31 October 2007

Please Please Me

by Phil Johnson

From time to time we pull classic comments up out of an old thread's combox. This is one of those. It's a fitting footnote to Monday's post, and in a field of hundreds of e-mails and comments filled with unsolicited advice about what style of blog we ought to be operating, the comment that prompted this reply was the best so far:

L__________: "It seems to me that TeamPyro could learn a thing or two from the L'abri model."

Tell you what: You donate a retreat center in the Alps (or better yet, the Sierras) where we can dialogue around tables with coffee and hot chocolate, and we'll give "the L'Abri model" a try. K?

But this isn't L'Abri; it's a blog. We've never advertised our blog as the place for people to come for help and handholding while they work through their personal doubts. (We're happy to offer that kind of counsel when we legitimately can, but let's be honest: the ratio of sincere answer-seekers to people with already-fixed but contrary opinions is really pretty low around here. We do, however, work hard to make the distinction.) If you seriously are contending that we are never patient or thorough with people who raise legitimate questions, you prolly haven't read the blog very long.

Still, we're not here to offer expertise on anything and everything in the realm of philosophical apologetics. (See Triablogue for that, but be forewarned: they aren't always avuncular, either.) We're mainly posting commentary about selected biblical, doctrinal, and church-related issues that we have studied and feel strongly about, along with an occasional note of humor or satire. And then we're providing a forum for the candid discussion of those things.

We do still happen to hold the (ancient, not "modern") conviction that not all points of view are equally valid. In fact, it's our conviction (along with the best of the primitive saints) that the most valid points of view are those that most closely reflect what the Bible says. And we definitely are trying to get closer to that mark. We're not going to deliberately blur whatever seems clear to us just so postmodernized people will think we're "nice."

Remember, people who came to L'Abri in Schaeffer's time usually weren't drive-by contrarians writing graffiti on the walls there, and they weren't people who handed out public scoldings while decrying public scoldings, or pleading for open-mindedness while ending their diatribes with remarks like "That's my opinion. I'm sticking to it."

In fact, visitors to Schaeffer's home at L'Abri didn't generally come to argue at all. Most of them were really, sincerely raising legitimate questions and looking for answers or help to overcome their doubts. When they asked questions, they received thoughtful replies—and they were expected to give thoughtful consideration to those replies. They didn't swarm the place with vitriol and snark whenever they didn't like the answers they received.

That said, if someone has serious questions or doubts and wants to be gently stepped through a series of answers, email me. You'll find that when someone is sincerely seeking help, there are few more patient counselors than I am. But if you're someone already devoted to a lie who just wants to play to the gallery here, you're not going to be mollycoddled.

As I said, we work hard to make that distinction. Fair enough?

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30 October 2007

Marking the Reformation

by Dan Phillips

Tomorrow marks one of the grand turning-points in the history of Christianity: Reformation Day.

Though it was somehow overlooked in Tim Challies' roundup, we did a post last year on much Luthery goodness.

This year I ask: how will you mark the day?

As long as we've been a family, we've sought to show October 31 as special for ourselves and our children. Our conviction is that "Halloween" is another religion's holiday, and we don't observe it. But the Reformation — ah, that's worth celebration.

(In passing, it's funny to me that so many churches in non-agricultural settings have a "Harvest Festival." That's certainly better than the world's dark party, but... don't they know about the Reformation? Aren't they glad it happened? Don't they want their folks to know about it?)

So Dr. Martin Luther has "visited" our children pretty much from the start. The lights are dimmed, there's a fire in the fireplace, a thunderstorm is playing on the stereo...and in comes Dr. Luther, humming Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott. The good doctor then explains to the little kinder the story of his life, and particularly how he came to discover the great and free grace of God in Christ.

He also tells the story of the big debate he started, when he wrote out his one... no, fourteen... no thirty-seven... no, ninety-three... ninety-four... ninety-five things-to-argue-about.

And then, to show how sweet the Gospel is, he gives them candy.

[Update: being in Glory seemed to do something to Dr. Luther's German accent. In early years, it had a definite Oriental cast to it. He sounded less like Martin the Monk, and more like Ming the Merciless. But he evidently worked on it ("for the children"), and now is much more authentic.]

The kids feel so sorry for me, though. They know how much I admire Martin Luther, but I'm never there to meet him.

So we've always done that as a family. Then three years ago, we opened our house to our church, and everyone came over to share the Phillips family's celebration. It was a hit, praise God. We did it again last year.

Then this year, since the church has a "permanent" building, the Phillips family's celebration is being held at church. Lots of people have signed up to come. We roast the papal bull, we have a diet of Worms, we sing the Reformation Polka, and just generally have a wonderful time.

How do you mark October 31?

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29 October 2007

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Part 1 of 2
by Phil Johnson

he esteemed Dr. Warnock has made yet another post (plus a bonus follow-up comment) objecting to the look and feel of our polemic against some stylish doctrines and ministry philosophies which have borne notoriously rotten fruits.

Specifically, he suggests that in last Monday's Pyro-post I ought not to have criticized Willow Creek's pragmatic, program-driven ministry philosophy without first saying something really nice and affirmative about them.

These are, of course, issues we have discussed with the good Doctor before. I was going to let it pass this time, but he e-mailed me, inviting my reply. So let's analyze Dr. Warnock's view of "discernment" a little more closely.

He insists that "we really must be looking for the good in people, especially in those who have not denied important aspects of the Gospel." Note: in this context, Dr. Warnock is not talking about personal relationships between individual Christians; he is setting forth a principle for how we critique and interact with leaders of new movements, teachers of novel doctrines, and purveyors of new philosophies of ministry. Let's call it Warnock's First Rule of Discernment.

In Dr. Warnock's estimation, my failure to go out of my way to say anything positive about Willow Creek "seemed (at least to [him]) to be implying that Willow Creek has absolutely nothing to teach us."

I said nothing like that, of course, and it's a wholly unwarranted conclusion from what I did say. It's also quite irrelevant to any point I was making.

On the other hand, let's be completely candid: Even if I did go out of my way to catalogue everything I like about the Willow Creek model, it would indeed be a very short list. In fact, as I ponder the question even now, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything truly distinctive about Willow Creek's approach to ministry that I could honestly say advances the agenda of Christ's kingdom. Willow Creek's underlying philosophy is fundamentally pragmatic, not biblical. By their own admission, it is now statistically clear that their strategy does not produce authentic disciples—and therefore fails even the pragmatic test. So it's a bad ministry model even by its own definition of what's "good." More importantly, the movement also falls short by every biblical standard I can think of. Its influence among evangelicals for more than three decades has been seriously, consistently, and (I believe) demonstrably bad in numerous ways. It's about to get even worse.

So it would frankly bother my conscience to leave the impression (even inadvertently) that I think there's anything worth singling out as wholesome or beneficial or worthy of my affirmation in that.

To illustrate: There might be many nutritious scraps of food garbage in a compost heap, but if something in you compels you to go out of your way to point them out to an undiscerning toddler, shame on you.

However, according to Dr. Warnock, "if we fail to recognize something as being good and helpful and true, we fail in our discernment as much as if we blindly accepted everything in a naive way."

OK, but what if the thing being evaluated is really not "good and helpful and true"? Because (and this is the crucial point where I take issue with Dr. Warnock's position) the fact that a person or movement has commendable qualities (even lots of them) does not necessarily make the thing itself "good and helpful and true."

Let's call that Johnson's Fifth Axiom of Common Sense.

Judas, for example, was apparently a very frugal man. Do we need to congratulate him for that every time we condemn his treachery? The Judaizers' doctrine was (as far as we know) perfectly compatible with every point of doctrine enumerated in the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. If you were to count all the true propositions the Judaizers affirmed regarding Christian essentials, there is little doubt that they would outweigh the false propositions in their system by a very large percentage. In fact, the Judaizers' one significant difference with Paul boiled down to a single proposition about the ordo salutis. (They taught that good works precede rather than follow justification.)

But as Paul labored to demonstrate in Galatians, one apparently small, technical difference like that can and sometimes does make the difference between the true gospel and a different, damning, false gospel. Thus you'll never find Paul saying anything positive about the Judaizers.

Moreover, in Galatians 2, Paul publicly rebuked Peter just for treating that false gospel like a mere misdemeanor—even though Peter himself was an apostle of Christ who completely, unconditionally, and unreservedly affirmed the true gospel. Yet Paul did not pillow his public rebuke (or even his retelling of it) in a lot of superfluous affirmations of Peter's good intentions, or his likeable personality, or his commitment to Christ, or whatever. It was a sharp and completely unqualified public rebuke—and under the circumstances, it was warranted. One's "tone" is not always the most important factor in raising a caution about false doctrine.

In short, Warnock's First Rule of Discernment isn't biblical.

Given the enormity of the errors we are talking about in the Willow Creek philosophy, Dr. Warnock's objection to straightforward criticism of that movement strikes me as terribly misguided and question-begging—and inconsistent with what he himself says in other contexts.

For example, is Willow Creek's commitment to "important aspects of the Gospel" truly beyond question or criticism? I certainly don't think so. After all, they are sponsoring a major conference—unveiling their new agenda—with Brian McLaren as the keynote speaker. He is notorious for having portrayed the principle of penal substitution as "one more injustice in the cosmic equation . . . divine child abuse. You know?" There's hardly a single gospel-related doctrine that was highlighted in the Protestant Reformation that McLaren has not somehow questioned or attacked, and the atonement is central to all the others.

As a matter of fact, based on Dr. Warnock's own steadfast (and excellent) defense of penal substitutionary atonement, I'm mystified as to why he objects to a shrill and unqualified warning about the direction Willow seems headed.

My strong suspicion is that Dr. Warnock's most basic objection to my "discernment style" has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the concerns I have raised about Willow Creek. I think the root of his real disagreement with me lies in our difference of opinion on the charismatic question. Usually, when he makes critical posts about TeamPyro, that's the central issue he brings up—and this latest dust-up is no exception.

But that's a whole different issue, and here Dr. Warnock's complaint becomes somewhat more nuanced. I want to answer that part of his argument, too, but that will have to wait for another day. So I'll be back to follow this up (Lord willing) by Friday, or as soon thereafter as possible.

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27 October 2007

Speak to Us Smooth Things

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive.The following excerpt is from "The Warning Neglected," a sermon preached on 29 November 1857 at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens. Spurgeon's text that day was Ezekiel 33:5: "He heard the sound of the trumpet, but did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself."

ou did not like the trumpet, did you? . . .

What was that to you what the trumpet was, so long as it warned you? And surely, if it had been a time of war, and you had heard a trumpet sounded to warn you of the coming of the enemy, you would not have sat still, and said, "Now I believe that is a brass trumpet, I would like to have had it made of silver." No, but the sound would have been enough for you and up you would have been to escape from the danger. And so it must be now with you. It is an idle pretense that you did not like it. You ought to have liked it. . . .

Ah, my brethren, we do not find fault with the way a man speaks if we are in a house that is on fire. If the man calls, "Fire! Fire!" we are not particular what note he takes, we do not think what a harsh voice he has got. You would think any one a fool, a confounded fool, who should lie in his bed, to be burned, because he said he did not like the way the man cried, "Fire!" Why his business was to have been out of bed and down the stairs at once, as soon as he heard it.

But another says, "I did not like the man himself; I did not like the minister; I did not like the man that blew the trumpet; I could hear him preach very well, but I had a personal dislike to him, and so I did not take any notice of what the trumpet said."

Verily, God will say to thee at last, "Thou fool, what hadst thou to do with that man; to his own master he stands or falls; thy business was with thyself."

What would you think of a man? A man has fallen overboard from a ship, and when he is drowning, some sailor throws him a rope, and there it is. Well he says, in the first place, "I do not like that rope, I don't think that rope was made at the best manufactory, there is some tar on it too, I do not like it; and in the next place, I do not like that sailor that threw the rope over, I am sure he is not a kind-hearted man, I do not like the look of him at all;" and then comes a gurgle and a groan, and down he is at the bottom of the sea; and when he was drowned, they said, that it served him right, if he would not lay hold of the rope, but would be making such foolish and absurd objections, when it was a matter of life and death. Then on his own head be his blood. . . .
C. H. Spurgeon

26 October 2007

The Tombstone of a Wife

by Frank Turk

Yeah, OK: many of you are silently rolling your eyes at me for the what-for I have given Strategem in the meta of the last post because you have a story like this one, which I received via e-mail and have doctorized to conceal the identity and particulars from the original e-mail:
I took my family to a perfectly orthodox church after I changed jobs a few years ago, as far as I could tell. The preaching was always about Scripture, -always- from some very plain-jane orthodox perspective. They were not participating in trendy marketing & ministry, and they had a viable church polity – biblical enough to be sure.

As I say, we attended for years, faithfully, because God said to attend a local church, and I don't believe there are many excuses not to do so.

I made the effort to be supportive of the pastor. My wife and I did ministry there. We worked to connect to the families in the church and extended our hand to anyone who would shake it.

But the preaching was only safe – safe doctrine, safe exposition, safe topics, all doctrinally fine but, um, sort of under glass like pieces in a museum rather than things I could take home with me.

The church never reached back to us. The pastor/his family never showed friendship to or concern for us. The pastor would see me sitting in the parking lot with absolutely nothing to do as I waited for 90 minutes for my child's youth group to conclude, and at best he'd wave at me. Never wanted to come talk to me, with me.

Then on the recommendation of a former church member, I joined the men's fellowship st our current church. It was in this connection, that I began to see some light, and entered a new and immensely better phase of my life. Then I attended one service. The preaching was remarkably good, and had what the current pastor lacked: passion. My wife attended next, and was similarly impressed. We began coming.

When we left, I emailed the pastor, telling him we'd left, wishing him well, urging him to use his position with passion and fire for God's glory.

He never responded.

But I'm gathering from your posts that you think I did the wrong thing?
I mean, what do you do with that, right?

I think that, if we're going to only fish out what someone prolly did wrong, we're just a bunch of hypocrites looking for a fight – so let's first see what this person did –right-, which I think is a lot.

First, he didn’t live in his church like it was a bunker – like it was the only herd of Christians in the world, or at least his corner of the world. He had needs as a Christian man which his church didn’t fill, and he wasn't afraid to get filled by associating with other Christians even if they were under a different roof than he normally came to. That's not consumerism -- that being honest. If your church doesn't have an opportunity for you to fellowship with other believers in more than just a coffee- while- reading- LifeWay- on- Sunday kind of way, you prolly need some of that and to seek it out isn't evil. It's self-awareness. Getting Christian fellowship ought to be part of church; when church doesn't do that, seek it out with people who are Christians,

You know: like we do at this blog, except in person. It'd be OK if you knew people from other churches.

Next, he wasn't really looking for the next big thing – wasn't chasing fads or leaving one church for another, or stopping his attendance or attending irregularly because his current church was, frankly, lame. He was faithful to the church he was joined to in spite of being more than a little disappointed in its performance.

And lastly, he can make a clear case that one church was exercising the mission of the church by acting alive and the other was frankly on life-support. That is, one was living out some kind of "calling out" and the other was not really doing much at all. It was sort of the tombstone of a church, which is like the tombstone of a wife -- you can see she was there one time, but you can't be married to a tombstone. Put an appropriate, loving epitaph on it and move on.

Let me put it this way: if I was attending a church where I was teaching Sunday school and having serviceable worship on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night, but I found that all my fellowship time and discipleship and real acts of public service for the sake of Christ was under the umbrella of another church, I'd seriously consider changing churches – even if I couldn’t teach at the new church. And the reasoning would be this: I am fruitlessly ministering to this body of people, and I am fruitfully ministering with these other people. My Christian life is actually a life in one circumstance, and no so much in the other.

That's not bailing due to apostasy: that's working with fellow workmen. And that, btw, is what the church is.

You could find out by being in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people this week. You can't find out by glowering at this blog and trying to nit-pick the flaws in my reasoning -- that will only give you a headache, and who wants that?

25 October 2007

Pray without ceasing

by Frank Turk

While we're on the topic of doing things with our churches besides complain, we have a bevy of readers in Atlanta who are about to run out of water, and we have a significant contingent in SoCal who are getting smoked out like bees.

Take lunch today to pray for the city of Atlanta and for Southern California that God will have mercy, and that the rain will fall on both the just and the unjust.

As you were.

Your whole house, and everything in it

by Frank Turk

OK -- so with about 25 posts on the topic of why you need to belong to a local church and not just stop by a local church -- including all the wacky meta that has accompanied it -- so what? I mean, why the beat-down on people who are frankly not happy about not having a local church? Am I seriously suggesting that these people don't really want a church to belong to?

The provocative answer is: Yes and no.

Now, before you fire off an e-mail to the board of FIRE demanding that somebody take my name out of the Reformed® Lamb's book of Life™ for insulting men and women of good conscience, we have to unpack some of our contemporary assumptions about who we are and why we think the way we do. And one of "our" cultural predispositions in American evangelicalism is premillenialism, especially the kind which wears the big cardboard sign with black hand-painted letters that reads "THE END IS NEAR".

It's that view of things -- especially the view which thinks that because the end of the world is here and we are living someplace between Rev 4 and Rev 19 in a calendar-date kind of way, and the Great Whore is deceiving all kinds of men, including the elect (as if that were possible)-- we sort of default into the view that it's not likely for us, the informed readers of blogs and books by puritans, reformers and Charles Spurgeon, that we shall find a church which, as they might have said of Lazarus, doesn't stinketh.

But here's the problem: from the day of Paul and his life after founding all those churches across the ancient world, the church was never perfect. Go back and read this post by me and look at the state of the churches Paul was writing to. The churches Paul founded were frankly not perfect -- they weren't even really very consistent. You know: it's not like 40 years had passed between the time Paul founded the church in Corinth and when they decided that the Lord's table was really a private party and not a public place where sinners demonstrate their unity in Christ, or where they had, apparently, forgotten the Gospel which is of fist importance.

And Paul's first letter to Corinth didn't say, "Dudes: flee to the hills -- your pastors and elders are apostates." He said, in effect, "remember the truth of Christ and find unity in truth."

So in our right-minded expectation for Christ to come soon -- and it is a right-minded expectation, premil, a-mil, post-mil or grist-mill -- we cannot at the same time look at Christ's church as something which we hold at arm's length.

So yes: I am suggesting that, on the one hand, many of us have (and I think it's accidental and sort of subconscious; I don't think people -mean- to think this way) bought into the "end-is-near" mistake that the church is in a pre-pre-mil state of looming apostasy and we can't be expected to join to that.

But on the other hand, no, I don't think anyone (except maybe Campingites and some other wacked-out cultists) is doing this on-purpose. I don't think you mean to profane the things God has made holy -- I think many people are simply looking for something which has never existed in the history of time and space, and our expectations of others are too high and of ourselves are too low.

That is: we want to find a church that makes us holy and perfect rather than seeing that Christ makes us holy and calls us out to be joined together in spite of the fact that none of us are right now perfect in "the things we do to ourselves and other people" kind of way. We are not the spiritual equivalent of "Mr. Clean" -- Jesus is. He is the one who cleans the whole house and everything in it, not you or your book-laernin', and certainly not the perfection of the pastor at your church. When we get that right, we can get a lot more right in the way we act toward others.

You know: the holiness of the church doesn't come from the holiness of the members. It comes from Christ. I'm sure you've read this before --

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
It's what Christ has done which makes the church holy -- even the mediocre church with the boring pastor, even the popular church with the country-club environment, even the lowly church which is full of poor people and can't scrape up enough money to send a missionary or buy a building.

And let me dare to say something which will enrage the internet version of the Thessalonican mob: even the church which is tottering on the brink of apostasy. One of the real foundational bits of scripture for church-leaver is the section of Revelation which announces the letters from God to the churches in Asia. And before we run through that quickly, it is interesting and important to note that in 2 Tim 1, Paul says flatly to Timothy that "You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me". That's decades before John received the prophecies and messages in Revelation, readers. Around 65 AD, Paul told Timothy that all in Asia have jumped ship.

But then John, at the end of his life, sees visions and hears the Glorified Christ say stuff, has the audacity to write stuff like this:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
Now, look at all the "us"'s there -- and he's saying "us" to churches which Paul has written off decades before, and to whom he is about to write the letters of warning and condemnation.

That's not to soft-soak the warnings in the next 3 chapters: that to say that even in giving these churches strong warnings, John wasn't ready to say that individuals needed to flee the church. He was ready and able to say that it is for the truth of Christ that we must stand firm, and it is by being the church that we repudiate error.

So before you get to "But I have this against you" or "some there who hold the teaching of Balaam" or "you tolerate that woman Jezebel" or "I will spit you out of my mouth", go back to the greeting John gives and ask yourself if you personally should spit out of your mouth something Christ's blood has purchased.

The question here is a serious one. It requires you to be serious and loving and faithful and obedient before you are passing judgment and shaking the dust off your feet.

And there's one other question I got via e-mail which I want to address, but that'll have to be for tomorrow.

Talk amongst yourselves.

24 October 2007

Some mixture of error

by Frank Turk

I'm sure a lot of you find most of my posts to be of some mixture of error, but that's not what this VERY BRIEF post this morning is about. It's about this passage of the LBCF, which I have been trying to get to for weeks now:
The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name.
And most people read this passage in this way:
The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name.
But let me suggest to you that this is the way it was intended to be read:
The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name.
Now, why is that impoprtant? It's important because this statement is an affirmation of the necessity of "churches" in spite of the many, many flaws in each indiviodual church.

Let's face it: your church is flawed. No matter which one you choose, you can find something wrong with it which, if you comb the NT hard enough, will cause you to call it bad enough to leave. But the question is only this: at what point do we seek to be obedient to God's word in spite of human mixture and error rather than seeking our church to be immediately a perfect and infallible place where nothing bad ever happens?

Discuss that today, and if I get a minute I'll come back to clean up the comments.

23 October 2007

25 Skills Every Man Should Have?

by Dan Phillips

Interesting. Popular Mechanics just ran an article titled 25 Skills Every Man Should Know: The List, Ready for Your Debate. Not sure why that isn't "sexist" all by itself; I'm sure someone will complain.

Here's some of it:
1. Patch a radiator hose...
4. Frame a wall...
8. Fix a dead outlet...
18. Mix concrete [maybe if I read the instructions]

19. Clean a bolt-action rifle
20. Change oil and filter

21. Hook up an HDTV
22. Bleed brakes

By that list, I'm not much of a man. It did start me thinking. What would be a Biblical list of traits that every man should have?

It would have to feature commitments such as loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5), loving His Word (Deuteronomy 6:6), transmitting His Word to the family (Deuteronomy 6:6ff.), loving his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25f.)....

What else?


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22 October 2007

Still Not Clear on the Concept

A Two-Part Rant Prompted by Things I Found in My In-Box
by Phil Johnson

ut of Ur has this post provocatively titled "Willow Creek Repents," and I've been getting e-mails from people who wonder what I think about it. The tone of a few of those e-mails has been like, "See there? Now you need to get on the Willow Creek fad-wagon."

No, thanks. Out of Ur includes a link to a video of Bill Hybels explaining how he supposedly got "the wake up call of [his] adult life." I watched the video, and frankly there's not a hint of "repentance" in it. It's just a slick announcement about Willow Creek's latest program.

So am I the only one who finds it both ironic and disturbing that when the framers of ministry philosophy at Willow Creek finally are faced with the desiccated fruits of their program-driven approach to ministry, their instant response is to announce a new program?

Really, I would love to sound more positive and affirming about Hybels' "wake up call." But critics of Willow Creek have been pointing out for years that the seeker-sensitive ministry philosophy severely stunts Christian growth. Even worse, Willow Creek's methodology seems to multiply the number of almost-converts who dabble in spiritual matters until they are no longer amused, and then fall away without ever coming to authentic faith in Christ.

Hybels has blown off all those criticisms for years. He only reluctantly and partially accepts them now because he can't very well wave aside his own staff's opinion-poll data.

Get it? Opinion-poll data?

Try to caricature that.

n a similar vein, several people have pointed me to some recent articles by J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine. He has been exposing and condemning some rather egregious examples of charismania gone to seed, and his articles illustrate how easily blind Charismatic credulity can breed moral rot. An e-mail I received this morning urged me to recognize and commend Grady "for the work he is doing" to "expose the systemic corruption, lies and immorality" in certain high-profile charismatic circles.

OK. Fine. But he's not saying anything that wasn't already being said thirty years ago by sober critics of the charismatic movement. And these are not new problems he is "exposing," but corruption that Charisma itself knew about and worked hard to conceal for many years.

As a matter of fact, Grady starts this week's column with the stunning revelation that his first task at Charisma fifteen years ago was "to sort through dozens of files of disturbing allegations" made by numerous women against Bishop Earl Paulk. He now admits "national charismatic leaders" should have listened to those allegations (which were credible if only for the sheer number of witnesses against Paulk), rather than permitting the Bishop to "thrive unchallenged."

But again: What Grady is now saying is precisely what many critics of latter-day charismatic "prophets and apostles" have been saying for more than three decades. Bishop Paulk is no anomaly in the charismatic world, nor is he even close to being the most heinous example of gross moral failure among the charismatic elite. So I think it's seriously overblown to hail J. Lee Grady (the way some have) as prophetic.

What's most striking about Grady's article, however, is this paragraph: "We charismatics, who claim to have the gift of discernment, should have smelled this cultic deception a mile away. But instead, even though the list of allegations grew year by year, leaders in our movement continued to allow Paulk to air his broadcasts on national television."

I'm glad he said that. I could not have said it without incurring the wrath of every charismatic friend I have. But it is, after all, a point that really does need to be dealt with: Charismatic claims about questionable prophecies, miracles, gifts, and callings regularly and systematically breed willful gullibility, not discernment.

Just like seeker-sensitive methodology stunts rather than stimulates spiritual growth.

The problems in both of those movements are serious and systemic, not superficial and cosmetic. They are problems that are rooted in their respective movements' most distinctive ideas. Until their leaders see that and actually change direction, it seems a bit overly optimistic to refer to their mea culpas as "repentance."

Phil's signature

21 October 2007

Full of Grace and Truth

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from The Treasury of David, Spurgeon's exposition of Psalm 138:2:

he person of Jesus is the temple of the Godhead, and therein we behold the glory of the Father, "full of grace and truth."

It is upon these two points that the name of Jehovah is at this time assailed—his grace and his truth. He is said to be too stern, too terrible, and therefore "modern thought" displaces the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and sets up an effeminate deity of its own making.

As for us, we firmly believe that God is love, and that in the summing up of all things it will be seen that hell itself is not inconsistent with the beneficence of Jehovah, but is, indeed, a necessary part of his moral government now that sin has intruded into the universe.

True believers hear the thunders of his justice, and yet they do not doubt his lovingkindness. Especially do we delight in God's great love to his own elect, such as he showed to Israel as a race, and more especially to David and his seed when he entered into covenant with him. Concerning this there is abundant room for praise.

But not only do men attack the lovingkindness of God, but the truth of God is at this time assailed on all sides; some doubt the truth of the inspired record as to its histories, others challenge the doctrines, many sneer at the prophecies; in fact, the infallible word of the Lord is at this time treated as if it were the writing of impostors, and only worthy to be carped at.

The swine are trampling on the pearls at this time, and nothing restrains them; nevertheless, the pearls are pearls still, and shall yet shine about our Monarch's brow. We sing the lovingkindness and truth of the God of the Old Testament,—"the God of the whole earth shall he be called."

David before the false gods first sang, then worshipped, and then proclaimed the grace and truth of Jehovah; let us do the same before the idols of the New Theology.
C. H. Spurgeon

19 October 2007

Trivial Pursuit

by Phil Johnson

ll week the blogposts here have been lighter-than usual fare. And I'm OK with that. Especially this week. I did not need a high-maintenance brouhaha in the comment-threads this week. I had several loose ends at the office to tie up, including getting the final revisions for A Tale of Two Sons inserted into the manuscript and sent back to the publisher, and a stack of other things that needed doing.

The weekend finds me in Springfield, IL, where I'm speaking at a weekend conference at Southern View Chapel, pastored by one of my very favorite writers, Gary Gilley. I also spent the morning with my longtime friend (and the world's foremost expert on the history of hyper-Calvinism), Curt Daniel. So today was a great day, but I didn't get to blog, and Friday is unofficially supposed to be my day.

So let me partially atone for that omission with a post that touches on several more or less trivial things I wouldn't otherwise bother to blog about:

  • Letitia is an occasional commenter here at PyroManiacs. She usually takes the opposing view against our critiques of Emerging shenanigans, and she attends The Journey, a church in St. Louis that's part of the Acts 29 Network. But she's always friendly and polite, and a welcome participant in our combox. She e-mailed to inform me that her church's lead pastor, Darrin Patrick, will be delivering the Fall Lecture Series for the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis tomorrow. And he'll be making use of the Po-Motivator® posters. I don't imagine that could possibly mean anything good for us. I wish I could be there. I'm only an hour away. But I have this prior commitment.
  • Facebook. Yeah, I got on Facebook to try to manage personal messages from blogreaders. Our spam filters are aggressive, and since I asked for feedback about the blogroll, I didn't want to have those messages siphoned off as spam before I saw them. So I have systematically added everyone who has asked to be my Facebook friend, whether I know you or not. (Actually, I declined one or two people whose names I recognized because in the past they have deliberately tried to be thorns in the flesh.) But I think I have dealt with every reasonable friend request and added everyone to the blogroll who met the conditions. However, I didn't notice until I'd OKed about 45 friend requests that it's possible to attach a comment to the friend request, so there may have been some blogroll info I missed. So if you requested to be on the blogroll and are qualified to be there, but I somehow haven't added you yet, message me again on Facebook, and I'll try to get you this time. Please don't send intricate theological questions or requests for detailed feedback to my Facebook page. I don't have time to use the Facebook page like that. Look at it as a personal supplement to the blog. Write graffiti on my wall, poke me, post interesting (and tasteful) pictures, videos, or whatever. I'll read whatever's there, but I just can't reply to most of it. So don't think me rude if you post the funniest joke of your life and I ignore it. Just know that I prolly thought it was pretty funny. But I'm not going to write about it.
  • Osteen. Everything I would say about the guy has already been said—except for one: I'm amazed that so little has been said about Osteen's comment near the middle of the interview, when the representative of this humanistic network news program summarized Osteen's Christless message in these very words: "To become a better you, you must be positive towards yourself, develop better relationships, embrace the place where you are. Not one mention of God in that. Not one mention of Jesus Christ in that. . . " and Osteen acknowledged that description, then replied: "That's just my message. There is scripture in there that backs it all up. But I feel like, Byron, I'm called to help people . . . how do we walk out the Christian life? How do we live it? And these are principles that can help you. I mean, there's a lot better people qualified to say, 'Here's a book that going to explain the scriptures to you.' I don't think that's my gifting." Isn't that an admission from his own lips that he doesn't fit the basic biblical qualifications to be a pastor in the first place?
  • My lawn. I forgot to mow before I left. And I have board meetings in Bradenton, FL, Monday and Tuesday before I get back home. So if you live in my neighborhood, don't look at my lawn this week. Better yet, stop by and mow it for me.

    See you next week.

    Phil's signature

  • Proverbs speaker ejected

    by Dan Phillips

    Blogless commenter Jimbo pointed me to this "article," which is too good not to share.

    I found it very timely as I prepare for the Proverbs conference. Don't think they'll kick me out, though.

    Don't think so, but... you never know!

    Dan Phillips's signature

    18 October 2007

    Like... could you just say it?

    posted by Dan Phillips

    You'd swear this guy had been reading the Po-Motivators.

    Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20)

    ...whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God.... (1 Peter 4:11a)
    (The speaker is a "slam poet" named Taylor Mali; you'd swear he was talking about Christians in general and pastors in specific, though I've not seen that he makes any claim to be a Christian.)

    Here's the irony: a man who apparently is a worldling, who accordingly has no transcendent and eternal basis for his own worldview, sees this ridiculous trait of our age. And he calls other worldlings, who accordingly have no transcendent and eternal basis for their worldview, to speak boldly and with conviction.

    But self-identified cutting-edge Christian leaders are by contrast modeling the very stance through which Mali has seen, so devastatingly.

    In an age in which Christians should be called to know what and why we believe, and to say it with conviction, instead the very foundational truths on which Christian truth-claims rest are being held at arm's length. And this stance is held up as virtuous, rather than pilloried as cowardly and disastrous.

    h-t the Bayly boys, from one of their commenters

    Dan Phillips's signature

    17 October 2007

    As Good as It Gets

    posted by Phil Johnson

    arely do I put sound files on the blog, so when I do, you know it's a good one. You've got to hear this.

    The sound clip linked below was recorded last Saturday (thanks to Bill Fickett). It's from KFI 640 ("More stimulating talk radio"). That's a secular all-talk station and probably the largest Clear Channel radio station on the West Coast—not a source where you'd normally expect to hear a lesson about divine providence. But it's a good one.

    Some facts about this story before you listen:

    1. Johnny MacArthur is John MacArthur's eldest grandson. He's a high-school senior this year and a scratch golfer with a full-ride golf scholarship to Pepperdine next year.
    2. Johnny is a senior, playing football for the first time in his high-school career. Of course, many well-meaning friends and conservative grown-ups advised him not to go out for football because of the risk of an injury that could jeopardize his scholarship. He tried out and made the team anyway.
    3. Hart and Canyon High Schools have one of the fiercest rivalries ever in US high-school football. Johnny plays for Hart High School. Canyon was last year's state champ in football. (Canyon's stadium is down the hill from my back yard. I hear their marching band practicing in the mornings. Hart, across the valley, is this community's oldest high school, named for William S. Hart, an early cowboy actor, who founded the Western film studios that originally built this community.)
    4. I suppose many Pyro readers will have heard about the terrible truck accident that occurred in the Newhall Pass on I-5 Friday night. It made national news and Fred Butler blogged about it. The accident site is also close by my house. (In fact, a straight line from Canyon's football stadium to the truck accident would intersect my house.)
    So anyway, here's the sound file. Listen to that clip first (and stay with it all the way to the end), lest the ending be spoiled for you. But then here's a video of the key moment in the football game. Phil's signature

    My Wednesday Oops

    by Frank Turk

    Meant to post another 3-pager on you and your poor church, but I got called out oft own by my day job. Instead of reading me, read the London Baptist Confession of Faith on the church, including all the Scripture proofs.

    After you get over your pangs of guilt, think about your poor local church some more and try to think about how much better it would be if you stay.

    16 October 2007

    While you're waiting for meat (i.e. substance)... child elders!

    by Dan Phillips


    (I do like li'l Samuel Boutwell's "I'm gonna answer this question Biblely" [at about -4:14]. Not so much 1 Timothy 3:6, though.)

    Dan Phillips's signature

    15 October 2007

    Proverbs with a Pyro

    Many of you know that the book of Proverbs is a special love of mine. Over the months, we've taken some explorations into it here at Pyro, as a click on the keyword "Proverbs" will bear out.

    And so it was thrilling to be invited by Pastor Jim Kirby of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church to present a conference on the subject. I've done Proverbs seminars in the past, and preparing a fresh set of talks has been a joy. I've really been looking forward to this.

    If any of you can join us, it would be great to meet you!

    Here are the planned sessions:

    9:30 a.m.—Understanding Proverbs
    11:00 a.m.—God in Proverbs
    1:00 p.m.—Wisdom and Folly in Proverbs
    2:30 p.m.—Marriage in Proverbs [—including wisdom for singles]
    9:15 a.m.—Children in Proverbs
    10:30 a.m.—Living in the Fear of the Lord
    For further information, check the web site.

    Hope to see you there!

    (PS – this Shameless Plug was Board-approved.)

    Dan Phillips's signature

    13 October 2007

    Work . . . For It Is God Who Works in You

    Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
    posted by Phil Johnson

    The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from a sermon titled "The Lion and the Bear: Trophies Hung Up" (from 1 Samuel 12:36-37), preached at the Met Tab on Thursday evening, September 25th, 1884.

    n God's word the car of truth runs on two rails of parallel statement. A great many people want to pull up one of the rails. They will not accept two sets of truth.

    "Predestination and free agency do not agree," so the modern Solomons assert.

    Who said? "They do not agree"? They do agree as fully as two rails on the tram line; but some narrow spirits must set aside either the one or the other, they cannot accept both.

    This has long been a puzzle on paper, but in practice it is ease itself. So here the practical action of the believer, throwing his whole might into his Master's service, perfectly well agrees with his falling back upon the working of God, and knowing that it is God that worketh all things for him. David's slaying of the lion and the bear and the Philistine is clear; but God's delivering him out of the jaw of the lion, and the paw of the bear, and the hand of the Philistine, is equally clear.

    Make it plain to your own self. I believe that, when I preach, I ought to prepare and study my sermon as if its success altogether depended upon me, but that, when I am thus thoroughly furnished, I am to trust in God as much as if I had done nothing at all. The same view should be taken of your life and of your service for God. Work as if you were to be saved by your works, and then trust Christ only, since it is only by faith in him that you are capable of a single good work. Work for God with all your might, as if you did it all, but then always remember that "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

    How is that Philistine to be killed?

    "By God," says one.

    True; but not without David.

    "By David," says another.

    Yes, but not without God. Put the Lord on the march with David and you put the Philistines into untimely graves. When David moves to the fight, God being with him, off comes Goliath's head. Nor champions' heads, nor demons' helmets, can stand against the man of God. "The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge."
    C. H. Spurgeon