31 March 2007

Intuition and Superstition: An Admonition

by Phil Johnson

veryone has unexplained thoughts that seem to leap from nowhere into the mind. (Note: When I say "everyone," I mean believers and unbelievers alike; I don't necessarily mean "every single individual." I've met a few less-than-completely sentient people who seem incapable of any original thought whatsoever. They prolly never get spontaneous notions of anything. Let's leave those folks out of this discussion.)

Most people likewise have a sense of intuition, where at times you just feel like you know a thing is true and you can't give an account for how you arrived at that knowledge rationally. It may even seem like you have ESP, or ESPN2, or whatever. It's a lot like deja vu, only backwards. I happen to think that sense of intuition is probably more rational than we can explain. In any case, I'm quite sure it's not really a supernatural spiritual gift from God, because it has such a poor track record. Besides, I had the same intuitive abilities before I was converted as I have now.

My sense of intuition is sort of like a stopped clock that was designed to measure time in months instead of hours. Once or twice a year (on average) it's right. And when it's right, it can seem quite impressive. I've had some moments of intuition that I could have parlayed into a fortune, if I were the type of charlatan who is willing to claim he has a prophetic gift even when he knows he really doesn't. I certainly have no such gift. For the most part, my intuition is grossly fallible and ordinarily wrong. I don't trust it at all, even though my experience is probably a lot like yours: there are times when I feel compelled to follow my intuition.

To be clear: I usually "feel compelled to follow" my intuition only when I don't have a better rational or sensible idea of what to do. Maturity has taught me to hold off on trusting intuition and try to understand facts and reasons and the potential results of my actions before I act. In fact, I'd say that's what maturity is all about, to a very large degree.

But, how do we understand that inner sense, especially when God seems to use it to prompt us to pray, or witness, or duck and run at precisely the right moment? Because let's be honest, here: that kind of thing does happen to most of us from time to time.

As I said in a comment-thread a couple of days ago (see below), we need to regard those occasions as remarkable Providences, not inspired prophecy. God might use a spontaneous thought in my head providentially. In fact, as a Calvinist, I don't hesitate to say that He ultimately controls and uses everything providentially. But that's as true of my sins as it is of the thoughts in my head. God can use them all for His own purposes. The fact that He uses an idea in my mind to achieve some good purpose doesn't make the idea itself inspired.

That's the point we are trying to make in all these various threads about prophecy and cessationism. It's an important point. We're not trying to step on the charismatic air-hose just because it's fun.

So please give these things some serious thought before you react this time.

Four lessons:

  1. If intuition is fallible (and everyone except the out-and-out-charlatan seems to agree that it is), it cannot be considered "revelation," even when it happens to be uncannily right in an instance or two.

  2. Since intuition is so fallible—and most would agree that it is actually far more often wrong than right—we shouldn't make much of it.

  3. Those who think those moments of intuition are God speaking with a private message invariably become extremely superstitious; they foolishly order their lives by their feelings; they commit the sin of trusting too much in their own hearts; and they diminish the more sure Word of prophecy. No one who knows church history, and no one who truly understands the concept of spiritual maturity can deny that Christians who follow the voice in their heads fall into those errors all the time, and it can be (and often is) spiritually disastrous.

  4. Since our intuitive sense is so grossly fallible, and since every sane, biblical Christian would acknowledge that it's dangerous to pay much attention to it, we should not try to elevate it to the level of a supernatural "spiritual gift." It most certainly does not resemble any of the spiritual gifts—much less the gift of "prophecy"—as we see those gifts functioning in the New Testament.
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Here's that comment I made in the meta below:

I'm tied up with meetings today and unable to participate in the blog-discussion, but a couple of people have e-mailed me privately with the same question about this thread. One begged me for an answer; the other accused me of dodging the question.

So here's the question and my short answer:

Q: If God doesn't speak to you directly, how does he "lead" you to do anything? How, for example, did you know Darlene was the right person to marry?; how did you know you were called to ministry?; and how do you explain it when a thought pops into your head and prompts you to pray for someone?

Short answer: I trust the providence of God. I can't necessarily interpret the providence of God infallibly, though.

So if (for example) I suddenly think to pray for the safety or holiness of one of my children, I don't need to interpret that as a prophetic message from God that Pecadillo or one of his brothers is in immediate danger. But I pray for them nonetheless, though I can't possibly understand why that thought popped into my head or even discern correctly whether it originated in my own imagination or was immediately infused into my brain by the Holy Spirit.

If it turns out later that I prayed at exactly the right moment when some specific danger befell one of my kids, I praise God for a remarkable providence.

I DON'T, however, twist it into some kind of quasi-revelation and use it as an excuse to trust my own heart. Scripture says those who do that are fools (Proverbs 28:26).

Here's the thing: I trust Providence enough to believe that God ordained that I should pray, and He will answer my prayer for His glory and my good, even if the thought that prompted the prayer was out of my own imagination.

But it would be a sin for me to claim God "told" me to pray about that particular thing at that particular time when He did no such thing.

Providence, people. Go and learn what that means, and we can avoid having this debate every 6 weeks or so.

Here's a book, written by a good friend of mine, that deals with this issue well.

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11:45 AM, March 29, 2007

30 March 2007

Thanks for the sermon prep!

by Dan Phillips

We've done a few studies in Proverbs, you and I, here at Pyro. There was a three-part series (starting here), and a one-off (here).

I was recently invited to preach at my church. Since I never turn down an invitation if I can help it, I grabbed it. Then I reflected on what to preach.

As I've been asked to be keynote speaker at a Bible conference, and plan to speak on Proverbs, that book seemed a natural selection. As much as I love it, and have written and taught on it, I haven't really preached on it. So Proverbs was the general field, and Proverbs 3:5-6 was the focus I ended up selecting.

You helped with the preparation. Earlier this month I solicited from you horror stories in the misapplication of Proverbs 3:5-6, to assist me in preparing for that sermon. You responded very helpfully, and I used it in my sermon. Thanks!

You can hear the results, if you like. The title is What God Means by “Trust” (from a misunderstood text).

What you maybe can't hear so well is that a little baby evidently was also enjoying the fellowship, with some gusto. At one point he (she? sorry, mom and dad) let out with a mighty whoop. It might even have been ecstatic. It worked into the sermon, also.

Also, I always give out an outline, sometimes (as in this case) with my own translation of the passage we're studying. You can get the outline here.

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Down a notch

by Frank "stats" Turk

That's a screen shot of the top 5 referrers to Team Pyro, and it says two things to me:

[1] Most of you have bookmarked this page, which is amazing, and

[2] Most of the rest of you have used a search engine (Google) to find us or something we have said. Wow.

So because I'm curious like that, I made our Google Analytics give me a list of the top search items which brought you to TeamPyro. Here's the top of that list:

So for example, somehow "adultery" managed to be the #16 most frequent search term which drove people to TeamPyro. huh. It pleases me that "schmeradactyl" beat it out in frequency ...

But as you scroll through that list -- and this is only from visitors in the last 7 days -- you see that the Francis Chan video is still getting play. Listen: give it a rest. Let's argue about something we can all agree is wrong, like the contemporary obsession with the Gifts, and get on with our lives.

And be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people. Even if they start speaking in tongues. Just don't let anyone prophecy to you with the caveat, "If I heard the Lord correctly."

29 March 2007

More on Reading

by Frank Turk

While this is likely to get bumped for the sake of further active theological aggression against Continualists, I just wanted to say a little more about how we read Scripture -- or rather, I wanted to point you to a recent podcast that was a stand-alone gem.

Personally, I run hot and cold on the White Horse Inn. I think Michael Horton and his associates are a little strident and facile, and they have some chatty Cathy tracks that if you listen long enough will probably make you a little, um, grumpy, but then again look who's talking. You could say that about me, I am sure.

At any rate, we've been talking about how to read Scripture, and lo and behold: they gave up 00:37:19 on this very subject last week. I think they made excellent -- top shelf -- comments on the topic as a good primer to those who are trying to figure out, "yeah, but how do you read the Bible?"

I have staged it for easy access at archive.org here.

And here's the bonus: your don't have to worry about whether or not this is the voice of God. It's not. It's just good and Godly advice from some men who have thought about this well.

Back to your regularly scheduled shrill discourse ...

28 March 2007

The Amazing Dr. von Cipher's "Conversation" with "God"

by Dan Phillips

Yes, indeed: why should Frank and Phil have all the fun?

Bypassing for the moment the beloved physician and Dr. Piper, I'd like to focus on the fountainhead article: My Conversation with God, in Christianity Astray Today, by that bold, lionhearted professor... Anonymous.

I'm surprised nobody has accused me of paying Dr. von Cipher for illustrating virtually every point I've ever made about the leaky-Canon set.

Let's see, what do we have here?

Anonymity. We are supposed to accept his anonymity right off the bat, and keep reading with respect, openness, and interest. But should we?

The Bible says, "The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1). Our erstwhile prophet says, "I can only [testify personally to hearing God's extra-canonical voice] anonymously, for reasons I hope will be clear."

Um... yeah. Maybe they are clear.

I guess maybe some parents might feel a tad uneasy if they knew one of their kids' profs was hearing voices which he felt compelled to obey? Or adults might save their money, if they learned that one of their professors did not really believe that the Scripture was sufficient? Or the trustees, or the department head, might be uneasy about continuing to employ a man who felt equally morally bound to obey internal voices as the Word of God on occasion?

If he were honest about it, about his rubber-meeting-the-road beliefs, it might cost him his job or something, I guess. Meanwhile, better to let all the folks who trust him and trust their kids (or money) to him think that he is something other than what he really is.

It's hard to think why the writer feels he must maintain this anonymity — or at least hard to think of a charitable reason. Christians don't kill Christians for having different doctrine these days. Heck, we can barely bring ourselves to have a decent argument with each other! If we even try, we're called "judgmental," "unloving" — "shrill," even.

This man isn't a Muslim professing Christ, likely to bring horrible torture and death on himself and his family. Further, the leaky-Canon position is all the rage today; if he's such a famous author, surely some "love-that-Bible-,-but" school would snap him right up. If he lost his job, he'd be a hero!

What good motive are we all to attach — as he invites us to do — to his secrecy?

God made him write a book. Again and again, those poor souls desperate to save modern revelatory counterfeits assure us that their notion of "prophecy" does not threaten the Canon. God won't be writing any books through them, they insist. The Bible is safe and inviolate.

Yet read what this man would have us believe (emphases mine):

The next week, I was at the same spot in my morning exercise when something amazing happened. Out of the blue, a book title came to me. It was so clever I knew two things instantly: It wasn't mine, and it would sell.

Then, in almost the same instant, the entire outline of the book was there in my mind. Every chapter and its title. No discursive thought preceded it. I immediately went home and began writing. As I wrote, I had the distinct feeling that this was not me. I had never written like this before. The words poured out. Two weeks later, a 200-page manuscript sat on my desk. I knew it was good.

Well, I guess so! It would have to be good! He got it by inspiration of the Holy Spirit!

"Whoa, whoa there, wait just a minute. He didn't say that," a modern enabler might object.

He didn't? Do words mean things, anymore? Are we supposed to believe what he tells us? What he tells us is that this book title "came" to him "out of the blue," and he knew instantly "It wasn't mine." It wasn't? Then whose was it? And whence did it come? "No discursive thought preceded it," he insists, thus most plainly telling us the source was not his own mind. Would it be going too far to re-phrase him as asserting that his book did not come from his own interpretation, nor was produced by his own will?

Read 2 Peter 1:20-21, and tell me what this describes.

He's a theology professor. He knows what he's claiming — or he'd better darned well.

Now, a pagan would say, "Oh yes, this is a well-known phenomenon. It's called 'automatic writing.'" But the writer is not a pagan. He's a Christian, writing to Christians. Clearly, we're meant to believe this book was "given by inspiration of God," as the phrase goes. (And the proof is that he got a lot of money for it. Hey, don't look at me like that — read the article!)

So, if it came from God, as Dr. Braveheart clearly wants us to believe — how much of it came from God? Was it 14%? 39%? 87%? 99.732%? 100%? How much?

Those welded to the charismatic tradition hate it when I use the phrases "leaky canon" and "low-octane, semi-hemi-demi-revelation" — but you tell me what this is supposed to mean, if it's supposed to mean anything.

Don't bother. I'll tell you: it is supposed to mean that God imparted new, unmediated, verbal revelation to this man.

Again, read the article: "Then God spoke: It's not your money.'" That is a direct quotation, purportedly from God. Just like Isaiah and Jeremiah and any prophet proclaiming koh 'amar Yahweh ("thus says the LORD"), so this man tells us exactly what God says, verbatim.

So, were those God's exact words? Wow, that's really something.

Now, just reflect on that earth-shaking claim for a moment. This is the selfsame God who spoke the Ten Commandments, Isaiah 40, Psalm 23; the God who most recently was seen breathing out Romans, Hebrews, Revelation.

And now He parts the curtain once again, after two thousand years of silence as to fresh revelation, to give direct, unmediated, verbal inspiration — and what He has to say is:

"It's not your money."
Oh. Huh. Wow. Well...em...not exactly Romans 8, is it?

But "God" wasn't done. (I won't put "God" in quotation-marks throughout; mentally supply them, please.) Our man isn't brave enough to tell everyone his name, but he is brave enough (on his own admission) to argue with God, to demand an explanation of Him. (Mercy; if only Job, Peter, Isaiah had known it was so easy and casual to speak to God in this way!)

God replies, "It's not your money. It's his."

Now, that's funny, too. If God wanted to say it was His money, this would be no great news. It is all His, every last bit. We know that from the Bible (Psalm 50:10; Haggai 2:8, etc.).

But it is passing odd for Him to say the money belongs to someone else — after He'd made such a point about personal possession and rights of private property (see commandments ##8 and 10). Has He, well, you know...changed His mind? (I speak as a very-leaky canoneer.)

I guess that's why it took fresh, unmediated revelation. The Bible never would have told him this.

And that is odd, isn't it? The man imagines that he's got God's ear, and he wants to quibble about royalties? Two thousands years of silence broken, and this is the topic?

Why didn't he ask God for something quotable on baptism, or eschatology, or what happens to infants when they die? Why not ask Him for the exact exegesis of Romans 5:12? Or 1 Corinthians 13:8-10? (Wouldn't it have been funny if God had told him it meant that revelatory gifts would cease with the close of the Canon? What a conundrum! But I digress.) Or the meaning of "Parbar"? Or what God's favorite Bible translation is?

The Deepest Concern. But wait, there's more. And I think this may be the most table-poundingly important aspect of the whole thing.

Charismatics like to (evade responsibility for their claims and) insist that what they experience is not high-octane, canonical-level revelation. It's just a fun little intimacy they share with God. No cause for alarm. Put away the big guns. Nothing to see here.

Uh-huh. Well, we've already seen that that doesn't quite work out. But check out this interchange, in which Dr. von Cipher is arguing with God about giving all his royalties to the prospective student. We resume the "conversation" in progress, adding emphases:

"All of it?"

"That and the rest."

I knew "the rest" meant any further royalties the book might earn after it was published.

Absolutely flabbergasted, I raised my fist in the air and asked aloud, "What about my roof?"

The voice said, "I'll take care of your roof, if you'll be obedient."

Then I said, "If you want to use me to help him go to the university, why not give me everything it will cost? Why this amount that will make a difference but not pay his whole way?"

"Others have to be obedient, too," I heard in reply.

First, the smaller point: he "raise[s his] fist in the air." The sinless, perfect, burning seraphs cover their eyes and feet before the glory of Yahweh (Isaiah 6); prophets and saints fall on their faces and beg for mercy, expecting to die instantly. But the impact that a visit from God has on this man is... well, it ticks him off. Get that: he won't tell us his name, but he will shake his fist at God. Brave before God, not so much before men. Prophets and apostles and angels in glory shake their heads in astonishment.

Now, the greater point: "OBEDIENT." Said twice.

"Obedient" speaks of moral obligation. It is a binding of the conscience and will. It is a narrow road. Obey, and you do righteousness. You please God. Disobey, and you sin. You invite the judgment of God.

Obedience is a wonderful and essential Christian grace (John 14:15; 15:14, etc.), and its opposite is an appalling offense. "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Samuel 15:22-23a).

But nota bene: the man is speaking of obedience, not to a Biblical command such as "Do not commit murder," "Do not commit adultery," "Love Yahweh your God with all your heart...", or "Husbands, love your wives."

He is speaking of obedience to a voice in his head.

Think about it. Now, please think this through soberly and as Christian adults. What do we have here? We have two momentous claims: (1) the claim of a book authored by God Himself, and (2) quotable verbal revelation with absolute binding moral authority.

What is a nine-letter word for that kind of revelation? I'll give you a hint: it starts with a "C."

The man then reveals this revelation to his wife, who (go figure) was kind of looking forward to fixing the leaky roof. But he tells us that she "is more spiritual than I am." Lucky thing for him, that. The roof is going to have to wait, because he's had a direct, verbal revelation of the morally-binding will of God, and she must obey too.

If our hooded brother had wanted to write an anonymous article about how he had felt moved — by Christian love and generosity, voluntarily, and according to a personal application of Biblical principles — to give his royalties to a struggling young student, that would have been one thing. We would easily have understood the anonymity as being Christian modesty and reluctance to toot his own horn. We would have understood the point of the story as being that we should maybe live out the values of the early church, in thinking of how we can invest in others. There could have been a lot of positive value in the story, and no argument whatever. We'd have admired him, and felt challenged to emulate his example.

But that isn't what the story was about, it isn't why it was written, it isn't the impact it is meant to have.

Look, I could go on and on and on, and it wouldn't get one bit prettier.

This is the foundation. Tomorrow, Lord willing, some (far briefer) reflections on the whole.

AFTERWORD: I am aware that this is a blisteringly scathing essay. What possible justification is there, for this tone?

Because our Lord Jesus, and His apostles and prophets, were always the most unsparing and ferocious with false teachers and religious leaders.

Because the issues are huge, though they're being dealt out as if this were a playground conversation.

Because I feel deeply concerned for all the people who you and I know darned well will read an article like this, envy this man's (purported) intimacy with God, and start listening for voices in their head, too. And they'll start heeding those voices, even if (as in this case) they don't quite jibe with the Bible.

And what kind of Christ-shaming, damaging, ruinous behavior will come of that?

You want to resent me, be mad at me, rake me over the coals? Go for it.

Because I'm laying it all right out here before you. I'm not hiding behind a claim to private revelation.

And, by God, I'm signing my name to what I'm telling you.

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27 March 2007


by Phil Johnson

hort post here. Read fast, because it's going to get bumped right away.

While we are on the subject of the charismata, I want to point out one glaring difference between contemporary charismatic experiences and the authentic apostolic gifts: In the New Testament, the gifts' most prominent feature was a ministry purpose that was extrinsic to the gifted person and his or her feelings: "that the church may receive edification" (1 Corinthians 14:5). That's precisely why tongues were always supposed to be translated so people could understand.

Listen to contemporary charismatics describe their experiences, however, and they'll invariably stress the issue of "emotions": fervor, feeling, joy, and related passions that they themselves feel. What they usually have in mind is a sense of ecstasy.

Charismatics' narrations of their tongues-experiences, for example, always seem to include an ecstatic element. (Glossolalia is often referred to as "ecstatic speech.") And listen, for example, to our friend Dr. Warnock's response to John Piper's "The Morning I Heard the Voice of God,": He says, "I want to EXPERIENCE personally the Spirit doing this much more frequently in a way that is as thrilling as the way in which Piper describes it."

The thrill is the real thing, evidently.

I don't see any "thrill" ever associated with exercising the gift of tongues or prophecy in the New Testament. Ecstatic passions certainly weren't the most prominent aspect of the experience. Rather, what stands out in Luke's description of Pentecost is that the languages spoken communicated a clear message that was perfectly understandable and powerful as to its content. Whatever emotional impact was registered was related to the message the listeners heard, not the feeling the tongues-speakers felt.

Likewise, when God's Word communicates to us in the way Dr. Piper was describing, it may not always be a "thrill." More likely, it's going to be one of the profound passions David describes in the psalms—ranging from profound assurance to righteous indignation to heartfelt sorrow to breathless wonder to angry exasperation—and sometimes even producing raw depression. Of course, Scripture also fills us with a sense of triumph, or encouragement, or hopefulness, or confidence—and always with conviction.

It's not only—or even mainly—about the thrill of ecstasy.

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Emotions? Sure. We got 'em. . .

by Phil Johnson

y cessationist convictions are no secret, although I have tried hard to stay out of debates about that subject here. But to reiterate: I don't believe the charismata are functioning today in any way that looks remotely like the apostolic gifts described in the New Testament. Benny Hinn's "miracles" don't bear the slightest resemblance to apostolic signs and wonders.

I consider cessationism a secondary issue, however, and it's certainly not something I'm interested in arguing about ad infinitum. So it's not a matter we like to bring up deliberately here on the blog. Carefully check the archives of this blog and its predecessor, and you will discover that when the subject comes up, it's usually at the prompting of our charismatic antagonists.

Like yesterday.

Nevertheless, I've been accused at times of "charismatic-bating." Truthfully, I think all of us Pyros would really prefer to steer clear of the issue completely (including Dan, if the facts were known), but it seems we can't even post on tangentially related topics without having charismatics crawling out of the woodwork spoiling for a fight. Even then, we do try hard not to be "shrill" about this subject. We love our charismatic friends—especially those who share our love for Scripture and sound doctrine.

As a matter of fact, last week within hours after John Piper posted his essay "The Morning I Heard the Voice of God," I linked to it in my "Where I am Right Now" column with this notation: "John Piper heard God speak! And I know this is true, because I got the same message!"

Frank Turk likewise linked to Piper's article a few hours later, as an addendum to last Wednesday's post, with a "Must Read" notation.

Later that evening, the esteemed Brit-blogger Dr. Adrian Warnock wrote to challenge us to respond to Piper's article. I assumed he had not noticed our links, and I pointed out that we had already double-linked the article with positive notices. Not satisfied, Dr. Warnock wrote to urge us to undertake a fuller dissection of the article and reply to his thoughts about it.

I was about to decline politely when Frank said he would take the assignment. Two or three days ago, Frank posted his draft in a secret place where Dan and I could preview it, proofread it, and make suggestions. We all agreed on the perspective Frank's article expressed. I especially thought he had done a good job (certainly a better job than I would have) at not sounding "shrill."

So much for good intentions.

So, since we've already ruffled charismatic feathers again, I thought I'd make this one more post with a personal perspective on the "cessationist" issue, and then I'm through. I really don't want to have to deal with this issue again every other month. It's not a new issue for me. I've studied it very thoroughly, and my position hasn't changed for more than 30 years, even though I've heard all the arguments and read all the books on the issue (and even edited some of them).

I want to give a word of personal testimony about why my position is so firm.

But first, here's some background material for those coming to this debate fresh:

Other Key Posts Where I have Dealt (usually under duress) With the Cessationism Issue

Now, here's why (even though I liked that article last week) I disagree with John Piper regarding the "gift of prophecy":

Piper's view is that New Testament "prophecy" is "prompted and sustained by the Holy Spirit and yet is fallible." (See Frank Turk's discussion of this issue at his blog yesterday.) That is essentially the same view defended by Wayne Grudem in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today.

Quite simply, the view contradicts Deuteronomy 18:21-22 "And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?'; when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

I don't see anywhere in the New Testament where that principle was ever rescinded. Rather, the faithfulness and truthfulness of God is everywhere stressed in the New Testament (e.g., John 3:32-33; 1 Corinthians 1:9; etc.). The novel view of Piper and Grudem on New Testament Prophecy encourages people to claim God has spoken when He has not, and that in turn, tempts people to trust in a lie (cf. Jeremiah 28:15; 29:31).

No doubt some will find that judgment "shrill." I'm sorry for those who feel that way, but the issues are serious and in real life those very kinds of lies often deceive, disappoint, and even destroy people.

Why debating this issue is not a game to me

I grew up in Tulsa, practically within walking distance of Oral Roberts University, close to the headquarters of Kenneth Hagin—and surrounded by pentecostal and charismatic churches on almost every corner. My best friend from grade seven through high school was Bil, whose father was an old-line pentecostal faith-healing evangelist. Bil's dad was very well known in Pentecostal circles. He held massive healing meetings in places across Asia. I saw photographs of the meetings, and Bil's father's healing crusades drew people in the tens of thousands.

Of course, Bil himself was a committed devotee of the charismata. From the time I met him (when I was 12 years old) through my first year in college, he tried repeatedly to get me to speak in tongues. Unfortunately, he neglected to confront me with the claims of the gospel first, but I did ultimately discover enough truth in Scripture to be converted (at age 17).

When I finally did come to a saving knowledge of Christ, Bil cornered me and told me he was sure I was now finally ready to speak in tongues. He explained that I needed to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit and attempt to speak in tongues, and he solemnly cautioned me I that would never truly be liberated from sin or spiritually empowered to serve the Lord until I received the true sign of the Spirit's fullness: tongues.

That's how, after my conversion, Bil tackled the task of turning me into a charismatic with new enthusiasm. He regularly urged me to seek the gift of tongues (I did); he walked me through all the Bible verses that referred to the gift of tongues (I studied them carefully); he took me to his church (where I witnessed glossolalia for the first time). I trusted him completely and didn't really resist anything he was telling me.

We were close friends, and all the years I knew him, he was generally a good influence on me. He seemed to believe the Bible implicitly, and he knew enough truth to avoid all the worst sins of youth. Having a close friend like him had preserved me from much of the peer pressure that caused many young people my age to flirt with all the sins that were in vogue in the late sixties and early seventies. So I was completely open to his spiritual advice as a new Christian.

But then sometime after my first year in college, I heard Bil's father was seriously ill. Bil's dad was still a relatively young man (younger than I am now) but he contracted a kind of cancer that led to a lingering, painful death. His suffering was ghastly, and the final months of his life were agonizing for the whole family. They were unable to grieve and unwilling even to say their goodbyes, believing they could not acknowledge in any way that he was really dying. They had to make a "positive confession," insisting to one another that he was being healed, and claiming every conceivable hint of improvement as a sign of total healing.

But Bil's father's pain never really abated until the cancer finally took his life.

Bil was devastated, and in the months and years that followed, he lost his faith completely. My last conversation with Bil occurred a few years ago, one day when I was about to board an overseas flight. I was traveling to a part of Asia where Bil had lived in the years when his father was ministering there, and I wanted to let him know I had not forgotten him and was still praying for him. At the mention of prayer, his voice almost went cold. He told me he had virtually given up every vestige of his earlier faith.

A couple of years ago I received a newspaper clipping with an obituary saying that Bil himself had died of heart failure. Whether he ever came to authentic faith in Christ and confidence in the truth of Scripture, I don't know.

I'm convinced Bil's faith failed in the first place because it was never true faith at all. It was sheer gullibility, cultivated in a religious culture where people are systematically and relentlessly exhorted to claim "healings" that contradict all medical evidence; to fake or imagine "miracles" that are no such thing; and to regard mental impressions and carnal intuition as "prophecy" from God. All of that is based on serious misunderstandings of Scripture, ignorance of the real purpose of God in sanctification, and unpardonable neglect of the lessons of church history.

The "modern prophecy" doctrine justifies what in my view is the most dangerous aspect of the whole charismatic belief system. It dignifies amateur prognostication with the title of "prophecy" and teaches people that imaginary messages in their heads might actually be revelation from the Holy Spirit and yet fallible at the same time.

That kind of doctrine I utterly and emphatically deplore.

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26 March 2007

Voices in our Heads

by Frank Turk

Before you start reading this, let me be clear that I am writing this to Christians in general, and to a particular set of Christians specifically, and in that, I am assuming they have a basic facility with the arguments and/or doctrines included. Therefore, I haven't peppered the text with Scripture citations. Some of you will find that a gross sin of omission. Be forewarned.

Those who check out my blog know that I have already taken a poke at Adrian Warnock over a John Piper link he wanted someone at TeamPyro to talk about, and I thought that was enough because, frankly, I don't much enjoy the cessationist/continualist discussion -- not just here at TeamPyro, but wherever it springs up.

It seems like red meat, doesn't it? You'd think a guy like me would love to get out the steak knife and the fork, get the grill exactly the right temperature, sear the subject on both sides until the middle is hot but not yet less than crimson, and then even without a salad or baked potato dig in with gusto for the warm, salty pleasure of the hot, red meat of doctrine that the cessationist discussion regularly turns up.

Yeah, well, if that discussion ever turned into a real debate where neither side misrepresented the other, I'd be in. Until that day, I'm going to speak to the scope of the matter at hand and so be it. For the record, Dan is concerned that he never has misrepresented the continualists, and he probably has not, but as I read all the exchanges, I am sure they do not think this is true. If that's a topic that needs more meat on the bone, take it to the meta.

Adrian sent this e-mail to TeamPyro about the Piper "Taste and See" essay "The Morning I Heard the Voice of God":
Hi Guys
I think this Piper article on hearing the voice of God deserves a response from you guys. (just in case you have missed it tho I know Dan has commented over at Tim's I have a link in my most recent blog post here at my blog).

There is some interesting discussion going on as a result with both charismatics and cessationists trying to claim Piper as "one of their own" from this post. I think we are in danger of missing his point. Would be fantastic if you too could link to this Piper article from pyro, would love to see what you and your readers feel.

God bless

Well, we did that a long time ago (4 days ago, which is like 172800 seconds ago in blog years), and I have done it again in this post, so if that's all we're looking for, done and Done.

But that's never enough, is it? Adrian has added this spicy PS:
PS this is what I said in the comment section of mine, Tim's and Justin's blogs- when I realized that people seem to be reading this in very different ways. I didn't want to say anything in my actual post that would spoil the surprise element of the way in which Piper writes this article...

For me, I think that Pipers article has a lot to say to those of us on both sides of the cessationist fence. To the charismatic he is saying "Listen, God really does speak thru the Bible - you better make sure your experiences of Him are rooted in His Word and that you find Him through His word the Bible" To the cessationist he is saying "Listen, God really can speak personally to you in a way you can experience - you better make sure you allow His Word to really affect you".

We have all done God a disservice in our thinking by attempting to divorce His Spirit from His Word. We were always meant to experience God in powerful ways through His Word. God's Spirit takes the word He inspired and makes it living, active and personal to us as individuals today in the 21st Century.
Listen: Amen. I said last week at my blog that the AWANA method of studying the Bible is no good -- not even suitable for children -- and Adrian spells out the reason here well: We were always meant to experience God in powerful ways through His Word. God's Spirit takes the word He inspired and makes it living, active and personal to us as individuals today in the 21st Century. To my knowledge, there are no honest cessationists who would say otherwise -- and if there are, they had better get serious about actually reading their Bibles rather than waving them around as if the Bible was a flag or a big foam "We're #1" finger or something.

I am personally teaching a class in a Baptist church right now called "Word of God, Speak" in which my foundational premise is that the Bible can speak to you personally -- even if it isn't talking about where you should eat lunch today, or which shirt you should wear. There's no question that there's power! power! wonder-working power! In word of the Lord (yes, I know that's not what the revivalist hymn says; I'm taking liberty with a hymn, not with Scripture), and everyone who takes the Bible as God's singular word agrees on this. The question, unfortunately, is if Dr. Warnock is willing to concede that this is what guys like John MacArthur and James White believe. They believe it -- concede that they do.

Adrian goes on:
I fear that the average intellectual student of the bible will have found Piper's experience to be totally alien. In fact I fear that even many of us that claim to be charismatic do not regularly - if ever - have the level of genuine experience of God speaking to us that Piper here describes as routine for him. It is no wonder Piper preaches like he does when he has regularly encountered the person of God in this way. This article is not really about the charismatic issue, ...
Again: amen. In spite of nearly-universal agreement among the men who agree that the Bible is God's singular word on the subject of how we experience God in Scripture, I would agree that a lot of people -- people who fancy themselves apologists even, or even people who just sit in a pew -- never experience God's word as the personal revelation of God.

The question, of course, is "why?" If this is God's word, as the atheist might object (and does if you give him a second breath), why isn't it so obvious and why doesn't it speak to every man the same way, making God real and present and worthy of praise?

That, I am afraid, will require more than one blog post to answer, but to give an unsatisfying (and therefore a tease to prompt you to come back) answer, I'll agree that it has something to do with God's Holy Spirit and leave it at that. Look for more on that in the future.

But that said, Adrian says more than even that:
... although when he is reading aloud for his mp3 available on his site, he adds the following words which I have bolded below:-
OK -- now, Dr. Warnock is hard upon a specific point here, and he's right: Dr. Piper says something more in the MP3 than he does in the scripted text (and to help you out, I have loaded that MP3 up at archive.org, which has become my newest internet friend. The Piper audio can be found here, and you should visit Desiring God radio just because it is good for you).

Here's how Dr. Adrian cites the text:
What makes me sad about the article is not that it isn't true or didn't happen. Don't put me in that category. What's sad is that it really does give the impression that extra-biblical communication with God is surpassingly wonderful and faith-deepening. All the while, the supremely-glorious communication of the living God which personally and powerfully and transformingly explodes in the receptive heart through the Bible everyday is passed over in silence." - John Piper
Which is fair enough, right? No sneaky ellipses or anything. But here's how Dr. Piper reads the section in question:
This is why I found the article in this month’s Christianity Today, “My Conversation with God,” so sad. Written by an anonymous professor at a “well-known Christian University,” it tells of his experience of hearing God. What God said was that he must give all his royalties from a new book toward the tuition of a needy student. What makes me sad about the article is not that it isn’t true or didn’t happen. Don't put me in that category. What’s sad is that it really does give the impression that extra-biblical communication with God is surpassingly wonderful and faith-deepening. All the while, the supremely-glorious communication of the living God which personally and powerfully and transformingly explodes in the receptive heart through the Bible everyday is passed over in silence.

I am sure this professor of theology did not mean it this way, but what he actually said was, “For years I’ve taught that God still speaks, but I couldn’t testify to it personally. I can only do so now anonymously, for reasons I hope will be clear” (emphasis added). Surely he does not mean what he seems to imply—that only when one hears an extra-biblical voice like, “The money is not yours,” can you testify personally that God still speaks. Surely he does not mean to belittle the voice of God in the Bible which speaks this very day with power and truth and wisdom and glory and joy and hope and wonder and helpfulness ten thousand times more decisively than anything we can hear outside the Bible. Sure, surely he doesn't mean that

I grieve at what is being communicated here. The great need of our time is for people to experience the living reality of God by hearing his word personally and transformingly in Scripture. Something is incredibly wrong when the words we hear outside Scripture are more powerful and more affecting to us than the inspired word of God.
Now, seriously: everyone knows John Piper is a continualist. He is an advocate of daGifts -- even if it's a qualified advocation. So that's not in contention here. But what Dr. Warnock tries to do is make Dr. Piper into a sort of broad charismatic when in fact Dr. Piper is not so much broad.

Yes: he believes that God can and does speak to the individual believer and moves the hearts of men to do stuff. But his point in this essay is that the far more powerful, and more authoritative, and more substantive experience of hearing God is found in Scripture.

The context of his statement is a reaction against the article in Christianity Today which seems to say that the only way we can make the testimony that God speaks to us today is if we hear a voice saying, "that money doesn't belong to you". Piper dismisses that idea plainly.

And in that, the charismatic has to scramble to the one emboldened sentence to say, "but... but... but... John Piper believes that God speaks to us individually!" Yes, well, nobody says he thinks otherwise. The problem for the charismatic is that Piper rightly cloaks that non-normative event in the necessary and normative event of hearing and experiencing God through the words of the Bible in English. Surely he doesn't mean only English, but he certainly means to say, "you don't need to learn Greek and Hebrew to hear God's voice".

And in that, again I say "Amen". Amen! What's at stake here is if we are first using God's precious gift of Scripture to seek Him and find Him, not whether some voice in one's head is the voice of God.

Since this is 3 pages single-spaced now, let me end up this installment with this: when you pick up the telephone and you hear a voice on the other end, can you know who it is if you have never really heard that person speak before? So how can you know if that voice in your head is God's voice if you have never listened to Him say what He's been saying since Paul and Peter were in short pants?

I'm sure this will require the meta. See to it.

25 March 2007


pwn3d by DTS—but w3 g07 sKILLz, baby!
by Phil Johnson

I'm more stoked about this than all the combined feedback I've received in two years' worth of blogging:

HT: Jonathan Moorhead

Phil's signature

Spurgeon weighs in on "epistemological humility"

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 first of the following excerpts comes from "The Anchor," a sermon preached Sunday morning 21 May 1876 at the Met Tab.

The second excerpt comes from "The Jewel of Peace," preached less than a year later, on 18 March 1877.

The final excerpt is from "Assured Security in Christ," a sermon on 2 Timothy 1:12 ("I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."), which sermon dates from 2 January 1870.

I stopped there because it seemed like more than enough to make the point. But I could've posted reams more material from Spurgeon just like it.
f it could be proved to be, as certain cultivated teachers would have us believe, that there is nothing very sure, that although black is black it is not very black, and though white is white it is not very white, and from certain standpoints no doubt black is white and white is black—if it could be proved, I say, that there are no eternal verities, no divine certainties, no infallible truths—then might we willingly surrender what we know or think we know, and wander about on the ocean of speculation, the waifs and strays of mere opinion.

But while we have the truth, taught to our very souls by the Holy Ghost, we cannot drift from it, nor will we—though men count us fools for our stedfastness.

Brethren, aspire not to the "charity" which grows out of uncertainty. There are saving truths, and there are damnable heresies. Jesus Christ is not yea and nay. His gospel is not a cunning mixture of the gall of hell and the honey of heaven, flavoured to the taste of bad and good.

There are fixed principles and revealed facts. Those who know anything experimentally about divine things have cast their anchor down, and as they heard the chain running out, they joyfully said, "This I know, and have believed. In this truth I stand fast and immovable. Blow winds and crack your cheeks, you will never move me from this anchorage. Whatsoever I have attained by the teaching of the Spirit, I will hold fast as long as I live."

ome minds are strangers to peace. How can they have peace, for they have no faith? They are as a rolling thing before the whirlwind, having no fixed basis, no abiding foundation of belief.

These are the darlings of the school of modern thought, whose disciples set themselves as industriously to breed doubt as if salvation came by it. Doubt and be saved is their gospel, and who does not see that this is not the gospel of peace?

Forsooth they are receptive, and are peering about for fresh light, though long ago the Sun of Righteousness has arisen.

Such uncertainty suits me not. I must know something or I cannot live: I must be sure of something or I have no motive from which to act. God never meant us to live in perpetual questioning. His revelation is not and cannot be that shapeless cloud which philosophical divines make it out to be.

There must be something true, and Christ must have come into the world to teach us something saving and reliable; he cannot mean that we should be always rushing through bogs and into morasses after the will-of-the-wisp of intellectual religion. There is assuredly some ascertainable, infallible, revealed truth for common people; there must be something sure to rest upon.

I know that it is so, and declare unto you what I have heard and seen. There are great truths which the Lord has engraven upon my very soul, concerning which all the men on earth and all the devils in hell cannot shake me. As to these vital doctrines, an immovable and unconquerable dogmatism has laid hold upon my soul, and therefore my mind has peace. A man’s mind must come to a settlement upon eternal truths by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, or else he cannot know what peace is.

n certain circles of society it is rare nowadays to meet with anybody who believes anything. It is the philosophical, the right, the fashionable thing nowadays to doubt everything which is generally received; indeed those who have any creed whatever are by the liberal school set down as old-fashioned dogmatists, persons of shallow minds, deficient in intellect, and far behind their age. The great men, the men of thought, the men of high culture and refined taste, consider it wisdom to cast suspicion upon revelation, and sneer at all definiteness of belief.

"Ifs" and "buts," "perhapses" and "peradventures," are the supreme delight of this period. What wonder if men find everything uncertain, when they refuse to bow their intellects to the declarations of the God of truth?

Note then, with admiration, the refreshing and even startling positiveness of the apostle—"I know," says he. And that is not enough—"I am persuaded." He speaks like one who cannot tolerate a doubt. There is no question about whether he has believed or not. "I know whom I have believed." There is no question as to whether he was right in so believing. "I am persuaded that be is able to keep that which I have committed to him." There is no suspicion as to the future; he is as positive for years to come as he is for this present moment. "He is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day."
C. H. Spurgeon

23 March 2007

Epistemological Humility?

by Phil Johnson

ostmodern wisdom suggests that humility would actually keep us all from ever knowing with any degree of certainty or declaring with any kind of authority that anything is true.

In fact, as far as truly enlightened postmodernists are concerned, that sort of "humility" is the supreme and cardinal virtue. That's why, according to any postmodern way of thinking, dogmatism is inherently arrogant, diversity is always honorable, and propositional truth-claims don't ultimately matter much.

That's not "humility"; it's unbelief.

Evangelical Christianity is rooted, of course, in the conviction that God has revealed truth that He wants us to know and affirm. Our certainty about the truth of Scripture is derived from the fact that every word of it is God-breathed truth. And the proof that God Himself expects us to know and be certain of the truth He has revealed is the inescapable fact that He holds us accountable to obey His truth (Romans 2:8-9; Galatians 5:7; Revelation 21:8).

Of course, some things in Scripture are clearer than others; some things are indeed hard to understand; and Christians have their own intramural squabbles and academic discussions about epistemology (How do we arrive at an understanding of the truth? By what means do we acquire knowledge in the first place?)—and whatnot. But at the end of the day, this is one of the fundamental tenets of true, biblical, and historic Christianity: We believe God has revealed vital truth in His Word, and because God says it, we can have implicit faith that it is absolutely and necessarily true—because God cannot lie.

Someone is certain to argue that those assertions don't account for our differing subjective perspectives and other interpretive and hermeneutical issues. OK. But before we go too far down that road, let's first remind ourselves once more that God Himself holds us responsible for believing what He has revealed. It is our duty to receive it as fully-reliable, objectively true, factually accurate, historically trustworthy, inerrant, unchanging, eternal, and divinely-revealed truth. Ultimately, therefore, Scripture is the touchstone of all truth by which every other truth-claim must be tested.

You can work out the epistemological kinks however you like, but if you want to call yourself a Christian, you must affirm that much.

That has always been the Christian perspective, clearly stated over and over in the New Testament. It's not a very popular perspective in these postmodern times, but there it is.

Phil's signature

22 March 2007

The Bereans, afresh

by Dan Phillips
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11)
What marked the Berean Jews? We read that they were εὐγενέστεροι (eugenesteroi) — literally "better born," but "nobler" is probably is the best translation. Like that English word, the Greek term may have a history referring to lineage, but it has come to denote a high character instead.

"Nobler" than whom? Than "those [Jews] in Thessalonica." What was wrong with them? They were dead-wed to their tradition. Their minds were so fixed on the system they'd been taught, that not even the Word of God could penetrate.

Not their minds, anyway. But it did penetrate some others' minds, and that filled them with seething jealousy. It must have burned their consciences. At some level, they knew they were rejecting the very Word of God so that they could cling to their tradition (cf. Romans 1:18). But here were some rebels, breaking rank! Turncoats! Think how that made the Tradition Rangers look. So these champions of tradition so angrily pursued Paul that he left their town. Were they done with him then? No way! They tracked him down to the next town as well.

But the Berean Jews were of a different sort. They had been brought up in the same tradition, too. But they evidently had clung to the idea that Scripture is and must remain above tradition. However, they were not going to accept just anything. They had to see it for themselves. They had to see it for themselves in Scripture.

This is why Luke commends them as "nobler," because they "they received [welcomed, ἐδέξαντο, edexanto] the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."

That last phrase intrigues me. It is εἰ ἔχοι ταῦτα οὕτως (ei echoi tauta houtos]. All the English translations basically agree in rendering "to see if these things were so," or something to that effect. But is that a good rendering? Literally it is "if it should have these things thus," or "if these things had it thus." The verb "welcomed," and this description, suggests to me a more positive orientation, as opposed to that of the Jewish rulers.

You see, these Thessalonian religious rulers just knew their tradition could not be wrong — it has such a noble heritage! it had been championed so sacrificially! its list of names was so impressive! — so there was no need to re-examine it. Not seriously, anyway, except to find ways to pick holes in the new upstart challenger. Better to believe tradition, than their lying eyes.

These were the same sorts of leaders as those who watched Jesus closely for the purpose of finding fault, of finding grounds for accusation (cf. Luke 6:7; 14:1ff.; 16:31).

And so this attitude of positive orientation toward the Word is what Luke found praiseworthy in the Bereans. If the Scriptures had it differently than their tradition, these people wanted to know. If the Scriptures had it, they wanted it. But Scripture, and not tradition, was the deciding factor.

For one more-modern application, the Roman Catholic Church's position were true, wouldn't these Bereans in fact be less noble? They are searching, assessing the Scriptures for themselves. If they saw it in Scripture, they'd accept it. But if not — forget it. But, according to the RC position, isn't Luke mistaken in saying they were "nobler" than the champions of tradition? Shouldn't the Bereans simply have submitted their consciences without question to the magisterium, as present in Paul? Besides, how could they search the Scriptures for themselves, using their own private judgment?

Yet Luke praises them for testing even Paul himself by their own search of Scripture. Luke is convinced that this will invariably lead to the Lord. The next verse says that οὖν, oun, therefore — because of this search of Scripture — many came to saving faith. They searched the Scriptures to test Paul's message, therefore they came to saving faith. It is as Luke would have expected, convinced as he was that Scripture did "have these things thus."

Many of us have experienced some of the same challenging, and freeing, power of Scripture. We were Arminian when saved. We heard about the sovereignty of God. Maybe the news repelled us, repulsed us, at first. (It certainly was repellent to me, first time I heard it unvarnished.) And yet, we searched the Scriptures, to see if it had things thus. And we're Calvinists now. Scripture overruled our tradition.

That was the end of the process, right? Our reformation ended with that change, right?

Oh, my brothers, oh, my sisters, these are terrible soul-twisters. Let us beware of merely trading one tradition for another, even if a worse for a better.

This is what I love about being Reformed. If it means anything, sola Scriptura means that Scripture alone is the arbiter of faith and practice. I am free to adopt a creed or a confession, if I am convinced that it expresses what Scripture says. But I do not thereby trade God's voice in Scripture as my master for that creed.

And so, if the confession (or whatever) doesn't line up with Scripture? If 98% of it does, but there's that niggling 2%? What then? Have I traded the primacy of Scripture for my confession, or my new "club rules" and decoder-ring? Am I "dead-wed" to a tradition?

Beware. This is one real danger to which we expose ourselves, if we are more concerned as to whether or not this or that person (or doctrine) gets to wear the "Reformed" or "Calvinist" badge, as if we owned the Reformation.

We ought to care most about the "Biblical" badge.

Or Luke would never say we were "nobler" than Thessalonian Jews, or the Roman Catholics, or any other champions of tradition, whom we criticize.

Dan Phillips's signature

21 March 2007

How do I do it?

by Frank Turk

It's been a couple of weeks since I have posted anything substantive here at TeamPyro (some people may say it's been longer than that, but we will let the scoffers heap hot coals on their own heads), but I've been busy. I hope you have enjoyed All-Dan blogging.

Anyway, I think at some point we left off with the question of, "well, if Scripture is so plain, how do I read the durn thing, cent?" Because telling people to read the book is not quite as helpful as it seems on the front side of the question. I know factually that some people read the Bible once every year -- every year, day by day -- and never get any spiritual or personal insights. So rubbing the text up against your eyeballs is not much better, really, than sleeping with the book under your pillow. It's not an ointment; it's not an injection. It's a book.

So you have to read a book. I know: very startling. What does that mean?

Well, you have to read a blog to get anything out of it -- and sometimes I am sure you wish you hadn't read some blogs because, well, you don't have a shower at work. But that said, what's it take to read anything at all? Can we read? Can a reader get something out of the text, or is he stranded in the wasteland which exists between minds in the radical existential void which has existed since about 1800?

Here's where my speciality comes in: I'm a Literature major. I know -- I haven't been in Grad School for almost 2 decades now (where does the time go? How can I not be 23 anymore?) -- so my "chops" may be "soft". Pheh.

That's why we're going to start with Scripture rather than my musty old M.A., and then work our way back to the practical issues, and we're going to be ready to respond, in the comments, to people who think this approach is solipsistic or whatever.

Here's what Scripture says, among other things:
Ps 119  How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes!
With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
Now, here's David as he's getting ready to unwind Ps 119, and he calls God's word several things: "your word", "your commandments", "your statutes", "the rules of your mouth", "your testimonies", "your precepts".

What is interesting about this is that it speaks to the way in which David must be receiving what he says he has "stored up in his heart": it is not in some completely-neutral textual medium but in kinds of texts, which the really snooty call "genres". Think about that -- David says that God's word comes to us in different kinds of expression, from the broadest category ("words") to some pretty fine categories ("testimonies", "statutes").

So in making this first serious clarification of how to read God's word, let's realize that God's word is not some kind of featureless sine wave of data which we just have to plug into. It has various forms of communication in the various books, and we have to be able to receive these things in the method and purpose of that particular text type.

Now, I think I have covered this example before here at TeamPyro, but I'm going to spell it out again here for emphasis. Let's look at another passage of Scripture for an example of how to do what I am talking about here:
O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God.

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people!
For those of you who are well-read, I am sure you recognize Ps 3 here. But look at how this song ends: {Lord}, strike my enemies on the cheek {and} break the teeth of the wicked!

Is David really praying to God to punch his enemies in the mouth hard enough to break their teeth? That's what the text says, right? Even the wretched MSG gets that much out of the text. So is David the first guy to pray to Ultimate Fighting Jesus -- and have we finally found a foothold for full-contact Christian apologetics?

I am sure some of you are hoping I say "yes" to that so that I have to go back and take back all that I said about tats and dressing like bikers to enter in to a culture, but that's not going to happen. Let's go back a few verses here and look at the beginning of this song -- this poem. In the first stanza, David said, "many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God".

Well, so what? What's that have to do with God being a brawler? Well, it has nothing to do with God being a brawler, which is exactly my point. God's not a brawler: He's a punisher of the wicked. And David, who is asking God to deliver him from wicked men, is asking God to punish men who have said wicked things. And here, the punishment for a lying mouth is a punch in the mouth -- a slap to the face hard enough to break teeth.

But to get that from this text, you have to do something interesting: you have to recognize that David is speaking in a poem, and that the way a poem works is by means of things like metaphor, hyperbole, and analogy.

It may be startling to some people -- like atheists, for example -- to discover that the Bible is a sophisticated text written by literate men by the inspiration of God, but it should not be startling to Christians. And in that, we have to be willing to engage a sophisticated text with some level of literacy and -- if we may say this in circles which demand inerrancy and at the same time a "simple Gospel" -- sophistication.

If you can read this blog, you can read the Bible. I'm sure I'll have more about that in the future, but until then, try to read your Bible and not just skim. You might be surprised at what you find.

UPDATED: Dudes, you must read this and read to the end or else you'll have a heart attack.