29 February 2008

Grace: eighteen affirmations and denials

by Dan Phillips

I feel a bit like Jude (v. 3), except without the inerrant inspiration. I had a long, detailed post on another topic nearly ready. A recent development pushed that out of my mind, and pushed this subject into it.

It won't be pretty; I'll be trying to keep up with my thoughts and make them intelligible. But I reserve the right to re-post this in a shinier form at a later date.

And so, without further eloquence:
  1. God's grace was given to His elect in His purposes from before times eternal (2 Timothy 1:9). It is not an afterthought.
  2. Grace answers the question Cur Deus homo? — it is why God the Son became a human being, lived among us, fulfilled all righteousness, died in the stead of the elect, and redeemed them (2 Corinthians 8:9). Nothing in us motivated the Incarnation.
  3. Grace is known in the special revelation of the Gospel (Colossians 1:6), not by natural revelation.
  4. Grace frees the elect to exercise saving faith (Acts 18:27). Slaves don't free themselves.
  5. Grace is the whole reason we are declared righteous as a free gift by grace alone, through faith alone, in and because of Christ alone (Acts 15:11; Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7); it is not merely an important factor.
  6. Grace in Christ's death is the cause of our righteous standing before God (Galatians 2:21; 5:4). Human works play no part whatever.
  7. Grace is a good reason to leave sin (Romans 6:1ff). It is not a good reason to remain in sin.
  8. Grace frees us from the Mosaic law's condemnation (Romans 6:14). It does not "free" us from God being God, nor from all that necessarily follows from that truth.
  9. Grace motivates and empowers us to do more for God than we otherwise would (1 Corinthians 15:10). It isn't our license to do less or nothing for God than we otherwise would.
  10. Grace strengthens us for service (2 Timothy 2:1). It does not "strengthen" us for indifferent, lazy lassitude.
  11. Grace motivates us to speak more boldly to professed brothers in Christ (Romans 15:15). It does not motivate us to care less about God's glory or others' spiritual health.
  12. Put another way, grace is the motivator for speaking even unwelcome truth boldly to professed Christians (Romans 15:15). Grace is not the antithesis of such plain-speaking.
  13. Grace builds us up as Christians (Acts 20:32). Grace is not for the moment of salvation only.
  14. Grace is at home with humility (1 Peter 5:5). It is the opposite of stiff-necked, arrogant rebellion against the word and will of God.
  15. Grace is the sufficient, efficient, indispensable and unerring cause for practical holy living, for obeying the written word of God (Titus 2:11-12; cf. Romans 8:12-13). It isn't our "get out of obedience" card.
  16. Grace will not be fully experienced, realized, or known until we see Christ (1 Peter 1:13). This present consciousness of grace is not "all there is."
  17. Until that day, we must grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18). No man can say he is "there," yet.
  18. It is an abominable blasphemy to use pleas of "grace" as a cloak for outrageous, amoral, immoral, licentious thinking and living (Jude 4). Grace is not a pretext for sin.
Three brief reflections:

Dispensationalism. I am unapologetically a Calvinist dispensationalist (someone tell that punk Heinrich). Having said that, it shames and confounds me that so many have cause to associate dispensationalism with antinomian, libertine licentiousness. I disown that false teaching with every fiber of my being, and it in no way grows necessarily out of the heart of the dispensational approach to Scripture.

That dispensationalists as a whole haven't roundly disowned that bastard child is as fully to our shame as the failure of Moslems to denounce all terrorism.

For whatever it's worth, count me as a denouncer.

It doesn't matter. However, anyone who thinks that abuse of the rich Biblical concept of grace is confined to dispensationalism... well, you need to get out more.

Final plea. Do this for me.
  • If you're going to sin, poke God in the eye, shame His name, bring ridicule on the Gospel, and refuse to deal with your sin by repentance as God defines it — don't drag the lovely word grace into the sewer with you. Just sin, and prepare for the consequences. Well, scratch that. You can't prepare for the consequences. But at least let's not lie to ourselves and others, compound our sin, and smear the dung of our sin over the beautiful concept of grace.
  • If you're going to sin and bring heartbreak, ruin, robbery, treachery, betrayal and misery into the lives of others, and then refuse to deal with your sin by repentance as God defines it — don't drag the the lovely word grace or "the Cross" into it. Grace and the cross are the antithesis of continuance in heardhearted, unrepentant sin. What we've done to others is bad enough. No need to blaspheme the saving grace of God in the bargain.
That is all.

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28 February 2008

John Piper is... funny!

by Dan Phillips

DISCLAIMER: anytime anyone even seems to be criticizing Piper, all the Pipeheads do a dogpile. This isn't a criticism! It's a chuckle. If you don't like it, ask for a ticket refund at the box office and move on!

I've been challenged by the sessions I've heard from the Desiring God Pastor's Conference for 2008, groaning under my dissimilarities to their wonderful fathers, seeing too much of myself in their shortcomings.

In particular, I was listening to the question and answer session. In response to some question, Dr. D. A. Carson (whom I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing in person last year) says "I think The Pleasures of God is the most important book John Piper has ever written."


How does Piper respond?

A few minutes later, on the way to responding to a question, he almost (not quite) sniffs in passing, "I think God Is the Gospel is the most important book I've ever written."

That just cracks me up.

See, I try to put myself in Piper's place. In this daydream, I'm in some public venue with D. A. Carson (which, I know — dream on!), when, out of nowhere and in response to some question that had nothing to do with me, Carson says, "I think 25 things I've learned is the most important post Dan Phillips has ever written."

And I?

Next time I have a chance to speak, of course, I humph,"Well, I think my series on dealing with Proverbs is the most important post I've ever written!"

Right! That would totally happen!

No, I'd probably not be able to speak for the rest of the evening. I know I'd be impossible to live with, like, forever.

My thoughts would be, (A), "Don Carson has read anything I've ever written?!" — followed by, (B), "Don Carson remembers something specific that I've written?!" — followed by, (C), "Don Carson remembers something specific that I have written, and thinks that it is important?!!"

That's me. Not Piper!

Just cracks me up.

Different vessels, different makeups, different men. Same Lord.

(Also, it may indicate why the Lord could never trust me with that sort of notoriety.)

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27 February 2008

I'm Down

by Frank Turk

I'm not much of a complainer in my personal life – mostly because I have kids who are way better than I could have possibly raised them, I have a wife who is infinitely a better person and a better spouse than I am, I make a decent living, somehow blogging has panned out for me as a way to write thing which people will then actually read, and most importantly, I have a savior in Jesus Christ.

Now, many segments of the blogosphere will read a post which begins like that and simply write it off as hash – because, frankly, they are actually complainers. Life is very hard for them, Jesus doesn’t turn out to give them what they think they want, and so on. And people see that as transparency, somehow – that if one can vent one's disappointment or talk about how hard they have it today, that's real emotional honesty, and we should raise a glass to the thick hide it takes to tell people that COMPONENT X of my life makes me sad.

And I bring this up because the last 10 days for me has been frankly emotionally and spiritually draining. I'm down. I'm really down. How can you laugh when you know I'm down? How can you laugh? When you know I'm down?


So should I blog about the valley of the shadow of death? I mean – as I have tried to find a way to summarize it, the last week has looked a lot like the first chapter of Job, sans the marauding Sabeans and the donkeys. And, thankfully, the boils.

Do you really want to read about that? Would it be edifying to know that my week was as bad or worse than yours was?

Let me suggest something here, and then try to work it out: these are important things, and they are the things we think about every day. But is thinking about them – and listening to the litany of my immediate state of woe – edifying or uplifting? Or is there something else we should be comparing all that stuff to so that when that stuff happens, we don’t find ourselves shipwrecked?

Job says this about that:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ... Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ... I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
That's Job – who probably went through worse that I did this week, and who, all things told, probably went through worse than you did. In his view, when he turned to God, and God answered him, it is himself he despises for thinking that God owes him an answer.

Now, why is that? Is it because it's none of Job's business and God will simply do whatever it is He does and none of your loose lip can change that? I think that's a completely hollow view of what Job realizes here, and that for two reasons.

The first reason is that God demands that Job's friends repent through Job for their sins. That is, while Job says that he did something wrong by asking God, "why?", his friend are actually in need of a sacrifice and are condemned by God for telling Job, "this is all your own fault, dude." That is, the explanation that Job is a sinner in the hands of an angry God doesn’t cut it because that's the explanation Job's friends give, and God labels that chatter "folly" which kindles up his "anger".

But the second reason is in Job's response here: the things at stake are too wonderful for Job to understand – even the Message admits that Job was sort of overwhelmed by the wonder which is in beholding God first-hand and seeing one's plight in the face of the living God.

Now, to tie this back to my original thought – which was my lousy week – of all the things in the list in my first paragraph, only one really qualifies as a "wonder". And while some of you may be influenced to think it is my Wife, and you'd be right from a certain perspective, the only real wonder on that list is that I have a savior in Jesus Christ.

"Yah yah yah," interrupts the internet detractor who struggles with depression, or the evangelican who stopped by because he was between Max Lucado books. "You Calvinists. The only thing that matters is Jesus Christ. Everything is so Jesus-centered that it's not any actual Earthly good, and you white-wash suffering and pain to the place where the problem of evil is itself invalidated because you say, in effect, there is no evil. It's all good because God makes it all good. And if that's what you're getting at, you make me sick because my wife is dying from cancer, she cannot be cured, and you can't convince me that her pain and my suffering are not evil."

Yeah, no. I'm not saying that. I'm saying that Job, who is still scraping his boils with a piece of pottery, and who has nothing left in this world, has asked God for an answer as to the question, "why me, Lord? Why me when I have never done anything to you?" And his answer is that suffering is real and it also shows us something about God we couldn’t otherwise know.

Job says, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you." It seems to me that Job says that the answer to his question is not a fancy theology of the problem of evil, but that it is finding God there in the midst of the problem.

See: my problems this week are my problems. I own them, I wear them, I bear them. This is my life. It is real. I know it because I feel it. But there is a wonder which I could not see if I did not see this pain: it is the wonder that Christ is my savior. And he's not just a savior who hands out lollypops and lemonade and cake: He's a savior who has willingly suffered so that He would save.

You know: Christ had to pay taxes (Mat 17 – the temple tax). Christ had arguments with people – in fact, very important people came looking for Christ to have arguments with him specifically for the purpose of making him look bad (Mark 12 – about divorce and the resurrection). Christ's friends betrayed Him (John 18 – Peter denies him). Christ's mother thought he was crazy, and wanted him to stop preaching (Mark 3 – not just his mother but his whole family). Christ had people using him for a free meal under the cover of seeking a religious sign (John 6 – feeds 5000). Christ's friend died from being sick (John 11 – death of Lazarus). Christ Himself was unjustly accused and convicted of violating the law, and was given the death penalty (Mat 26:57- the trial of Christ).

Let me say it plainly that Jesus had it rough – and this is a wonder.

Christ suffered in this world in every way that we suffer today, and He knows what we are going through – not as an observer, but as the book of Hebrews says, as a High Priest [who] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same dark stuff we do.

Now, if you see that with your eye, and not merely hear it with your ear, how do you feel about your complaints? Are they magnified, or does Christ – who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be horded or clung to, but made himself nothing (an insignificant speck), taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross -- trade you beauty for your ashes, and pour out an oil of gladness for your mourning?

Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture. So when an airplane crashes into your new car, or you have to go and mourn at a funeral without your spouse because of a birthday party, or your money suddenly seems really tight, or you have to fire someone because of someone else's incompetence, or you yourself are fired because of someone else's incompetence, you may be suffering. I would say that if these things happen to you, you will suffer. But Christ has suffered more and you get that benefit. That is the answer God gives you, which I think you couldn't see from the chaise lounge whilst sipping the drink served in a coconut with the happy paper umbrella. You can only see it from this place, where we suffer.

And that makes looking at the rest of this stuff a little easier, I think. I hope you think so, too.

Is There an Antidote for Human Depravity?

The fact of our fallenness makes sovereign grace essential
by Phil Johnson

(This is the continuation of a series begun here.)

et's go back to the passage we began this series with: Ephesians 2:1-3. This time I'll add (in bold italics) two words from verse 4. Those two words mark the pivotal statement of the chapter:
You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God . . .

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached one of his most famous sermons on those two words—"But God." That simple conjunction marks the apostle Paul's transition from the problem of human depravity to its solution. The only possible solution, Paul says, is the sovereign application of saving grace to the sinner. Are you looking for an explicit statement of Calvinistic doctrine in the Pauline epistles? Here is one of many, and it's a classic. Notice: Paul's whole argument in bringing up the doctrine of human depravity in this context was to make the point that our fallenness leaves us utterly at the mercy of God for salvation. Our utter inability—which Paul has just described as a state of spiritual death—underscores the absolute necessity of God's sovereignty in salvation. Because we are so thoroughly fallen and spiritually incapacitated, our salvation must be God's work, and God's work alone.

This truth does not come out of nowhere. Paul already established the truth of divine sovereignty in chapter 1, where he reminded the Ephesians that God chose them (4), predestined them (5), guaranteed their adoption (5), bestowed on them His grace (6), redeemed them (7), forgave them (7), lavished riches of grace on them (8), made known to them His will (9), obtained an inheritance for them (11), guaranteed that they would glorify Him (11-12), saved them (13), and sealed them with the Spirit (13-14). All those same truths are true of every believer. In short, God "has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (3). All of this is the work of His sovereign grace, performed not because of any good in us, but simply "according to the kind intention of His will" (5, 9) and "according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will" (11).

There's not a hint of Arminianism in that. There's not a whisper of stress on human free will. Paul is expressly teaching that all of salvation is God's work and He is absolutely sovereign in the process. In fact, Ephesians 2 begins with the passage quoted in red type in the block paragraph above, stressing the utter inability of spiritually-dead sinners, and then it culminates with Paul's statement in verse 10 that even the good works done by believers were prepared by God beforehand! How could Paul have been any more clear or emphatic about the truth of God's sovereignty in our salvation?

In fact, this is the central message of Ephesians 2: salvation is entirely God's work. We're not to think redemption hinges on any work, motion, activity, or free-will choice on the part of the sinner. Verses 8-9 therefore constitute a succinct thesis statement for the whole chapter: "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, [so] that no one [can] boast" (8-9).

"But God!"—and here we see the only possible cure for human depravity, the grace of a loving God:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.

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26 February 2008

ER's "Atonement" and the absent Gospel

by Dan Phillips

This clip from a recent episode of ER has made the rounds among the blogs, and deservedly so — it's very powerful.

The episode, titled "Atonement," was broadcast on January 17, 2008. Here's the clip:

The following scene is also telling, but has attracted less comment. The good doctor finds the distraught chaplain outside, sitting by herself, reeling over the exchange. She's played by the wonderful Reiko Aylesworth (who fared better as Michelle Dessler on 24) , and here's how it goes:
Chaplain: You know... doubt... it's uncomfortable. But certainty -- I don't think it's real. I -- I, I I went to seminary, I studied Buddhism, I spent time in an ashram... who really knows anything with absolute certainty.

Doctor: Not me. That's for sure.

Chaplain: That's why I thought an inclusive approach to spirituality would work well in a place like this.

Doctor: It does! It does. The patients, they appreciate what you do.

Chaplain: No, people in crisis want rules. They want structure, something to lean on. I get that. But it's not me.

[See it here, starting at about three minutes]
Count the ironies, intended and otherwise.

After this exchange, the doctor then encourages Chaplain Reiko to get back in there and help the patient. He'll be there with her. But she won't do it. He persists, and so does she. So he leaves her. The liberal, "inclusive" female chaplain has failed.

So later the doctor has to do it himself, has to try to help the guilty, haunted man.

What does he offer him? Not much. Insistence that the retired doctor's good deed counts for something. The suggestion is that his rescuing the boy from drowning outweighs his "bad" deeds (administering lethal injection to the boy's father, who later turned out to have been framed).

For some reason the man, though having just shredded young Chaplain PoMo, accepts this equally Godless, equally trackless, equally baseless, equally shapeless pablum, from the doctor.

And that's the resolution. (Watch it here.)

What the doctor offers is in no way better than what the chaplain offered. It's sheer human-viewpoint gobbledy-gook, double-talk, and equivocation. The rest of the episode wallows in such moral relativism. Ultimately, there is no "there" there. Absolutely wonderful windup; absolutely no pitch, whatever.

Still, it is refreshing to see Hollywood frame the question and the issue fairly vividly, isn't it? Yet even in that framing, the picture is blurred. The "cause" being championed is yet another Hollywood favorite: opposition to the death penalty. Did the doctor actually do anything immoral? He had come to think so, and his grief is turned as a comment against capital punishment.

Now, had the writers really wanted to stretch themselves and defy convention, they could have made the doctor an abortionist. For instance, he could have been one of the sorts of doctors who recently advised a British couple to abort their baby because the unborn child was diagnosed with rhomboencephalosynapsis, would be born deaf and blind, and would only live an hour or two.

In the actual case, the parents rejected the counsel, and the child was born perfectly healthy, in spite of the assured diagnosis his parents had received. But how many such children have been actually aborted, on the basis of equally flawed diagnoses? I know of another similar case myself.

The fictional doctor could have actually succeeded in convincing the couple to kill the child, and then discovered his error. That, or countless other of the living nightmares by which abortionists could rightly find themselves gripped when they paint a bull's-eye on a baby. Then we would have had a case of real guilt over a real moral wrong.

Ah, but the Hollywood that is wrought up over the fate of condemned killers, as a rule is not so concerned about the innocent unborn.

Even if they could have pulled this off — and the writers for House, M.D. and other dramas have indeed done some remarkable stretching — I still can't picture them being able to deliver on a credible Christian preacher.

As I've often observed and remarked: the most gifted screenwriters can concoct believable monsters, deviants, heroes, regular-joes, atheists, agnostics, all sorts of characters. But the believable depiction of a full-orbed Christian character is simply beyond them. Evidently they have never known (much less understood nor liked) even one credible, practicing, Biblically-faithful Christian. It's the one color missing from their palate — as starved for ideas as they are.

Otherwise, ER might have given us a real chaplain with a real God, a real Hell — and a real Gospel.

Rather than rehashes of the world's dyspel of tallied-works, judged by shifting, human, strictly-horizontal standards and laid in a balance, he might have preached the Gospel of Christ. He might have told them man of a just and holy God before whom indeed he stood guilty, condemned, and (in himself) hopeless (Romans 3:10-20). He could have shown sin to be a matter of real guilt, due to an offended Law that is without, above, and against us. He might have told him of the wrath of God against human sin, played out in the recurring cycles of our racial and individual rebellion (Romans 1:18-32).

And then he might have told of the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel on the basis of faith alone — God's powerfully saving good news (Romans 1:16-17). He might have told of the Savior who came to meet the law's full demands, to absorb the full brunt of God's holy and righteous wrath, to pour out His blood in payment of man's incalculable debt (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; Romans 3:21-25). He could have told him of Jesus' Christ's death, His burial, and His bodily resurrection — which was God's "all-clear," signaling that He had paid the price of His people's sin in full (John 19:30; Romans 4:25).

In this way, the pastor could have assured the man, God can be perfectly righteous, and impute perfect righteousness to the one trusts savingly in Jesus (Romans 4:25). "This," he could say, "is how you can know God."

But Hollywood, for all that does captivate it, is not captivated by the beauty of the Gospel.

Nor, probably, can it be (1 Corinthians 1:18 — 2:14).

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24 February 2008

How Blind must be Thy Heart

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Frank Turk, pinch-hitting for our beloved leader Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Honored Guest," a sermon Published on Thursday, November 25th, 1915, delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. It's date of actual sermonizing is not known.

Why Is It That All Men Do Not Receive Christ Joyfully?
This is our first question. They need him, all of them. There is no difference in this respect. Whether Jews or Gentiles, they are all sold under sin. God has concluded the whole race of man in unbelief. He has shut them all up in condemnation. There is no escape from the universal doom except by the way of the cross. Jesus Christ comes to save; comes with pardon in his hands, with messages of love, with tokens of favour; yet most men bar the doors of their hearts against him. There is no cry heard in their souls, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates! and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of Glory may come in!" Instead thereof, there is a sullen cry, "Come prejudice; come unbelief; come hardness of heart; come love of sin; bar ye the doors and barricade the gates lest, perhaps, the King of Glory should force an entrance!" Men treat the Saviour as they would treat an invader who attacked their country. They seek to drive him away; they would fain be rid of him. They cannot endure his presence. Nay, they can scarce endure, some of them, to hear about him in the street. Why is this? The chief reason lies in the depravity of man's nature. You never know how bad man is till he comes in contact with the Cross.

Although the crimes of savage, uncivilized men may appear to you far more heinous than any that are committed in our favoured country, where just laws are for the most part enacted, and opportunities of education generally enjoyed, yet the propensity to do that which is evil in the teeth of a knowledge of that which is good, the subtlety of perverting truth in the clear light of divine revelation, the perfidiousness of that foul ingratitude which can betray the tenderest friendship, are never so painfully illustrated as in view of the Crucified. To despise the grace of Jesus, to reject the love of God, to conspire against the Ambassador of peace, to take the inhuman, devilish counsel—"This is the heir; let us kill him!"—this was the last offence of the wicked husbandmen in the parable. Nor does the parable exaggerate the treachery. For this is the greatest offence of human nature, when it says, in effect, "This is the Incarnate God, let us reject him; this is the Word made flesh, let us traduce him; this is the Father's beloved Son—let us betray him!" Oh! Human Nature, how blind must be thy heart, how seared thy conscience, not to see the beauties of Christ! How base must thou be to despise the love and tenderness of such a Saviour!
C. H. Spurgeon

21 February 2008

What if someone claims an angelic visitation?

by Dan Phillips

I can't do Phil's fancy font-effects, but have decided to bring a comment from the last post up into a post of its own. Craig Bennett asked:
Hey DJP,

What would your reaction be towards a person who said an angel appeared and spoke to them [sic] today?
To this I, of course, replied:
Cut to the chase, Craig: you're pregnant.
The good-humored Craig responded:
bawhhhaaa haaa nice 1 DJP,

No I'm not pregnant. However Scripture does tell us to be hospitable to strangers for they might be angels.

I'm just wondering if you would believe today if someone said they [sic] had an angelic encounter...
Here's my serious response.

, straight-up, I'd doubt it, on this basis:

Passages such as Hebrews 1:1-2, and 2:1-4 (among many others) make it clear that God is not sanguine about professed believers impatiently looking past His word for something better, more exciting, more entertaining. He didn't take it well when Israel ignored repeated (real-live, inerrant and binding) prophetic pleas:
Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets." 14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and.... (2 Kings 17:13-16)
"And" what, you ask? Does it really matter? They turned from the word of God to something else. The specific form of rebellion and unbelief is secondary. He says again in Jeremiah 35:15 — "Also I have sent to you all My servants the prophets, sending them again and again, saying: 'Turn now every man from his evil way, and amend your deeds, and do not go after other gods to worship them, then you shall dwell in the land which I have given to you and to your forefathers; but you have not inclined your ear or listened to Me'" (NAS).

Now that revelation has reached its climax in God's own Son (Matthew 17:5-8; Hebrews 1:1-2), is it sane or reasonable to imagine that God's attitude towards His inerrant, binding, sufficient revelation would be more shoulder-shruggy? If we imagine so, we aren't getting the idea from His Word (Hebrews 12:25).

That, in a word, is the mind of God for our age: hear and heed what He has already said. We don't need new, we don't need more. We need to deal with what He has given. And by and large, we aren't.

As every one of us here at Pyro assesses our age, professed Christians are "into" everything but the Word of God: entertainment, fake tongues and fake prophecy and fake semi-revelation, showmen, flattery, and all the rest that the three of us frequently hold up to the harsh light of Scripture.

We've seen it in many of our commenters over the past two years. Numerous brothers and sisters scarce peep when the Gospel is perverted, when Christ is in effect dethroned, when the truth is twisted. They're non-participants. Try to open up some doctrine of Scripture, and eyes glaze over. They're no-shows.

But boy oh boy oh boy, say a word affirming the sufficiency of Scripture, or critiquing their pet-distraction, and they've nothing more exciting to do than argue. To us, it's a bit like the doctor with his "Does this hurt?" "No." "This?" "No." "This?" "YAAOOOWWWCH! WHAT ARE TRYING TO DO, KILL ME? And besides, it's not a problem!"

So, to your question, I'd start out with the expectation that God Himself is unlikely to do something that would surely be turned into Excuse #47958 For Focusing On Something Other Than God's Inerrant, Abiding, Living, Sufficient Word, something that would birth books like "Walking with Angels" and "My Homey Gabriel," and seminars on finding your angelic guide.

If it grieves a dull pinhead like me to see "evangelicals" so indifferent to His Word, and so excited about made-up playtime amusements, it's hard to imagine how God must see it.

Lame analogy: every one of my kids has on occasion balked at something their mother (or I) serve at mealtime. Now my dear, long-suffering wife has never yet served them a plate of poison toadstools or bloated roadkill. Her food's always good, nourishing, edible, made with mother's love, all that wonderful stuff. So I require that they eat what they're served, no matter what dramatics they produce — and let's all grant that all kids know how to bring the drama.

Sometimes these sessions have developed into fairly long-lasting contests of will. I have memories and mental images that still amaze me.

Now, if I have said (sing it with me), "This isn't a cafeteria, it isn't poison, I expect you to you eat what you're served," and there's resistance — what should I do? If I go back on my word, then my kids know forever that I can be rolled, that I don't mean what I say, that they can't take what I say on its face and go to the bank with it. In short, that I'm a weak-willed liar. I would have done them a terrible disservice.

But suppose I came in and said, "Oh, while you're sitting there disdainfully contemplating the food your mother served you, and deciding for yourself what you feel like doing about it — whether you think you want to eat it or not — here's a bit of chocolate! And if you hold out longer, I'll go get some pizza and ice cream."

What then? Haven't I just undone my whole point, and made it easier for them to disrespect and disobey and miss the whole point of this exercise?

So, living as we do in the epoch following the completion and close of the Canon, I would approach a claim to angelic dialogue with a strong bias towards its unlikeliness.

And yes, I am aware of (and believe) the verse in Hebrews. It's about being hospitable. We should be hospitable. It isn't about looking for angelic visitation, is it?

Thanks for asking.

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20 February 2008

Impromtu lite fair

by Frank Turk

Yeah, so we get a lot of e-mail, and the one thing that comes up all the time is the comment (in words to this effect), "You know: your graphics blow me away."

Now, I don't know about the rest of the guys, but while I am pleased with our graphics, that's the condiment for the blog, not the main course. That's like saying, "I really love that A-1 sauce you served with that porterhouse steak." Yeah: good sauce. What about the steak?

So to sorta have a one-day sesssion of the TeamPyro GodBlogCon, let me help you and your blog with graphics tips, including the tool set you'll need to be even marginally proficient.

[1] STOP USING ANY ITERATION OR FORM OF "MS PAINT". This tool is like using a hammer to make an omlette -- it can break the eggs, but that's it. There is no reason on this earth to have to use paint to manipulate graphics, no matter what your budget is. Which leads me to ...

[2] DOWNLOAD "GiMP" RIGHT NOW. It doesn't matter if you are a Mac user or a PC user: GiMP comes in both flavors, as well as in generic UNIX and a coupla other geek flavors so the whole world can manipulate graphics with some level of panache. GiMP is about as powerful as Photoshop version 5.0 for the Mac, and it is utterly and perfectly FREE -- not "I tricked the shareware guy into giving me free software" free, but "I never have to pay for it". Its web site says "It is a freely distributed piece of software".

Once you install it, spend some time learning how to use it. Particularly, learn how to use it to cut and paste, to select one color, using the magic wand, and so forth.

[2a] IF YOU HAVE THE MONEY, I STRONGLY SUGGEST PHOTOSHOP AND ILLUSTRATOR by ADOBE. Personally, I own PS 6.0 and Illustrator 9.0, and there is frankly nothing short of 3D rendering and Flash animation I cannot do with these tools. However, they are expensive, so once you buy them you are making a long-term commitment to being a better web designer and artist. I use Illustrator to design logos and custom objects that need to be scalable; I use Photoshop for all the heavy lifting, such as causing a flat object to look like it's on the floor rather than standing straight up on your screen, dropping shadows, making objects poke through other objects, etc.

[3] CREATE A BASE IMAGE. You recognize our base image (to the left over there, with the screws in it). It's sort of a unifying theme. For my blog, I have chosen to unify by using one narrow band of comic book art in a particular style. But you can do it in a variety of ways. Choosing your logo as a unifying theme is sort of a short cut. The trick there is that it has to be a good looking logo in the first place.

[4] BECOME OBSESSED WITH CREATING VARIATIONS ON THE THEME. Between me and Phil, we have created thousands of images for use on TeamPyro; on my blog, I have a meager 700-800 images that make the rounds. In either case, get past boring. Get past having 5 or 6 pictures in the same way you want to have a personal vocabulary of 20-30 thousand words.

[5] BECOME PROFICIENT WITH HTML and CSS and JAVASCRIPT and DOM. The first reason to do that is so you know what I'm talking about. The second reason is that, unless you want to pay Challies to make your template and then modify it every time you have a great idea, you need some basic understanding of the tools at your disposal to make your blog look like something more than the generic blogger templates.

Rest assured that your earliest attempts at creating a web site will horrify you when you look back on them. There is no other greater tutor than trial and error. However, if you become a layout junkie, you can do whatever you want -- even start from scratch and not let the man tell you how to lay out your blog.

All I'm really saying is that, like anything else, really cool graphics just takes time. Stop watching golf on TV or something and you could use that time to be more than a fanboy of cool blog design.

19 February 2008

Too "smart" to believe?

by Dan Phillips

Once upon a real-world time, there was an old priest named Zechariah. He was burning incense in the Temple, when something happened for which his life provided no precedent: "there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense" (Luke 1:11). Doctor Luke understatedly observes that "Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him" (v. 12). No doubt.

As angels have had to do pretty much from the start, "the angel said to him, 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah,'" then adds...
...for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."
(Luke 1:13-17)
To Zechariah, the news would be challenging, but wonderful. Every couple wanted children, and he and his wife had been denied this blessing. Now they were to have a son — and such a son!

But he answered, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years" (v. 18) The angel, who (unlike us) was there, recognized unbelief in Zechariah's response, and replied
"I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time" (vv. 19-20)
Indeed, that word of unbelief was Zechariah's last word for some time. He could tell others, but only in such a way as included the revelation of God's judgment on him for his unbelief. This would humble Zechariah, would give him opportunity to bear fruits in keeping with repentance (to lift a phrase from his son's future preaching), would reinforce the message — and it would impress on the hearer the importance of believing the message.

The aged priest sang a sweeter song when next he spoke aloud (1:63-79).

In that same chapter, we have the story of a young lass named Mary. The same angel brings similar tidings of a miraculous conception. However, in this case, the circumstances could hardly be more different.

Gabriel's first hearer was long-married, had yearned for a child, and bore some reproach for his childless estate. Mary was, however, the opposite in every respect: she was as-yet unmarried, and could not have a child (since she was a virgin).

Moreover, in Mary's case, pregnancy would be absolutely disastrous. It would bring shame on her, her family, her fiancé. There would be horrendous consequences.

In our modern moral swamp, even professing Christians are often casual about such circumstances. We have every reason to believe that Mary would see it differently. Her response to Elizabeth (1:46-55) is drenched with Biblical allusions, and (to get ahead of myself) her response to Gabriel reveals an earnestly Godward heart.

So how does Mary respond? Formally, her initial words sound like Zechariah's ("How will this be, since I am a virgin?" - v. 34). Yet Gabriel detects none of Zechariah's unbelief; indeed, later Elizabeth will tacitly contrast Mary's response with her husband's ("blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord," v. 45). Mary has never read this story, and isn't sure how this could happen. So Gabriel tells Mary what she needs to know about the miracle that she is to receive.

How does Mary respond? With stunningly submissive simplicity: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (v. 38).

Remarkable. With that response, Mary leaves herself open to all the social catastrophes and slander and miseries her new status virtually assures. But she now knows that it is God's will. She has God's word. So, in faith, she embraces that word — along with everything that accompanies it.

In the next chapter, we will meet some shepherds with similar hearts. Though by many accounts socially viewed with suspicion, when they get the word from God, they instantly respond in faith, and go running to find the newborn Savior (2:8-20).

And here's the point of today's Bible story:

Simple young girl Mary took the angel at his word, though it involved almost certain disaster. She believed God's word.

Rustic, uneducated shepherds did the same.


Sophisticated, educated, professional religionist Zechariah — he was too "smart" simply to believe the word of God sent through His messenger.

Do you see present-day applications?

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17 February 2008

How Did We Inherit Adam's Sinfulness?

by Phil Johnson

Note: I would normally make this post on Monday morning, but this afternoon I'm making an unplanned trip to London. I won't be back home till Friday, so everyone please behave for Frank and Dan. See you at the end of the week.

Meanwhile, let's take up where we left off in our discussion of human depravity:

ow did we get in this state? Scripture lays the blame at Adam's feet. Roman's 5:12 says, "Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned." Sin entered the world through Adam, then passed to all men. Adam's sin brought spiritual death—total depravity—upon the entire race. First Corinthians 15:22 says, "In Adam all die."

Remember, we are sinners before we ever commit one overt act of sin. We are born with the taint of sin. In fact, it is appropriate to say, as David did, that we are sinful from the moment of our conception (Ps. 51:5). Theologians refer to this as "original sin."

So how did Adam's guilt get passed on to you and me? That question gets complex, and there are several different theological opinions that have been proposed to explain it. If you want to delve into the question deeply, I recommend John Murray's book, The Imputation of Adam's Sin or Martyn Lloyd-Jones's sermons or commentary on Romans 5. One of these days, we'll take up the subject of original sin here on the blog.

In this series, however, it's not really necessary to go into great detail on the question of how sin was transmitted to us from Adam. It's enough to affirm the fact that Adam's sin condemned us. Without delving deeply into all the mysteries that surround this question, let's simply declare what God's Word has to say on the matter: "By the transgression of the one the many died" (Rom. 5:15). "The judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation" (v. 16). "By the transgression of the one, death reigned" (v. 17). "Through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men" (v. 18). "Through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (v. 19).

Five verses in a row all state in different ways that Adam's sin corrupted the entire race. Adam, as the representative head of the human race, plunged us all into sin. Yet we cannot stand aside and point the finger of blame at him in an attempt to excuse ourselves. We inherit his guilt as well as his sinfulness. We are as blameworthy as Adam. The question of how his guilt was passed on to us is not as important as the reality that it happened. No fact in all of philosophy or religion is attested to with so much empirical evidence. All Adam's offspring—with one significant, divine Exception—all Adam's offspring have been sinners. We are born morally corrupt.

I do want to call your attention to a couple of corollaries to this doctrine. First, it suggests Adam was a historical person. Those who want to treat the early chapters of Genesis as symbolism or myth destroy the doctrine of original sin. If Adam was not a historical individual, none of this makes sense. There's no reasonable explanation for how our race became sinful, unless the account of the fall in Genesis 3 is literally true. So the sinfulness of all humanity bears witness to the truth of Scripture's account of the fall.

Second, those who deny that human nature is sinful are guilty of willful ignorance. The universality of human sinfulness is irrefutable. It is self-evident. Everyone we know is sinful. There's no evidence whatsoever for the myth that people are basically and fundamentally good.
Original sin is not a minor blemish on the human soul. It corrupts every aspect of our character. Listen to these words from Romans 3, where Paul summarized the doctrine of universal depravity. These verses come after two chapters of argument showing that pagans, moral Gentiles, and even religious Jews are all hopeless sinners. In Romans 3:9-18, Paul sums up and makes the point so that no one can miss it:
We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin [he had been proving that charge for two chapters]; as it is written, [and here he quotes a series of Old Testament verses] "There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one." "Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving," "The poison of asps is under their lips"; "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness"; "Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace have they not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
That's exactly where we began this series, isn't it? Unbelievers are incapable of loving, fearing, trusting, or obeying God. They may fool themselves into thinking otherwise, but that only proves the wicked deceitfulness of a sin-sick heart.

That leaves us with one more question on his topic, which we'll consider next time.

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16 February 2008

Wachet auf!

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 "Righteous Hatred," a sermon delivered 8 August 1858 in the Sunday Morning Service at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

he bishops of God's church, the professed leaders of the Lord's hosts, the pretended followers of the Redeemer, have done more damage to the church than all the church's enemies. If the church were not a divine thing, protected by God, she must have ceased to exist, merely through the failure and iniquity of her own professed friends. I do not wonder that the church of God survived martyrdom and death; but I do marvel that she has survived the unfaithfulness of her own children, and the cruel backsliding of her own members.
C. H. Spurgeon

14 February 2008

"The God of the Second Chance" — sometimes

by Dan Phillips

Not sure how many times I've heard it said and/or preached that "God is the God of the second chance." But it's a number larger than one.

Usually the Biblical backdrop is Jonah, "the reluctant prophet." ("Reluctant" as in, "So, you say head East? Hm... where's the quickest boat heading West...?")

Now, strictly, I don't myself think of Jonah in "second chance" terms. He didn't try to serve God, fail miserably, and get a "second chance" at it. Rather, he tried to run away from the revealed, binding will of God; was arrested, swallowed, sunk, shaken, stirred, thoroughly marinated, then thrown back into service, indeed loving God, but not so much loving what he had to do.

But in a way, that is a second chance. "Do this." "No." "Here's a second chance: do this."

Other Bible characters do get multiple opportunities. Pharaoh certainly did, though the net effect of his hard-hearted response was to glorify Yahweh (Exodus 9:16; 14:4, 17-18). Nebuchadnezzar did (Daniel 2, 3, 4). Herod did (Mark 6:17-20). Felix did (Acts 24:24-26).

But not everybody did. For instance, Esau's irreversible selling of his birthright and loss of his blessing is a chilling example (Hebrews 12:16-17). He did not get a second chance.

Moreover, Belshazzar didn't get a second chance as Nebuchadnezzar had. A foolish feast, the hand writes, aged Daniel scorchingly pronounces his doom — and he's gone (Daniel 5; hear my pastor's fine sermon on that passage).

Nor is anyone guaranteed limitless "second chances." Herod Agrippa ran out of chances (Acts 12:20-23). Israel ran out of chances before their fall to Assyria (2 Kings 17:7-18). Judah ran out of chances before their exile in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:15-16). Hearers of the Gospel run out of chances (Hebrews 1:1-4; 3:13; 12:25).

It is a great, immeasurable act of folly to assume that God's grace today means He'll spare us tomorrow. Today's show of divine mercy is no guarantee of forbearance tomorrow. In fact, today's show of grace obliges us to repent today (Romans 2:4; Hebrews 3:7-19).

Here, I think, is a proper statement of the tension:

The Bible holds out great hope to the repentant man or woman who scarce dares to dream that God could accept him or her in Christ.

The Bible holds out no hope to the unrepentant man who presumes on the longsuffering of God, and who misinterprets His forbearance as approval (Romans 2:4-5).

And so, whether in preaching, writing, or conversation: if I am dealing with someone who knows full well that he is thumbing his nose in God's face, shall I comfort Him with thoughts God's endless patience and kindness and grace and "unconditional forgiveness"?

Or shall I not earnestly and soberly point him to the fact that he's already run out the clock, that he's already in extra innings, that he hasn't a leg to stand on, and that he needs to do business with God on God's terms, and do it now?

Which would be truer? Which would better serve God, and my friend?

Now is not solely "the acceptable time" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

It's the only time.

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13 February 2008

The Talking Stain

by Frank Turk

Here's what I think a lot of people are thinking about Phil's latest series on theology – and by "a lot of people", I don’t mean "our faithful and brilliant normal readers". I mean the passers-by and the people who, frankly, don’t think about theology all the time.

I think they see the topic "total depravity" and they think, "yeah, but what's that got to do with me?" And before we get all "thank God I'm not like that American evangelical" on those people, I think it is actually a very good question.

Here's one person I know who asks that question a lot, for example. There's a family who I know who, frankly, doesn’t want to hear about grace – and their oldest son is a really bright kid who wants to be informed about his faith. And in his Sunday school class, his teacher started a semester on the history of the Christian faith (!) in which they, obviously, encountered the Reformation.

Anyway, without making a massive parenthetical sidetrack here (HT: DJP), this young man was of a mind that lost people do good works, too – that the doctrine of total depravity falls right apart when we look at the fact that even Christopher Hitchens does charity work; even Hitler loved his mother. And in one sense, he's right: anyone can (and almost anyone does) give $5 to a hobo or donate books to the library or pretend to end poverty in Africa or whatever. Anyone can do those things; most people, if you watch them long enough, will do something like that once in a while.

But here's the question: in what sense is any of that "good"? I know Phil covered this on Monday, but he gave the high-brow Westminsterian sketch. What's that mean to this kid who thinks, or at least thinks he thinks, that everyone has some basic, native goodness?

My response is this: "good enough to prove you're a lot worse off than you thought".

Think about this --
whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. [NET Bible]
Here Paul is saying that people have the problem of not merely being occasional breakers of the decrees of God: he's saying that people show that they know better and therefore really don’t have any excuses when it comes time to judge whether they were willing law-breakers or merely ignorant foils trapped by a system they never understood.

See: any native goodness we demonstrate only highlights how broken our nature really is.

I was watching my son's basketball game a couple of weeks ago, and it's the "recreational" league where the kids really haven’t ever played on a court before with rules or a ref. And on the other team was this really aggressive kid who simply wanted to put the ball in the net. It was clear to me he had played football before because every time he got the ball, he tucked the ball under, ducked his head, and rolled into the crowd of boys in the key like a fullback.

And in this kid's case, it was actually kinda funny – he obviously didn’t know any better. He was playing by the wrong rules, and he had no clue what the right rules where. But if that same thing happened in a High School game, or even in the next age bracket up, it wouldn’t hardly be that funny – because those kids know better, and they prove it in all kinds of ways.

And this is the case with us: we show that we know enough about God's law to obey it when we want to, so when we are unwilling to obey God's law it's that much worse for us.

Here's what that has to do with you: you should be more worried about whether you have a savior than whether you are doing any good. See: you can admit that you really just aren't any good. Even the good you seem to do is really just the white space around the big black blobs of sin nature that come out of you, guiding the eye to the violations rather than somehow making you seem mostly clean – like that crazy talking stain commercial from the Superbowl.

And what that stain says is, "I need a savior, not a self-help book."

Jesus is a savior, not a life coach. The high-brow doctrine of "total depravity" is really another way of saying, "you need a savior." You do. The kid who thinks that everybody does something good once in a while, and only wants Jesus to be a good example rather than a bloody sacrifice which God accepts for the sake of those who believe.