30 November 2006

Unbelief is depressing

by Dan Phillips

Sad to say, I have the personal resumé to write an extended series of articles about depression.

In reading through Numbers, I was reminded of one potent cause of depression. (No, I don't mean that reading through Numbers causes depression.)

The nation of Israel was dallying in the desert. They were there as a penalty for their unbelief. In these wanderings, they came to Kadesh, and ran short on water (Numbers 20).

This was their reaction to the situation:
And the people quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink" (Numbers 20:3-5)
First, I'd observe that their concern had a basis in reality. I've lived in the desert. Water is nothing to spit at. (Pause for laughter to die down.) (Very short pause.) You just don't go anywhere without spare stores of water on-hand. And so here were hundreds of thousands of people, in the desert, and they'd come short on water. This isn't an "Oh, well, what's on TV?" situation. It is a legitimate crisis. Without water, they would die.

Depression doesn't need an objective cause. M'man Spurgeon spoke of causeless depression, and I may add my own thoughts someday. Dealing with free-floating depression is like boxing a fog bank. This was not of that nature. This depression was able to fix on objective realities.

Second, their viewpoint was incomplete, and that in two specifics. Glaringly, the Israelites had forgotten why they were still in the wilderness. They were stuck in the desert because of their own unbelief. Surely you remember the story, from Numbers 13-14. In sum:
God said "Go"
They said "No"
So God said "No go"
They said "Woe!"
(Some tried...
...they died)
So in their response here, they blame everyone — everyone, that is, except themselves. It's Moses' fault. It's Yahweh's fault (cf. 21:5). But of course the truth is that it was their fault, it was the fault of their unbelief. And so, having failed to learn from the previous lesson, they simply repeat their sin.

Let me underscore that point.

"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction," (Romans 15:4), and we mustn't miss the lesson here. Refuse to learn from discipline for sin, and you will repeat both sin AND discipline. This is why Proverbs is so full of thunderous warnings and reproofs for the man (or woman) who bull-headedly refuses to accept discipline, rebuke, correction (cf. 1:24-31; 10:17; 12:1; 15:10; 29:1, etc.).

You and I may stop our ears, stiffen our necks, harden our hearts, and turn our backs. We may even eventually forget. But God doesn't. We can be sure that it will come up again, and again, until we either address the issue or fall under it.

I think of my kids in our home school. On occasion, some kid may give me a bunch of sloppy, slapdash, thoughtless homework. I take my red pen and (as my wife says) proceed to bleed all over it. Then I lecture. Then I add some stiff penalties in terms of lost privileges and/or extra work.

And if that child then clearly seethes with anger at me, I say, "If you blame me for what just happened to you, I guarantee it will just keep happening to you, again and again. Today is a result of the decision you made yesterday. Think and do the same today, and the same (or worse) will happen tomorrow, and for the same reason."

So why were these knotheads still in the desert, in the first place? Unbelief. So how do they respond to the crisis they face, here, in-the-desert-because-of-unbelief?

With unbelief.

And in their unbelief, they had left God out of the equation. On the one hand, nobody could argue with part of their assessment of the situation. They were indeed short on water. Without water, an unpleasant death was certain. That's "dire" according to any dictionary.

But what of God? Their thinking did not include Him fully. That miscalculation, from the matrix of unbelief, was the cause and sustenance of their despair.

The essence of depression, and the unbelief that is so often at its root, is not that it is completely baseless. It may have a fragile and tenuous basis, or it may have a large and overwhelming basis. Either way, its vantage point is incomplete. It is incomplete in a way that makes it end up completely wrong.

Suppose I meet this little shrimpy old guy in an alley, and he tries to rob me. I say, "Dude, you're old, and I've got a hundred pounds on you, plus a green belt in karate. You're completely outmatched."

He shrugs and says, "Except for this gun."

"Yeah, well, except for that," I reply, noting sagely that one factor can alter the entire equation.

And so Israel, never having dealt with their sin head-on, never having confronted the abhorrent and appalling nature of their unbelief head-on, and never having estimated God correctly, once again miscalculate. They leave out one crucial factor. They leave out God. And they're depressed.

And so I suggest to you that, at the root of much (not all) of our depression is a similar miscalculation.

But while we're shaking our heads at what nincompoops those dumb Israelites were, we should reflect pointedly on our own unbelief. We have one thing they didn't have. We have their story. Plus a truckload of additional revelation, including the whole New Testament.

So when our own unbelief casts us down into our own depression, let us learn from their example, that we not repeat it. Let us reach into our own coats, and pull out the precious key called Promise. Let us make it ours by faith, use it, escape from Giant Despair, and head for the joy that is our portion.

Dan Phillips's signature

29 November 2006

Turkey Salad Casserole Soup

by Frank Turk

ou know, at Phil's house, there are no turkey leftovers after Thanksgiving—but the rest of us have bird for days and days after the big binge, depending on how well (or poorly) we planned.

In my house this year, we literally had a whole extra bird. ugh.

Anyway, I bring it up because "the religion of demons" is apparently the only very important issue regarding the "Free Grace" position which Phil did not strip to the carcass, food-process, make into a salad rich in Mayo, bake with crackers and veggies, and then boil into a lovely soup. And, as is my career at my house, I get the leftovers. I'm Dad.

Jodie (H.K.Flynn) is afraid that I think I'm on shakey ground on the topic of the religion of demons over at DebateBlog—which would be my motivation for not linking the current exchange either at my blog or at TeamPyro.

Yeah, I'm sure that's it. She has just put up her second of 10 questions. Go see for yourself.

28 November 2006

Reclaiming the crown from Phil

by Dan Phillips

As we all know, the previous title for "Most Pyro Comments, Ever," was held by yr. obdt. svt., DJP. The meta on Resurrection not essential? ran to 264 comments, leaving me the Comment King since April. My position seemed secure. I had at long last justified my existence.

Until now.

Not unlike a giant casually swatting a mosquito, Phil easily passed me with his Why the lordship "debate" died thread. If he had not finally capped it at 400 (410) comments, it would have been like the song that doesn't end. (I'll say this for the gutless-gracers: they have no concept of when an argument is over.)

Not one to take defeat lightly, I'm already fomenting titles that might regain my crown.

So I ponder, and I recollect: "Hm, talking about the Gospel vs. gutless grace stirred up a lot of comments... a mild remark about Wright did it before... and it always works some folks up when we talk about Da Gifts.... What if I did some creative combining? Hmm...."

And so I'm wondering if one of these just might do the trick:
  1. Calvin was a pre-Tribber: here's the proof!
  2. Why there will be no NIV's in heaven
  3. Who's nuttier: KJV Only advocates, Leaky Canoneers, Gutless-Gracers, or Wrabid Wrightophiles?
  4. John Piper: nice enough guy, but stone-cold-dead-wrong about [insert anything; won't really matter what]

  5. Bill Clinton, C. J. Mahaney, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, N. T. Wright, John MacArthur, Carrot Top, and Jonathan Edwards
  6. How a tongue about N. T. Wright convinced me of Lordship Salvation
  7. Little Marcy and Marc Heinrich: the untold story
  8. Mark Driscoll's new blue-letter Bible: a review
  9. Every Christian song written after 1923 is dumb
  10. Public schooling as an alternative to going to Heaven
  11. 'Less it's the Bible, God ain't talkin' to you, Lambchop!
What do you think? Which one's the winner? I must have my crown back!

Dan Phillips's signature

27 November 2006

Outta Here

by Phil Johnson

his time tomorrow, Lord willing, I'll be in Ashford, Kent, in the south of England. That's where the offices for Grace to You Europe and The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust are located. I plan to do a couple of days' work in the office. Next week, we'll have a board meeting in London.

I'm here, first of all, for a conference sponsored by "Men of Kent," titled "Asleep in the Light: Waking a Sleeping Church." That's at Herne Bay Court this Saturday. Unfortunately, the conference is already full and registration was closed a couple of weeks ago. But I'll be in the UK over two weekends, and I'm scheduled to preach in a couple of churches, both pastored by friends who both happen to be alumni of The Master's Seminary: This Sunday I'll be at Rugby Evangelical Free Church in the Midlands (pastored by Tom McConnell); then the following Sunday (10 December) at Trinity Road Chapel, London (pastored by Doug McMasters).

Any Pyro readers in the UK who can make it to either of those worship services are welcome. I'd love to meet you. Darlene is traveling with me. And I'll have her bring a stash of the car decals, so if you do see us, don't be shy about asking.

Anyway, I'll be bringing more work and more reading material with me than usual, if you can believe it. I have some important deadlines coming due, and lots to keep up with. This is frankly not a good time of year to be on the road. Oh, well.

Incidentally, I understand that tomorrow the Pulpit blog will be posting an article by John MacArthur in which he will deal with the issues of "cultural engagement," Mark Driscoll's language, and pastors who always seem to have more to say about the latest worldly entertainments than about the means of sanctification. I expect the Pulpit blog will be getting some comments this week. I'll be sorry to miss the "conversation."

John MacArthur mentioned to me recently that he had listened to a sermon by someone in which the preacher said, "Did you guys see 'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby'? That was such a cool movie."

John's response: "Now, I admittedly haven't seen Talladega Nights. But I've seen some of the ubiquitous ads, and I know it can't be good. Whatever it is, it's full of total nonsense and vile conversation. I certainly wouldn't want my pastor recommending it. And the reference had nothing whatsoever to do with anything beneficial to anyone's sanctification—not to mention the fact that it had nothing to do with any point germane to that guy's sermon. It was a gratuitous attempt to seem 'culturally relevant.'"

That stirred John to make some observations about out-of-control worldliness, vulgarity, and carnal speech, and how that kind of thing is antithetical to the sanctification God has commanded us to pursue (Hebrews 12:14; 2 Peter 3:11, 18; Romans 16:19; etc.). His post on the subject should be good.

I'll be back in the USA December 12. I'll try to post as many times as possible between now and then, but no promises.

Phil's signature

Whatever Happened to Serious Skeptics?

And why are so many evangelicals as apathetic about truth as unbelievers?

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 Need of Decision for the Truth," an address delivered to the students at his Pastors' College in 1874, some 15 years before the Down Grade Controversy.

his is not an earnestly doubting age; we live among a careless, frivolous race. If the doubters were honest there would be more infidel places of concourse than there are; but infidelity as an organized community does not prosper.

Infidelity in London, open and avowed, has come down to one old corrugated iron shed opposite St. Luke's. I believe that is the present position of it. "The Hall of Science," is it not called? Its literature was carried on for a long time in half a shop in Fleet Street, that was all it could manage to support, and I don't know whether even that half-shop is used now. It is a poor, doting, driveling thing.

In Tom Paine's time it bullied like a vigorous blasphemer, but it was outspoken, and, in its own way, downright and earnest in its outspokenness. It commanded in former days some names which one might mention with a measure of respect; Hume, to wit, and Bolingbroke, and Voltaire were great in talent, if not in character.

But where now will you find a Hobbes or a Gibbon? The doubters now are simply doubters because they do not care about truth at all. They are indifferent altogether. Modern skepticism is playing and toying with truth; and it takes to "modern thought" as an amusement, as ladies take to croquet or archery.

This is nothing less than an age of millinery and dolls and comedy. Even good people do not believe out and out as their fathers used to do. Some even among Nonconformists are shamefully lax in their convictions; they have few masterly convictions such as would lead them to the stake, or even to imprisonment. Mollusks have taken the place of men, and men are turned to jelly-fishes. Far from us be the desire to imitate them.
C. H. Spurgeon

25 November 2006

DIY Blogspotting

onday evening Darlene and I are leaving for about 10 days in England. I have lots of things to do before leaving, so I don't have time to do a proper BlogSpotting post.

That's why I've decided to let Pyro readers take a stab at helping write this weekend's post. Feel free to post proper BlogSpotting links in the comments. Three rules:

  1. Link only to specific posts on other blogs that include links back to PyroManiacs. Blogroll links don't count. So if you notice that, say, Marc Heinrich has us in his blogroll, and you really wanted to give him a link, you can't, because he hasn't made a post linking back here in the past month or so. No BlogSpot link for him.
  2. Say something clever or pithy about the post you link to, if possible.
  3. Don't post an URL; make a simple html link to the post you reference. Long URLs spelled out in the comments mess up the template, and they aren't even clickable.
         Example: Suppose you notice that Naomi Foflygen linked here (twice) in a post titled "Updates on Things that No One Cares About." Don't post Like this:

    Naomi Foflygen made a post with two links to TeamPyro, and she called them "P.J. 'N Da Boyz"! ROFLOL!!!!
    Do it like this:

    <a href="http://priestwithwings.blogspot.com/2006/11/updates-on-things-that-no-one-cares.html"><b>Naomi Foflygen</b> and the people at her Bible study are still talking about a post Dan Phillips made back in September.</a>

    (Notice the elevated pithiness quotient and the html codes in version 2.) It will display as a clickable link, like this:

    Naomi Foflygen and the people at her Bible study are still talking about a post Dan Phillips made back in September.
Use the example as a template to help you with the proper codes. It's really not hard. Post away. Phil's signature

24 November 2006

"...neither were thankful..."

by Dan Phillips

Not very "seeker sensitive" of him, but when Paul wants to talk about the Good News, he starts out with lots and lots of bad news (Romans 1:18ff.).

The apostle's opening salvo against humanity begins with the global cause in "all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth" (v. 18), and ends with a damning list of effects (vv. 28-31), and the summary statement: "Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (v. 32).

Towards the beginning, Paul memorably styles mankind as anapologetous, "incapable of defense," "without defense, "without excuse" (v. 20). He presents this as the result of God's self-revelation in creation; and then Paul further explains their indefensibility in v. 21 -- "because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor did they give thanks." The "as God" is put forward syntactically; you could woodenly render it, "they did not as God glorify nor thank."

God is owed glory and thanks. It is His due, it is fitting, it simply follows from the majesty of His being. Paul does not here give further reasons; J. B. Phillips' paraphrase says "to thank him for what he is or does," but the apostle does not. Simply because He is God, before He says or does one thing, He is inherently worthy of glory, and worthy of thanks.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in America, and I'm sure some of us chuckle a bit, as we do at the Day of Prayer. As if a husband had "kiss the wife" on a list of things to do once a day, so once a year we say we are supposed to do what we really should be doing every day of the year -- praying, and saying "Thank You." If we only do it that one day, and only because Washington, Congress, or whoever said that we should, the reality of the day is questionable.

But our society can't hold on to even such a simple, basic concept. One of the earliest lessons we have to teach our children is to say "Thank you," and we think a person graceless if he hasn't learn that lesson -- on the horizontal plane. But on the vertical? Our society gives a bye. Many of us are far too clever even to say "Thanksgiving," so we call it "Turkey Day." Even if we can choke out the word "thanks," we botch it.

The convivial Martha Stewart, according to a comment by Tracy over at my blog, said something like, "We have a lot to be thankful for in this country. We owe a lot of thanks to the farmers who provide our wonderful produce like these beautiful cranberries." And we've all heard of government indoctrination centers ("public schools"), in which the children are taught that the purpose of Thanksgiving was to thank the Indians for teaching survival skills. Often enough, one sees moderating, vague statements such as "we should all be thankful," or "Americans express gratitude" -- which, if it were submitted as an essay in our non-government school, would be greeted with a curt "to whom or what?" In red ink.

The real attitude of too many was doubtless expressed in the prayer of that great sage Bart Simpson: "Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing." Good luck and hard work, those are our real benefactors.

Only by the Biblical vision of God can and do we see the crude, low, even treacherous nature of this attitude of ingratitude.
  • You paid for it yourself? How is it that you had "all this stuff" to buy, in the first place? God (Acts 14:17).
  • Your hard work? Who is it who even gives you the breath you breathe, let alone the health you enjoy? God (Daniel 5:23; cf. James 4:13-17).
  • Your stable economy? Who is it who appoints your leaders, and gives you a stable economy, if you have one? God (Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21; 4:25; Romans 13:1-5).
  • Your "good luck"? What's that? There is no such thing. There is only a God who controls all things, down to the roll of the dice (Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 16:33).
And if this is true of even the paganest pagan -- and it is -- how much truer is it of the Christian?
  • You have a knowledge of God and Christ? Where did that come from, but a sovereign act of God (Matthew 11:27)?
  • You have the least spiritual life in your breast? And how did you manage that? You didn't. It comes straight from the hand of God (Ephesians 2:1f.)
  • You have saving faith? And how did that happen to a God-hating rebel, if not by a work of God's grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-10; Philippians 1:29)?
  • You have glimmers of holiness, of any sort, in your life? And how can an unholy wretch produce that? He cannot. It is a result of the eternal, sovereign election of God (Ephesians 1:4).
  • You cling to Christ for your salvation, you persevere in faith? And how do you, weak and unable to do anything in yourself (John 15), work that out? You do it by the power of God (1 Peter 1:5).
We could go on, and on, and on.

...and I really think we should.

That's my point.

Dan Phillips's signature

23 November 2006

My favorite holiday

by Phil Johnson

ast year, I described what a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal looks like at our house. No turkey.

That rule has become so inviolable that Darlene drove to four different grocery stores Tuesday, because the only "Italian sausage" our normal market had was turkey sausage, and she had trouble finding the real thing.

But she finally found it, and the aroma in our house is now filled with the nostalgic ambrosia of an authentic Thanksgiving in the Johnson household: gourmet pizza. The pizza-carving ceremony today is scheduled for about 2:30. This year we have a house full of guests, all young people who are thrilled to have the world's finest deep-dish pizza instead of the standard smorgasbord of turkey and side-dishes-no-one-really-likes-because-why-else-would-they-make-them-just-once-a-year.

Anyway, I love Thanksgiving because it is the one holiday annually that still hasn't been hopelessly commercialized and secularized. It has a singular purpose, and it's focused on God's grace and goodness.

I won't list all the things I am thankful for, because the list is too long. It starts with the reality of divine grace and the love of Christ for sinners like me. My list prominently features my wife and family, and close behind would be several pages listing relatives and friends whom I'm thankful for. Properly enumerated, the list would also include practically every facet of my life and ministry. And let's not forget Wrigley, my Beagle. Then there'd be a unabridged-dictionary-sized list of all the daily tokens of divine grace we often take for granted. And the list would have to end with profound gratitude for pizza instead of turkey.

You have a great day, and may the Lord make us all truly thankful.

Phil's signature

22 November 2006

Not Yet Quite Perfect

by Phil Johnson

've said before that I despise all kinds of perfectionist doctrine. During college and after, I was enthralled with a kind of perfectionism for a few years. Far from being any help or encouragement to my sanctification, perfectionism was a constant cause of frustration and failure.

I finally purged every conscious taint of perfectionism from my thinking after reading volume 2 of B.B. Warfield's excellent Studies in Perfectionism. To this day, that book ranks pretty high in the top five whenever I'm asked to list the books that have influenced me the most.


My contempt for perfectionism (and not merely a doctrinaire commitment to Calvinism) is actually the main reason I'm something less than a fan of Charles Finney and his disastrous long-term influence on American evangelicalism.

As a matter of fact, my disapproval of Finneyism and my abhorrence of perfectionism are more than matched by the animus certain perfectionists have directed at me in return. One example of what I'm talking about is this fellow, whose website devotes a page to unmasking my purported attempts to "deceive the Evangelical Movement" through my criticism of Charles Finney.

That website's domain name says everything about the view of sanctification represented there. According the operators of Stopsinning.net, if you want to be holy, all you have to do is stop sinning. It's a choice you make by your own sovereign free will. Human willpower, not divine grace, is the real secret to sanctification, or so they think.

One page on the site defends an extreme variety of perfectionism. "No limit can be put on the degree of perfection attainable in this life," the page intones. "Clearly the only limitation as to how holy you can be is that which you impose by your own free will."

My Answer:

For those who imagine that they have attained perfect holiness in this life, I think more in-depth self-examination might disabuse you of that idea. Here are some questions to consider:

The first and great commandment is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matt. 22:37). How's your obedience to that commandment? Perfect? If imperfect, how close to perfection do you actually come? In other words, how does your level of "perfection" compare to Christ's absolute perfection?

Seriously: Is your love for God really something that moment-by-moment consumes your entire heart, soul mind, and strength? Have you managed to banish lustful and covetous thoughts forever from your mind? And if not, how frequently and how passionately do you repent of your sin against the First and Great Commandment?

Do you believe you can summon the willpower to obey even the Second Great Commandment (Matthew 22:39) perfectly? Is your love for your neighbor really equal to your self-love?

I'll admit freely that I fail on both counts every time I measure myself by those two commandments. Thank God that the gospel teaches I am justified by a perfect righteousness that is imputed to me—not by the flawed "righteousness" that results from my own behavior. I am saved by what Christ has done on my behalf, not what I can do through my own meager efforts.

A Sincere Plea

Reading perfectionist writings, ranging from Charles Finney to his latter-day heirs, one gets the impression they think their salvation ultimately hinges somehow on how well they obey from now on. Search your heart; if that's the way you think—and yet you still have hope that you will be saved, then you have not truly come to grips with what Scripture teaches about human depravity. You have too much confidence in the flesh.

This is precisely what I despise most about Finneyism and all forms of perfectionism: while talking a lot about "repentance," holiness, and sanctification, these views actually amount to a denial of what Scripture teaches about the depth of human sinfulness.

In other words, that kind of "repentance" (the kind that leaves a person thinking his own future performance is necessary to secure his salvation) is no repentance at all, but a stubborn refusal to acknowledge how truly sinful we really are.

Phil's signature

21 November 2006

Big Names in balance

by Dan Phillips
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:13)
In our attitude towards Great Men, towards Big Names, we walk a narrow plank. Chasms of folly yawn on either side.

On the one side is arrogant presumption. A fellow occasionally dropped by the college/career fellowship in which I ministered, decades ago. We called him "Motorcycle Paul." He resolutely never brought a Bible to the Bible Study. (Irony pause: 3... 2... 1....) See, Motorcycle Paul had read it—once. That did it for him. Now God spoke to him directly, and he needed no man to teach him. He had visions.

(Before some of you embrace him as a pioneering brother, you should know that "God" told him that Jesus was not God incarnate, and that the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity was a lie. Among other things.)

Motorcycle Paul was an advanced student in this College of Faux Knowledge; but I've met many other lower classmen from that same institution over the years. One trait they share in common is a complete lack of self-awareness. They can stand before 12 or 1200, and without a tick teach Christians that Christians need no teachers. They inform them that they need no information. They would lead them to cast off all leaders.

Okay, lack of self-awareness, and no sense of irony, whatever.

Of course, this teaching, if true, is false. It is self-invalidating. If I need someone to teach me that I need no one to teach me, then I need someone to teach me. Or I wouldn't need him to teach me that I didn't need him to teach me.


Each spiritual Narcissus disqualifies himself as a Bible teacher by overlooking a great deal of Scripture. Paul said that he could serve as the Corinthians' example (1 Corinthians 11:1), a thought he echoed elsewhere (cf. 4:16; also Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). He enjoined his pastoral apprentices to live exemplary lives as well (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7), so that others could see their example, and gain thereby.

Such vain pretenders know nothing of the godly wisdom which loves those who reprove and education him (Proverbs 9:8b, 9), loves instruction (12:1), and shows especial and tangible appreciation for teachers (Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17).

A wise believer is glad to find models and instructors who, by word or example, point us to Christ. He doesn't find it humiliating, but praises the Lord Jesus for the gift (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12).

In all of these, the apostle Paul is setting high value on living, breathing examples. But I sympathize to a large degree with those who feel that "the best theologian is a dead theologian"—simply from the vantage point that (A) we know the whole course of the man's life (i.e. did he suffer shipwreck?), and (B) we know his abiding influence, if any. This perspective has explicit Scriptural backing as well (cf. Hebrews 11; 12:1a; 13:7).

But there is a danger on the other side as well, the "I am of Paul" side.

Some seem more temperamentally prone to it than others. These folks feel the lunar tide pull of strong personalities, present and deceased. Big-name preachers, teachers, writers, living and dead, functionally become their Canon. In seminary, you hear young preacherlets sounding off, and you can almost tell by their style who their pulpit idols are.

Or these folks wed themselves to a dead theologian, or a school of dead theologians. These worthies may make very fine instructors, but they are very poor gods. The devotees may be about as right as their exemplar—but no righter. If Right Hon. Rev. Dr. So-and-such didn't see it, then by gum they're not going to see it, either. They won't finger a rosary with a Romanist, but they're equally wed to tradition, and equally blinded to portions of the Bible. Just a different tradition, and different portions.

Here's a symptom. Try to talk Bible with such an one. Does he engage the text? Not directly. No, he quotes Dr. So-and-such, or he plucks an allusion from the life of Pastor Thingummy. Instead of instructors and guides, these revered exemplars become albatrosses, coral reefs, or excuses.

Try to engage a modern day leaky-Canon advocate seriously on a Biblical level, and you may hear this whacky statement from Lloyd-Jones, or be directed to Jack Deere's pathetic writings, or sidetracked to that out-of-context remark of Spurgeon's. Criticize a doctrine, and you get a list of great men who embraced it, or at least didn't smash it outright.

You want to say, "Okay, so let's suppose Dr. Hoarybeard never lived. Suppose it were God, you, me, and that Bible. What would that verse mean then, eh?" Or, "So, if I gave you a dollar, would you engage the text?"

But of course sometimes the real inner soliloquy is, "I want to believe X no matter what so, hmm, let's find some authority who said something like X...."

Does this actually honor our departed instructors? Think of Whitefield and Wesley on election, or Zwingli and Luther on the Lord's Supper, or Spurgeon and Murray on baptism, or Allis and Feinberg on eschatology. Think it through. It stands to reason, that on arrival in the Lord's presence, at least one of each of those pairs did the heavenly equivalent of slapping his forehead, and letting forth with a resounding "D'oh!" At least one of each of those pairs instantly and painfully wished he'd seen what he missed on earth—and wished he had not taught what he taught.

At least one, allowed a visit back to this vale of tears, would earnestly urge his erstwhile devotees not to repeat his mistakes. At least one, given the opportunities, would say to those aping his errors, "No, no you fools! Don't just go where I went! You've had longer to study, you've had more opportunity to get more light! Don't just sit there, repeating my errors! It's the Word that's God's voice! It's the Word that will judge you! It's the Word that's living and powerful, and sharp! Let my example teach you to get into the Word—don't stop with what I was able to see! See more! See better!"

And yet, with misguided loyalty, eyes closed to the Scriptures, Big Man hyper-fanboys (and -girls) plow the same rut over, and over, and over.

It's a hard balance to strike. Admire godly examples, past and present. Learn from them. Respect them.

But don't chain yourself to them. And don't hide behind them as an excuse for not engaging the text of Scripture.

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20 November 2006

35 days until ...

by Frank Turk
... these items are no longer available. Special 2006 commemorative holiday overpriced chatzki and t-shirts for sale until 12/25/2006.

(notice I didn't say "on sale", because that would be a lie)

Buy your gifts now before WMT puts that plasma-screen TV on sale at 4 AM on Friday for $999 and has only one in stock per store so a fight breaks out. There's no reason to go through that -- the people you know and love would rather have TeamPyro gear anyway. Especially this TeamPyro gear.

The mugs are my favorite, but the teddy bear is a close 4th place.

PS from Phil:

A reminder about the car decals:

I'll seize the opportunity while Frank is hawking his merchandise to remind you of our free car decal offer. These are high-quality vinyl, colorfast, and free with absolutely no strings attached. I'm giving one of either style to anyone who asks, and I still have several of both kinds left. Only one "condition." (Or perhaps it would be better to say, "Here is the instrumental means by which you may lay hold of your decal."): You must supply a stamped, self-addressed envelope big enough to hold the decal without folding. The decals are 4.75"x4.75"—about the size of a standard CD-ROM. In fact, they fit perfectly inside mailers designed for CD-ROMs.

Remember, I promise not to add your name and address to any mailing list. I'm not even keeping a record of who asks, so if you already asked and I sent you one, and now you want the other style, send another envelope, and it's yours (as Zane Hodges would say) "Absolutely Free," while supplies last.

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19 November 2006

Young Spurgeon vs. the Antinomians

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 Chapter 23, "Reminiscences as a Village Pastor," in Spurgeon's Autobiography.

But first—two bonus links:

Bonus no. 1:
Here's a wonderful article giving insight into how Spurgeon was regarded in London during the early years. It includes a newspaper article from the era. If you'd like to read Spurgeon's later reflections about those difficult years, check this 1876 article from his own pen.

Bonus no. 2:
Here's a link to David Wheaton's radio broadcast last Saturday. He interviewed me regarding Arnold Dallimore's biography on Charles Spurgeon, and Spurgeon's life and ministry.

Now, to the excerpt from Spurgeon's Autobiography:

n my first pastorate, I had often to battle with Antinomians,—that is, people who held that, because they believed themselves to be elect, they might live as they liked.

I hope that heresy has to a great extent died out, but it was sadly prevalent in my early ministerial days.

I knew one man, who stood on the table of a public house, and held a glass of gin in his hand, declaring all the while that he was one of the chosen people of God. They kicked him out of the public-house, and when I heard of it, I felt that it served him right. Even those ungodly men said that they did not want any such "elect" people there.

There is no one who can live in sin,—drinking, swearing, lying, and so on,—who can truly declare that he is one of the Lord's chosen people.

I recollect one such man,—and he was a very bad fellow,—yet he had the hardihood to say, "I know that I am one of God's dear people."

"So you are," said I; "dear at any price, either to be given or thrown away!" He did not like my plain speaking, but it was true; for that was the only sense in which he was one of God's dear people.

From my very soul, I detest everything that in the least savors of the Antinomianism which leads people to prate about being secure in Christ while they are living in sin. We cannot be saved by or for our good works, neither can we be saved without good works. Christ never will save any of His people in their sins; He saves His people from their sins.

If a man is not desiring to live a holy life in the sight of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he is still "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity."

I used to know a man of this class, who talked a great deal about "saving faith." He was notorious for his evil life, so I could not make out what he meant by saving faith, until the collection was taken, and I noticed how carefully he put his fingernail round a threepenny piece for fear lest it should be a fourpenny; then I understood his meaning.

But the idea of "saving faith" apart from good works, is ridiculous. The saved man is not a perfect man; but his heart's desire is to become perfect, he is always panting after perfection, and the day will come when he will be perfected, after the image of his once crucified and now glorified Savior, in knowledge and true holiness.

While I was minister at Waterbeach, I used to have a man sitting in front of the gallery, who would always nod his head when I was preaching what he considered sound doctrine, although he was about as bad an old hypocrite as ever lived. When I talked about justification, down went his head; when I preached about imputed righteousness, down it went again. I was a dear good man in his estimation, without doubt.

So I thought I would cure him of nodding, or at least make his head keep still for once; so I remarked, "There is a great deal of difference between God electing you, and your electing yourself; a vast deal of difference between God justifying you by His Spirit, and your justifying yourself by a false belief, or presumption; this is the difference," said I,—and the old man at once put me down as a rank Arminian,—"you who have elected yourselves, and justified yourselves, have no marks of the Spirit of God; you have no evidence of genuine piety, you are not holy men and women, you can live in sin, you can walk as sinners walk, you have the image of the devil upon you, and yet you call yourselves the children of God. One of the first evidences that anyone is a child of God is that he hates sin with a perfect hatred, and seeks to live a holy, Christlike life."

The old Antinomian did not approve of that doctrine; but I knew that I was preaching what was revealed in the Word of God.

C. H. Spurgeon

18 November 2006

OK, Here's the deal:

A Dictum from the Blog Boss
by Phil Johnson

  • There will be no BlogSpotting post this weekend, because I've been too busy feverishly answering comments in the "Dead Horse" thread.
  • That thread has now gone well over 300 comments in just three days' time. I've tried to answer every point and every question directed at me by those who favor no-lordship evangelism, including several marginal ones. But the argument has now de-volved to the point where it's being suggested (quite seriously, I think) that perhaps my contempt for no-lordship doctrine is a cover for my hatred of Texas.
  • In point of fact, I love Texas (as much as a born-and-bred Okie is capable of "loving" a foreign country.) I even cheer for Texas when their football teams play OU. Of course, when it's OSU, I like to see Texas get thrashed, but that happens so rarely no one can legitimately hold it against me.
  • Anyway, if the number of comments in that thread hits 400, I'm going to shut it down. So the no-lordship people should not waste comments. It would be best if you could strategically summon your best writers with their best arguments and have them finish out that thread—because (to be honest) so far, here's what it looks to all of us who are not hard-core Zanies: You guys got nuthin'.
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PS: I've said before that I don't really pay close attention to blog stats, and I usually don't. But I do check these things sometimes, and I did some checking today at The Truth Laid Bear.

So what's up with the "Blogdom of God" rankings? (I hate that name. It sounds flippant and blasphemous to me. I'll abbreviate it henceforth.)

Check this out: Here's the stats on a blog called "Reformed Chicks Blabbing." TTLB has them ranked in the top ten "Blogdom" sites. Anyway, the Reformed chicks keep the same kind of hit counter we have. They reset their counter a couple of weeks after we started. It's managed to rack up about .43 percent of the number of hits we have on our counter. (Note: That's point four three, less than half of one percent; not forty-three percent.) The Chicks' daily average visits currently number 81 (though, to be fair, they jumped to around 130 last week). Compare that with our daily average, now at 2,500 (and we've consistently hosted over 2,000 visitors per day for many weeks). Yet the Chicks are ranked 10th to our 87th.

So how does that work? Turns out we're ranked by "incoming links," and TTLB shows only 437 of them for TeamPyro (even though Technorati currently credits us with 2,731 695).

I've been saying for a long time that I suspect TTLB is way off. Now I'm sure of it.

PPS: I just found a link to a radio show I taped a couple of weeks ago. This was broadcast while I was in Mexico last Saturday. I haven't even had a chance to listen to it yet. Hope it's good.

17 November 2006

Read the post BELOW this one....

by Dan Phillips

True, I have one on tap that would probably cause revival to break out in America, then Europe, Asia, the rest of the world, and the space station....

And true, the first paragraph is untrue.

But I think Phil's post below, with its comments, is so important, that I want to give it another day. So go read that one, read the comments, marvel (as I do) at Phil's patience, grace, and charity, and don't even let the thought occur to you that Phil's probably just trying to top me for "most comments."

And now, since I've learned that Phil won't let me put up a post without a graphic, now matter how short the post is....

Now go to Phil's post. I'm serious. Hey -- you! Why are you still here? Go! I'm serious!

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15 November 2006

Why the lordship "debate" died

A message for those desperate to revive a dead horse
by Phil Johnson

How I Got Drawn into the Lordship Debate
The Complete, Canonical List
(Read this first if you are unfamiliar with the debate about "lordship salvation.)"
  1. A Word of Personal Testimony
  2. A New Song in My Mouth
  3. Should sinners be urged to worship, love, and obey Christ as Lord?
  4. A Brief Interlude about History and Terminology
  5. My Short, Eye-Opening Stint as a Youth Pastor
  6. Meeting John MacArthur
  7. How Zondervan Acquired The Gospel According to Jesus
  8. The Aftermath
  9. Why the Lordship "Debate" Died

ob Wilkin, founder and chief mouthpiece of the Grace Evangelical Society, published this "review" of The Gospel According to Jesus in the October-November 1988 issue of the GES newsletter, within a few weeks after the book was first released:

The Gospel According to Jesus
A Review*

by Bob Wilkin

MacArthur's book hits four main issues: assurance, faith, repentance, and the relationship between salvation and discipleship.

While he never says it in so many words, MacArthur does not believe in assurance. That is, he thinks that no one can or should know with certainty that he is saved. He suggests that it is healthy for believers (regardless of how long they have been saved—or rather, think they may have been saved) to have doubts about their salvation as long as they do not worry obsessively about it (p. 190). (He never explains what constitutes too much worrying about one's salvation.) He views doubt and worry over one's eternal destiny as a strong motivation, if not the only motivation, for people to live holy lives (pp.23, 77, 123, 178, 190, 217-18).

Faith is viewed by MacArthur not as an objective reality but as a subjective mist. He suggests that one can believe all the facts of the gospel and still be unsaved (pp. 68, 74)! Faith, he suggests, also must include a complete submission to Christ's sovereignty over one's life (pp. 68, 74, 135). Of course, since no one submits perfectly in this life, if that is what faith is, how could any one hope to know for sure he had placed his faith in Christ? MacArthur's view of faith leaves no room for assurance.

Defining repentance as turning from one's sins (pp. 162-65). MacArthur suggests that in order to obtain eternal salvation one must turn from his sins and keep on doing so (pp. 58, 111, 162-65). He even admits at one point that this is in part a human work. He says, "Nor is repentance merely a human work" (p. 163). That is, he sees it as a work of God and us. We must cooperate in our salvation, according to MacArthur, by striving against sin our whole lives, never knowing we are saved and always hoping we are turning from enough sins. MacArthur contends that if anyone ever falls they were probably never saved in the first place (pp.77, 84, 123).

The Relationship between Salvation and Discipleship
Obedience to God's commands is central to MacArthur's view of both of these subjects. He suggests that one is saved not merely by obeying God's command to trust in Christ alone, but by obeying all of God's commands (pp. 33n, 96, 126-27, 174-78). Progressive sanctification is, according to MacArthur, the inevitable result of justification. If one ceases to obey God at some point, he proves he was probably not saved in the first place (pp. 77, 84, 123). How well must one obey to be saved? MacArthur admits that no one can obey 100% of the time due to the flesh which remains with us until we die (p. 174). Yet he fails to say how much obedience is needed (99%?, 90%?, 80%?, 70%?—or maybe God grades on the curve?).

MacArthur says that salvation requires human effort (pp. 33,97, 100, 163)! He argues that this is not teaching works-salvation since our efforts and works alone will not save us (pp. 33, 163). Salvation, in his view, takes God's works plus our works. However, if it takes our works at all to be saved, then eternal salvation is at least in part by works and can rightly be called works-salvation.

While we may disagree strongly with what MacArthur's book says, we should not only believe in grace but manifest it as we talk with those who hold errant views of the gospel. While it is apparent from Galatians 1:6-9 that we should not support the ministry of those who distort the gospel, that is not to say that we should be argumentative and belligerent. Let's demonstrate love and grace in the way we talk to and about those who promote a false gospel.

*An expanded review of this book will appear in the Spring 1989 issue of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society.

I wrote Bob a letter on 4 November 1988, in which I identified myself as the book's editor and said,

While I had no expectation that GES would be supportive of Dr. MacArthur's position, I had hoped for an honest evaluation of the book....

In the first place, assurance is not, as you state, one of the four main issues of The Gospel According to Jesus. The book barely touches on the subject. Its focus is the message Jesus proclaimed and the response He demanded. The book clearly is not intended to be a treatise on assurance. Far from teaching that assurance is impossible, however, Dr. MacArthur consistently encourages readers to examine their lives by the biblical standard, and be sure of their salvation.

Also, despite what you say, Dr. MacArthur never once speaks of "doubt and worry over one's salvation as a strong motivation . . .for people to live holy lives."

Perhaps one further quotation from your review will serve to show the utter dishonesty of the way you dealt with this book. You write, "[MacArthur] even admits at one point that [repentance] is in part a human work. He says, 'Nor is repentance merely a human work' (p. 163). That is, he sees it as a work of God and us" (your emphasis).

But did you read the paragraph in its entirety? Here it is:

Nor is repentance merely a human work. It is, like every element of redemption, a sovereignly bestowed gift of God. The early church, recognizing the authenticity of Cornelius's conversion, concluded, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18; cf. Acts 5:31). Paul wrote to Timothy that he should gently correct those who oppose the truth, "if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25). If God is the One who grants repentance, it cannot be viewed as a human work (emphasis added).
Perhaps you haven't thoroughly read the book. If not, I encourage you to do so. I have no doubt that because of your theological position, you were predisposed to disagree with the book before you even saw it. But please do yourself and your constituents a favor and read the book again carefully and completely. The gospel is too important an issue for you to treat this book so cavalierly.

You mention at the end of your article that you're planning an expanded review for the Spring issue of your journal. I hope that review will be written with more integrity than this one. I hope you'll use more quotations, and more in-depth ones. I hope you'll let the book speak for itself, rather than taking it upon yourself to explain what Dr. MacArthur "never says . . .in so many words." I hope you'll respond to Appendix 2 of the book, which seems to me to offer convincing proof that your view of the gospel is the one that deviates from the historic Christian faith. Above all, I hope you'll interact with the biblical data Dr. MacArthur brings out in the book. Rather than simply attacking Dr. MacArthur for urging believers to examine themselves, why not explain why you believe 2 Corinthians 13:5 doesn't mean what it says?

Awaiting Your Reply, Phillip R. Johnson

When I received no reply or acknowledgement from Bob Wilkin, I wrote him again on 25 April 1989, enclosed a copy of the original letter, and again requested a reply. More than fifteen years later, he has still not replied to or acknowledged that letter, and yet the original "review" is still posted at the GES website in its original form.

For more than a decade following the book's initial release, I replied to every letter sent to our ministry regarding The Gospel According to Jesus and the lordship debate. There were literally hundreds of letters on the issue, and with no more than three or four notable exceptions, every bit of interaction I ever had with hardcore no-lordship advocates was equally fruitless.

That's why I have been less than responsive to the spam and goading that appears from time to time in the comments here on the blog. Frankly, I think the GES version of no-lordship doctrine is as outlandish as some of the distinctive doctrines of the major cults. And given the obvious lack of seriousness in the commenters here who have advocated those doctrines, I'm no more inclined to devote multiple posts to the subject at PyroManiacs than I would be to discuss the Seventh-Day Adventists' doctrine of "investigative judgment."

But, in an effort to keep the spam out of other comment-threads and appease the handful of people who are itching to debate the issue here, I'll open the comment-thread in this post to the discussion. I just want to make a few ground rules, which I will strictly insist on:

  1. Raise only one issue at a time, and no more than three twelve-line paragraphs per comment (including Scripture references). Ask a question, make a challenge, or make a point, and I will try to answer it. Post a long diatribe or a term-paper-length "comment," and I'll ignore it. (I might even delete your comment if it seems a deliberate breach of this rule.)
  2. No prefabricated cut-and-paste-style comments, and no rambling propagandizing or graffiti-style posts.
  3. If you cite Scripture and the point you are making isn't stated plainly by the text itself, please cogently explain the point you think the text makes.
  4. If I raise a question in reply, you must give an answer to the point, and not a deflection that introduces a different issue.
  5. If you ignore my questions or counterpoints, I will delete your subsequent comments.
  6. I will endeavor to honor the same rules, and if you think I have failed to do so, please feel free to call me on it.
  7. Keep your comments on the lordship issue in this thread, and nowhere else on my blog. Starting now and until this thread is closed, comments on the lordship issue in other threads will be automatically and unapologetically deleted.
Now, let the dead-horse-flogging begin.

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