31 December 2007

Drawing to an end

by Dan Phillips

The year 2007 draws to an end. And what else?

None of us knows what the next moment holds. "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring" (Proverbs 27:1). Whatever the next day brings, all the preceding days bring their mounting weight to bear on us.

Consider now the final words of Benazir Bhutto:
"Long live Bhutto," Benazir Bhutto shouted, waving to the crowd surging around her car. They were her last words before three gunshots rang out and she slumped back on to her seat.

"She did not say anything more," said Safdar Abbassi, her chief political adviser, who was sitting behind her.
"Long live Bhutto" — bang! — dead.

And then? Then Benazir Bhutto found herself facing her Judge (Hebrews 9:27). Was she prepared?

At the moment, I'm less concerned about her than about you and me. The only difference between Bhutto and us is a tick, a moment, a flash. We all stand before the Judge just as surely as she. We don't know the time on the summons, but we do know that we won't miss our court appearance date by so much as a second.

And what do we bring? In the best movie version of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge hears Marley's lament about the many and heavy chains he wears, and murmurs "You have my sympathy." Marley's response:
"Ahh — you do not know the weight and length of strong chain you bear yourself. It was full as heavy and as long as this seven Christmas eves ago and you have labored on it since. Ah! it is a ponderous chain!"

Whatever the theological shortcomings of Christmas Carol (and they are many and serious), I appreciate this: Scrooge is vividly shown to be utterly unaware that he is judged, as he stands; that his life has already borne fruit, and that fruit is bitter, woeful, deadly.

This is the state of men today. We read, "whoever does not believe is condemned already" (John 3:18). Worse, and more ominously, John reveals that "whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36) — now, at this moment, as he draws this fleeting breath which, for all he knows, may be his last. What Daniel said to Belshazzar, he might well say to us: "the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored" (Daniel 5:23).

"Long live me!"poof! — gone. Gone to judgment.

Someone has just read those words, and they are for you. Your condition is just so. Whatever your pursuits and distractions over the past year, the reality is that you are a step away from a judgment that is absolute, final, inescapable, irrevocable, and incapable of appeal. Were you to die now, the ax would fall, and that would be that. Forever. You need to come to know God, now.

But lest my Christian readers (and self) feel too safe, consider that the same principle applies to us equally, and perhaps even more so. Never forget:
"Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (Luke 12:48)
Perhaps you read this blog daily, and other writings of men far better than the current one. Good, and God be praised. But never forget: as you and I read, our responsibility-index goes up. It is happening now, right now, to you, and to me.

The words of Hebrews 9:27 ("it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment") do not bring a message to unbelievers alone, but to us as well. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10). And how does this consideration affect the apostle who wrote it? Does Paul go on to say, "But never mind that, the blood covers all, I'm eternally secure, so I'm going for what I see to be my best life right now"?

Not so much. Paul's very next words are, "Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:11). The apostle of free forensic justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone found the reality of God's judgment both sobering and motivating.

So I call us all, as the year draws to a close, to consider the judgment of God, and to consider our lives in that context. The statistics are pretty good that not all who read these words now will be here to read any similar post next year's end. Nor may I be here to write one. Benazir Bhutto's last words were a futile wish for earthly longevity, words that were instantly given the lie.

John Piper's idea is better. Piper uses New Year's Eve as a dress-rehearsal for his own death, considering his year in the light of God's judgment, and eternity.

Do that, or use another idea. But do something.

Tick tick tick.....

"For man does not know his time.
Like fish that are taken in an evil net,
and like birds that are caught in a snare,
so the children of man are snared at an evil time,
when it suddenly falls upon them"
(Ecclesiastes 9:12)

POSTSCRIPT: some of last year's closing thoughts can be found here and here; and a previous year from my blog here.

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29 December 2007

Needed: Old Soldiers to Defend Old Truths in the New Year

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 "Ripe Fruit," a sermon on Micah 7:1, preached 14 August 1870 at the Met Tab.

he church needs mature Christians very greatly, and especially when there are many fresh converts added to it. New converts furnish impetus to the church, but her backbone and substance must, under God, lie with the mature members.

We want mature Christians in the army of Christ, to play the part of veterans, to inspire the rest with coolness, courage, and steadfastness; for if the whole army is made up of raw recruits the tendency will be for them to waver when the onslaught is fiercer than usual.

The old guard, the men who have breathed smoke and eaten fire before, do not waver when the battle rages like a tempest, they can die but they cannot surrender. When they hear the cry of "Forward," they may not rush to the front so nimbly as the younger soldiers, but they drag up the heavy artillery, and their advance once made is secure. They do not reel when the shots fly thick, but still hold their own, for they remember former fights when Jehovah covered their heads. The church wants—in these days of flimsiness and time-serving—more decided, thoroughgoing, well-instructed, and confirmed believers.

We are assailed by all sorts of new doctrines. The old faith is attacked by so-called reformers, who would reform it all away. I expect to hear tidings of some new doctrine once a week. So often as the moon changes, some prophet or other is moved to propound a now theory, and believe me, he will contend more valiantly for his novelty than ever he did for the gospel. The discoverer thinks himself a modern Luther, and of his doctrine he thinks as much as David of Goliath's sword, "There is none like it."

As Martin Luther said of certain in his day, these inventors of new doctrines stare at their discoveries like a cow at a new gate, as if there were nothing else in all the world but the one thing for them to stare at. We are all expected to go mad for their fashions, and march to their piping. To whom we give place; no, not for an hour.

They may muster a troop of raw recruits, and lead them whither they would, but for confirmed believers they sound their bugles in vain. Children run after every new toy; any little performance in the street, and the boys are all agog, gaping at it; but their fathers have work to do abroad, and their mothers have other matters at home; your drum and whistle will not, draw them out.

For the solidity of the church, for her steadfastness in the faith, for her defense against the constantly recurring attacks of heretics and infidels, and for her permanent advance and the seizing of fresh provinces for Christ, we want not only your young, hot blood, which may God always send to us, for it is of immense service, and we cannot do without it, but we need also the cool, steady, well-disciplined, deeply-experienced hearts of men who know by experience the truth of God, and hold fast what they have learned in the school of Christ.

May the Lord our God therefore send us many such; they are wanted.
C. H. Spurgeon

27 December 2007

A Short History of Apostasy

Another Excerpt from The Truth War
posted by Phil Johnson

Truth has never been established by majority opinion, and it is in no way unusual that in our generation only a relatively small remnant still believe the Bible is inerrantly truthful. Here's proof:

ike sin itself, apostasy is by no means a recent phenomenon, and it is not even something unique to the Christian era. From that moment in the garden when the serpent brought his war against truth into the world of humanity—through the close of the Old Testament canon and beyond, right down to the present day—the campaign against truth has been unrelenting and shockingly effective.

Again and again in the Old Testament, Israel was solemnly warned not to defect. Apostates nonetheless can be found in every period of Old Testament history. At times, it seemed as if the entire nation had apostatized at once. In Elijah's generation, for instance (at a time when the total population of Israel almost surely could be counted in the millions), the number of the faithful dwindled to some seven thousand (1 Kings 19:18). Elijah even imagined for a while that he was the last true believer alive!

During Jeremiah's lifetime, the size of the faithful remnant was probably smaller still. Almost everyone in Israel was utterly hostile to Jeremiah's ministry. After four decades of powerful preaching, the great prophet stood essentially alone. Scripture gives no indication that he ever saw a single convert.

Throughout Old Testament history, the problem of apostasy was pervasive, and times of widespread faithfulness in the nation, such as the sweeping revival described in Nehemiah 8, were exceptional and mostly short-lived. Nehemiah's revival quickly gave way to a watered-down and halfhearted form of religion (see Nehemiah 13). Spiritual lukewarmness dominated Israel's later history. The whole nation finally became so utterly apostate that when the promised Messiah was born, virtually everyone missed the true significance of the event. Within three years of the start of His public ministry, they were crying for Him to be murdered as a dangerous imposter and threat to their religion. From a human perspective, it might even seem as if the enemies of truth usually had the upper hand in the Old Testament era.

It is no surprise, then, that the word apostasia appears several times in the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that predates Christ by a couple of hundred years). In Joshua 22:22, for example, apostasy is characterized as "rebellion [and] treachery" against "the LORD God of gods." Jeremiah 2:19 likewise employs the word apostasia to describe the backslidings of those who utterly forsook the Lord. That same verse defines the essence of all apostasy: " 'The fear of Me is not in you,' says the Lord GOD of hosts."

So apostasy, appalling and dismal though it is, has been an ever-present reality throughout all of redemptive history. Many people who know the truth reject it anyway, and thus it has always been. In that respect, the times in which we live are by no means extraordinary.

Even Jesus' ministry provides a startling picture of real-life apostasy. John 6 records how large crowds showed up wherever he went while He was performing miracles. But they turned away en masse when He began to proclaim truth they did not want to hear. In most cases, it appears, their rejection of Christ was nothing less than final and irremediable apostasy. Near the end of that long, tragic chapter, verse 66 says this: "From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more."

Jesus' teaching made the truth starkly clear. These people, who evidently saw the truth plainly and understood Jesus' teaching perfectly well, turned away anyway. In fact, the utter clarity of the truth was the very thing that drove them away. When they saw the truth for what it was, they simply hated it. It was too demanding, too unpopular, too inconvenient, too much of a threat to their own agenda, and too much of a rebuke to their sin. Remember, "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19).

So that is how the New Testament era began. Scripture also teaches that apostasy will be widespread at the end of the age. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus gave an extended description of the last days, including this: "Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many" (Matthew 24:11). Peter likewise prophesied that "scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, 'Where is the promise of His coming?'" (2 Peter 3:3þ4). In 1 Timothy 4:1þ2, the apostle Paul says, "the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron." As a matter of fact, one of the major turning points at the end of this age will be a worldwide renunciation of the truth and a wholesale rejection of Christ, known as "the falling away" (apostasia), according to 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

So apostasy is a fact of all history, and there is never any kind of armistice in the Truth War. Our generation is certainly no exception to that rule. Some of the greatest threats to truth today come from within the visible church. Apostates are there in vast abundance—teaching lies, popularizing gross falsehoods, reinventing essential doctrines, and even redefining truth itself. They seem to be everywhere in the evangelical culture today, making merchandise of the gospel.
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In the interim...

by Dan Phillips

...while we're all waiting to hear from Phil and Frank...


First, I craft it of the dough my wife makes.

Then I pop it in the oven. This year, I made a second pizza for my youngest boys, who don't share my love for all-you-can-pile-on topping.

Then out it comes. You may note that one half features God's good gifts of olives and mushrooms, while the other is crafted for "weaker brethren" (or, in this case, sistren).

Not, I think, my thickest pizza. But we ate it, and thanked God for His blessings.

Hope you all had a Merry Nativity!

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24 December 2007

Christmas-eve question: Can the world "like Jesus"?

by Dan Phillips

DISCLAIMER: this is not about Dan Kimball (who believes and preaches things the world does not want to hear) nor his book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church. I haven't read it, and I make it a policy not to comment on things of which I know nothing. So it would be foolish to infer anything from this to that. This is about the phenomenon I've noticed since before I was saved, going back to the 60's and 70's, that virtually everyone — including unbelievers — wants to claim Jesus.

Jesus' brothers, who "were not believing in Him" (John 7:5), were trying to tell Him what to do. They had a program, an agenda, built on their own (unbelieving) bases, which they wanted to impose on Him. They knew what He "should" do, and told Him so (John 7:3-4).

Jesus' response is pretty frontal:
"My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come" (John 7:6-8)
Pluck out His words from the middle: "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil" (v. 7). I notice two things: the world "cannot" hate Jesus' unbelieving brothers, but it does hate Jesus, because of what He says about it.

Let's turn that on its head, by asking two questions:

First, why does the world love Jesus' unbelieving brothers? Jesus says it hates Him because He bears witness of the evil nature of its works. From that, I infer that it loves His brothers because they do not. That is, His unbelieving brothers do not challenge the world's autonomous, God-hating, rebellious foundation. To the contrary, they affirm it by themselves resting on that same sandy base. They put their judgment over Jesus' judgment and, thus, over God's. The world sees in His brothers kindred spirits. "They're one of us — not like Him!"

Second, why does the world hate Jesus? Note, Jesus does use the strong word, "Hate." The world itself might not use that word. They might call Jesus "Good Teacher" (Mark 10:17), or flatter Him for His uncompromising stands (Matthew 22:16). But Jesus — perhaps doing the very thing for which the world hates Him — lays open their heart. Underneath all the unctuous language, the poses and the self-delusion, He finds not love nor admiration, but hatred.

And why? Because He rejects and exposes its view of itself. The world sees itself as better than God: smarter, wiser, morally and intellectually His superior. Jesus does not. The world sees itself as engaged in a fine and noble endeavor, headed towards a glorious future. Jesus sees it as a flowing sewer headed for irremediable disaster, treacherous and without excuse. The world sees itself as a great place to be, spiritually and in every other way. Jesus sees the only good thing about the world as being rescued from it (John 15:18-19) and kept from its influences while still physically (not spiritually) in it (John 17:14-16).

Jesus makes the world feel really bad about itself qua world, and He makes it look bad. And it hates Him for it.

So why does virtually every worldling speak so highly of Jesus? Jesus says they hate Him; the world says it loves Him.

Simple. They're lying. (Hel-lo? They're the world! Their whole foundation is a lie: "You shall be as God"! Buy into that lie, and everything else is easy.)

Now, worldlings don't think they're lying, and here's how they work that out. You could make it a recipe:
  1. Take one "Jesus"
  2. Subtract (or ignore) all the nasty bits that you hate
  3. Inject all the lovely notions you admire
  4. Shake periodically
  5. Serve with a sauce of deep (albeit groundless) assurance
In that recipe, the quotation-marks are essential. As with "God," the world simply uses "Jesus" as a verbal unit. They take the Humpty-Dumpty approach to etymology:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less"
So when the world says "Jesus" in admiring tones, perhaps with a fond tear in its eye, it means "Someone who makes me feel great about being me, just as I am, and empowers me to achieve my own goals."

It means "Jesus." Not the real, un-tame, dangerous, edgy Jesus of the whole Bible.

Before the Lord saved me, I was the same way. I was a cultist, and I liked "Jesus." I just knew that Christians had Him all wrong. He believed that God was in everyone without exception, and that I should have everything I wanted — just like I did! And so does just about every cult, ism, sect, and anti-Christian philosophy. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Moslems, New Agers — they all like "Jesus." It's nice to have "Jesus" on your bandwagon, rooting for you and cheering for you. "Jesus" — who is (or is not) Lucifer's spirit-brother, the archangel Michael, a prophet of Allah, functional second-fiddle to other personages and rituals and institutions, an ascended mystic master.... "Jesus." They like that guy a lot.

I recently had to make an extraordinarily difficult decision, and take a very painful stand, simply and solely because of what I believe the Bible to teach. An unbeliever took me to task for it, admonishing me that it wasn't acting like her image of Jesus, who was nice and affirming and accepting of everyone and everything.

Well, of course it wasn't. Her "Jesus" is made-up.

In fact (and here, at last, is my point) it should have really worried me if my decision did meet with her full approval, in this instance. What I did is not what she would have done. It did not blend well with her view of the universe. Therefore, it was not something that the Jesus she made up in her own image would have done.

She liked "Jesus," but not me.

Which is what I should have expected, though foolishly I did not. In fact, if it had happened as I anticipated, I should have been really worried about myself.

Because, insofar as I am true to my profession to be a Jesus-believer, a student (and subject) of Jesus', I will not be in-step with the world at a number of specific points. Indeed I will be totally out-of-step with it at its very foundation. I should not only consider it possible that it will dislike me and find my core beliefs absurd, I should expect it (John 15:18-19; 1 John 3:13). The world's way of looking at itself and God and things should be totally different than my way, if I am true to Jesus, whom (if He is to believed) it hates.

So there it is.
  1. The world likes "Jesus"
  2. The world hates Jesus
If I presented a "Jesus" whom the world did like — without its being drawn to Him in genuine repentance and reverent love — I would be deeply concerned that I was presenting "another Jesus." Because it certainly would be "another Jesus" than the Jesus who said, in so many words, that the world hates Him.

When we as Christians lose sight of this, we serve neither it nor Him.


With this, on behalf of my friends and brothers here at PyroManiacs, I wish you all a very Merry Nativity. God grant that we have opportunities to speak (and preach) of Him on this occasion, and grab those opportunities in His name. Soon, Lord willing, I will begin preparations for my annual Christmas-eve pizza, and we Phillipses will worship Him at our church's Christmas Eve service, and read and speak of our Lord's incarnation on Christmas Day.

Don't be dissuaded from worship and witness by arguments that Christmas is just another pagan holiday; it is not. You can celebrate a Calvinistic Christmas with a clear conscience.

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23 December 2007

The Glory of the Incarnation

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 True tabernacle, and Its Glory of Grace and Peace," a sermon first preached 27 September 1885 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

t is a wonderful instance of divine grace that the Word should be made flesh and dwell among us, and reveal his glory to us. Apart from anything that springs out of the incarnation of Christ, that incarnation itself is a wondrous act of grace. There must be hope for men now that man is next akin to God through Jesus Christ. The angels were not mistaken when I they not only sang, "Glory to God in the highest," but also, "on earth peace, goodwill towards men," because in Bethlehem the Son of God was born of a virgin. God in our nature must mean God with gracious thoughts towards us. If the Lord had meant to destroy the race, he never would have espoused it and taken it into union with himself. There is fullness of grace in the fact of the Word made flesh tabernacling among us.
C. H. Spurgeon

21 December 2007

How Can I Be Sure?

In a World That's Constantly Changing...
by Phil Johnson

ere's an exercise for you: Next time you meet a young post-evangelical who is zealous about contextualizing Christianity for these postmodern times, tell him you're completely certain about something spiritually important—preferably a doctrinal proposition he has already expressed uncertainty about. (If he is the type of postmodernist who prefers to express no opinions whatsoever on doctrinal topics, try substitutionary atonement, inerrancy, sola fide, or something of similar import.)

If you can get him to discuss the issue for longer than a sound bite, I predict within ten minutes he'll tell you you're too much of a "modernist."

So give him a look like, "Huh?" and remind him that the position you are defending has historically been associated with a point of view that is known for its militant opposition to modernism. Then ask if he understands what "modernism" is.

He'll most likely respond with a condescending look and tell you in an exasperated tone that—while this all is probably far too complicated for you to understand—you have naively bought into foundationalist epistemology; your worldview has recently been totally discredited; and you need to acquire some epistemic humility.

See, he's familiar with the reductionistic argument that lies at the heart of Beyond Foundationalism, by Stan Grenz and John Franke. Perhaps he has even read the book (or a review of it). At the very least least he'll have seen some of the many Emerging/Emergent/Post-evangelical books or blogs that parrot Grenz's and Franke's all-you-need-to-know-about-epistemology script—namely, that any point of view which is not postmodern (and squeamish about certitude) is nothing more than an outmoded relic of modernity and rooted in foundationalist epistemology.

Earlier this week, a question came up in one of our comment-threads about foundationalism, modernity, and the dripping-faucet accusation that if it weren't for a set of modernist presuppositions you probably don't even realize you have imbibed, you could not possibly justify holding specific theological opinions with any kind of settled conviction. I gave a thumbnail reply to that comment and said I'd try to write a somewhat longer post about it later in the week.

I really don't have time to write a fresh, detailed post on the subject, so here's an excerpt from an e-mail exchange I recently had on the subject. My correspondent had expressed discomfort with the postmodern drift at a certain Christian college, and a professor there gave him the standard Grenz-Franke post-evangelical dodge. After reading something here at PyroManiacs where we expressed concern about the decline of confidence in what the Bible says, he wrote to ask for help:

Phil, the Christian college my church supports seems to be leaning Emergent, and when I talked with some of the professors I was accused of being a "Classic Foundationalist" and that "no one believes that kind of framework anymore"...

If you have time for an answer, just a one sentence answer is really all I am looking for...

I would like to ask, do you have a dominant epistemological view? If so what is it? (would it be “Classic Foundationalism”?)

No. "Classic foundationalism" is inherently rationalistic. Descartes, of course, believed it was possible to lay a foundation for all knowledge with a handful of "self-evident" truths—starting with our own existence ("I think, therefore I am")—and then build a rational system on that foundation. But I reject every worldview and/or epistemology that begins with man as a starting point.

It's very popular these days (especially in circles where people are enthralled with postmodernism) to pretend that if someone doesn't accept postmodern skepticism, that person must be a Cartesian foundationalist. But that's a ridiculously reductionistic view and demonstrably false.

Ask your professor this: Where did pre-enlightenment and early-Reformation minds think their knowledge came from? Specifically, how did the Reformers explain their knowledge? Calvin answered that question in detail at the very start of his Institutes some 70 years before Rene Descartes was even conceived, and Calvin's answer was neither rationalistic nor man-centered.

So it's both a lie and a total anachronism to label the historic Calvinist understanding of human knowledge "foundationalism"—even though that's become an extremely popular pastime in certain Emerging circles.

Contemporary epistemology per se is a hobby of philosophers and rationalists who have already rejected the only sound starting point for knowing truth, i. e. that God has revealed Himself, and the fear of Him is therefore the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).

Remember, some knowledge of God and His truth is innate in every human soul because God placed it there (Romans 1:19-21). He has amplified that knowledge with the more explicit revelation of His Word (the Bible), which He Himself assures us is true, and absolutely certain.

In other words, the postmodern notion that no one can really know anything for sure is the fruit of suppressing one's own innate understanding and conscience while denying what God Himself says. (And ironically, the fact that people do this so stubbornly is a fulfillment of what God says in Romans 1).

Anyway, that's why the pervasive uncertainty of the postmodern worldview is dangerous. When that point of view is used as a lens through which to read Scripture, it becomes a positively sinful way of thinking and is utterly irreconcilable with biblical Christianity.

I don't think there's a fancy name for the view of knowledge the Reformers and other biblically-oriented Protestants held, other than "basic Christianity." Call it "Calvinism" if you like. Or you can label it "the Proverbs 1:7 view" to be even more accurate.

Phil Johnson

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20 December 2007

How Vital Is the Truth?

posted by Phil Johnson

et another entry in a week's worth of excerpts from The Truth War. The following excerpt is from pages 32-34:

With increasing frequency nowadays, I hear people say things like, "Come, now, let's not bicker about what we believe. It's only doctrine. Let's focus instead on how we live. The way of Jesus is surely more important than our arguments over the words of Jesus. Let's set aside our disagreements over creeds and dogmas and devote ourselves instead to showing the love of Christ by the way we conduct our lives."

Many people these days evidently find that suggestion appealing. On the face of it, it may sound generous, kind-hearted, modest, and altruistic. But the view itself is a serious violation of "the way of Jesus," who taught that salvation hinges on hearing and believing His Word (John 5:24). He said, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). To those who doubted His truth-claims, He said, "If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). He never left any room for someone to imagine that the propositional content of His teaching is optional as long as we mimic His behavior.

In fact, the New Testament consistently stresses otherwise. One vital principle about our redemption from sin destroys the whole argument: Faith, not works, is the sole instrument of justification (Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16). In other words, what we believe rather than what we do is what secures us a righteous standing before God—because we lay hold of justifying righteousness by faith alone, and not by our works (Romans 4:5).

Paul says in Romans 9:31-32 that "Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law." In other words, regardless of how meticulous they may have been in their external observance of God's law, their unbelief was sufficient to exclude them from the kingdom. "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (10:3-4). They doubted the truth of Christ, and that proved spiritually fatal, in spite of how well they had perfected an external display of piety.

Notice: Paul expressly says they were pursuing righteousness. But they were looking for it in all the wrong places. Because they clung to wrong beliefs about the righteousness God requires and rejected the righteousness Christ would have provided for them, they were eternally condemned. Their failure was first of all an error about a vital article of faith, not merely a flaw in their practice. Their whole belief system (not merely their behavior) was wrong. Unbelief was enough to condemn them, regardless of how they acted.

It is not kindness at all, but the worst form of cruelty, to suggest that what people believe doesn't really matter much if they feel spiritual and do good. In fact, on the face of it, that claim is a blatant contradiction of the gospel message.

Besides, real righteousness simply cannot exist in isolation from belief in the truth. In order to make the case for any concept of "practical good" that subsists apart from sound doctrine, one quickly has to remove just about everything that is truly righteous from the definition of good. Naturally, it doesn't take very long for that kind of thinking to undermine the foundations of Christianity itself.
John MacArthur's signature

Talk amongst yourselves.

Phil's signature

19 December 2007

Some Thoughts about Truth

posted by Phil Johnson

ere are a couple more excerpts from The Truth War. These come from the book's introduction, pages xiv-xv and xviii-xx.

Much of the visible church nowadays seems to think Christians are supposed to be at play rather than at war. The idea of actually fighting for doctrinal truth is the furthest thing from most churchgoers' thoughts. Contemporary Christians are determined to get the world to like them—and of course in the process they also want to have as much fun as possible. They are so obsessed with making the church seem "cool" to unbelievers that they can't be bothered with questions about whether another person's doctrine is sound or not. In a climate like that, the thought of even identifying someone else's teaching as false (much less "contending earnestly" for the faith) is a distasteful and dangerously counter-cultural suggestion. Christians have bought into the notion that almost nothing is more "uncool" in the world's eyes than when someone shows a sincere concern about the danger of heresy. After all, the world simply doesn't take spiritual truth that seriously, so they cannot fathom why anyone would.

But Christians of all people ought to be most willing to live and die for the truth. Remember, we know the truth, and the truth has set us free (John 8:32). We should not be ashamed to say so boldly (Psalm 107:2). And if called upon to sacrifice for the truth's sake, we need to be willing and prepared to give our lives. Again, that is exactly what Jesus was speaking about when he called His disciples to take up a cross (Matthew 16:24). Cowardice and authentic faith are antithetical.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[E]very attempt to define truth in non-biblical terms has ultimately failed.

That's because God is the source of all that exists (Romans 11:36). He alone defines and delimits what is true. He is also the ultimate revealer of all truth. Every truth revealed in nature was authored by Him (Psalm 19:1-6); and some of it is His own self-revelation (Romans 1:20). He gave us minds and consciences to perceive the truth and comprehend right from wrong, and He even wired us with a fundamental understanding of His law written on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15). On top of all that, He gave us the perfect, infallible truth of Scripture (Psalm 19:7-11), which is a sufficient revelation of everything that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3; 2 Timothy 3:15-17), in order to lead us to Him as Savior and Lord. Finally, He sent Christ, the very embodiment of truth itself as the culmination of divine revelation (Hebrews 1:1-3). The whole point and the ultimate reason for all of this was for God to reveal Himself to His creatures (Ezekiel 38:23).

All truth therefore starts with what is true of God: who He is, what His mind knows, what His holiness entails, what His will approves, and so on. In other words, all truth is determined and properly explained by the being of God. Therefore every notion of His non-existence is by definition untrue. That is precisely what the Bible teaches: "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1; 53:1).

The ramifications of all truth starting with God are profound. Returning to a point we touched on earlier: Here is the reason why once someone denies God, logical consistency will ultimately force to that person to deny all truth. A denial that God exists instantly removes the whole justification for any kind of knowledge. As Scripture says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7).

So the necessary starting point for gaining authentic understanding of the fundamental concept of truth itself is an acknowledgment of the one true God. As Augustine said, we believe in order to understand, and our faith in turn is fed and strengthened as we gain better understanding. Both faith in God as He has revealed Himself and the understanding wrought by faith are therefore essential if we hope to apprehend truth in any serious and meaningful sense.

Scripture describes all authentic Christians as those who know the truth and have been liberated by it (John 8:32). They believe it with a whole heart (2 Thessalonians 2:13). They obey the truth through the Spirit of God (1 Peter 1:22). And they have received a fervent love for the truth through the gracious work of God in their hearts (2 Thessalonians 2:10). According to the Bible, then, you haven't really grasped the truth at all if there's no sense in which you know it, believe it, submit to it, and love it.

Clearly, the existence of absolute truth and its inseparable relationship to the person of God is the most essential tenet of all truly biblical Christianity. Speaking plainly: if you are one of those who questions whether truth is really important, please don't call your belief system "Christianity" because that's not what it is.
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18 December 2007

The danger of confessions

by Dan Phillips

One of the great things about a good, Biblical confession of faith is that it underscores the unity of a body of Christian people, confessing the one Lord, one faith, with one mouth. It should reflect the fact that the Lord does not liken the church (if I may speak anachronistically) to a pool table, where individual balls roll around in myriad different directions at the same time, only occasionally bouncing off one another. Rather, He likens the church to a body, featuring both diversity and unity (1 Corinthians 12:12).

Having said that....

Reading through John in Greek I noticed something not obvious in modern English translations.
This man [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:2-3)
Nicodemus says "we know." Jesus replies, "Truly, truly I say to you," σοι (soi), the second person singular pronoun. Nic says "we"; Jesus says "thee." Jesus will not allow Nicodemus to hide amongst a crowd. He singles Nicodemus out, and deals with his soul, one on one.

Nor is this the only time that Jesus will in effect turn a "we" into "thee."
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." 70 Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil." 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him. (John 6:66-71)
Peter says "We have believed, and we have come to know." Jesus says, in effect, "Oh? One of that 'we' is a traitor, Peter. One member of the consensus from which you're drawing such comfort and strength is a devil. So what if your 'we' turns into 'me,' Peter? What then? Where will you stand, if you find yourself standing alone?"

So while I find much help, encouragement, and instruction in the great confessions, I have to remember: Satan may sift the body of which I am a part. I may find myself alone. Will I be able to say "I believe, and I have come to know"?

And when I stand before the throne, in one sense I surely will be alone. Then it won't be a question of what "we" believed, confessed, did, or were. The first person singular pronoun will predominate. I had better be able to say that
whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11)

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Emerging Martyrology

by Phil Johnson

he excerpt below contains every single word from The Truth War that makes any reference whatsoever to Kristen Bell. Note that John MacArthur makes precisely one factual statement about who she is (set in bold type below). That's literally all he says about her. Then he quotes a paragraph from a Christianity Today article that quotes her:

A recent issue of Christianity Today featured a cover article about the "Emerging Church." That's the popular name for an informal affiliation of Christian communities worldwide who want to revamp the church, change the way Christians interact with their culture, and remodel the way we think about truth itself. The article included a profile of Rob and Kristen Bell, the husband-and-wife team who founded Mars Hill—a very large and steadily growing Emerging community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. According to the article, the Bells
found themselves increasingly uncomfortable with church. "Life in the church had become so small," Kristen says. "It had worked for me for a long time. Then it stopped working." The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself—"discovering the Bible as a human product," as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. "The Bible is still in the center for us," Rob says, "but it's a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it."

"I grew up thinking that we've figured out the Bible," Kristen says, "that we knew what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again—like life used to be black and white, and now it's in color." [Andy Crouch, "The Emergent Mystique," Christianity Today (November 2004).]
One dominant theme pervades the whole article: In the Emerging Church movement, truth (to whatever degree such a concept is even recognized) is assumed to be inherently hazy, indistinct, and uncertain—perhaps even ultimately unknowable.

So here's how Andrew Jones (our lanky, lean friend from the Antipodes) described that passage from The Truth War: "[Rob Bell] seems pretty sound theologically, despite the attacks. I know John MacArthur chewed out Rob's wife in his book for a comment about the Bible. I never heard how Rob's wife responded to the criticism."

Andrew's first commenter, "Adam S," ramped up the accusation several degrees of magnitude, claiming MacArthur had "viciously attacked" poor Mrs. Bell.

A similar complaint arose here at PyroManiacs in Monday's meta, when commenter Art wondered if it's not inconsistent for someone who believes women shouldn't have teaching authority over men in the church to criticize a doctrinal pronouncement made by a woman. I don't get the rationale behind that question at all, but Art continues: "Would you find it out of order if someone brought up some[thing] your wife said, especially when that person holds a view that, biblically, women cannot teach or have authority over a man?"

Andrew Jones was pondering a similar question: "I guess I was wondering what would happen if we were to put other well-known pastors' wives up on the stand and question them. How well would Mrs MacArthur answer the questions? How well would anyone's wife [or husband] respond?"

I have several observations about that line of argument:

  1. Both Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. MacArthur are members of my Sunday school class, and I know them well. They are extremely thoughtful and intelligent women who hold strong, well-informed opinions on matters of doctrine and Scripture. But neither of them would ever volunteer any kind of doctrinal pronouncement for publication in Christianity Today. On the other hand, I am confident that if some wily CT editor managed secretly to coax a doctrinal opinion from either one of them, their focus would be on what they believe rather than a euphoric celebration of their doubts.
  2. I've seen no indication from Rob Bell that he is embarrassed or in disagreement with what his wife said in CT, and that's been in print and in wide circulation for at least three years. It seems fair to take Mrs. Bell's statement at face value as representative of the Bells' worldview.
  3. MacArthur's critical comments were in no way focused on Kristen Bell specifically; he cited a lot of similar comments from Emergent celebrities, and then disagreed with the glorification of doubt. But his disagreement was with the idea, not with any one individual. In fact, he said nothing that could possibly be construed as personal or even specific about Kristen Bell.
  4. Still, it seems like bringing my wife and my pastor's wife into a hypothetical argument violates whatever point our emergent friends might have been trying to make about the propriety or impropriety of making an argument that brings someone's wife into the polemical conflict—and it actually compounds the problem by resorting to hypotheticals in order accomplish the very thing the argument pretends to deplore.
  5. The whole objection is reminiscent of Mr. Clinton's complaint when he scolded his wife's political opponents for not treating her like a lady after she verbally slapped them around. You can't legitimately put a woman on the front line of defense for such a horribly low view of Scripture, and then hide behind her skirts when someone points out that the opinion she expressed to the whole evangelical world is so very wrong-headed. If someone wants to defend Kristin Bell's statement, do it. But let's drop the facile accusations that merely disagreeing with her is somehow inherently cruel.
  6. Emergents seem to have a pattern of this sort of behavior. A few of the most virulent trash-talkers in the Emergent blogosphere are women. I generally try to ignore them, but I've seen the "that's no way to talk to a lady" defense hauled out whenever someone answers them with a firm but contrary opinion.
  7. Note: I'm not the one who brought up the egalitarian/complementarian debate. But now that it's been mentioned, let me say to the radical egalitarians in the emergent movement: You are not going to be able to sustain even the illusion of credibility in the egalitarian position if you want to pretend it's somehow cruel, inhumane, or brutish to contradict what a woman says. It's a contradiction of the egalitarian claim to believe that women such tender souls that to contradict them is to subject them to a de facto martyrdom.


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17 December 2007

Uncertainty Is the New Truth

posted by Phil Johnson

've been promising for weeks that we would host an open discussion about John MacArthur's The Truth War. Now is as good a time as any. Here's an excerpt from pages 16-23 of the book that parallels some of the recent discussion here at PyroManiacs.

I'll probably post a few more excerpts from the book later in the week. If the discussion turns out to be particularly fruitful or stimulating, we'll probably continue it next week as well.

The rules are simple: If you have read The Truth War, feel free to post whatever questions, criticisms, attaboys, or other feedback you have about the book. If you haven't read the book, you don't get to jump on any dogpiles, regardless of which side of the argument you are on. You can still comment on the excerpts I'm posting here, but if you haven't read the book, please strictly refrain from being argumentative about points not actually addressed in the posted excerpt—even if someone who has read the book brings up an extraneous point you really want to engage in the meta.

Please note the special guidelines about comment-length, etc. in the first comment below. Of course, our normal rules about language and civility (see right sidebar) also apply to this discussion. Be nice.

The Truth War is John MacArthur's response to the postmodern attack on the clarity, certainty, knowability, and authority of divinely-revealed truth. It is set in the context of an exposition of Jude—especially verses 3-4: "I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed . . . ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."

Full disclosure (for those who may be new to the blog): Dr. MacArthur is my pastor and employer; I'm in complete agreement with his position; in fact, I helped assemble the material for this book from sermon transcripts and edited the original manuscript.

To get us started, let's consider this notion that certainty about anything is inherently arrogant.

That view is wildly popular today. The belief that no one can really know anything for certain is emerging as virtually the one dogma postmodernists will tolerate. Uncertainty is the new truth. Doubt and skepticism have been canonized as a form of humility. Right and wrong have been redefined in terms of subjective feelings and personal perspectives.

Those views are infiltrating the church, too. In some circles within the visible church, cynicism is now virtually regarded as the most splendid of all virtues. We began the introduction to this book with a prime example of that [i.e., a reference to the Christianity Today feature on the Emergent movement, which article contained Kristin Bell's confession that she has no idea what the Bible means; Brian McLaren's belief that no one has the gospel right yet; and several other statements characterizing biblical truth as too hazy or too slippery to lay hold of and proclaim confidently]. A relentless tone of postmodern angst about too much certainty pervades that whole movement. . . .

The central propositions and bedrock convictions of biblical Christianity—such as firm belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, a sound understanding of the true gospel, full assurance of salvation, settled confidence in the lordship of Christ, and the narrow exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation—do not reconcile well with postmodernism's contempt for clear, authoritative truth-claims. The medium of postmodern "dialogue" thereby instantly and automatically changes the message. And the rhetoric of the Emerging Church movement itself reflects that.

Listen, for example, to how Brian McLaren sums up his views on orthodoxy, certainty, and the question of whether the truths of Christianity are sound and reliable in the first place:
How ironic that I am writing about orthodoxy, which implies to many a final capturing of the truth about God, which is the glory of God. Sit down here next to me in this little restaurant and ask me if Christianity (my version of it, yours, the Pope's, whoever's) is orthodox, meaning true, and here's my honest answer: a little, but not yet. Assuming by Christianity you mean the Christian understanding of the world and God, Christian opinions on soul, text, and culture . . . I'd have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong. [A Generous Orthodoxy, 293.]

McLaren suggests that clarity itself is of dubious value. He clearly prefers ambiguity and equivocation, and his books are therefore full of deliberate double-speak. In his introduction to A Generous Orthodoxy, he admits, "I have gone out of my way to be provocative, mischievous, and unclear, reflecting my belief that clarity is sometimes overrated, and that shock, obscurity, playfulness, and intrigue (carefully articulated) often stimulate more thought than clarity." [Ibid., 23.] A common theme that runs throughout most of McLaren's writings is the idea that "there is great danger in the quest to be right."]

. . . . . . . . .

[The argument seems to be] that if we cannot know everything perfectly, we cannot really know anything with any degree of certainty. That's an appealing argument to the postmodern mind, but it is entirely at odds with what Scripture teaches: "We have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16).

That's not to suggest, of course, that we have exhaustive knowledge. But we do have infallible knowledge of what Scripture reveals, as the Spirit of God teaches us through the Word of God: "We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God" (1 Corinthians 2:12). The fact that our knowledge grows fuller and deeper—and we all therefore change our minds about some things as we gain more and more light—doesn't mean that everything we know is uncertain, or outdated, or in need of an overhaul every few years. The words of 1 John 2:20-21 apply in their true sense to every believer: "You have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth."

The message coming from postmodernized evangelicals is exactly the opposite: Certainty is overrated. Assurance is arrogant. Better to keep changing your mind and keep your theology in a constant state of flux.

By such means, the ages-old war against truth has moved right into the Christian community, and the church itself has already become a battleground—and ominously, precious few in the church today are prepared for the fight.
John MacArthur

Feel free to comment on that excerpt, and if you have read the entire book, feel free also to challenge, query, or amen any point in the book that stood out to you. If you have an explicit question or point you want me to reply to, I'll do my best to answer as promptly as possible. The beginning of this week will be somewhat busy for me, so please be patient. Hopefully by the end of the week, I'll find time to interact with everyone who wants to have serious dialogue about the book.

My hope is that this thread will be like last year's thread on the lordship debate, (minus some of the hit-and-run nonsense that showed up in that thread). For a week (at least), let's actually have that "conversation" Emergents like to talk about but normally seem to exclude all their critics from.

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