of the Gospel, Christ said: "...do not fear them, for
there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known." Matt. 10:26 (see also Matt 12:35-37).

* Concerning those who charged Paul with false motives, the apostle said: 1 Corinthians 4:5 "For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God."

This is the same general thought presented in Ecclesiastes 11:13-14. In the end, the smoke screen of this vain, passing age will be removed. The visible "acts" of men and the "hidden" intentions of their hearts will be adjudicated as either being good or evil - clearly revealing that the only thing that is important is serving the Lord in view of His Word (See G.T. Shedd's Dogmatic Theology, Section 7, Part 4 Final Judgment; Jonathan Edward's Religious Affections, Part III, Religious Affections Have Their Fruit in Christian Practice). Ultimately, this perpetuity of vanity, folly and evil will be made known. The false wisdom of men is only a small part of this vain procession (1 Cor 1:20).
Within the full scope of vanity and human folly, there will be this repetition of false wisdom which men will embrace as "something new" in place of the ancient commandments of Scripture (Ecc. 12:13). This is the same treatment that Bunyan gives to his "Vanity Fair" (based mostly upon Ecclesiastes) which was "...no new-erected business but a thing of ancient standing." where Christian and Faithful are abducted for their scandalous confession: "We buy the truth." Blueraja, in the world of fallen humanity, and human "wisdom" - there is nothing that is essentially new. If we disagree about the meaning and application of these texts - then we disagree.

As to the issue of a doctrine appearing to be new - this (again) is not my point. The doctrine of justification by faith appeared to be new to the Roman Catholic Church. Such teaching seemed new to them due to their theological ignorance - but this did not render the doctrine as being actually new. What I am opposing is the formulation of anything that is new with respect to God's Word, or as Fosdick would say:

"If the day ever comes when men care so little for the basic Christian experiences and revelations of truth that they cease trying to rethink them in more adequate terms, see them in the light of freshly acquired knowledge, and interpret them anew for new days, then Christianity will be finished." [Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Living of These Days, An Autobiography, pp. 230.

That final expression is key - "...interpret them anew for new days..." Fosdick's innovations were simply heretical, because he exceeded what was written (1 Cor. 4:6). It is one thing to use a new label to describe an old doctrine (as Spurgeon used the terms "particular redemption" rather than limited atonement). It is quite another thing, however, to be out there creating things that simply do not exist.

C. H. Spurgeon (Sword and the Trowel, August, 1887): "What doctrine remains to be abandoned? What other truth to be the object of contempt? A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching. The Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren, and maintain a confederacy with them!"