29 April 2007

Relishing believers' security in Christ

posted by Dan Phillips
The PyroManiacs normally devote space at the beginning of each week to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This selection, however, is not yet in the Archive.

The following excerpt is taken from a sermon titled "The Security of Believers; or, Sheep Who Shall Never Perish," originally delivered on Thursday e
vening, September 5th, 1889, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Spurgeon's text was John 10:27-30 — "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one."

The sermon is especially dear to me. Particularly in my early Christian life, I had great and bitter struggles over assurance, and doubts as to my own salvation. In retrospect it is easier to see how Christ had laid His hand on me, turned my life around, changed my heart, headed me in a totally different direction. At the time, however, looking within, all I saw was corruption.

This sermon helped me see that I was looking in the wrong direction for assurance.
hey are safe ...by outer injuries being prevented. “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” Many will pluck at them, but none shall pluck them away. The devil will give many a horrible pluck and pull, to get them away; but out of the great Shepherd’s hand he shall never take them. Their old companions, and the memory of their old sins will come, and pluck at them very hard, and very cunningly; but the Savior says, “None shall pluck them out of my hand.” So, first, here is their security: they are in his hand; that is, in his possession, and he grasps them, as a man holds a thing in his hand, and says, “It is mine.” Neither shall any take them away from being under his protection. Never shall they be plucked away from Christ. When he says this, he pledges his honor to preserve them, for if it could be that one were plucked out of his hand, then would the devils in hell rejoice, and say, “He could not keep them. He said that he would, but he could not. We have managed to pluck this one, or that one, out of the pierced hand of their Redeemer.” But such a horrible exultation shall never be heard throughout the ages of eternity. “They shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.”

Some one wickedly said, “They may get out of his hand themselves.” But how can this be true, when the first sentence is, “They shall never perish”? Treat Scripture honestly and candidly, and you will admit that the promise “they shall never perish” shuts out the idea of perishing by going out of the Lord’s hand by their own act and deed. “They shall never perish; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand.” Who is to loosen the clasp of that hand which was pierced with the nail for me? My Lord Jesus bought me too dearly ever to let me go. He loves me so well that his whole omnipotence will work with that hand, and unless there is something greater than Godhead, I cannot be plucked away from that dear, fastholding grip.
C. H. Spurgeon


27 April 2007

The tolerance that is a deal-killer

by Dan Phillips

I've studied the book of Revelation very closely. That doesn't mean I understand it — it just means I've studied it closely!

But I haven't read it for awhile, so in my latest read-through in Greek there is a freshness that is at the same time refreshing and disconcerting, if you know what I mean.

Yesterday's reading was in chapter two, amid the letters to seven churches that fill chapters two and three. When I was preparing for a very detailed test on Revelation at Talbot, I used the acronym ESP TSP L for the order of the letters: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.

This was the letter to Thyatira (2:18-29). After the introductory identification of Jesus to them (v. 18), the Lord dictates this:
"'I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first" (Revelation 2:19)

Οἶδά σου τὰ ἔργα, καὶ τὴν ἀγάπην καὶ τὴν πίστιν καὶ τὴν διακονίαν καὶ τὴν ὑπομονήν σου, καὶ τὰ ἔργα σου, τὰ ἔσχατα πλείονα τῶν πρώτων.
Jesus says "I know" a great deal about this church. He says "I know" seven times in these letters (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15), and fully "I know your works" six times in these letters (2:2, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). Sometimes these words introduce some encouragement, even if measured (as here); sometimes a very sharp rebuke (cf. 3:1).

But here, see what the Lord knows: works, faith, service, endurance. Each of those is a rich NT word bespeaking a vital spirituality. The dimensions reach upward and outward, horizontally and vertically. They aren't just about trying to live Christianly without thinking God's thoughts after Him, nor are they given to the opposite error.

This is a well-balanced church, in this way.

Then add to it all that "your latter works exceed the first" (contrast 2:4-5). This is as should be (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:12; 2 Peter 1:8). They are growing, thriving, moving on. What could be better? Could you hope to hear better from the Lord?

Yet the next word is "But." It is the stronger Greek adversative ἀλλὰ (alla), setting up a direct contrast.
But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

ἀλλὰ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ ὅτι ἀφεῖς τὴν γυναῖκα Ἰεζάβελ, ἡ λέγουσα ἑαυτὴν προφῆτιν καὶ διδάσκει καὶ πλανᾷ τοὺς ἐμοὺς δούλους πορνεῦσαι καὶ φαγεῖν εἰδωλόθυτα.
Every spiritual blessing in them and abounding—yet Jesus has something against them: they tolerate false teaching. It isn't enough that they are personally holy, alive, growing. These are good things, they are signs of personal health. But there is a vital, crucial, missing element. A body that does not fight off infection, whatever its other strengths, is not a healthy body.

This is their failing. They are not actively fighting off infection. They are not contending earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). The aggelos , "messenger" of the church (2:18) — which I take to be its pastor — is not sharply rebuking, resisting, and shutting the mouth of a virulent false teacher here called "Jezebel." This is the neglect of an important duty (Titus 1:9-11; 2 John 10-11).

To shift the metaphor a bit, he allowed cancer in their midst, a doctrinal cancer, an aggressive, if you will an "evangelistic" cancer. Maybe it won't claim them. But it will claim others.

All the other great works don't cancel out tolerating false teaching. It isn't that the pastor himself did it; but he suffered it to be done. And what he allowed, the church allowed. These church members were not themselves false teachers; but they permitted a false teacher, they tolerated her.

The job of a shepherd is not merely to guide and feed the sheep, though it is that. It is also to protect the sheep, by fighting off the wolves, even if it costs him personally. It is this commitment that sets him apart from a mere hireling (John 10:12-13).

In this relativistic, tepid days, perhaps it is much that we believe the truth, that we embrace the truth, that we act on the truth, that we live the truth.

But in such an embrace, if it is real, there is the necessary corollary of a rejection of, and in fact an active opposition to error (cf. Proverbs 28:4; Hebrews 1:9).

Wonderful church, Thyatira. Good pastor. But -- he wouldn't draw the line, and so they didn't. They wouldn't enforce the edges.

And Jesus has that against them.

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25 April 2007

Root Canal

by Phil Johnson

his morning epitomized my whole week. I had an emergency root canal.

The dentist who worked on me is a root-canal specialist who only works alternate Wednesdays and Mondays. He told me it was "lucky" I got in today, because the tooth had a very long, narrow, and partly calcified nerve sheath (he surely meant before the procedure; not after), so it was an extremely difficult procedure, and he was pretty sure my regular dentist would have had a hard time completing it.

Then he grinned at me and looked for all the world like that Nazi dentist in The Marathon Man.

Root canals sound a lot worse than they really are. They are more tedious than truly painful. There are lots more painful dental procedures. I once had two root canals in one appointment, and I think I've had five (averaging one per decade) in my lifetime. What really hurts is the bill for the crown you have to get afterward.

But the root canal itself can actually be something of a relief. It destroys the nerve, so that classic, bone-jarring toothache pain is suddenly gone. (Your whole face will ache for days from having your jaw jacked open for two hours, but that's not as bad as the toothache that made the root canal necessary in the first place. Seriously. Trust me.)

Anyway, after the root canal, whilst standing at the receptionist's desk trying to book a follow-up appointment, I realized my phone wasn't properly syncing my appointments and contacts list. I knew I had an appointment I needed to get to the office for, and a couple of impromptu meetings before that. But I also had to get the phone syncing properly today, because Friday I'm leaving for my annual stint teaching systematic theology in Sicily (8 hours a day for five days straight), and the phone will be my lifeline.

Thanks to Bill Fickett, who spent a couple of hours working on the syncing problems and finally had to make a trip to the phone store to get my SIM card replaced, the phone is now working again. But by the time I got away from the office this afternoon I had accomplished very little else.

And I have an important writing deadline to meet before I can leave for Italy.

And tonight my jaw really aches from this morning's root canal.

That's why this is will be last blogpost for the week. I'm writing mainly to put Dan and Frank on notice that they will be responsible for this weekend's Dose o' Spurgeon®—and to ask everyone to behave for the next few days. I'll prolly check in from Sicily a time or two next week. See you from there.

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Apologize sincerely

by Frank Turk

Wednesday snuck up on me this week, but fortunately I'm not finished with the topic of apologetics yet. For those of you who missed it, we're been talking about bad apologists of two stripes -- those who are too good to belong to a local church, and those who have a place in the local church but that doesn't phase them.

Now, after whining about people who are in but not of the local church, let's remember that one of the causes of this problem is a lack of pastoral zeal for the real contenders inside the local body. That is, on the one hand, someone who calls himself an apologist but doesn't have accountability in a local body is probably doing himself and the world a disservice, but on the other hand, if his pastor treats him and his interest/gifting as if it was poison (maybe that's too harsh: maybe this pastor treats it like it was something to avoid), it's somewhat challenging to this self-selected defender of the faith not to see the world as full of enemies even when he's among friends.

So if you're in a church which frowns on, or ignores, or thinks little of the apologetic gifts, what do you do to avoid being in this class of people?

Turns out I have some suggestions, and I'd like to look at the apostle Paul for a second as a role model.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.
For those of you who don't know this passage, it's the end of Gal 1 where Paul is making the case that he has preached the Gospel to the Galatians, and it wasn't something he invented but something he received.

Now, how does that apply to you, disconnected apologist? Should you go and spend 3 years in Arabia to become a better apologist?

See: you have something Paul didn't have -- everything that Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (not to mention all the other Scripture in the NT). So your first step in becoming a better, more church-centered apologist -- and it seems rather ridiculous to say this, but OK -- is to actually read the Bible. Paul's point here is that God took him and gave him the Gospel personally -- and then, Paul taught that to the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and the Judean churches rejoiced. So whatever it is that Paul wrote, or taught, or sent: it had a two-fold effect of [1] bringing men to Christ, and [2] changing the shame or second thoughts the other churches had about him into joy and praise to God.

Think about that -- if your apologetics were good apologetics, it would change people's minds about you and your work -- not alienate them or put them on the defensive.

"Yeah, but cent," says the guy who is feeling a little convicted right now, "my church is one of those marginal churches that doesn't really mix with doctrine at all. They don't like apologetics because they don't like doctrine."

OK: I agree that those churches exist, and that sadly you may be in one of them. You may also not have a lot of choices because there are aren't a lot of Lance Quinns or Tad Thompsons or J.D. Hatfields or even Mark Driscolls or Matt Chandlers in the world. But your problem, really, is not what is expected of them: the problem is what is expected of you. Yes: as they say in the KJV, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye" is a decent point -- but the question is really not either/or unless your church is on the verge of kicking you out over your apologetic adventures.

So if you're going to be a decent apologist, you need to be saturated in God's word, and you need to be a credit to your church in the way Paul earned glory for God after being a persecutor of the church. You know: Paul knew that, all things being equal, he was a man of lousy reputation. But his lousy reputation wasn't from doing apologetics: it was from murdering Christians. So his approach to the world was to act like a guy who is well known for killing those who disagree with him, and to have a little humility and self-awareness about his own status as a bad guy.

If all people who were striving to be apologists applied this aspect of Paul's ministry to their own, they'd be different and better people. Another way of thinking about this goes like this: we all know that non-Christians or ex-church people think poorly of Christianity because we are all hypocrites, mean-spirited judgmentalists, fundies in the worst sense, and people who care about money more than we do about anything else. There's no stunner or world-changing revelation in that confession from a non-believer.

And, most of the time, we sort of wear that like a badge of honor. I know I personally get a little bit of a kick out of people calling me a "mean Calvinist" -- mostly because after years of listening to people say that, somehow that's the last battlement for every argument which is falling apart.

But let's imagine something here: what if I approached every apologetic encounter with the personal conviction that I am actually a mean Calvinist. What if, rather than mouthing the words "chief of sinners", I approached apologetics from the standpoint that I was a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips, and since God didn't have an angel touch the hot coal to my lips yet, whatever I am doing I am doing it as a beggar among beggars, a vile man who is actually in desperate need of the thing which I say God is offering in Christ?

That doesn't mean I surrender truth or take an "I'm OK - you're OK" approach to people. It means that when I deal with them, I see both the sinful flesh and the image of God in them, and I appeal to the image of God rather than attack the rebel who has a hard heart.

See: I think that if we study Scripture long enough, and listen to what it teaches us about ourselves, real humility has to be among the convictions we receive. But to do that -- to become decent apologists who can approach people with the declaration that Jesus is Lord and Christ as Peter did at Pentecost as if it was important but not an insult -- we have to have a decent hermeneutic of Scripture.

This really does go back to the question of how we read the Bible. Because if we read it as if it is merely a handbook of apologetics, we're going to miss the other 81.7% of the Bible which is telling us not how we should view other people, but how we, who are called by Him name, should view ourselves -- how we should act, and think, and work, and love.

In another post someplace, Phil said that he wished someone would be more "militant" in his pursuit (or affirmation) of doctrine. I say "fair enough": but does that mean we have to get our own private tank and start shelling, or does "militant" in this context mean something else -- that we should be making the effort, as Paul also says, to be all things to all people in the sense of being a servant to all of them so that we might save some, so that we might share in the riches of the Gospel with them? Shouldn't we be sharing the riches of the Gospel, rather than being stingy either in the sense of being a neighbor or in the sense of being a messenger from God who has something specific to tell people?

You think about that, and we'll get back to the issue of how to read the Bible next week. In the meantime, if you need something to read, buy one of these and read it. It will do more for improving your apologetics than any other book I have read in the last 10 years.

24 April 2007

Not now. Not then, neither

by Dan Phillips

My family loves C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Some of our favorite characters are really only mentioned in passing: the Bulgy Bears.

It's just a great name, and they're so comical every time they touch the narrative. My wife and I particularly love this, from chapter seven of Prince Caspian:
"I don't like the idea of running away," said Caspian.

"Hear him! Hear him!" said the Bulgy Bears. "Whatever we do, don't let's have any running. Especially not before supper; and not too soon after it, neither."
That's our motto, too. The Bulgy Bears are sort of a theme in and out of things as well. My family calls my weekly special-recipe burgers alternately "Daddy Burgers" and "Bulgy Burgers®." (Nobody's running anywhere after one of them!)

No running before supper. And not too soon after, neither.

Very tangentially, I thought of this in reading three posts by Pastor Chris Anderson. In a way that is characteristically moving and thought-provoking on a number of levels, Chris gives the before (and before) and after of a funeral he just conducted. The very difficult occasion was that of the suicide of the husband of a woman who attends his church with her children.

The aspect I single out today is this:
I’ve preached one other funeral following a suicide. It was extremely tough. It was clear that well over half the people in attendance were offended at my taking the opportunity to present the gospel–a feeling every pastor will know sometime, and probably often.
A funeral audience, offended that one of Christ's undershepherds would preach the only One to conquer death — at a funeral! Remarkable.

Remarkable, nonsensical, irrational, but evidently pretty common. The two funerals at which I preached were difficult also. I preached the Gospel at both, but I was spared any complaints.

But Chris' story, in turn, made me think of a friend who (like me) lost his father to cancer.

My friend is the only one in his family to evidence any saving faith, to his concern and sorrow. During his father's final illness, a relative wrote a letter to my friend's father, bearing witness to Christ.

My friend's mother was very offended that someone would write about eternal things at such a time.

"At such a time"? When better?, I wondered.

The truth of the matter is, we are all, always, in exactly "such a time." We are one moment, one incident, one tick of the clock, away from eternity. Less.
For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
(2 Corinthians 6:2)
It is sad that worldlings so diagnose their case that they confidently conclude that what they need most, when they most need it, is the last thing they need.

The real crime, the insanity, is when Christians -- who know better, and who know how blitheringly awful we sons of Adam are at self-diagnosis -- should ever let ourselves be intimidated into silence.

Of course they will be offended. The Cross is an offense (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), and not just at funerals. Of course they will say we are insensitive and foolish; the fragrance of Heaven is the stench of death to the lost, until God sovereignly transforms their spiritual senses (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

We preach Jesus to such, not because of what they think He is, but because of what God thinks He is; not because they want Him, but because they need Him.

Thank God for men like Chris, for women like Candy -- for all who love people enough graciously and wisely to tell them what they need to hear, whether they want to hear it at the moment or not.

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* BUMP *

by the TeamPyro P.R. Wonk

Yes: we are in the running for "Best blog ever" and "best religion blog", but some people are put off that they have to register to vote -- they ar afraid of SPAM. Personally, I'd be a lot more afraid of PUTTING MY BIRTHDAY INTO A FIELD ON THE INTERNET, but suit yourself.

The birthday thing you can fudge -- just put Jan 1 of the start of the decade you were born in. For example, if your B'Day is August 1967, you put 1/1/1961 in the B'Day field, and continue. That's close enough for them.

The spam thing can be a little trickier. You could set up a bogus e-mail account at Yahoo and then abandon it after you have confirmed and voted, but that sounds like a lot of trouble. Here's how to avoid getting spam:

register at Blogger awards, but for your e-mail address type in (blogger.user.name) [at] (iturk.com). I am the sole administer of iturk.com, so I get all the e-mail that comes there.

I will clear all the confirmations that come in to iturk.com and place votes for them for TeamPyro. If you have other votes you want to place, you'll be able to do that yourself after I confirm your account, which will be about every 6 hours, if you don't mind.

Because I want to win this thing. We have enough readers to win this thing. We won't win without you.

Discerning Wrong from Wright

by Phil Johnson

om Wright has posted a screed on the atonement controversies. (I made note of that fact in a comment under yesterday's post but didn't say much more than that.) I still need to read the full article carefully, but Adrian Warnock's observations closely mirror my own first impression. Wright seems to think since Steve Chalke read some of the Bishop's books and echoed his positions at some key points, he can't possibly be far wrong on the atonement. Also, since Wright endorsed Chalke's book before it caused a flap on the atonement issue, he apparently feels obliged to explain what Chalke really meant.

I dunno. I thought Chalke's own explanation left little doubt about his position, and it does not seem to be what Wright insists it is.

In his article, Wright has some pretty harsh things to say about the book Pierced for Our Transgressions, a recent, generally well-reviewed book on the atonement co-authored by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach. Near the end of his post about Wright's article, Adrian Warnock lists some typical samples of the scorn Wright pours on that book.

The authors of Pierced for Our Transgressions have responded to Bishop Wright's article here.

Meanwhile, D. A. Carson has put out a review of Wright's Evil and the Justice of God (HT: Justin Taylor), which review contains some candid remarks about Wright's position on the atonement. Following the linkbacks to Justin Taylor's post on the subject will take you to some stimulating discussions.

Doug Wilson (as usual) had the pithiest comments, and this reflects my response exactly when I read Wright's response to the atonement debates:

The really strong language from Wright is reserved for the men from Oak Hill [who wrote Pierced for Our Transgressions], and this is where things get really weird—"almost funny," "Go and read the book," "hopelessly sub-biblical," "it becomes embarrassing," and so on. This is because (as I take it from this distance) they offered a case for penal substitution in the language of systematic theology and not biblical theology. I don't know (not having seen the book) if I would even agree with Wright's point. But what I can say, from this distance, is that Wright has a wildly skewed view of who needs to be praised, who placated, and who challenged.
On the perennially pro-Wright side, Alastair has already weighed in. When Mark Horne speaks, I listen (even though I often disagree). Mark is almost always sympathetic to whatever Wright says, and this is no exception.

My own lack of enthusiasm for Wright's opinions on the atonement, justification, and Pauline theology is well known enough. So don't look for me to jump into this dogpile this week. I'm just going to pretty much sit back and watch it all unfold.

Remember: John Piper has a critique of Wright coming, too.

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23 April 2007

Because it's true

by Geordy Barnha

Vote for the best blog of all time.


by Phil Johnson

Too many Christians think of divine forgiveness as something that utterly overturns justice and sets it aside—as if God's mercy nullified His justice—as if God's love defeated and revoked His hatred of sin. That's not how forgiveness works.

s forgiveness from sin grounded only in the love and mercy and goodness of God—apart from his justice? Does love alone prompt the Almighty to forego the due penalty of sin, wipe out the record of our wrongdoing, and nullify the claims of justice against us, unconditionally?

Or must God Himself be propitiated? In other words, do His righteousness and His holy wrath against sin need to be satisfied before He can forgive?

It truly seems as if most people today—including multitudes who identify themselves as Christians—think God forgives merely because His love overwhelms His holy hatred of sin. Some go even further, rejecting the notion of propitiation altogether, claiming it makes God seem too harsh. The problem with every such view of the atonement is that mercy without propitiation turns forgiveness into an act of injustice.

That is a seriously erroneous view. As a matter of fact, that very idea was one of the main errors of Socinianism.

The original Socinians were 16th-century heretics who denied that God demands any payment for sin as a prerequisite to forgiveness. They insisted instead that He forgives our sin out of the sheer bounty of His kindness alone. They argued that if God demanded an atonement—an expiation, a payment, a reprisal, or a propitiation—for sin, then we shouldn't really call it "forgiveness" when He absolves us. They claimed that sin could either be paid for or forgiven, but not both.

In other words, they defined forgiveness in a way that contradicts and contravenes justice. They were essentially teaching that God could not maintain the demands of His justice and forgive sins at the same time. They thought of forgiveness and justice as two incompatible ideas.

Scripture expressly refutes that idea. One of the most glorious truths of the gospel is that God saved us in a way that upheld His justice. Justice was neither compromised nor set aside; it was completely satisfied. God Himself was thus fully propitiated. And our salvation is therefore grounded in the justice of God as well as His mercy.

That is what the apostle Paul meant when he said in Romans 1:17 that "the righteousness of God [is] revealed" in the gospel. It's also what the apostle John was saying in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive." He doesn't set aside justice and grant us an unholy amnesty; He forgives because it is an act of justice to do so.

Now, there is a bit if a paradox in that idea. Justice is the moral quality that cries for the punishment of evildoers. Justice fairly screams for retribution whenever a wrong is done: "The wicked shall not be unpunished" (Proverbs 11:21). "[God] will by no means clear the guilty" (Exodus 34:7).

We understand instinctively that it is unjust to let evil go unpunished. The truly righteous long for God to deal with evildoers. Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple featured this plea for justice: "Hear thou from heaven, and do, and judge thy servants, by requiting the wicked, by recompensing his way upon his own head" (1 Chronicles 6:23). According to Revelation 6:10, the souls of those martyred for their faith constantly cry to God, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"

God will judge evil, and that is a good thing. We look forward to that day when the Judge of all the earth will judge the deeds of the wicked and purge evil from the universe. He will not compromise His own righteousness by allowing one sin to go unpunished. Jesus said, "There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known" (Matt. 10:26). Every sin, even the secret ones, will be brought out in the open and judged. Justice screams for retribution of sin, and God is a God of perfect justice, so He will not let one sin go unpunished.

How then can He forgive sinners?

That's what the atonement is all about: Jesus paid the full penalty of sin on behalf of those who believe. Their sins have already been judged at the cross. "[Christ] Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). Redefine the atonement to remove the idea that Christ suffered the judgment for sin in our place, and you destroy the heart of all gospel truth: "Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

One of the great mysteries not revealed in the Old Testament but fully revealed in the gospel is a clear answer to the age-old question of how forgiveness is possible without compromising the justice of God. Christ fully satisfied God's justice on behalf of those whom He saves. He bore the penalty of their sin when He died on the cross. The gospel declares "His righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

Christ offered a full atonement that included payment in full for all the sins of every sinner who would ever believe. "[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21)—"whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness" (Romans 3:25). "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 2:2).

Our thoughts about such things are almost always too shallow. We take God's mercy for granted and ignore His holy justice. But a right view of God will always exalt His righteous hatred for sin as much as it magnifies His love and mercy. God's mercy is not some maudlin sentiment that causes Him to forget about His holiness and set aside His righteous anger against sin. The demands of righteousness must be fully and completely satisfied if God is ever going to forgive sin. He cannot and will not simply overlook sin as if it didn't really matter.

In other words, the gospel is not only a message about the love of God. It is that; but it is not only that. The true gospel magnifies His justice as much as it magnifies His love.

When was the last time you thought of the gospel as a message about divine justice?

We tend not to think in those terms. Invariably, when you hear the gospel presented these days, all the stress is on the love of God, and His righteous abhorrence of sin is rarely even mentioned. "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." We love to talk about forgiveness, but rarely is there any attention given to the fact that God demanded payment for sin in full, and if that payment had not been made, there would never have been any forgiveness whatsoever:

"Without shedding of blood there is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22).

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21 April 2007

How important is the atonement?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This week's excerpt comes from "The First Sermon in the Tabernacle," a message preached at the opening service of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, Monday afternoon, March 25th, 1861.

n the excerpt below, Spurgeon was sounding an alarm against early modernist tendencies. Specifically, he was answering those who recoiled from the truth that God requires a blood atonement as the price of forgiveness. "The idea that God must be propitiated by blood makes Him seem too harsh," the modernists argued. Genteel Victorians, whose sensibilities were offended merely by the sound of the word blood, were inclined to agree.

It's interesting to note that when this sermon was preached, Spurgeon was only 27 years old. It would be more than thirty years before complications from Bright's Disease and stress from the Down-Grade controversy would conspire to claim his life. The doctrine of the atonement was one of the major points of conflict in that controversy. So this sermon was remarkably prescient, and the simmering uncertainty about the atonement Spurgeon noticed in the 1860s apparently dragged on for decades, despite Spurgeon's plain-spokenness.

Many people at the time thought his stance too firm and his words too harsh against those who thought differently about the atonement, but it is a fact of history that everything he predicted in the following excerpt did happen. Countless churches in England and whole denominations in America were fatally compromised. The gospel survived and thrived only where fundamentalists fought for it and evangelicals faithfully preserved it—mostly in independent churches and schools.

here be certain people nowadays who are making the atonement, first a sort of compromise, and the next step is to make the atonement a display of what ought to have been, instead of the thing which should have been.

Then, next, there are some who make it to be a mere picture, an exhibition, a shadow—a shadow, the substance of which they have not seen.

And the day will come, and there are sundry traces of it here and there, in which in some churches the atonement shall be utterly denied, and yet men shall call themselves Christians, while they have broken themselves against the corner-stone of the entire system.

I have no kith nor kin, nor friendship, nor Christian amity, with any man whatever who claims to be a Christian and yet denies the atonement. There is a limit to the charity of Christians, and there can be none whatever entertained to the man who is dishonest enough to occupy a Christian pulpit and to deny Christ.

It is only in the Christian church that such a thing can be tolerated. I appeal to you. Was there ever known a Buddhist acknowledged in the temple of Buddha who denied the basis doctrine of the sect? Was there ever known a Mahomadan Imaum who was sanctioned in the mosque while he cried down the Prophet? It remains for Christian churches only to have in their midst men who can bear the name of Christian, who can even venture to be Christian teachers, while they slander the Deity of him who is the Christian's God, and speak lightly of the efficacy of his blood who is the Christian's atonement. May this deadly cancer be cut out root and branch; and whatever tearing of the flesh there may be, better cut it out with a jagged knife than suffer to exist because no lancet is to be found to do it daintily.

We must have, then, Christ in the efficacy of his precious blood as the only Redeemer of the souls of men, and as the only mediator, who, without assistance of ours, has brought us to God and made reconciliation through his blood.

C. H. Spurgeon

20 April 2007

Book review: Proverbs, by Tremper Longman III

by Dan Phillips

Proverbs, by Tremper Longman III (Baker: 2006; 608 pages)

Longman's commentary on Proverbs is the third volume published in the new Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series. The series preface (pp. 11-13) identifies the "primary users" as "scholars, ministers, seminary students, and Bible study leaders," with emphasis on "clergy and future clergy, namely, seminary students" (p. 12). Toward this end, the volumes will focus on the books' message. Authors do their own translation, provide explanatory notes, with both interpretive and theological sections.

So how do I give you a feel for a long book, in a relatively short review? Let's check out the features.

First: a very useful introduction to Proverbs (pp. 21-87). This section is very helpful in approaching Proverbs interpretively. I particularly appreciate how Longman puts Proverbs in the canon, and solidly acknowledges its theological orientation and contributions. For instance:
“…the conclusion that the book is not theological is wrong. Proverbs is not rightly understood if it is taken as a book of practical advice with an occasional nod of the head to Yahweh. The book is thoroughly and pervasively theological” (p. 57)
Very well-put.

The section on the theology of Proverbs is quite thought-provoking, and the study of wisdom literature in other nearby cultures adeptly done.

Now, as to Proverbs proper. Like me, Longman isn't convinced that Proverbs has a "deep structure" providing a larger context even for the two-liners of chapters 10 and following (he grants that some sections seem thematically coherent, but he seems less inclined to see the grouping as hermeneutically meaningful than I).

Unlike me, Longman is agnostic as to authorship. As so many have done, Longman maddeningly says that 10:1 "explicitly connects Solomon to 10:1—22:16," yet the identical words in 1:1 have no necessary import as to authorship (p. 25). I wonder what Solomon would have had to have written, to convince gents such as Dr. Longman as to authorship. [UPDATE: I pursue this at great length in the appendix on authorship in my book.]

Second: as promised, the commentary uses Longman's own translation of Proverbs. I found his rendering interesting, and will refer to it for my own. However, at times it strikes me as a bit wobbly.

"Wobbly"? Translational style is both hither, and thither. Sometimes the translations are woodenly literal. "Yahweh detests stone and stone" (20:23); "Removing a garment on a cold day, vinegar on soda, singing a song to a troubled heart" (25:20); "Lambs, for your clothes, and he-goats, for the price of fields..." (27:26)

On the other hand, sometimes Longman paraphrases for no apparent reason. Most irritatingly to me, singulars often are rendered by plurals ("Go to the ant, you lazy people!" [6:6; verb and noun are singular]; cf. 13:24 [very awkward—first line plural, second singular]; 17:17; 18:24; 26:13-16; 28:25-26, and many others).

Sometimes he's fresh almost to the point of anachronism: "the tax man tears it down" (29:4; had me humming the Beatles' song [kids, ask your parents]).

What puzzled me for some time, as I read, was why a scholar such as TLIII so frequently refers to the New Living Translation, which is a pretty rank paraphrase. It was so frequent that I began to wonder whether he'd been involved in the production of that version in some way. Then I found it: Longman was senior translator for the Wisdom books in the NLT.

Third: the commentary itself. I struggle with what to say about this. Simply and truly, the commentary is mostly good and informative — but it is uneven. Perhaps it depends upon expectations.

Portions are quite good (such as the section on Proverbs 31:10-31, for instance). Longman virtually always deals with the Hebrew text, comments on the words, documents their meanings and the translation. His thoughts on the "fool" and "wisdom" synonyms are quite helpful, as are his comments on the eschatological possibilities in some of the proverbs. Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, you'll be challenged by Longman's lengthy wrestling with the identity of Woman Wisdom in chapter 8, and other knotty portions and topics. The footnotes and bibliography point the way to further investigation.

At the same time, other comments are disappointing, given the promised focus of the series. For instance, 18:24 is very difficult both to translate and to interpret, yet Longman deals with it in around 45 words. Sometimes one simply has the sense that proverbs have been hurried over rather than chewed over (i.e. 17:12; 27:21). He discusses the difficult 16:4, but doesn't really get to the bottom of it. Even his rendering overlooks the pronominal suffix ("Yahweh makes everything for a purpose," where the Hebrew has "his" or "its" purpose).

While the text is formally aimed at pastors, I have to say that the approach is more academic than pastoral. (For a modern example of the latter, see John A. Kitchen's commentary, which I mean to review...eventually.) [UPDATE: done. Kitchen chews over everything to the full extent of his ability.] The pastor will definitely find materials he can use for preaching and counseling, but they will be inferential rather than directed to those ends.

Appendix. Longman has an appendix of topical studies, where he groups and discusses related proverbs under 29 pages' worth of articles. His groupings are not the same as every other such study, and include: Alcohol; Appropriate Expression of Emotions; Business Ethics; Family Relationships; Guidance/Planning/Looking to the Future; Openness to Listening to Advice; Physical Discipline; Psychological Insight — and even Table Manners!

Small, but mighty. Footnotes, not end-notes! Indices! These are good things!

Less good are a few typos, and aspects of the layout. First the whole chapter is translated, and some textual/translational footnotes are placed here. Then the translation is reproduced verse by verse, with commentary; the reader must page back to the previous footnotes.

Summary. I'd say that Waltke and Kidner on Proverbs are two very different must-haves, for anyone who is seriously interested in diving deep. Longman's volume joins Duane Garrett's as a good-to-have: not indispensable, but I'm glad I own it, and will definitely use it in my studies.

Update: I have added some more meandering thoughts over at my own blog.

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19 April 2007

I am serious

...And don't call me Shirley
by Phil Johnson

ell, I did finally manage to connect with Dan Kimball by phone early this week, and I had a 2-hour conversation with him. Since the conversation was private, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to blog about the particulars. But I will say that although Dan was obviously quite busy, he was friendly and didn't sound rushed. He's a good, thoughtful listener. It was no small sacrifice for him to have such an in-depth conversation with me via phone, and I appreciate that. Dan Kimball seems like a very nice guy.

But the conversation, while helpful in many ways, did little to ease the concerns I expressed a couple of weeks ago. I still think the Emerging Church movement as a whole has shown an uncanny knack for embracing the very features of postmodernism that Christians most need to confront. And I still think Dan Kimball's chapter in Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Churches exemplifies that tendency; that he was disturbingly ambiguous in key places where he ought to have spoken more clearly; and that throughout that book Dan was much less militant than he needed to be.

Next week, when (I hope) I will have more time to interact in the meta, I'll come back with a post attempting to explain in some detail why that's my point of view—and why I think it's important. I'll try to clarify what I've actually said about Dan Kimball's contribution to that book. I also want to debunk some things I haven't said but have been accused of saying. And I especially want to look closely at some of the things Dan Kimball posted in reply to the controversy both in the comments here and at his own blog.

Oh. I also want to show why restating a question in completely different terms is necessarily not the same thing as asking completely different question.

I've been intrigued by the reaction to this series of posts from certain (or should I stress "normally uncertain"?) quarters of the Emerging blogosphere. I won't go into detail about it here. But I do want to say as plainly as possible that I remain unimpressed by pleas for "charity" when they are punctuated with vile cusswords, infantile name-calling, and a proliferation of the exact kind of guilt-by-association arguments our Emerging friends say they despise so thoroughly. The guilty parties know who they are (or they should.)

May I just say that I didn't sense some of you guys were affirming me in my faith-journey?

Anyway, to our Emerging friends who may be compelled to reply to this post: Please leave off the profanity completely and stifle as much of the spleen-venting as possible. I'll do my very best to post something more substantial next week, and then we'll host one of those long comment-threads where I'll do my best to reply personally to as many commenters as I can.

Today is not that day, however, so go easy.

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18 April 2007

Offering Apologies

by Frank Turk

Yeah, OK. Where was I? I was talking about how to read the Bible, then I started talking about bad Christian apologists, and some of you are thinking that I simply stopped talking about the Bible topic because I was out of stuff or out of my depths. Unfortunately for you, I am not finished with the first topic and am using this second topic as an excursus about what it means to have read the Bible and then implement it in some way.

Last time, we talked about the problem of people who are too doctrinally sound to belong to a church, and much to my surprise there weren’t a lot of objections to my comments. But that said, we closed with the thought that there are people who belong to churches and are still bad apologists – that somehow belonging to a local church doesn’t solve the problem of having more bite and bark than, um, something else.

I want to be especially careful in talking about this because, as I said last time, we need the good apologists who have a real love for Christ because of who Christ is, and are gifted with wisdom, charity, clarity, and a God-born love for people which makes them affable and (as far as really smart people can be anyway) charismatic. That is, they have to be able to speak the truth in love, and they have to be able to give an account for the hope that lies within us in both gentleness and reverence. If I had to say there’s one guy at the top of this game, I’d point to Dr. R. Albert Mohler who most people don't call “an apologist”; the other person I’d recommend with no qualifications is R. C. Sproul. That’s not to cross anyone else off the list, but these are guys who really set the standard for public, active, Christ-centered, church-minded, soul-saving apologetics.

But it’s their example which really shines a bright light on this topic. For example, if we think about the Good Samaritan as an example of “who is my neighbor” and “what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself”, this is how these guys operate, and I think there’s an apologetic lesson to be learned there.

Let’s start someplace else that is important: what is apologetics? You know: you can’t find that word in the Bible, and when Paul is rattling off the list of spiritual gifts in 1Cor 13, somehow he misses “apologists” (though we can admit he does say “teachers”, which is an important way of putting an arch over this topic). That’s not to say that being an apologist is not a spiritual pursuit, but we have to know what that is before we can go ahead and say here’s how you do that.

m-w.com says this about apologetics: a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity. What I like about this definition is that it’s simple and direct; what I don't like about it is that somehow it has left off one of the necessary indirect objects. Sure: it’s a branch of theology. Yes: “devoted” is the right verb. Its devotion is “to” the defense “of” Christianity, in terms of Christianity’s divine origin and divine authority.

But what is missing is “defense against who or what”? See: that’s the rub – because on the one hand, Protestant apologetics earns its keep by shining a bright light of Reformational principles on the divide between the evangelical faith and Roman Catholicism, and to a large extent from Eastern Orthodoxy. So one important aspect of apologetics is a defense of the faith from internal or derivative errors. That is to say, the Protestant apologist is working to underscore the fundamental truths of the Gospel and compare and contrast those truths to errors that make the divide between Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy unable to be crossed.

I think that aspect of apologetics confuses a lot of people – especially people on the outside. It confuses them because they don’t understand the arguments or why they are useful let alone important – and to see a guy like Mitch Pacwa debating a guy like James White about anything – the mass, purgatory, the canon of Scripture, whatever – seems to them like Christians don't know what they are talking about.

That will be a larger post on its own in the future, but let’s try to stay focused for a second. So one aspect of apologetics is the exposition and correction of derivative errors – errors in which people have some of the facts or words which are “Christian” but they line them up in ways which nullify the Gospel. Another aspect of apologetics is the defense against external or inductive errors – like against atheist misrepresentations, or against Muslim arguments or denunciations, or what have you. In that situation, the apologist is not just addressing mistakes, but is also involved in a task of setting up the basis of evangelism – and he may actually engage in evangelism in the process of addressing the non-believer’s objections to the faith. It is an essential clash of worldviews, and often goes to the philosophically-basic issues of where things come from (ontology) and how we can know anything (epistemology).

There is also a third class of apologetics which sort of hangs between these two categories, and it is counter-cult apologetics. Some would argue that counter-cult apologetics is really a form of the first kind of apologetics, and would support that by noting that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses think that they are Christians – or worse, think they are the only Christians. The problem is that their definition of Christ, and God, and all the theological categories of the Bible are so different than what the Protestant apologist would accept that the issues turn out to be far more like the foundational work one has to do in second-type apologetics. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that one is doing world-view (also called “presuppositional”) apologetics with the cultists.

Phew! Now: what does this have to do with lousy apologists who belong to churches?

It has this to do with that: many of these lousy apologists cannot identify these categories, and therefore they are constantly in the wrong mode of approaching people with their apologies for the faith. And most often, it’s not that they are erring on the side of being too philosophical for people: it’s that they are usually wielding a very big hammer to drive in a finishing nail, and sadly when they do get the nail in, they often have set the molding crooked, or upside down.

I could give examples of this, but I don’t think anyone would argue with me that these people exist. But why is it important to notice this problem in these church-going apologists? And what should be happening to these guys if this is a problem?

I think the first issue is that, even though these people belong to churches, they are not accountable to their churches. Seriously: such a one as these I once was – until my pastor started reading my blog. That changed me. I had (and have) a lot of internet friends who read my blog, but how accountable to them was I really? As long as I wasn’t dismantling the Trinity or denying the T in TULIP, I was (and am) entertaining to read -- and how are they going to discipline me? But today I have a pastor who reads my blog and keeps me face-to-face accountable.

My contention is that most “apologists” don’t have someone like that, but that’s actually the second problem: their pastors or elders don't really care about apologetics. In many ways, that’s why a lot of these people get into apologetics in the first place: they are intellectually-curious people who like to read, and some of them are smart enough to understand what they read, and suddenly they know more about the principles of the Reformation than most third-year seminary students, let alone Bible-college graduates. So they learned on their own about the theology and philosophy of the faith, but they didn’t really get any pastoral guidance about how we now shall live.

Yes: you’re very smart for clawing your way through the major Protestant catechisms, and through the Institutes, and Bondage of the Will, and City of God, and the other fat books on your shelf, but have you looked at the pastoral lives of the men who wrote that stuff? I agree with you that you had to learn the big stuff on your own, but maybe you should have looked at how the Fathers of the Church – Early and Magisterial – lived out this stuff you read which they wrote. They were great defenders of the faith not because they lived in a monastery and built an intellectual fortress, pouring hot oil on all who approached murmuring “sibboleth” instead of “shibboleth”: they were great because they had these astounding insights which they applied pastorally and used to made disciples of men.

If you don't have a pastor or elders who are able to give you a well-rounded view of the great minds of the faith, then you should spend more time reading the pastoral letters of Paul, or maybe you should spend a year reading I Corinthians and get the notion that while the Gospel is central and essential and propositional, it has necessary results, most of which do not involve raised voices except to sing hymns or praise God.

And if you’re a pastor or elder who doesn’t think the regular Joe should be interested in apologetics, re-read Titus 1 and think about the fact that you ought to be doing what Paul instructed Titus to do.

The third (and final) problem I want to uncover today is the problem of objectives. Without the pastoral edge – without the pastoral concern and temperament – we lose sight of the real goal of apologetics: to deliver the Gospel, and tell people that God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world but to save it. Ultimately, our arguments may (as Paul says) have the smell of death to those who are perishing, but we shouldn’t set out on the task intending to stink to high heaven. The idea that men suffer and are sinful but that God Himself has done the work which saves us is a brilliant, beautiful idea, and we ought to present it as the best end – the option in which one can taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Because that’s supposed to be the point, right? I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them – those filthy sinners who need saving, just like me -- in its blessings.

So the worst apologists are those who are too smart to belong to churches, and the ones who are only a little better are “in” church but not actually “of” church in that they think they are above a little pastoral seasoning, or they have a pastor who has an empty seasoning shaker.

There’s more to this, and it gets back to how we read the Bible, but I’m on page 4 here single-spaced, and you have to get back to work. Also, Phil had a phone conversation he's dying to talk about, and I made him not post on "my day" so I could get this out for the three of you who were dying to hear my opinion. More later.

17 April 2007

Why truth matters

by Dan Phillips

This morning's reading was 2 John. The apostle's emphasis stood right out:
The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father's Son, in truth and love. 4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.
Notice an stress there? John uses some form of ἀλήθεια (alētheia, truth) five times in the first four verses. You don't have to be the Archbishop of Exegesis to figure out that the man is emphasizing something: truth matters.

John's love for them is a love in truth; what characterizes them is knowing the truth; the truth abides in us now and forever; our experience of God's graces is in connection with truth; what really makes John happy is that his audience is walking in the truth.

This stands out in another way in verse 7:
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
This is emphasis by contrast. The deceivers stand in opposition to the truth. A deceiver is someone who wanders from the truth, and attempts to induce others to wander with him. There were many such about as John wrote. But his readers had withstood them, because they loved one another (v. 5), and "this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it" (v. 6). Love, walk, commandments, walk.

So we see this intricate weaving of truth and life, of facts and values, of doctrine and practice. The opposition of truth to life, of doctrine to practice, so cried up by some, is absent (to say the least) in the apostolic writings.

Faith and practice, truth and life. The latter is meaningless without the former; the former necessarily issues in the latter. To single out one without the other is to advocate breath without lungs, or blood circulation without a heart. Without truth, one has no clue as to whether a life must change, or why, or by what means, or in what manner. On the other hand, if the life does not change, is not affected, then truth has not been embraced. Divorcing the two is damnable folly.

But John clarifies the issue even further (if possible) in verse 9:
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
The teaching is the expression of truth. It is truth with edges. It verbalizes truth, gives it form, crystallizes it. Truth is not left as a floating fogbank, but framed and carved and established.

Embrace this expression of truth in doctrine, and you have "both the Father and the Son." Wander from it and you do "not have God." It is as simple as that, according to the apostle.

This fits in with the canonical position that saving faith is a matter of how we respond to the word of God (Genesis 15:6). Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes — not by interpretive dance, not by humming a ditty, not by great art, not by a great cup of coffee, but — by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). That's why the pastor's greatest, highest, and most critical calling is to preach the Word no matter what (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Or, to put it in Johannine terms, a relationship with God comes from and is sustained in the words, the verbally-expressed doctrines, of the apostles. It is how we "do" Christianity.

Does truth matter? God says it does.

Woe to him who thinks he knows better.

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16 April 2007

Ah, yes. Large-hearted catholicity.