25 January 2008

Time in a Bottle

by Phil Johnson

See you February 4 or thereabouts.

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24 January 2008

Another One Bites the Dust. . .

by Phil Johnson

hree mostly personal things, quickly:

  1. Pecadillo is officially engaged. For those wondering why he has been not-blogging for the past umpteen months, now you know. Since it's not really smart to post a lot of identity-related details on the Internet, let me just say that Pecadillo's bride-to-be is a real treasure: sweet-tempered, musically gifted, fun to be around, and she genuinely loves the Lord. Her father is a pastor and gifted Bible expositor. Though she grew up most of her life a thousand miles away, about 15 years ago she and her family lived pretty near to us, and she and Pecadillo were even students in the same grade school in 1992. (See above yearbook pics.) But they didn't actually meet until last summer. Darlene and I love her. We couldn't be more excited.
  2. January 25 is my Mother's birthday. I won't say exactly how old she is, but both she and my Dad have now managed to get well past 75 without becoming dour, senile, or sedentary. It gives me great hope. I apparently come from good genetic stock. Happy birthday, Mum. I love you.
  3. January 25 is also the official two-year bloggiversary of PyroManiacs, Team-Blog version. To celebrate, just like last year, I'm closing the blog for a week or so. I'll be on the road during the hiatus, back at Sean Higgins's snow retreat, then to a conference in New Jersey, then to a conference in the Dallas area. So I really need a break from the blog. You can still visit Dan's blog or Frank's blog for your daily Pyrofix. They get to say whatever they like on their own blogs, so it's like Dan and Frank unplugged. Have fun. Behave. See you in February.
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The right balance (positively put)

by Dan Phillips

Philippians 1:9-11

To be a church that preaches the full counsel of God, filling hearts and minds with His freeing (and judicious) revealed truth;
So as to become a church that lovingly shows God's truth in shoe leather, strong arms, and unambiguously holy lives.

(Counterpoint to this post)
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23 January 2008

Just Like Me

by Frank Turk

I don't normally rehash post from my blog here at TeamPyro, but given the content this week, this one is a post many of you haven’t read before, so it's worth a little reworking to suit us this week. It stems from a topic we were discussion here at my men's group, thinking about this passage:
    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Think about this: every Christian will affirm these verses at least intellectually, or philosophically. We're all sinners, we say, and we are all sinful.

Then we see someone who does something completely insane, like the murder of a pregnant marine, or Britney Spears, or any headline you'd like to Google or Yahoo! and we think, "my God: what makes a person do something like that?" And we have people of all kinds and all sorts of confessions or beliefs asking the very obvious question, "How can God let something like that happen?"

I mean, isn't this God's fault? That's what some people think Calvinists ought to say: God did it, and that's enough -- no more questions. Somehow some people will say that Calvinists take refuge in a God who is completely without interest in human life. And some who are really questioning the foundation of the faith at a more rudimentary level will ask whether God can be either good or powerful if something like this happens.

And their point, of course, is that this kind of thing happens all the time. There is always some kind of murder or drunkenness or oppression going on -- always someone who is treating someone else like a disposable object meant for his or her own satisfaction. So the question of why God lets this go on seems pretty significant and in many ways demands an answer.

On the one hand, the consequences of that question are important. If God is not good enough or powerful enough (let alone all-powerful and all-good) to stop this kind of thing, what kind of God is that? Is he even God -- can't we say God doesn't exist if we can prove He's not what we, the Christians, say He is?

In that consequence lies the first part of the answer. Because look: if God doesn't exist, the only solution for these things -- the murders, the abuse of little one by parents, the kidnapping of daughters and sons, the long list of man's inhumanity against man -- is that man has to do better. We can all agree, I think, that murder and violence of this sort is on some kind of "thou shalt not" list, or at least a "you ought not to" list. But that means that if man has to stop this, man ought to have done so by now.

If it's that obvious to everyone that gunning down strangers is wrong, why does it still happen? Do we need more government to make it happen? Do we need more education to make it happen? How about more religion or maybe more freedom from religion -- is it religion that causes us to do these things?

Let me suggest something here that is not simply theology, proven by a first-grade Sunday school lesson in the book of Romans: let me suggest that man cannot stop doing this because these acts of violence are part of who we are.

"Cent, you're violating a way better post from your blog," says one person, "because now you're reading your theology into this situation and into all people rather than trying to get the facts together and then draw the conclusion."

No, I think not. When a disturbed kid guns down 30+ people and then takes his own life, we can see the extent to which men can be drawn to do what is wrong. But let's be clear about something: everybody is drawn to do what is wrong because we see them as viable and useful options. Everyone may not go out to buy weapons in a premeditated way in order to commit some act of community violence, but we all do things which treat people as disposable.

We start dating sometimes because we need someone else to fill in our own personal need for attention; we break up when we think someone else will better suit that need, or will make us more socially acceptable. We manipulate situations at work in order to get promoted, or perhaps to simply avoid being fired. We ignore people who are in need because we think they might latch on to us and cause us to lose some face in the community, and we despise people who do the same to us. We envy others who have what we want, and scorn others who can't have what we got. Yes: nobody dies most of the time, but once in a while some child gets aborted because we think our idea of a good time should include using another person's body for our own cheap thrills.

We don't want to admit it, but the truth is this: we are really are like Britney and Lindsey and Cesar Armando Laurean, even if it is not to the same degree.

That's what "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" means. It means that we are all under judgment, and that (if we take our Calvinism seriously for a moment) it is really only because God intends to save at all that any of us don't wind up going farther and farther down the dark alley of our own desires until we don't have any choice but to mug or be mugged, to rape or be raped.
It means that I am just like Cesar Armando Laurean -- not that I am unlike him and he's the one who did something God hates. I am like him. If I am honest, I can see in my own life the moments when I could have gone one step farther than I did in some sinful act and stepped into a life which would have meant that I was the one who would have allegedly murdered in order to cover up a more vicious and personal crime. I'm the one who could have harbored that kind of rage. I'm the one who could have cut myself off from other people until they simply became models in a video game simulation and not creations in the image of God. I'm the English major who could have written himself into a frenzy of confusion until I couldn't tell the difference between what's real and what's invented by my own distorted internal dialog.

He could have been me: I am a sinner, and I am the cause of sin.

So to ask the question, "Why does God allow?" has to go back to the issue of "What is God allowing?" The glib answer to the question is, "God is allowing evil deeds," but in fact God is allowing us to prove that we are what He has said we are. God tells us we are sinners -- and has provided the perfect Law to prove it to us. And in that, the solution God has on-tap is wrath against sin.

Think about that: the first solution in God's menu would rightfully be "wipe out all sinners" so that those who do wrong do not infect others with the wrongness, and so that God's own holiness is satisfied. But the problem is that God would have to wipe out everyone to get that done in a way that really solves the problem -- because if it's not Cho Seung-Hui, it's going to be Matt Gumm, or Phil Johnson, or Dan Phillips, or James White, or Pecadillo, or (most likely, in this list) me -- centuri0n.

What God is allowing now is the proof that we -- all of us -- cannot solve the problem of evil. But that is hardly the end of the story.

Because the next item of God's menu is "show love: be the one who is just and is the justifier". God can't abandon the question of evil -- He knows as well as you (and far better, since this is His work of Creation) that evil must be overcome and punished, but there is the question of whether He can punish and still love.

And in that, God has already loved the world so much that He gave us something which is precious to Him above all the rest of creation: His only Son. God gave His only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life -- God didn't send the Son to judge this sick and sinful world in order to destroy it all, but in order to save it.

That is, to save it from our selfish relationships which violate the image of God in other men and women; to save it from the petty violence inherent in every lie, every theft, every murder; to save it from our cheap jealousy over cars and clothes and houses and lawns and clubs and herd-like solidarity; to save it from our dissatisfaction with our own spouses and from our imaginary fantasies that someone else's spouse would better satisfy us. And most of all, to save us from blaming God for the things we do willingly and consciously which other people recognize as shameful and sick but which we excuse ourselves from because we know we don't mean anything by it, really.

Why did God allow? Why does God allow you to do what you do, friend? Why does He allow you to harm other people -- or is that not what you meant?

God allows these things in order that a greater redemptive purpose can be manifest in Creation. So that nobody gets their nose out of joint more than I mean to put it, this purpose is God's purpose for God's own end and intention -- but it saves men.

A tragedy like this is about the essential, primary, necessary nature of the Gospel and the work of Jesus Christ to fulfill all the Law and all the Prophets. There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

Listen to the fear and the crushing sadness you hear in your own heart as you think about Cho Seung-Hui. It is not because he did something unspeakable: it is because he is just like you, and whatever the solution is for him, that solution is for you.

22 January 2008

Preaching the Good News? Part Three

by Dan Phillips

In part one, I posted an excerpt from a card left on my door, and invited guesses as to what kind of church left it. In part two, I unveiled the fact that it had been left by Mormons, and related the discussion I had with the (surprise!) two of them.

Let's chat about some leftovers and observations.

First: could have been any evanjellybean church? In the comments section, while many correctly guessed "Mormons," many also said it could be any evangelical church. They're right. It could have been a sinner-palliative seeker-sensitive church, a charismatic church, an Osteen/Willow Creek/purpose-driven offshoot church.

But why only an evangelical church?

Couldn't a liberal church as well have said "Faith in Christ can help you resolve personal and family challenges?" There is no mention of sin or guilt, there is no absolute guarantee, there is no appeal to authority, there is no hint of repentance. It is as if the card says, "You know, here's something that might help you get what you want." Jesus, proffered as one supplement to help achieve a meaningful life.

This is slick marketing, certainly. The statement in itself is certainly true, though not all the truth (Matthew 10:34). No Christian would disagree with it. And so, with their ongoing "Mormons: the other (mostly) white Christian meat" campaign, they strike another slimy blow. It does bring to mind Jude's warning that "certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (v. 4; cf. Galatians 2:4; 2 Peter 2).

Second: do "our" people know what they believe any better than they? A number of commenters expressed some of the surprise I felt that these nice young men didn't seem to know their own doctrine very well. But I ask: how many of "our" people would fare any better? And how much of this is our fault?

We all know and often lament how pathetic America's pulpit ministry is these days. You can get loads of uplifting stories and words of practical advice from the vast majority of professedly evangelical churches, all over. But how many put out a steady stream of passionate, God-centered, understandable Biblical instruction? "Not enough," you say, and I agree.

But whose fault is that? Are these churches living on air and preaching to empty seats? Or do they exist because people seek out, demand, and support such ministries? If people were to start flooding out of such churches, leaving behind clear statements of the reason for their departure, would such bodies' influence linger long?

Did you ever notice this, in Matthew 21:12 — that our Lord "drove out all those buying and selling in the temple"? He charges them with turning His Father's house into a den of thieves (v. 13). All of them. Not just the sellers, but the buyers as well.

Why? Because, I take it, the buyers were enablers. Because, without buyers, there would be no sellers in the temple.

So I would not dole out the opprobrium exclusively to the bad teachers in the pulpits, but spare some reproof for those who enable them as well. "The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority. My people love it like this" (Jeremiah 5:31a CSB).

Hear Calvin on that verse:
The common people, no doubt, exculpated themselves, as they do at this day, who hold forth this excuse as their shield, “O, we are not learned, we have never been in school, and what can we do but to follow our bishops?” Thus, then, at this day, the lower orders, the multitude, seek to cast off every blame from themselves. But the Prophet says here, that the people loved to have things so. And, doubtless, we shall find that to be ever true which is said in Deuteronomy 13:3 , that when false prophets come, it is for the purpose of trying God’s people, whether they from the heart love God. It is then his object to try our religion, whenever he gives loose reins to impostors and false prophets: for every one who truly loves God will be preserved by his Spirit from being led away by such deceivers. When, therefore, ignorant men are deluded, it is certain that they are justly punished for their neglect and contempt of God, because they have not been sufficiently attentive to his service; yea, because they have wished for impostors....
Am I being harsh? Just wait, there's more.

Even in Biblically-healthy churches, is the Word being employed to its fullest degree? Look about you, in your faithfully Bible-preaching assembly. How many are taking notes? If they aren't, is it really because they know everything already, or are unable to write, or have found a better way to ingest and retain what they're being taught?

Or is it simply because they don't care all that much?

I recall an older man man I knew, a churchgoer for years and years and years. I was trying to get a feel for whether or not he'd been converted, so I was probing him on the Gospel. I put the question in a number of different ways, and his responses were all ambiguous. Finally, I had what I thought was a really bright idea.

"Suppose someone asked you what he would need to do to be saved," I began. "What would you tell him?"

"Oh," he replied. "I'd tell him to talk to the pastor."

Well, I was the pastor, and I wasn't encouraged by his answer. But was it really because I hadn't taught the Gospel? Look, if you knew more about that ministry, you'd criticize me for much; and I'd largely agree, and add a few things you'd overlooked.

But I did teach the Gospel. All the time, and from many angles. He just didn't listen and learn. Blind? Dead? Or just really lazy? Honestly, only God knows. But in this case, it wasn't due to a "lite" pulpit ministry.

Third: "Most people don't talk to us." The Mor-men thanked me for talking with them, because most people don't. Maybe that's just Sacramento, which is beyond dispute a brain-dead, Godforsaken wilderness. Maybe in your neighborhood, they'd have met the Gospel at every doorstep.

But statistically I'd say the odds are that many of the "most people" who wouldn't talk to these nice, Hellbound young cultists were folks who attend "evangelical" churches, who consider themselves genuine, legitimate, card-carrying Christians. Why won't they talk to them? Too busy? Convinced by the likes of Mouw and Hewitt that Mormons are just kinda funny Christians, no big deal? Totally clueless about Mormonism?

Totally clueless about the Gospel?

That so many evangelical church members might be ignorant of the Gospel is a shame. That many might actually know the Gospel, but be unconcerned to take a moment to tell it to a couple of lost souls the Lord brings to their doors, is shameful.

Fourth: cultists don't like the Biblical doctrine of total depravity, either. As you saw, though the young men nodded when Bible verses were read, they still trusted their works to save them. They still thought they could bring enough to the table to "put them over," to get them past the Gospel. Many in the Comments section alluded to the famous "burning in the bosom" proof (!) of the absurd claim of the truth of the BoM. So they start out thinking that they can trust their feelings to guide them into truth.

Phil's last two posts, on the Biblical doctrine of total depravity, have been excellent, and very thought-provoking. I think a lot of error hinges on an un-Biblical anthropology, a failure to admit just how devastating the Fall was to all natural-conceived sons of Adam. I don't know any cult that embraces this truth; the meta indicates that many Christians bristle at it as well.

Now, the mere fact that cults and false teachers accept or reject a doctrine is, itself, of no value in determining its truth. JW's say the Bible is the Word of God, and they're right. RC's formally affirm the Trinity, and they're right.

But a sub-Biblical doctrine of man at the outset tilts one against looking to God for a sovereign, monergistic work of saving grace. It also predisposes one to retain self-confidence that can go against seeing the need for the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. It is the matrix for a host of errors. Get man wrong, and you'll get a lot else wrong too.

Fifth: "They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear" (Romans 11:20). "Whoa, that's way out of context," you say. Again, I agree. But.

But Paul's point is that, while God has judged ethnic Israel to open the door to Gentiles in this new creation, the church, Gentiles shouldn't mis-take the lesson. They shouldn't think that one ethnic privilege has simply been replaced by another. They should see that it was unbelief that brought judgment on ethnic Israel; and that this same unbelief will bring judgment just as surely on Gentiles.

They should not reason, "Nah nah, God rejected the Jews and accepted me-ee!" Rather, they (we) should reason, "Oh, crud — if God judged Israel for unbelief, He'll judge me just as surely!"

The connection is that mocking these lost Mormons for their utter in-the-darkness about the Gospel is singularly unbecoming for a modern evangelical. Just think of that word: evangel-ical. It is supposed to mean (at bare minimum) someone who's all about the evangel, the Gospel, the Good News. Yet I daresay that the majority of those who frequent "evangelical" church today would be just as hopeless at defining the Evangel as Elder M and Elder L were.

That should not make us feel cocky and superior to the Mormons.

Rather, it should humble and shame us about our own people, look to ourselves, and redouble our efforts to make sure that we and anyone under our care are crystal-clear on the Gospel and its issues.

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21 January 2008

In What Sense Is Depravity Total?

by Phil Johnson

very member of Adam's race is born utterly depraved—fallen, alienated from God, and in bondage to evil. In Romans 6, Paul calls it slavery to sin. He furthermore says in Romans 6:20 that people who are slaves of sin are utterly devoid of true righteousness. All in such a state of sin and unbelief are God's enemies (Romans 5:8, 10). They are "alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds" (Colossians 1:21).


Human depravity is "total" in the same sense death is total. You can't be partly dead. You can be really, really sick or critically injured and on life support, but you're either dead or alive. There are no degrees of death.

In fact, when Scripture describes human depravity, it's usually with the language of spiritual death.

Ephesians 2, for example, says people in their fallen state are dead in trespasses and sins—spiritually dead (v. 1). They walk in worldliness and disobedience (v. 2). They live in the lusts of their flesh, "indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and [are] by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (v. 3). They are "separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (v. 12).

In Romans 8:6 Paul, says, "To be carnally minded is death." He is talking about the carnal-mindedness of unbelief, describing what it means to be totally depraved. He goes on to say (vv. 7-8), "The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God."

In other words, spiritual death is a total inability to love God, a total inability to obey Him, and a total inability to please Him.

Now, lots of non-Christians will deny that they are hostile toward God. But they are self-deceived. In fact, many who invoke the name of Christ and claim to love God actually do not love the God of the Bible. They love a god who exists only in their imagination—a tolerant, unholy, passive, feeble, weakling god. That is not the God of Scripture. The God of the Bible is too holy for sinners' tastes. He is too wrathful against sin. His standards are too high. His laws are not to their liking. So though they profess to love God, they do not love the one true God who has revealed Himself in Scripture. They are not able to love Him.

The inability to love God as we ought to is the very essence of total depravity. It leaves us impotent to fulfill the First and Great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). So everything the sinner ever does is permeated with sin, because he's living life in constant violation of the most important commandment of all.

On the other hand, "total depravity" does not mean that all sinners are always as bad as they could possibly be. It does not mean that every unbeliever will live out his or her depravity the fullest. It doesn't mean all non-Christians are morally equal to brute beasts or serial killers. It does not mean that unconverted people are incapable of acts of kindness or goodwill to fellow humans. In fact, Jesus Himself stated that unbelievers do good to people in return for good that is done to them (Luke 6:33).

The human race was created in the image of God. Though sin has spoiled that image, even non-Christians are capable of rising to great heights of human goodness, honesty, decency, and excellence. "Total" depravity does not mean that every unredeemed woman must be an angry, slobbering hag, or that every unbelieving man is a twisted, degenerate psychopath. It does mean that unbelievers, those who are in the flesh, cannot please God.

So the word total in "total depravity" refers to the extent of our sinfulness, not the degree to which we manifest it. It means evil has contaminated every aspect of our being—our wills, our intellect, our emotions, our conscience, our personality, and our desires.

In biblical terminology, sin has totally corrupted the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" If the heart is corrupt, the whole person is defiled.

By describing our depravity as heart-corruption, Scripture makes it clear that the real problem with us lies at the core of our being. Our very soul is infected by sin. Nothing about us remains pure. Our tendency to sin is unrelenting and ultimately unconquerable. Sin therefore defines who we are.

Before a perfectly holy and impeccably righteous God we are profane, sinful, thoroughly debased—no matter how good we appear in human terms. Being truly righteous is not merely hard for us; it's impossible.

That is as true of someone like Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa as it was of Adolph Hitler or Jeffrey Dahmer. The relative goodness of the world's best people is never enough to merit God's approval. His only standard is absolute perfection. The best of sinners do not come close.

Let's illustrate: suppose every reader of Pyromaniacs lined up at Point Dume (the closest good swimming beach to my house), and we all tried to swim to Singapore. Most of us would probably drown before anyone reached Catalina—just 26 miles away. One thing is certain; no one would make it to Singapore. We'd all be dead long before the goal was met. If I were a gambler (I'm not) I'd bet everything I have that no one would even get as far as Hawaii, less than halfway.

Question: Would those who died before swimming two miles be any worse off than those who died twenty-three miles offshore? Of course not. All would be equally dead. The goal was just as hopeless for the trained, expert swimmer as it was for the fat guy who did his training by sitting in front of a computer blogging all day.

That is how it is with sin. All sinners stand condemned before God. Even the best of Adam's offspring are thoroughly sinful at heart. No matter how good they might appear through the lens of human judgment, they are in exactly the same hopeless state as the lowest degenerate—maybe even in a worse state, because it is harder for them to acknowledge their sin. So they compound their sin with self-righteousness.

People are prepared to be called sinners in their sin, but they do not want to be labeled sinners in their religion. But this is crucial: Human religion does not contradict depravity; it only proves it. Human religion substitutes other gods in the rightful place of the true God. It is the very essence of God-hating. It is false worship—nothing but an attempt to depose God. It is the very worst expression of depravity.

Remember—it was the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned with the harshest invective He ever uttered. Why? After all, they believed the Scriptures were literally true. They tried to obey the law rigidly. They weren't like the Sadducees, religious liberals who denied the supernatural. They were the theological fundamentalists of their day.

But they refused to recognize the bankruptcy of their own hearts. They trusted in themselves that they were righteous and went about trying to establish their own righteousness, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). Remember what they told the man born blind in John 9:34? "You were born entirely in sins"—as if they weren't.

In other words, they rejected the doctrine of total depravity, and it led to their utter condemnation. Jesus said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). "The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).

They thought all their good works made them righteous. But religion and good works do not cancel out depravity. Depravity corrupts even the highest forms of religion and good works. George Whitefield said that God could damn us for the very best prayer we ever put up. John Bunyan agreed. He said he thought the best prayer he ever prayed still had enough sin in it to damn the whole world. Isaiah wrote, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6).

Unredeemed sinners are therefore incapable of doing anything to please God. They cannot love the God who reveals Himself in Scripture. They cannot obey His law from the heart, with pure motives. They cannot even grasp the essentials of spiritual truth. First Corinthians 2:14 says, "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." Unbelievers are therefore incapable of faith. And "without faith it is impossible to please [God]" (Hebrews 11:1).

Note: The key word in all of that is inability. Sinners are totally unable to respond to God, apart from His enabling grace.

That's the starting point for a sound, biblical understanding of soteriology.

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20 January 2008

Because He First Loved Me

How Human Depravity Necessitates the Doctrine of Election

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. Te following excerpt is from "A Defense of Calvinism," Spureon's best-known article on te subject. The complete work is a chapter in Spurgeons autobiography.

ohn Newton used to tell a whimsical story, and laugh at it, too, of a good woman who said, in order to prove the doctrine of election, "Ah! sir, the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else He would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards."

I am sure it is true in my case; I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine.

I recollect an Arminian brother telling me that he had read the Scriptures through a score or more times, and could never find the doctrine of election in them. He added that he was sure he would have done so if it had been there, for he read the Word on his knees.

I said to him, "I think you read the Bible in a very uncomfortable posture, and if you had read it in your easy chair, you would have been more likely to understand it. Pray, by all means, and the more, the better, but it is a piece of superstition to think there is anything in the posture in which a man puts himself for reading: and as to reading through the Bible twenty times without having found anything about the doctrine of election, the wonder is that you found anything at all: you must have galloped through it at such a rate that you were not likely to have any intelligible idea of the meaning of the Scriptures."

If it would be marvelous to see one river leap up from the earth full-grown, what would it be to gaze upon a vast spring from which all the rivers of the earth should at once come bubbling up, a million of them born at a birth? What a vision would it be! Who can conceive it?

And yet the love of God is that fountain, from which all the rivers of mercy, which have ever gladdened our race—all the rivers of grace in time, and of glory hereafter—take their rise. My soul, stand thou at that sacred fountain-head, and adore and magnify, for ever and ever, God, even our Father, who hath loved us! In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn cup; long ere the echoes awoke the solitudes; before the mountains were brought forth; and long ere the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures. Before there was any created being—when the ether was not fanned by an angel's wing, when space itself had not an existence, when there was nothing save God alone—even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His bowels moved with love for His chosen. Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul.

Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world—even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee."

Then, in the fulness of time, He purchased me with His blood; He let His heart run out in one deep gaping wound for me long ere I loved Him.

Yea, when He first came to me, did I not spurn Him? When He knocked at the door, and asked for entrance, did I not drive Him away, and do despite to His grace? Ah, I can remember that I full often did so until, at last, by the power of His effectual grace, He said, "I must, I will come in;" and then He turned my heart, and made me love Him. But even till now I should have resisted Him, had it not been for His grace.

Well, then since He purchased me when I was dead in sins, does it not follow, as a consequence necessary and logical, that He must have loved me first? Did my Saviour die for me because I believed on Him? No; I was not then in existence; I had then no being. Could the Saviour, therefore, have died because I had faith, when I myself was not yet born? Could that have been possible? Could that have been the origin of the Saviour's love towards me? Oh! no; my Saviour died for me long before I believed.

"But," says someone, "He foresaw that you would have faith; and, therefore, He loved you."

What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself? No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, "I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit."

I am bound to the doctrine of the depravity of the human heart, because I find myself depraved in heart, and have daily proofs that in my flesh there dwelleth no good thing.

If God enters into covenant with unfallen man, man is so insignificant a creature that it must be an act of gracious condescension on the Lord's part; but if God enters into covenant with sinful man, he is then so offensive a creature that it must be, on God's part, an act of pure, free, rich, sovereign grace.

When the Lord entered into covenant with me, I am sure that it was all of grace, nothing else but grace. When I remember what a den of unclean beasts and birds my heart was, and how strong was my unrenewed will, how obstinate and rebellious against the sovereignty of the Divine rule, I always feel inclined to take the very lowest room in my Father's house, and when I enter Heaven, it will be to go among the less than the least of all saints, and with the chief of sinners.

C. H. Spurgeon

18 January 2008

B-b-b-b-bad to the bone

by Phil Johnson
cripture is very clear and consistent in its teaching that we were all born into a state of sinfulness, guilt, and spiritual death. When we truly grasp our fallenness, we can instantly see that our own sin is a moral and spiritual dilemma from which we are utterly unable to extricate ourselves.

Paul told the Ephesian believers: "[You] were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Ephesians 2:1-3). The "others" he speaks of is everyone. That is the state of every person who comes into this world. The apostle was describing the spiritual effects of our fallen human nature.

Look closely at what he says there: Every unregenerate person is spiritually dead, walking in accord with Satan, by nature a child of wrath. We are born into this world as thoroughgoing sinners—not merely tainted a little bit by sin, but completely, hopelessly in bondage to it. Every aspect of our being—mind, emotions, desires, and even our physical constitution—is corrupted, controlled, and disfigured by sin and its effects. No one escapes from that verdict. We are totally depraved.

Incidentally, the doctrine of "total depravity" was not invented by Calvin. It is a biblical doctrine. It was also standard orthodox Christian theology, expressly affirmed by all of mainstream Christianity for more than a thousand years before the Reformation—from the Pelagian controversy on. So don't dismiss total depravity as merely a Reformation-era novelty, peculiar to Calvinist dogma. It's not.

On the other hand, if you truly understand the doctrine of depravity, you will see the truth at the heart of Calvinism's emphasis. This is why we stress divine grace rather human free will as the prime factor in our salvation. And I don't apologize for being emphatic about this: Scripture clearly teaches that God is utterly sovereign, and sinners are totally powerless to save themselves. Once you grasp those truths the way Scripture presents them, you will have embraced the very heart of what is commonly labeled Calvinism. This dual emphasis on human depravity and the necessity of God's sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners is also the basis of all truth that can legitimately be called "evangelical." I yield no ground to those who want God's sovereignty or the sinner's inability to be watered down. To do so is to corrupt the gospel at its very starting point.

In this upcoming series of posts, I intend to consider four of the hardest questions about the doctrine of depravity with clear, biblical answers:
  1. In what sense is depravity total?
  2. How can we be held responsible for our own inability?
  3. How did we inherit Adam's sinfulness?
  4. Is there an antidote for human depravity?

Stay tuned.

Phil's signature

17 January 2008

Preaching the Good News? Part Two

by Dan Phillips

Tuesday I posted a snippet of a card left at my doorstep on Saturday, and invited guesses as to its church of origin. Right off the bat, Gareth guessed "Mormons," echoed by Kim, Pastor Brian Culver (twice!), dkyle, Jesucristo rescato a Ernesto, dac, and some bookstore owner.

Other guesses were very creative, including seeker-sensitive, Willow Creekers, purpose driven, "Therapeutic Moralistic Deists," "the local chapter of the Brotherhood of Stammering Christian Worm-Farmers," JW's, Conservative Baptists, and Pentecostals.

It was a fun thread. And now... the rest of the story.

I was in my office last Saturday morning, talking with my wife, when one of the boys came out to us. Breathlessly he told me someone had rung the doorbell. So I lumbered in, opened the door, and found the card wedged into the crack. A couple of young men were walking away towards the sidewalk. I took in their overall clean-cut effect, their white shirts, their ties, and cried —


They smiled, a bit surprised, and nodded affirmatively. I came out so that we could talk on my doorstep.

I've not exhaustively studied Mormonism, and have only talked with a few of them about spiritual matters. (This contrasts with many, many JW encounters.) For years, our next-door neighbors were Mormons. The father was an elder. Very fine people, wonderful neighbors. As long as they lived next to us, we got no visits from Mormons. We figured they acted as our shield to doorstep Mormovangelism.

They've since moved, evidently taking with them the Shield.

C. S. Lewis once said that you didn't really understand a heresy until you'd studied it well enough to find it somewhat tempting, or at least to understand the appeal. By that criterion, I don't know Mormonism. The people have been some of the nicest I've known, but the religious tenets have never seemed other than flat-out absurd to me.

So back to these young men. The first gent said they were going door to door telling people "about the wonderful news of the restoration of the Gospel."

"Oh?" I responded. "When was it lost?"

He was absolutely stumped. I mean speechless. The taller gent tried to interject, but I asked (nicely), "Well, is it okay if he answers, since he's the one who said it?" (I figured, perhaps wrongly, that it works like with JW's: one is the trainer, the person who speaks is the trainee.)

He said sure.

I was actually dismayed for the young fellow (—who had been LDS for ten years, I later learned), so I rephrased my question a few times. He said he wasn't great at English, though he seemed to me to speak jut fine. So when I saw I wasn't going to get an answer, I adopted another approach.

"So, what is the gospel?" I asked.

Again, stunned silence. So I rephrased it. "It's what we're telling people," he said. I told him I got that — but what was it they were telling people? What was it about? What made it good news? What news did it tell? I literally asked the question at least six different ways.

This occasioned yet more puzzling, which wasn't really my intent; so I tried another angle. "Is it in the book of Mormon?" I asked. "Is there somewhere in there where it is spelled out?" Neither could point to a passage. I tried again. "Do you have a favorite part of the book of Mormon, part that really says what you believe?" I pretty well felt the answer coming before the taller fellow gave it:

"Oh, I love all of it." (That's the second time I've heard a Mormon respond that way, making it two for two.)

So I said, "Is that a Bible you have there?" Yes. "Do you know where it says what the Gospel is?" No. "May I show you?" Sure.

So I showed them 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, and tried to open it up a bit. Of course, they agreed with it. So I asked if they agreed that believing in Jesus, only, brings salvation. (All this time I'm praying for God's guidance and grace, not really sure which specific path to choose.)

"Well," the taller man told me, "yes, but we have to show that we mean it by what we do. We can't just say we believe, and then do nothing about it." He had been a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) all his life, and they just told him if he went to church once a week, that was all there was to it.

I agreed; no one wants to be a hypocrite. So I asked them to read Romans 4:4-5, and asked what it said, and what it meant. We talked about how Paul was saying grace and works were opposites, that if works had anything to do with our salvation, then it wasn't by grace. And if it was by grace, works could have nothing to do with it.

They said they believed that. Hm.

They said, however, that we needed to do works to show God that we had real faith. "Does He not know whether we have faith or not?" I asked. Well, yes, sure....

So I asked the EE question: "If, God forbid, you were to die, and find yourself before the holy Judge; and if He were to ask you why He should let you into His Heaven what would you say?"

The taller gent's answer was pure works: "I would say that I tried to be good, I treated people with love and respect, I kept your laws...." A whole lot of "I." Sola ego, if I could butcher me some Latin.

So I said it sounded like he was trusting himself, not Jesus. How good you have to be to go to Heaven? Then we talked about the holy Law of God, and how Jesus met the Law's demands in His person on the cross, how He was clothed with our sin, so that we who trust in Him alone might be clothed with His perfect righteousness, and be accepted on that basis. (If you've just dropped by, and that all is news to you, please check this out.)

Smiling assent, no arguments. Then, very nicely, "We were supposed to meet back up five minutes ago." So we parted, me urging them to read Romans all the way through, and that they'd find everything they need to know about Jesus in it, and the other 65 books.

Nice guys, truly. The taller fellow had been a Marine, both were married with kids.

No clue about the Gospel. Pray for them.

Here was their card:

Next time, let's chat some more about how hard it was to identify what kind of church produced that card.

But first, think about their parting-word to me:

"Thanks for talking with us. Most people won't."

Dan Phillips's signature

16 January 2008

The Challies Interview

by Frank Turk

Well, Tim, it seems at least one of us has come a long way from being a mere channel rat in DrO's #prosapologian. In spite of my jealousy, after reading the book you've obviously done good here.

Since a lot of people have "blogged" you so far about your book, I'm going to try to ask you some unconventional questions. Bear with me as I work them out.

I started reading your book, got through 2 chapters, and turned back to the index with my highlighter to do an experiment. I highlighted all the names of theological “conservatives” in green, and theological “moderates” (or those farther left) in orange. My pages were mostly green and not hardly orange. What would you say to people who would call this kind of foundation for your book one-sided? Why not include some insights into “other kinds” of discernment, such as Rob Bell’s approach to Scripture or an Assemblies of God approach to spiritual gifts?

The easy answer here would be to simply state that some teachers both emphasize and model discernment while others do not. The reason some authors are “orange” or “red” (or whatever you’d use to indicate the category that comes after the moderates) is precisely because they lack discernment! In the resources section of the book I even mention John MacArthur as a teacher who always emphasizes discernment, mentioning that his books and commentaries never miss the opportunity to make note of the call of the Christian to spiritual discernment. I tended to rely on authors who have emphasized discernment in their ministries.

I can’t speak specifically to Rob Bell’s approach to Scripture or the Assemblies of God approach to spiritual gifts as they did not factor into the book. But I can say that I relied first and foremost on Scripture and, beyond that, on teachers who love Scripture and who seek to accurately convey what God teaches through it. I think you’d find that the “green” authors in the book are the ones who love Scripture and who skillfully teach it through the books and through their teaching ministries.

I think that’s an interesting answer, Tim, because it seems to me that “discernment” as you are defining it sort of presupposes a specific approach to Scripture. That is, the “greens” all seem to share a common hermeneutic, a common approach to the text. You’re not a theologian (neither am I), but would you consider other approaches to Scripture as viable approaches to developing spiritual discernment?

We’re probably walking a little outside my area of expertise here. While I’d acknowledge that these men (and women) do share a common hermeneutic, I guess I would see it as a better hermeneutic (or a biblical hermeneutic). Not all hermeneutics were created equal. Whether I’d consider other approaches to Scripture as viable would really depend on the approach a person took. It’s rather too broad a question to just assign a yes or a no, I think.

As I was reading your book, I was also reading a book by Larry Osborn called The Contrarian's Guide to Knowing God. I bring it up because it's a little more light-hearted than your book is, and it overlaps some of the same topics. How does seriousness of tone relate to your view of how discernment works?

To be honest, this is a question I’ve been thinking about for several weeks now. I do not remember putting a lot of effort into determining whether I would write in a serious or a more light-hearted tone (though, to be honest, it was almost two years ago that I began to write and I’ve got a poor memory. Putting those two factors together means I may have spent all kinds of time thinking about it but such thoughts have long since slipped my mind). But I do know that I did not expressly set out to create a book that was serious in tone. Rather, I set out to write a book that would share what the Bible says about spiritual discernment. At my blog I write from a personal perspective, often basing theological lessons on my own experiences and simply sharing things God has taught me. But when it came to discernment, I did not want to share my perspective on discernment, as if that would be of any value. Instead I wanted to share the biblical perspective.

I recently discussed this topic with my editor (as I begin to think about future writing projects) and her words rang true when she said that perhaps some of the feedback about stylistic issues came from people who were expecting “Tim in print rather than the need for and instruction on how to be discerning.” I did not want to interfere and did not want to inject too much of myself into the book. At the same time I did want to maintain a personal rather than a scholarly tone. How well I’ve succeeded in that will probably become more clear as I gain more feedback on the book.

Yeah, my problem, Tim, is that I like you. You’re always a little dry, but you’re relatable. How would you respond to the person who says that while your book may be useful, because it’s not relatable it doesn’t deliver what the average seeker, sitter or disciple really needs?

I would be surprised to hear that my book is not relatable. I was deliberate about writing in a way that was accessible and I often relied on what I think are helpful illustrations to try to give something memorable that they can hold onto. In fact, the whole Preface is nothing but a story for that very reason. If a person felt that I was not relatable, what could I say, really? I guess I’d suggest they read another book about discernment. Oh, wait…

Now, that said, here's the real controversy starter: here we are at the TeamPyro blog talking about your book, and we're sort of renown for being somewhat other than sober in tone – me personally for sure, but certainly Phil and Dan, and certainly the inimitable Pecadillo. We have taken some hits for it in some corners of the blogosphere. What's your take on the use of something other than a somber, pious tone in talking about spiritual matters?

I may have more to say about this when I post a review of the new book by Mark Driscoll. It is something I’ve thought about quite a bit, and especially so as I read his book.

I believe there is a time and a place for humor. I believe humor can be effective in teaching and in communicating even something as serious as theology and spiritual matters. Of course there are times when humor is inappropriate (as comedian Brian Regan has aptly pointed out, greeting card stores have no “humorous sympathy” section). I’m sure Jesus had a terrific sense of humor and I don’t know that He would have been truly human if He hadn’t shared some good belly laughs with His disciples on those long, hot and dusty walks. Yet our society, I think, has been prone to elevating humor and levity. After a while, it seems, we are no longer capable of taking seriously much of anything. So while there is a time for humor, and while laughter is a gift from God, there is also a time for soberness and a time to be serious. There ought to be a kind of gravity surrounding Christians, I think, that proves that they take life seriously and that they are aware of their own sin and aware of the state of the world around them.

Even while we do laugh and have fun, our humor must be sanctified. We can use humor to point to what is ridiculous and can use it just for the sheer enjoyment of laughing, but we must be careful that we do not make light of sin. This is, I think, where many Christians abuse humor. When we laugh at what God has forbidden, we make light of sin. So let’s laugh and let’s have fun and let’s be something other than somber and pious when necessary, but let’s be careful all the while that we take seriously what is important to God.

I said something similar this week at my blog about Pastor Mark’s Q&A relating to the theology of sex & procreation – that some things just require us to take them seriously rather than crack jokes that allegedly make a point. A laugh is a serious thing in the larger sense, I guess.

You have a blog? Anyways, it just so happens that I listened to Mark’s sermon and Q&A this afternoon, before you sent me this comment. I think you’re right—some things are very easy to laugh about but could probably be treated with a bit more seriousness. Issues regarding sexuality definitely fall in this camp. It is easy (very easy, even) to get laughs when it comes to sex. But I think we might do better to treat the subject with a bit more soberness at times.

Quick lightning round – top-of-mind answers only:

* Favorite TeamPyro Post/Series, – I guess I’d probably vote for all those Emergent Demotivation posters as my favorites. They weren’t the most edifying things you guys have ever produced, but they were good for some laughs.
* Favorite TeamPyro Contributor (Doh!) – Darlene (by far!)
* Most puzzling criticism of your book – Even I was taken aback by the level of some of the criticism lodged against me because of my lack of credentials. The early comments were fairly innocuous, but as people got warmed up, the comments got pretty dark. It bothered me far less than it surprised me.
* Best reason to live in Canada – There is almost no such thing as evangelical politics up here—at least not compared to what goes on in the U.S.
* Favorite place to eat in Toronto – I don’t actually live in Toronto proper and rarely eat out. But if I do venture downtown and get a bit hungry, I generally grab some of Toronto’s finest street meat from a hotdog/sausage vendor outside Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play).

Challies is on a blog tour for his new book.