27 January 2007

What we have here is failure to communicate

by Phil Johnson

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Note: If you need a PyroFix while we're gone, visit Dan's blog, "Biblical Christianity," or Frank's blog, "And His Ministers a Flame of Fire."
     If Pecadillo ever posts again at his blog, "I Drank What?"—we'll put up a special notice.

Click here for the home-schoolers song.
Click here for Sean Higgins's world-famous video, "Water."

26 January 2007

Weighing God's Yes and No

by Dan Phillips

[And now, for something completely different from yesterday's fun and goofiness....]

If I were you, as soon as I detected that this is a post about unanswered prayer, I'd probably skip it. Is there anything new — and true — to say about unanswered prayer? It's hardly a fresh-minted topic. The saints of old, even the saints of very, very old (Genesis 15:3), would take a "been there, done that" view of the subject. The odds that I have anything new to say are slim to none.

Besides, as Spurgeon might say, if I did have anything new to say, it would probably be in error, anyway.

Nonetheless I share some of my own reflections, in the hopes that what gives me some comfort might do the same for you (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). But that depends in part on how similar you and I are.

If you are one of those people who naturally just loves prayer, and takes great comfort out of the act itself, you may not find much help here. Just being able to pray make you happy, encourages you, reassures you—no matter what does or doesn't come of it. God bless you, other things being equal; don't let me detain you.

But perhaps some of you have had crushing, specific needs for years. You are at the end of your resources, and beyond. If there's one more thing you can do, you haven't the faintest echo of the hint of a clue what it might be. But you have prayed. Oh yes, you have prayed, and you have prayed, and you have prayed. Specifically, fervently, earnestly, quoting Scripture, taking God's promises to Him as so many greater men of God have done in ages past (Numbers 14:13-20; 2 Samuel 7:18-29, etc.). You do not have, but it is not because you have not asked.

This one area—or these areas, or this cluster—does not seem to change. It doesn't budge. In fact, it may worsen. It is as if the situation taunts you, your faith, your powerless and ineffective prayers. "Prayer changes things," folks say. "Yes, right," you are tempted to snort. "It makes them worse."

The other day, as I drove to work in the early-morning darkness, I was bringing just such matters to the Lord. I was tired of hearing myself pray about them, and I told Him so. Not for the first time. I didn't even have anything new to say about them. When I began praying about them, years ago, they were urgent and vital needs. And now, years later, they are just as vital, just as urgent; in fact, more so. They need God's intervention; yet on that score, I haven't even seen a cloud the size of a man's hand.

So why does my heavenly Father seem so disinterested in needs that are vital, pressing, pivotal, and real? Why does He show no sign of care for something so horrendously momentous to me? Why is it as if He is asleep, as we rattle on about our screaming needs?

I put that very question to God.

Now, if that language shocks you, you might just review Psalm 13 in toto, the psalm Spurgeon almost called "the Howling Psalm, from the incessant repetition of the cry 'how long?'" You might look afresh as well Psalms 7:6 and 35:23 (Yahweh seems asleep?), 44:24; and even the prayers of the saints in glory, in Revelation 6:10, for starters. I concluded long ago that there is simply no point being disingenuous with God.

And as I prayed that morning, my mind ranged to the many things I often pray. And I reflected anew on them.

Every morning as I leave my house, my dear family, I feel an uneasy lurch, and I pray that God watch over them and protect them. And every time, hundreds of times, thousands of times, without exception, He has graciously said "Yes." Not so for many others in the broad world.

Every week (at least) I pray "Give us this day our daily bread." And every day, every week, for years and years without exception, God has said, "Yes." Not so for many others in the broad world.

Every week I pray that God will bless our pastor with a truthful, passionate word from the Word. And every week without exception, God has said "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.

Every time I have dug into Scripture to bring something to the pulpit myself, I have asked God to open it to me, and to guide my thinking, and to give me something of His truth to say. And every time, He has graciously stooped to say, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.

Thinking of our last two children, and some worrisome concerns that arose during pregnancy, I remember that I prayed for my wife Valerie's safety, and for God's kind hand on our babies. And in both those cases, God graciously said, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.

In all the thousands of miles our family has traveled together, and the thousands we've traveled apart, I've prayed for safety on land, in the air, at sea. And every time, without exception, God has said, "Yes." This is not to be taken for granted.

But most pivotally for me, thirty-four years ago next month, I prayed to God for Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, that He would make me His own, to put His blood on me and forgive me all my sins. And God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit said, "Yes."

Those are some seriously whopping-big "Yeses."

So why do these other, undeniably critical unmet needs seem so much larger? It is because they are as yet unmet. Because I haven't yet seen what God is going to do in those situations, finally. Because I'm living in the not-yet.

But suppose any one of those yeses had been a no. Suddenly what seems like a small facet of my life would become THE overwhelming and all-absorbing throb of all existence to me. One phone call at work, lost employment, disaster, and suddenly the entire landscape of my world would alter.

Then that would become the need I felt most keenly, elbowing all else aside.

Am I saying that my ongoing crises aren't critical? No, I'm not; nor that yours are any less so.

What I am saying is that we characteristically forget that every critical, crying Not-yet is floating on a vast, billowing sea of Yes and Yes and Yes. If you are a Christian, reading this, God has said Yes to you far more often than He has said No; and you have every reason to believe that every No conceals a because I have a better idea. Behind our every prayer, our great Mediator, our Savior, our great High Priest the Lord Jesus Christ, pleads for us before the throne (Hebrews 7:25), adding His intercession to that of the blessed Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26).

I am saying that we all, on occasion, make the most spoiled-rotten brat look like a Model Child, through our bursting, thunderous ingratitude. At the very least, I am saying that for myself.

Indeed, what I'm trying to say has already been said better than I could ever phrase it:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
(Psalm 103:1-5)
I leave you with that, and with the wish that you all be with God's people in church this weekend, hearing His word, loving His people, and thanking Him for his literally innumerable mercies.

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25 January 2007

Turk not Baptist! Certificate tests as PHONY!!

by Dan "Try to Top Me, Will You?" Phillips

Turk, confronted with phony baptism certificate, feigns incredulity

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Phillips Jumps Shark

by Fang Turk

Dan had no comments for the press.

I had other headlines I wanted to play here, but I got voted down in the "green room". Apparently "Phil Johnson had ny alien love child" is too racy for this blog.

International scandal! Academic world rocked! N. T. Wright's degree BOGUS!

by Dan Phillips


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iMonk is not a Christian

by Frank Turk

I just thought I'd lead up to the blog holiday with the most inflammatory headline I could think of without using words which have already been discussed and voted on by committee and assigned disrepute. I don't think iMonk is not a Christian. I think he's post-baptist, and that has made many a strong man into something else. The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, iMonk.

No offense, iMonk. Let's see if Dan will up the ante.

BTW, I have been trying to find a post in which to use that graphic for about 2 months. This seemed like the best time to air it out. And to Phil, I resent being called the "funny one" and Dan being called the "better writer" -- we all know what you meant in that last post, bub. If people could see us in person, I promise you that Dan would be the funny one. Of course, he'd still be the better writer, so I better take what I can get.

The Downside of Blogging, Part Deux

by Phil Johnson

log-maintenance is a high-stress, labor-intensive duty. The PyroManiacs gangblog concept is exactly one year old today, and group-blogging hasn't really made blogging a breeze like I hoped it would.

It does indeed save some time, because when your teammates write you don't have to, and that part has been great. It also helps tremendously to have blogpartners who are better writers than you are or more witty than you can be, and I'm very appreciative to the team for that.

But ultimately, the stress and frustration of blogging at a high-traffic blog aren't really diminished all that much with team-blogging. The rude and crazy commenters are still rude and crazy. They proliferate as time passes. Blog-activity—especially the kind that is driven by controversy—always seems to heat up when you can least afford the time. It's a major and constant distraction in real life. People often ask how I find time to blog along with all my other responsibilities. My standard answer: "I don't watch much TV." The full truth: I don't get enough sleep, either.

So I'm going on vacation. Darlene and I are leaving this morning for the Pacific Northwest, where I'll be speaking to to a great group of young people at their snow retreat. I won't be back in Los Angeles until the end of next week. That's Super-Bowl Sunday, but I'm TiVoing the game, because I'm actually slated to preach in the evening service that day. At the moment, I have nothing at all on my agenda for the week following. But I really need to use that week to get caught up on some real-life chores and household responsibilities, and I also need to get started preparing my material for the Shepherds' Conference seminars I'm doing in March. I really would rather not have to deal with the blog for a while.

So here's the deal:

Thursday and Friday we'll celebrate our Bloggiversary. I'll miss most of the party, of course, because I'll be on the road. But between now and Saturday, Dan and Frank can post as many times as they like. I predict it will be interesting seeing them try to step on each other's last post. (Note: That's more of a mischievous hope than a "word of knowledge.") Of course, Pecadillo can post, too, and I suppose he might do that if the Muse drops a piano on his head or something, but he seems to be about halfway through an 18-month-long battle with writer's block.

But then Saturday (day after tomorrow), the blog will be closed for at least two weeks. I, the BlogBoss, have decreed it. No BlogSpotting. No weekly dose of Spurgeon. (Get your Spurgeon fix at The Spurgeon Archive.) No new posts from anyone.

We'll reopen for regular business on Monday, February 12. If that plan changes in any way, I'll post a notice about it. But other than that, starting one split-second after midnight Saturday morning, the blog—and I—will be on vacation. There will be no change in content here—aside from possible occasional updates in the "Where I Am Right Now" sidebar, maybe a simple, captionless graphic modification here and there, and whatever comments you people leave in the meta.

I expect some of our regulars will find a way to make even that—uh, entertaining.

Raja: Thanks for the "conversation." I'm not bailing out on you. We'll pick it up sometime after I get back. For my regular critics who may start suffering withdrawal symptoms: you can send anonymous diatribes about me to the iMonk. He's currently highlighting those at his "Underground" blog. (Of course comments over there are closed.) But if someone has a hankering for a real argument (as opposed to just hacky-sacking someone anonymously), you can take it up with Frank Turk or Dan Phillips for the next two weeks.

See you February 12. I'm gonna get some rest.

Oh, and today is also my Mum's birthday. Happy Birthday!

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24 January 2007

What is remarkable about Mark

by Dan Phillips

Don't miss the prayer request at the end of this post.

"Conventional wisdom" often flies so under the radar of one's mind that one often does not even pull it out for re-examination. Sometimes it's true, sometimes it's false. The Gospels have their own conventional wisdom among expositors: Matthew is the Gospel of the King, Luke the Gospel of the Son of Man, John the Gospel of the Son of God. And Mark is the Gospel of the Servant of God.

But what really is distinctive about Mark? What particular truth did the Holy Spirit bring to light in moving him to put Jesus' words and deeds in writing?

One oft-noted characteristic of Mark is how his narrative moves along at a brisk pace. The Go Gospel was the name of a book of meditations on Mark written a few decades back, and though I didn't read the book, the title stayed in my mind as quite apropos. Mark is very fond of the word euthus, "immediately," "at once," "straightaway." The longer gospel of Matthew uses it in about five verses, John in three, and for all his rich vocabulary, Dr. Luke in but one. Our man Mark uses it in about forty verses. That's not including rarer synonyms such as exapina and exaiphnes.

But I've noticed another stress of Mark's Gospel: teaching. While we first run into "immediately" in the tenth verse, a form of didasko (I teach) comes shortly after, in v. 21. In fact, we see three forms of it in two verses:
"And He enters into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath, after entering into the synagogue, He began teaching. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (vv. 20-21, my literal translation)
Twice the verb, once the noun. The first occurrence of the verb ("began teaching") is an ingressive imperfect, meaning that Jesus entered into and continued the activity of teaching. It interests me that Mark uses this very form (edidasken) six times in his Gospel (1:21; 2:13; 4:2; 9:31; 10:1; 11:17), while the other three Evangelists use it only twice apiece.

Or then again there is the explicit phrase erxato didaskein, "He began to teach." That expression occurs four times in Mark (4:1; 6:2, 34; 8:31). No other Evangelist has the exact phrase.

Teaching, verbal communication of God's truth, is stressed in other ways, by Mark's use of related terms. The contents of the book itself are styled in the first verse as euaggelion, a glad report of news. The next verse refers to written revelation (gegraptai, it stands written), and features the sending of one whose task is verbally to communicate news, information (aggelos). In verse four, John the Immerser proclaims, heralds (kerusso) the Word of God. In 2:2, Jesus Himself is seen continually or characteristically speaking (elalei, again imperfect) "the word."

But let's focus back on the did- group, the words that communicate teaching. The verb didasko (I teach) occurs in seventeen verses in Mark (as opposed to thirteen in Matthew, fifteen in Luke, and ten in John); the noun didache (teaching) in five verses (three each in Matthew and John, once in Luke), and the synonym didaskalia in one verse (as in Matthew; none in Luke nor John).

And then there is the substantive didaskalos, teacher. Only in the use of this noun is Mark "topped" by a fellow-evangelist. Luke uses it sixteen times, while Mark and Matthew each use it twelve times, and John eight times.

As if to heighten his emphasis on Jesus as teacher, Mark says that "crowds converged on Him again and, as He usually did, He began teaching them once more" (10:1). To break that down a bit, Mark says (A) "again," (B) "as He usually did," (C) "He began teaching them" (another ingressive imperfect). Mark wants us to know that this is what Jesus was accustomed to do, it was His practice; He started up the teaching "as usual," as many English versions have it.

Jesus, then, was preeminently a teacher. Mark also wants to be sure that we understand that He was a teacher like no other. The people who heard Him in the first chapter were gobsmacked at His teaching, because He taught with authority, and not like their parrotlike scribes (Mark 1:22). Further, He backed His teaching up with power (1:27). But while there are a number of places where teaching is emphasized, and miracles are not (cf. 4:1-33; 10:1ff.), I don't think you could say that the reverse ever obtains.

It can't be a surprise, then, that the apostles so practiced and emphasized teaching, doctrine, telling the truth. The Great Shepherd's undersheperds share character-traits with all other Christian men, except in one area: each must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9). God prizes aptitude in this area above all other activities. He explicitly places a premium on hard work in the Word and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). Clearly, if our Lord so embodied, so prizes, so exalts the activity of teaching, we who follow and are enjoined to do the same (Matthew 2818-20) should hold no other attitude.

As we cherish the unique portrait of our Lord in Mark's Gospel, many facets can justly be singled out and meditated upon. The doer, the actor, the leader, the healer, the redeemer — all these are valid characterizations of the Lord Jesus as Mark depicts Him.

But let us not forget Mark's own emphasis: Jesus, the Teacher.

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An urgent prayer Request: Please pray for our good friend Libbie, who has already suffered crippling pain for several months because of complications in her pregnancy. She had to be hospitalized yesterday after she fell. An e-mail update from Libbie's husband (Antony) informs us:

...They have transferred her to [a hospital about 30 miles away] since if she was to have the baby now it would need to be in a special baby care unit which we do not have in [our town]. Today I will be travelling to see her and I will update you and the blog later.

Libbie was having contractions as a result of the fall but they seem to have resided and so the likelihood of the little one coming in the next few days is slim I would guess. Please continue in your prayers for Libbie, the baby and [our three daughters, ages 5, 2, and 1]—and also me! I need God's help too.

Be thankful that I was at home yesterday when this happened. I have no other explanation as to why I was there other than He was directing my steps (I was intending to be at work but did not go in).

We have been holding on to the promises of scripture that His grace is sufficient all the way through this pregnancy and if God has no other purpose for me than to show me that through all this, then I have received a rich and wonderful teaching from the Word.

Watch the comment-thread at Libbie's blog for updates on her condition.

22 January 2007

Misreading God

by Dan Phillips

Reading providence is a fool's game, yet it never lacks players.

Discontented with Scripture, yearning for something God never promises, countless Christians read feelings, circumstances, events, hoping to discern God's personal coded messages in them. They may not use tea-leaves and chicken gizzards, but they no less are acting as diviners rather than divines. The results can be devastating and enslaving.

One particular point of conventional diviner's wisdom is the idea that God's hand can be discerned by the feelings a situation creates. A girl I knew decades ago decided against something important because thinking about it made her feel confused, and "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33, kidnapped at gunpoint from its context), so it could not be of God. QED.

God's hand, His presence in an event, is discerned (we're told) by the feelings of serene peace, joy, love, and/or closeness to God that we feel. If it makes us happy, if it makes us feel close to God, then it is of God. If it's frightening and repellent, God cannot be in it.

When you state it in broad sunlight, it's fairly silly on the face of it, and advocates must hastily trot out the "but-but-but"'s. But one passage in particular, from Mark 6, strikes me as fairly fatal to the view.
45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. ...47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid."
Note again verse 49—"they all saw him and were terrified."

What was it they saw? It was in fact Jesus. They actually were looking right at Him, they saw Him on the water. And He was there to do them good, with nothing but love in His heart for them. But they misperceived Him, they did not see Jesus as Jesus, and they mispercieved the significance of what they did see. Instead, they saw Him as a ghost, a being that struck horror in their hearts. The emotions that seeing Jesus stirred in them were not peace, joy, love, and closeness to God. They were terrified, they were filled with alarm and fear at the sight of Jesus.

It was Jesus they saw; it was not Jesus they perceived. What they experienced did not mean what they thought it meant.

Now, a Spurgeon could make a wonderful sermon out of this, but, since "a man's got to know his limitations," I'll be briefer, more direct, vastly less eloquent.

Perhaps you've had a horrid turn of events in your life. Perhaps, in fact, you've experienced nasty, bitter, painful reversals (or worse) in your ministry, your marriage, your family, your health, your job, your relationships. Perhaps the immediate effect of this (or these) is the grinding misery of despair, the daily, downhill erosion of hope—or at bare minimum, a temptation in that direction.

Your most natural fear is that this reversal reflects God's heart towards you. Is God trying to tell you something, by these calamities? Is He sending you a coded message? Is God telling you that He is angry with you, He is displeased with you, He doesn't love you anymore? Is God trying to hurt you, and "spank" you? If so, the spanking seems to stretch on and on endlessly, though you've no idea what you've done to anger Him so, or how you can make it right with Him.

Alternately, we might reflect for a moment on a private individual (or a pastor, or other leader) who is experiencing great success. The person is getting his way at work, family, church, society at large. A lot of notches are being scored. Does this signify God's pleasure? Is this — as I've heard countless times — "the Lord's blessing," not to be argued with nor gainsaid? Can five thousand Frenchmen be wrong?

Yes, they can. Five thousand, five million, or one; French, Hispanic, or American. Whether pastoral ministry or personal life, the interpretive matrix is not and cannot be the experience itself. Experiences are not self-interpreting. For the Christian, insofar as he is practicing the faith he professes, the Bible provides the interpretive grid.

So again I ask the question: Is this how a Christian should respond to life's miseries or successes? Should he try to read them as encrypted messages from God, trying to discern His heart and directions from them?

Of course we should search our lives for sin. We should test ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:32; 2 Corinthians 13:5), we should be killing sin lest sin be killing us (Owen; cf. Romans 8:13). But we should do that at all times, not merely when things are going badly. The "fatness" of the wicked is no sign of God's approval (Psalm 73), nor is the adversity of the righteous a sure indicator of His disfavor (Job). In fact, the precise reverse may be the case (1 Peter 2:20b).

Read God's stance towards you, and discern God's will for you, in the perspicuous volume of Scripture—not in the opaque codebook of Providence.

Is the Lord "in the storm"? I think it depends on what we mean by that. Rather than guessing and second-guessing, we must at least embrace that the Lord owns the storm, and He controls the storm (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11), and can either send it (Jonah 1:4), or still it (Psalm 107:29; Mark 4:39 ["Hush! Be still!"]).

But the storm is not what tells you whether God loves you or is pleased with you, or what He holds you accountable for doing. That is found in the Word, and in Jesus Christ to whom the Word points. In Him we find God's love, and His unshakable purpose for good, a good that brings life's storms into its train of invincible purpose (Romans 8:28).

Providence, when it can be read at all, is usually read only in retrospect, in the "afterwards," the "later" -- as in "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).

The great '50's movie The Thing from Another World ends with the words, "Keep watching the skies!"

The better watchword for the believer is, "To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Isaiah 8:20).

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21 January 2007

All gospel all the 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 the opening section of "Love Thy Neighbour," a sermon on Matthew 19:19, preached Sunday, March 18, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

ur Savior very often preached upon the moral precepts of the law. Many of the sermons of Christ—and what sermons shall compare with them—have not what is now currently called "the gospel" in them at all.

Our Savior did not every time he stood up to preach declare the doctrine of election, or of atonement, or of effectual calling, or of final perseverance. No, he just as frequently spoke upon the duties of human life, and upon those precious fruits of the Spirit which are begotten in us by the grace of God.

Mark this word that I have just uttered. You may have started at it at first, but upon diligent reading of the four evangelists, you will find I am correct in stating that very much of our Saviour’s time was occupied in telling the people what they ought to do towards one another, and many of his sermons are not what our precise critics would in these times call sermons full of unction and savor; for certainly they would be far from savory to the sickly sentimental Christians who do not care about the practical part of religion.

Beloved, it is as much the business of God’s minister to preach man’s duty as it is to preach Christ’s atonement, and unless he doth preach man’s duty, he will never be blessed of God to bring man into the proper state to see the beauty of the atonement. Unless he sometimes thunders out the law and claims for his Master the right of obedience to it, he will never be very likely to produce conviction—certainly not that conviction which afterwards leads to conversion.

C. H. Spurgeon

20 January 2007

End of a bad week

by Phil Johnson

t's been a tougher-than-usual week here on the blog. We seem to have irritated a few people who aren't usually numbered among our critics. We really didn't need any more detractors, either.

Note: The following quotes illustrate why we didn't need any more detractors; not why this has been such a tough week. See further remarks on this below.

Faint praise for the PyroManiacs

Here's a sampling of some things various readers here and there have been saying about us—from our first foray into the blogosphere until now:
  • "These men have nothing intelligent to say to intelligent people. They are merely reactionary Fundamentalists who found a couple of things they liked in old records and haphazardly pasted them together regardless of internal coherence or external fit to reality. And you can't just TALK to them, have a decent brother-to-brother conversation. Their whole identity is at stake on every minute little position they hold, so any form of nuance is anathema to them."—Tim Enloe
  • "I was profoundly disappointed in the post that opened the week over at TeamPyro. I can think of few things that have disappointed me more in the past year than that post. It was as if a part of me died. . . .I'm dead serious when I say that what has happened over there is what Spurgeon would have called "downgrade." Reformed blogdom is a little less than it was before."—Chad Bresson
  • "This man has made a cult of C.H. Spurgeon. Spurgeon, a cigar-smoking, overweight pedant, is the darling of arrogant jackboot Baptist preachers and many other slow bellies. Preachers who love to use one text and jabber on and on showing their gifts of elocution read Spurgeon instead of their Bibles for inspiration . . . Watch this creep attack a classic bible-church fundamentalist."—Steve Van Nattan
  • "What you have [here] is independent Baptist fundamentalism, right down the line, with only a few changes. . . . Go and check up on names like Jerry Falwell, Jerry Vines, John R. Rice and Jack Hyles. You'll understand a lot more about what you're hearing."—Michael Spencer, "The Internet Monk"
nyway, let's see if we can do the usual weekend BlogSpotting without picking at any of those scabs: BlogSpotting Anyway, that's all I really have time for this weekend. See you at church tomorrow.
Update: For whatever reason, the iMonk is very keen for me to inform my readers that the quote from him (see above) is not anything new. Indeed; it's typical of the kind of thing he was posting about me at his blogs even before I entered the blogosphere.

The quotes above were deliberately juxtaposed to illustrate that our most determined critics cannot even agree amongst themselves about what is wrong with us. The iMonk and his drinking buddies constantly deride us for being too TR ("Truly Reformed"). Others evidently think we're a black hole through which everything that is actually Reformed is being drained out of the blogosphere. And according to iMonk, the only way to understand us is to study the evil legacy of Jack Hyles. But those who are more "Truly Fundamentalist" regard us as the mortal enemies of "classic bible-church fundamentalists." Those on a Romish trajectory apparently think we're so far off base that we must be answered with insults rather than arguments.

I defy anyone to plot all those criticisms on a graph and find a spot on the map where everything that is being said about us could possibly be true all at once.

Of course, that by no means proves we have achieved the perfect equilibrium. But it may well be evidence that some of our critics are pretty seriously imbalanced.

That was my point in citing the above four criticisms together. Sorry if that was too cryptic for some.
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19 January 2007

Sola Scriptura and the role of teachers in our spiritual growth

by Phil Johnson

A less-than-admiring reader writes:

Your identity as a "Baptist"; your endless quotations from Charles Spurgeon; your faithful devotion to John MacArthur; and especially your willingness to call yourself a "Calvinist" are all huge red flags that tell me something is seriously wrong with your theology. Why do you teach a system of doctrine that is named after a mere man? Why are you following human teachers instead of going to the Bible alone? After all, 1 John 2:27 says, "The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you."

We ought to go to Scripture alone to establish our doctrine! The truth is in God's Holy word, not in any theological system or theology textbook developed by mere men.

Isn't that principle what the Reformation was originally about? Sola Scriptura? Didn't even Calvin himself go to Scripture for the truth instead of reading other men? I believe that if Calvin himself wrote for this blog, he would point people to the truth in God's Holy word, not to a theology developed by some other man.

My reply:

ou have seriously misunderstood sola Sriptura if you really imagine that it rules out human teachers or eliminates systematic theology. The Reformers (including Calvin) often cited the works of Augustine, Tertullian, Jerome, Cyprian, Ambrose, and others—ranging from the early church fathers through Aquinas. They didn't follow any of them slavishly, of course, but they certainly took them seriously. Not one of the major Reformers would have tolerated the claim that because the Church Fathers were mere men they were therefore irrelevant or incapable of shedding any helpful light on tough theological questions.

Sola Scriptura means that Scripture alone is the final court of appeal in all matters of faith and practice. It is an affirmation that "the whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture" and that "nothing at any time is to be added [to the Bible], whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men." It recognizes that there is ultimately no higher spiritual authority than God's Word, so "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture . . . it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."

But none of that means we're obliged to discard the wisdom of godly men from ages past and require each man to try to discern truth from scratch by reading nothing but Scripture by himself.

As for Calvin, he certainly did "point people to the truth in God's Holy Word"—but one thing he did not do was steer people away from the important theologians of the past. In fact, Calvin's works are filled with references to the Church Fathers—Augustine in particular. Calvin knew it was important to demonstrate that he was proposing nothing wholly novel and that his theology was in the doctrinal lineage of the greatest theologians of the church. He regarded himself as Augustinian, in precisely the same way many today think of themselves as "Calvinists."

If Calvin wrote for this blog and someone responded to one of his posts by refusing to read what Augustine wrote, Calvin would probably write that person off as arrogant and unteachable.

Incidentally, 1 John 2:20, 27 is the apostle John's response to an early outbreak of gnostic-flavored spiritual elitism. He was refuting some false teachers (he called them "antichrists") who insisted that real truth is a deep secret, different from the apostolic message, into which people must be initiated by some anointed swami. The Holy Spirit indwells and anoints each believer, and He is the One who truly enlightens and enables us to understand truth. But He also gifts certain people with a particular ability to teach others (Romans 12:6-7; Ephesians 4:11). So while John was condemning the notion of enlightened masters in the style of Freemasonry and gnosticism, he was not making a blanket condemnation of teachers. He himself was a teacher.


A follow-up message asks me if I am suggesting it's wrong for someone to abandon all books and human teachers and rely only on what he can glean from the Bible for himself. Answer: yes, I think that's wrong because it's arrogant and reflects a sinful kind of unteachability. This is my whole point: sola Scriptura doesn't rule out the valid role of teaching in the church.

Furthermore, it is simply not the case that any common, unskilled, unschooled individual, sitting down with his Bible and no other tools, can expect to come to a full and mature understanding of Scripture without any help from godly teachers who understand some things better than he will ever get it on his own. Here's Bernard Ramm's famous response to the arrogance reflected in such a perversion of sola Scriptura::

It is often asserted by devout people that they can know the Bible completely without helps. They preface their interpretations with a remark like this: "Dear friends, I have read no man's book. I have consulted no man-made commentaries. I have gone right to the Bible to see what it had to say for itself." This sounds very spiritual, and usually is seconded with amens from the audience.
     But is this the pathway of wisdom? Does any man have either the right or the learning to by-pass all the godly learning of the church? We think not.
     First, although the claim to by-pass mere human books and go right to the Bible itself sounds devout and spiritual it is a veiled egotism. It is a subtle affirmation that a man can adequately know the Bible apart from the untiring, godly, consecrated scholarship of men like [Athanasius,] Calvin, Bengel, Alford, Lange, Ellicott, or Moule. . . .
     Secondly, such a claim is the old confusion of the inspiration of the Spirit with the illumination of the Spirit. The function of the Spirit is not to communicate new truth or to instruct in matters unknown, but to illuminate what is revealed in Scripture. Suppose we select a list of words from Isaiah and ask a man who claims he can by-pass the godly learning of Christian scholarship if he can out of his own soul or prayer give their meaning or significance: Tyre, Zidon, Chittim, Sihor, Moab, Mahershalalhashbas, Calno, Carchemish, Hamath, Aiath, Migron, Michmash, Geba, Anathoth, Laish, Nob, and Gallim. He will find the only light he can get on these words is from a commentary or a Bible dictionary.
[from Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), pp. 17-18 (emphasis in original).]

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18 January 2007

Spurgeon and expository preaching

by Phil Johnson

eople frequently point out to me that Spurgeon did not normally do expository preaching. Usually the point is made with the tone of a challenge, and with a clear subtext: How can you criticize the seeker-sensitive stye of topical and relational preaching? Your own historical hero wasn't an expositor, either. He was the Rick Warren of his day.

It's true that Spurgeon was not an expository preacher. In fact, he regarded biblical exposition as something distinct from "preaching." His approach to "exposition" was simply to read a phrase and comment on it. Some of his printed sermons include an "Exposition" section, but the "exposition" was a whole different part of the worship service, distinct from the preaching.

Here's an unusually stark example of Spurgeon's departure from the expository style in his sermons. In his sermon "Things That Accompany Salvation", Spurgeon began by acknowledging that his sermon didn't quite reflect the meaning of the text from which he borrowed his title. His very first words were:

I AM not quite certain that my text will warrant all I shall say upon it this day if read and understood in its connection. But I have taken the words rather by accommodation than otherwise, and shall make use of them as a kind of heading to the discourse which I hope to be enabled to deliver.

Now, don't misunderstand: That wasn't his normal approach, either. In that sermon, he was just borrowing a phrase from Scripture to use as a title, and he formally acknowledged that. Normally, he at least took time to explain both the context and the meaning of his text, even if he then departed from the text and its context into a more topical kind of message.

So what does this prove? It certainly doesn't invalidate Spurgeon's whole preaching ministry. Do I recommend the approach he used? No. But fortunately, in Spurgeon's case, his mind and heart were so saturated with Scripture that (to borrow his words) his very blood was bibline. Cut him, and he would bleed Bible verses. His topical approach to preaching also did usually include some elements of exposition. (Before I preach on a given passage, I always read Spurgeon to see how he dealt with it. I find he often gives great help with the exposition of the passage, even though that was not his main focus in his sermons.) And if he ever spoke anywhere on any topic (even when he was just delivering a "lecture" to an academic audience), there was enough Scripture in the message that practically any talk he ever gave anywhere would likely exceed even some of today's "expository" sermons for sheer biblical content.

Nevertheless, the topical approach to preaching is certainly not one I would commend to young men who fill their spare hours with "American Idol" and Jack Bauer, rather than with Puritan literature and Bible commentaries, the way Spurgeon did.

By the way, Spurgeon lived in an era when almost no one did expository preaching. He was, in that sense, a product of his times.

Moreover, the so-called "topical sermons" the typical contemporary preacher delivers are something entirely different. My chief objection to the average seeker-sensitive homily is not merely that it's is not exposition, but that it sometimes deliberately makes no connection to Scripture whatsoever, or at least makes the "biblical" connection as wispy and tenuous as possible. One of the leading gurus of the seeker-sensitive movement advises preachers it is unwise to begin their sermons with Scripture. Spurgeon would rightly have abominated such advice.

In other words, whatever else you say about Spurgeon's approach to Scripture, you can't accuse him of not being biblical, and you cannot summon him for support of the seeker-sensitive methodology. I don't think anyone could honestly argue that someone who needs to hire Hulk Hogan as a shill is very concerned about being biblical in any sense. Some preachers nowadays even seem to pride themselves on the way they relegate Scripture to a footnote in their message.

That approach certainly can't be legitimately defended by any comparison with Spurgeon.

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17 January 2007

Chan's biggest mistake

by Dan Phillips

I'm going to tag off of Phil’s excellent post, and basically develop one point he raised.

  1. Chan’s Biggest Mistake. Pastor Chan did make one colossal goof, in this video. It wasn’t where he parked, or losing his sandals; it wasn’t even the “God is crazy about you,” or his depiction of the ardor of God’s pursuit of sinners.

No, it was the title.

Chan should never have titled the video, “A Systematic and Full Presentation of Every Dimension of Gospel Truth.” What was he thinking? That was a huge mistake, a real mess-up. The whole controversy is all Chan's fault. It's because he chose such a bad title.

No, when he titled it thus, Chan created the expectation that he would set forth every salient Biblical truth of the Gospel, with precise citation of proof-texts, and orderly development. He was himself, by his own choice, committing himself to a balanced presentation of every gem in the Gospel’s crown, without overplaying or underplaying any facet.

This video wasn’t anything of the sort. It was the worst sort of false advertisement. No, this video was conversational in style. It was the sort of talk any… well, any commoner might have with his neighbor. It was what might happen when any garden-variety Christian simply took (or made) a conversational opening, and talked about Jesus.

Even though it did touch on a lot (God’s holiness, God’s law, man’s sin, God’s judgment, Christ’s death for sinners, salvation by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone, the call of discipleship, etc.) — it was not what Chan said it would be. It was not systematic. It was not full, it was not formal, it did not present every dimension of Gospel truth.

No, he should have given it a totally different title. Something brief, something pointed; something no reasonable person could have misunderstood. The whole point of the talk wasn’t a lecture (or a sermon) of systematic theology. It’s as if Chan left that to be done by men who can do it better than he can.

No, this was clearly designed simply to catch a person where he was, sit him down, and get him thinking Gospelward, Christward. It wasn’t everything it could have been. It was a starter, an opener. The title should have reflected that. Then there wouldn’t have been any controversy.

It’s like Chan said at the very end of the video, “Stop, and think!”

Say… are you thinking what I’m thinking? What a great title that would have been! None of this foofaraw would have happened, if he’d simply titled the video…

“Just stop and think.”

  1. Since I’ve recently been made painfully aware of our readers’ differing humor-receptors, I’ll note: the preceding made a point by way of satirical parody.

  1. Listen: many of our readers are pastors and/or teachers, or otherwise folks who regard themselves as well-taught and discerning. Some of them very rightly so.

But not all of our readers are in this state. In any given day, we may get 20-80 comments — but we have somewhere in the range of 1000-3000 visits. Clearly, most of the people who read this blog do not comment.

I imagine that a lot of these folks look at a D. A. Carson, a James White, an Os Guinness, a Ravi Zacharias, doing what they do, and they think, “Wow. I am so glad he is doing that — because I never could do that. He’s so smart, so sharp, so well-read, so on-his-toes, so articulate. I’d just collapse into burbling, blithering goo.”

But these same folks might have watched Pastor Chan’s easygoing, friendly, passionate but relatively low-key talk about Christ, and they might have thought, “Gee, I can’t do what those Big Guys do. But maybe, just maybe, I could do that.”

And then picture these same people reading the shredding, the scornful, blistering shellacking, that some commenters and bloggers have dealt out to Chan, and (to a lesser degree) to anyone who has even a moderately kind word for his video.

What impact would you estimate, honestly? Positive for the spread of the Gospel? Or negative?

I think only two answers are possible: the honest, and the in-denial.

These folks I'm thinking of would certainly never dare to speak in the hearing of Chan’s harsher critics. No way they’d want to share his fate.

But worse, to the extent that they take the criticism seriously, next time they have an opportunity, they’ll think, “Okay, this is just a conversation. I don’t really have time to lay the foundation of the Creator/creature distinction, the immutability and aseity of God, His ineffable holiness, man’s original creation in innocence and subsequent fall into sin, sovereign election, the plan of redemp… no. I’d just better say nothing, if I can't say everything, and say it perfectly.”

  1. Careful readers will note that I haven’t yet defended everything Chan did in the video. Nor will I.

But I do defend it against his critics. Chan wanted his audience just to stop and think — and he gave them good reason to do so.

What’s more, he modeled one way of preaching Christ in an un-churchy setting.

I have had no argument with those who commented along these lines: “I liked this and this; I wish he hadn’t done this and this.”

But we all know it went way beyond that.

We say we want to equip everyone, we want everyone to be able to give an answer for the hope that is in him, to take the gospel into every walk of life. We do not want to be of the spirit of the Galatian errorists, who "want to shut you out, that you may make much of them" (4:17).

I just don’t see how the harshness, this hyper-criticality, forwards our shared, professed goals. It's less the spirit of Paul or Peter than of Nick Burns, Your Company's Computer Guy.

This is (probably) my last post on the issue.

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16 January 2007

Just Stop and Think

by Phil Johnson

et me start by saying I'm amazed at the amount of debate, the level of rancor, and the degree of polarization over a 15-minute film that appears to have been around for more than a year.

Actually, some of the questions that have been raised in this discussion are good ones (and important, too). The discussion itself is by no means pointless.

But in my judgment (based mainly on what has been posted right here in the comments section of this blog), the way some of the various arguments are being set forth is an utterly fruitless approach to discussing differences between people who in fact do already agree on all the essential points of gospel truth.

Let me be specific about what troubles me. Some of the labeling we've seen (replete with fatuous references to Finney and Pelagianism) appears to be little more than thinly-disguised name-calling devoid of any cogent argumentation. Moreover, the rapid (and rabid) polarization on both sides is disturbing. Almost as soon as this issue was raised, two opposing squads took their respective sides, with people on both teams exaggerating their differences, overstating the importance of those differences, and hyperbolizing the egregiousness of the other side's "error." Some of the commenters here leapfrogged completely over the civilized exchange of opinions and went straight to DEFCON 1. Rhetoric of that type unwittingly and unnecessarily supports the prejudices of those who imagine that there's a sinister principle in Calvinism that automatically makes Calvinists harsh and cantankerous. (See here for more on that subject.)

Now, remember: I'm not opposed to vigorous disagreement, appropriate labeling, or even ridicule and sarcasm in contexts where such things are clearly warranted. Elijah did not sin by mocking the Baal-priests and their followers, and Paul was perfectly right to employ über-harsh language about the Judaizers (cf. Galatians 1:8-9; 5:12).

But Elijah was dealing with pagan priests and Paul was dealing with wolves in sheep's clothing. Surely we ought to deal differently with evangelical brethren when our chief complaint is that their Calvinism is short by a point or two, or that they neglected to make explicit mention of this or that truth in an evangelistic context—especially when it is clear that they have no obvious agenda to downplay any essential gospel doctrine and have in fact clearly affirmed the "missing" point somewhere else in the immediate context.

There's a lot that I'd like to say about the doctrinal issues under discussion in this conflict. And I'll probably devote a couple of follow-up posts to that. In the process, I hope to make one thing clear: Some of the questions raised in this discussion have no easy, obvious answers, and those who think otherwise usually lose their balance. I see three examples of that in this discussion:

  1. We have a few commenters who lean toward Arminian theology (or worse) and insist that God loves everyone just the same and with equal fervor, and whether anyone gets saved or not is ultimately beyond God's power to determine. They think He's done everything He can possibly do to save everyone, and now the choice is left up to each individual. Meanwhile, God is helpless to do anything other than beg sinners to make the right choice.
  2. Then we have some Calvinists who think it's obvious that God's only attitude toward those whom He did not elect unto salvation is pure and undiluted hatred. These people think anyone who speaks of divine "love" toward the reprobate are only pseudo-Calvinists, and are actually undermining the truth of the gospel itself.
  3. Then there's a third group: Calvinists of the very softest sort, who think anyone who denies that there's a redemptive intent in God's attitude toward the reprobate are hyper-Calvinists and utter miscreants who have a deliberate agenda to undermine the gospel in a totally different direction. Theirs is a minority opinion, perhaps, but their rhetoric is equally harsh and their position equally narrow.
I side with none of those views, and my position has in fact been either misinterpreted or misrepresented by all three sides at various times and in various ways.

But setting the doctrinal issues aside for the moment, this post will just address some more immediate issues, which are relatively trivial and easy to answer. Let me give my opinions under three headings:

1. Regarding Francis Chan and TMS

I don't know Francis Chan personally. Aside from having watched the video in question, I have had zero personal exposure to him or his preaching. In fact, the first time I saw the video, I didn't even realize whom I was watching. (Nothing on this page or in the video's opening sequence tells you anything about the person who is doing the talking.) I'd heard of Francis Chan, of course, because he pastors in Simi Valley, a short half hour from where I live and work. I have had a few friends involved with his ministry. For some reason, I envisioned him as an older man.

Pastor Chan has a fine reputation as a pastor and communicator. Everything I have ever heard about him from people who have worked with him and attended his church is completely positive. I know nothing about the nuances of his theological persuasion other than what I have gleaned from his website. His doctrinal stance seems to reflect substantial if not complete agreement with the doctrinal statement of the Master's Seminary. Although he is apparently not as rigorous in his Calvinism as I would be, that would be true of lots of men whom I nevertheless respect, including a few men who have been major influences in my life.

See: No matter what you may have heard about me from the dark side of the blogosphere, I have never anathematized anyone merely for being less Calvinistic than I am. In my assessment, the vital litmus test of whether someone is sound in the gospel or not is the question of whether he acknowledges Christ's righteousness as the sole and sufficient ground of justification rather than trying to fudge on the principle of sola fide or making something the sinner himself must do a part of the ground of final justification.

(Incidentally, by that measure, which I believe is biblical, one's view of imputation and penal substitution would be vital; but one's view of the extent of the atonement would be less so. That is precisely my perspective. More on that in a subsequent post, perhaps.)

Last week I was asked privately by an individual who is fairly new to the blog whether there is some kind of "political" pressure on me not to be critical of anyone who has earned a degree from The Master's Seminary. This guy wondered if I was trying to avoid jumping into the fray for that reason. My answer: Absolutely not. Anyone who reads the blog can see that I have never given TMS alums a free pass. If anything, some of my most forthright and vigorous polemical remarks have been aimed at some doctrinally freewheeling TMS graduates—especially a few who seem enthralled with certain currently-stylish flavors of epistemological skepticism.

But notice the disclaimer at the bottom of my original blog. It applies here at the group blog, too. I bear sole responsibility for what I post here. Some of my opinions on peripheral issues may not necessarily reflect the views of my pastor, my employer, my wife, my children, or my friends. Only my beagle, Wrigley, always agrees with me.

I should note that neither John MacArthur, the elders of Grace Church, nor anyone on the faculty at TMS has ever raised a peep of protest about anything I have posted on my blog, though I am certain virtually all of them could find things they would disagree with if they read the blog exhaustively. But even when we disagree, we respect one another's positions, and we grant one another the privilege of speaking candidly.

We do, however, emphatically agree on what is essential to the gospel.

2. Regarding the Video

As I said, when I first watched Francis Chan's video, I did not even realize I was watching Francis Chan. My initial reaction in the first two minutes or so was, Here we go again. This is a Nooma knockoff, and it's going nowhere. So my initial expectations were less than nil.

But when Pastor Chan began talking about God as Creator, the Ten Commandments, sin, the justice of punishment for sin, how Christ's atonement vicariously paid the penalty of others' sin, the holiness and wrath of God—and several other aspects of the gospel that are often denied or deliberately sidestepped nowadays—my perspective changed, and I came away with a much higher opinion of the video. Its production values are (to my eye) superb. Pastor Chan's delivery is engaging. His passion is infectious. And he said some things that did make me "stop and think." That's pretty much what Frank Turk said in his response to the video, so when I read Frank's comments about it, I wasn't the least bit surprised or puzzled. That's why I'm on Frank's side here. I think I understand what he was saying and why—and I do agree with him.

I likewise agreed with Dan Phillips's post-mortem on the original flap the other day. That (plus the fact that I really am busy) is why I haven't posted anything about it until now. I thought my teammates had already said everything that really needed to be said.

That doesn't mean I liked everything about the video. In all candor, there were some things in it that made me cringe. Most of these were essentially the same faults James White highlighted last week on his Webcast. In fact, I would pretty much agree with the objective content of most of the criticisms that have been leveled at the film.

But I'm embarrassed by the shrill tone and dismissive attitudes of some of the critics in our meta. Specifically, I think those who insist that the film's defects amount to a fatal and deliberate compromise of the gospel are pretty far over the top. Histrionics without an actual argument don't ordinarily sway me.

Anyway, while I understand and agree with some of the main points that have been made by both admirers and critics of the video, at the end of the day, if Pastor Chan's video hadn't become a matter of heated controversy in the blogosphere (with several persistent people practically demanding that I declare my opinion) I personally would not have singled the video out either for special praise or special criticism.

If I'd been handed the script to Pastor Chan's video before he filmed it and asked to give editorial input, I would have offered several significant suggestions. But of course, that's what I do all the time. It's the nature of being an editor. Rarely do I see anything I don't feel compelled to tweak just a little—including my own blogposts after I've posted them. (Sorry, Challies.)

So I won't list everything I might have changed about the video, because this post is running long already. But here are a couple of typical examples: I absolutely agree with whoever said the expression "God is crazy about you" is stunningly inappropriate. I also don't like some of the language and imagery the film uses to describe God's well-meant proposals of mercy to sinners. I especially think it bungles and confuses the point of the church as Christ's bride (and the Father's role in choosing and presenting the bride to His Son) by making God the Father sound like a desperate suitor seeking sinners' love for His own sake.

On the other hand, I strongly disagree with those critics who claim it is inappropriate ever to portray God as pleading with sinners for their repentance and reconciliation. (And I hope to follow up on that point in a future post.)

My point here, however, is that none of my complaints about the video would have warranted a major blogpost or a public protest about the film. I seriously think it's a stretch to accuse Francis Chan of denying any essential Christian doctrine or deliberately twisting the gospel.

In fact, I have a much higher opinion of the way Pastor Chan is doing evangelism than I have of the way some of his critics are neglecting it. Chan and his congregation, by all accounts, are actually reaching out to their community. Some of his critics seem to be focusing their ministries more and more to an increasingly narrow and theologically inbred audience—preaching more and more to the choir and saying less and less to a lost and needy world.

Dan Phillips said something to me about all this that I think is absolutely spot on: The sad thing is that whereas a lot of people might be prone to look at the natural and easy way Pastor Chan speaks to unbelievers about Christ—and think, I could do that; the feeding frenzy of overweening critics is likely to make them think the opposite.

3. Regarding the Proper Proclamation of the Gospel

I'm concerned about the increasing number of Calvinists in this generation who seem to bristle and balk whenever they hear someone speak of the love and compassion of God for all humanity. Some of them in effect seem to deny every aspect of God's love other than God's redemptive purpose for the elect alone. I think that's a serious mistake. (See yesterday's Spurgeon excerpt.)

Push that view too far, deny that God's indiscriminate pleas to sinners are well-meant, and you corrupt the gospel message just as badly as those who want to eliminate the wrath or righteousness of God from the message.

This, I think, is the most important question that has been raised in the flap over Francis Chan's video. I want to talk about it in some upcoming blogposts. In the meantime, let me give everyone a reading assignment that I think will be immensely helpful. Erroll Hulse wrote a wonderful book called The Great Invitation: Examining the Use of the Altar Call in Evangelism. In it, he discusses the question of whether it is ever appropriate to tell sinners indiscriminately that God loves them and wants them to repent and be reconciled to Him. It's a marvelously balanced approach to the whole question, from a Calvinist who is defending the doctrines of election, the sovereignty of God, and the inability of sinners to choose Christ unaided by God's grace. I commend it to you.

Audubon Press has the book for $12.99, which is a real bargain. Get it, read it, talk amongst yourselves, and we'll take up this issue in the days to come.

In the meantime, especially until everyone has taken time and given an honest and fair-minded reading of Hulse's book, please exercise some restraint in your comments in the meta here. I'm going to start automatically deleting comments that I think are pugnacious, unbalanced, unnecessarily accusatory, or otherwise out of line.

I realize some may not even agree with me about whether this issue is merely an intramural difference of opinion between brethren or a serious threat to the gospel. But I am the blog-boss here, so now that I have taken time to explain my position, you need to respect my conviction on this and bend over backward to be polite and gracious, or else your comments will be deleted.


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