30 April 2008

The wind in the sails

by Frank Turk


OK – I sort of blogged for a brief moment at my blog last week, and then, having been away from my desk at my day job for almost 2 weeks, I had to man the pumps and get the swamp of stuff off my desk. But today I have 45 minutes, and that means (since it’s Wednesday) that I’ll be blogging you here.

Yes, nice to see you, too.

First, a brief shaddout to all the peeps who introduced themselves at T4G. Not to leave anyone out, but meeting my brother K. Joel Gilliard (known better to many of you as BlackCalvinist) was a highlight for me. Having known him virtually for years, it was edifying to meet him in person and find him to be actually smarter and more personable in person than I knew him to be via the raw bandwidth.

And, of course, spending time briefly with Dan and Phil (and meeting Dan’s lovely wife Valerie for the first time) was both wonderful and at the same time not enough.

Note to Mark Dever: in ’10, T4G needs to have more intentional social time, and ought not to run 12 hours a day. Anyone who agrees with me ought to e-mail Pastor Dever with a kind note of encouragement in that direction.

Now, this very morning after getting beat down by my new fitness accountability partner, I was checking the blogosphere for anything more interesting than chatter about Barack Obama’s pastor (who, it turns out, was one of Bill Clinton’s spiritual advisors during the Lewinsky thing), and I came across this post at what I would call one of the blogs which hates that it ever agrees with TeamPyro, but cannot avoid it:

Which, you know, yeah. OK. I think “metaphor” is a not exactly the word I would use, but OK.

The word I would use is “condescension”. If you wanted a non-technical, simple word for what I’m talking about, how about “stooping down”.

Now, why split that hair? I mean, what’s my positive affirmation of the “opposite” of what’s been said here, and is what is said here the “opposite” of what I’m saying? Because the guy who said this – he is, as far as I can tell, a nice young man with a fine family, and his blog is at least interesting even if it is, um, succinct. I don’t actually think he’s “wrong” – I think he just doesn’t go far enough here.

I mean, what’s the difference between saying the word “Father” is a “metaphor” and to say it’s a “condescension”? Here’s what I think, and then cry havoc and let loose the blogs of war.

When we say the word is a “metaphor”, what we mean is that somehow we have chosen a word which, as many great preachers have pointed out, points from the lesser to the greater. That is, human language has its limits, and we seek to overcome the limits of language through poetic license – we draw an image and say the greater thing is “like that, but greater.” You know: hell is like fire, but greater than fire – worse for the one who’s in it. The Kingdom of God is like a lost coin which we sweep the whole house to find, but greater – more valuable and treasured.

But the problem with calling these (and the other examples you might pull from Scripture) “metaphors” (or “similes”, if we are going to pick wonkery nits in our blog post today) is that this view overlooks the source of these statements. What is not happening in these statement is man seeking to capture God by human wisdom or philosophy or even poetry: what is happening is that God is revealing Himself to us in terms He has actually deemed sufficient.

That is -- this is not our language trying to reach up at God: it is God’s love and wisdom and power reaching down to us to make Himself known to us. This is not our minds trying to do what, frankly, they cannot do: this is God’s mind sufficiently giving us what we need to know Him above and beyond the vague affirmation “God is the creator of all things”.

If someone wants to call the title “Father” as it refers to God a “metaphor”, yeah. OK. But to say that, for example, to some agnostic or some atheist or some marginal culture-Christian, I think, takes the wind out of the sails of Scripture – and by wind, I mean what Jesus meant in John 3.

Have a nice day. Even if you disagree with me.

How Evangelicals Traded Their Spiritual Authority for a Mess of Political Pottage

by Phil Johnson

n the wake of Monday's post and some of the comments that followed it, I hasten to say that I'm not suggesting there's anything inherently sinful about holding electoral office or doing public service. If it's your calling to be mayor of your town or a congressman from your district, you'll get nothing but encouragement from me as long as you seek to fulfill that task to the glory of Christ. Still, you need to do that not merely by flexing your power, but mainly by being a consistent example of Christlike service and humility. Of course, that's just what every Christian in the secular workplace should endeavor to do. In the words of 1 Timothy 4:12, "in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe."

I thank God for Christians whose vocation is to serve faithfully in our government—from people like my third son (who is a police officer) to those elected officials who are devoted Christians. I also have no objection to Christian bloggers who deal with political subjects. I read some of those blogs myself, and I often benefit from their insights.

But let's be clear, here: The church as a body has no calling to organize and protest in the political realm. Moreover, government service and political campaigning are different vocations from the calling of a pastor. It's well-nigh impossible to be a good pastor full time if you also fancy yourself a political lobbyist.

Practically the worst kind of spiritual treason any pastor or church body could ever commit would be to supplant the gospel message with a different message, or to allow a merely moral agenda to crowd out our spiritual duties. That is exactly the risk we take when we pour money and resources into political and legislative remedies for our society's spiritual problems.

At the moment, America is in the throes of one of the most hotly contested presidential elections ever. For the first time in more than two decades, the so-called religious right has no clear-cut favorite candidate in the race. None of the likely nominees from either party has credibly expressed any distinctly evangelical convictions. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that the leading candidates on both sides are essentially secular humanists. The candidate who it now appears will be the Republican nominee is a man who has been wobbly on the issues of abortion and same-sex unions, and he has repeatedly made it clear that he doesn't share the passions of evangelical voters. He once referred to evangelical Republicans as "agents of intolerance."

Now, consider the bitter irony of this: For more than two decades the number one issue on the agenda of the evangelical wing of the religious right has been abortion. The number-one legislative goal of evangelical political activists has been to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized abortion. Politically-active evangelicals have been instrumental—in fact, they have been the decisive factor—in the election of every Republican president from Ronald Reagan until now. And yet not only have they failed to achieve their single most-coveted political goal, but they are now approaching a presidential election without a single viable candidate who shares their views. Evangelicals have virtually nothing to show for all the time, energy, and resources they have invested in political efforts over the past three and a half decades.

And meanwhile, if anything, America's moral decline has accelerated dramatically since evangelicals became politically aggressive in the late 1970s. Although by most accounts evangelicals constitute the largest single voting bloc in America, they have been remarkably ineffective when it comes to using politics to reverse America's moral and spiritual decline. In fact, if you measure their success or failure according to their own stated political ambitions, evangelicals have failed spectacularly in America's political arena. Over the past quarter century, they have not accomplished any of their top long-term legislative or constitutional goals.

Worst of all, during that same period of time, the evangelical movement has completely lost its spiritual influence, because the evangelical segment of the church has grown increasingly worldly. Evangelicals have become accustomed to compromise. They have abandoned (or else are in the process of abandoning) virtually all the doctrinal distinctives that set their movement part from Roman Catholicism, liberal mainline Protestants, and the hordes of nominal Christians in America whose faith amounts to a kind of civil religion. Evangelicals have pretty much forfeited whatever real moral and spiritual authority their movement ever had.

Consider the fact that almost no one in the evangelical world had more political savvy than Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He actually advised the White House on evangelical issues. Before his fall from grace, The Wall Street Journal called him "one of the nation's most politically influential" ministers, and Harper's Magazine said this about him: "No pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism than does Pastor Ted." But whatever his accomplishments in the political arena, by his own admission Ted Haggard was a liar and a fraud in his private life.

I'm not suggesting that political activism is what made Ted Haggard a hypocrite, nor am I saying that he is typical of everyone in the mainstream of evangelical politics. I certainly hope he was a singular case.

But I am suggesting that any religious organization or movement that's more concerned with political expediency than with biblical truth is by definition following the error of the Pharisees and will breed the grossest kind of hypocrisy. I'm also suggesting that if the National Association of Evangelicals had been more concerned about their leaders' spiritual qualifications and less enamored with worldly skills like personal charisma and political shrewdness, they would never have had Ted Haggard as their president. He had never really distinguished himself in any of the biblical categories the apostle Paul outlined as qualifications for an elder. His one qualification was his mastery of the political process.

And let's face it, fellow believers: Whether we like it or not, in the eyes of an observant world, Ted Haggard seems like a perfect mascot for the evangelical right.

Despite our outspokenness on selected issues in the political realm, American evangelicals have sent a mixed and often flatly contradictory message to anyone who looks at the big picture. Evangelical pulpits are notoriously weak and shallow. Evangelical churches are lukewarm and worldly. Evangelical people as a community tend to be increasingly unholy and are now virtually indistinguishable in lifestyle and behavior from their non-Christian neighbors. Evangelical leaders on the whole seem more concerned with being stylish and admired than with being clear and consistent.

For more than a decade now we have been hearing poll data that suggest people who identify themselves as evangelicals are just as susceptible to divorce and alcohol addiction as their unbelieving neighbors—which can only mean that our church rolls are filled with unconverted people. In fact, just about the only significant difference remaining between evangelicals and unbelievers is how we vote. No wonder the world hasn't taken the evangelical wing of the religious right seriously. The evangelical movement hasn't shown itself serious about what we profess to believe.

How did the evangelical movement get so far off track? I wouldn't suggest that evangelicalism's recent obsession with political activism is the only factor, but I do think it's a major one. If the same energies and resources that were poured into failed political efforts had been channeled into evangelism instead, I'm convinced that would have been instrumental in producing more spiritual good and hindering more of society's evils than all our lobbying, demonstrating, and voting combined.

In fact, it is my conviction that because they have invested so much in the political process, evangelicals have weakened their own movement with a tendency to compromise; they have sacrificed evangelical distinctives, and they have gone far off message from the central truths of the gospel. Political activism has been a disaster for the American evangelical movement on every front. Not only have we completely failed at the political process; we have failed even more egregiously to remain distinct from the world.

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29 April 2008

Substitutionary atonement and Proverbs (part 1 of 2)

by Dan Phillips

Sail carefully
In approaching the Old Testament believingly, two extremes must be avoided.

Off to the left looms the Scylla of atomization. Each part of the Bible is treated as a standalone, an historical artifact written virtually without reference to any other part. If the human author is allowed some awareness of previous revelation, no greater purpose — no metanarrative — is seen as useful (let alone determinative) in interpretation.

The problem with this approach is that it, in effect, rejects the Bible's self-description as a unified and organic revelation, in which the parts are best understood when set within the whole (e.g. Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24; Luke 24:44-48; John 7:42; 20:9; 1 Timothy 5:18; Hebrews 1:1-2, etc.).

The unity of the Bible is not only a significant fact for doctrine, but for interpretation as well.

Equally, off to the right is the jutting Charybdis of a false Christianization of the Old Testament.
Note: I am not saying that reading the Bible as a Christian book is false. Indeed, I think it false to read it any other way (though what I mean by that would require expansion beyond the purpose of this post). However, the ultimacy of Christ does not cancel out the relevance of each chapter of revelation within and to its own context.
We commit this error when we neglect the fact that the God who finally spoke "to us by his Son" had previously spoken "to our fathers by the prophets" (Hebrews 1:1-2). We effectively deny this fact if we take, as our primary interpretation of any passage, a meaning that the passage could not possibly have had either to the writer nor the readers. If God spoke hopelessly over the heads of both His prophets and His hearers/readers, you couldn't say that He spoke "to our fathers," and you couldn't call what He did "communication." It doesn't honor God to depict Him as, in effect, running the ultimate shell-game.

Having said that: the approach that is (I think) truest to the whole picture of revelation must suggest meanings that would make sense to the original writers/readers, and relate to the ultimate Big Picture that lay in the mind of God.

As an illustration, let's take the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement as it relates to the book of Proverbs.

"This should be interesting," some of you will doubtless say, "— since there is no doctrine of substitutionary atonement in Proverbs!" At one point, that would also have been pretty much the entirety of my own reaction.

I'd certainty agree that no one could build an entire doctrine of the atonement from Proverbs. But I'd also hasten to insist that no one should build an entire doctrine of the atonement from any single book of the Bible, including Romans and Galatians.

However, I do think that Proverbs contains at least two signposts that, in the context of the whole Canon, point us in the direction of the canonical doctrine of penal, substitutionary atonement.

Let me illustrate, then, by expanding a portion of a sermon I recently preached to the good folks at Calvary Community Church in Louisville, TN.

First signpost: "Yahweh"
The first signpost is broadly missed, or undervalued, for a couple of reasons.

First, nobody's helped by the stupid translators' trick of hiding "Yahweh" behind "LORD" and "GOD." We are so overdue for some head of a translation committee to look his fellow-scholars in the eye and say, "Brothers... why do we even do this anymore? We all know it's wrong, none of us can really make sense out of it. The more that people know, the lamer the 'explanations' in our forwards are sounding — so seriously, let's ditch that whole embarrassing LORD / Lord GOD thing, and let the text say 'Yahweh.'" And then everyone else on the committee needs to vote a hearty "Aye," stop baffling generations of Bible-readers, and start making up for lost time.

If this issue doesn't resonate with you, then try this: imagine that every occurrence of "Jesus" in the NT were replaced with "the Teacher" or "the Lord," because some group of unbelievers has a superstition about even saying His name. Maybe then the point will begin to stand out more starkly to you.

Second, because of this, too few reflect sufficiently on the significance of the fact that the living God of the Bible has a personal name, and that this means something. All sorts of religions talk about at least one "lord" and/or "god," so we don't stop to think when we see "LORD" in the text.

But we really should. Especially we plenary, verbal inspiration-types.

Actually, Proverbs is rather remarkable in this regard. Proverbs is different from much of the Old Testament in terms of the mode of revelation. Here we don't see oracles of Yahweh, or "thus says Yahweh," as in other books. Instead, this kind of "wisdom" literature is seen in other contemporary (and older) cultures, and the sage's laboratory is the world of observation and reflection.

We see this in Proverbs 24:30-34 —
I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.
Verse 32 might be rendered a bit more literally: “Then I myself gazed, I applied my mind, I saw, I received an education.” The insight of revelation comes not from a vision or a voice, but through observation and reflection.

Now, given the nature of wisdom literature, and given its provenance in the world of nature and society, what name of God might you guess would dominate: the more generic, general-revelation name "God"? Or the very specific, special-revelation, Israelitish name "Yahweh"? I would have guessed the former.

I would have been wrong.

In fact, whereas words translated "God" occur only about eight times in Proverbs, the name "Yahweh" occurs eighty-seven times -- about the same proportion as the (very Yahwistic) book of Deuteronomy (cf. Bruce Waltke, "The Book of Proverbs and Old Testament Theology." Bibliotheca Sacra, 136, No. 544 [1979], p. 305).

"What," you ask, patience finally waning, "does the prevalence of the name 'Yahweh' have to do with substitutionary atonement?"

What kind of God is Yahweh?
I would make the argument that Yahweh is by definition the God of penal, substitutionary atonement. Without repeating works such as Leon Morris' well-nigh epochal The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, the worship of Yahweh prominently featured substitutionary atonement from its very first breaths.

Consider: Adam and Eve sinned, and Yahweh immediately informs them that a Seed of the woman (!) would defeat the serpent through bloody suffering (Genesis 3:15; snake-bit heel = bloody heel); and at least one animal's blood was shed to cover their shame (v. 21; skinned animal = bloody animal). The faith of believing Abel moves him to make blood sacrifice which Yahweh accepts, while He rejects Cain's bloodless (and faithless) sacrifice (closely compare Genesis 4:1-5 with Hebrews 11:4's "more acceptable sacrifice," before too hastily dismissing the bloody element).

When Yahweh formalized His covenant with Abram, what means did He choose? The bloody covenantal formalities of Abram's day (Genesis 15).

Surely no Pyro reader needs me to make the point that Israel's worship of Yahweh was blood-spattered, in a vivid depiction of penal, substitutionary atonement, from start to finish? Yahweh's covenant with Israel is inaugurated with blood (Exodus 24:5-8).

And after a series of commands which Israel is urged to obey (Exodus 20-24), Yahweh immediately begins giving instructions as to what to do in view of the certainty that they will not obey. That is, He directs the construction of the Tabernacle and the institution of the priesthood (Exodus 25ff.). And what is the primary function of the Tabernacle? The worship of Yahweh by the offering of bloody, substitutionary sacrifices (among others; detailed in the book of Leviticus). Thus the writer to the Hebrews could rightly say in 9:22 that "under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

In fact, the truth is expressed clearly in the central, clarifying text of Leviticus 17:11 — "For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. " That is what "Yahweh spoke to Moses" (17:1).

Accordingly, what is "blood" in these Biblical contexts if not shorthand for penal, substitutionary atonement?

Bringing it to Proverbs
Putting this together: a textually-respectful, whole-Bible reading of Proverbs will see each mention of Yahweh as equivalent to saying "the God of Israel, who can be believingly approached only on the basis of penal, substitutionary atonement."

Therefore, I would argue, just as each use of Jesus by NT writers is theologically "loaded," so it is with uses of Yahweh in the OT. No matter the proverb's subject, this is who Yahweh is: He is the God of penal, substitutionary atonement. It would be legitimate (if stylistically reprehensible) thus to gloss proverbs:
A false balance is an abomination to [Yahweh, the God of penal, substitutionary atonement],
but a just weight is his delight (Proverbs 11:1)

The name of [Yahweh, the God of penal, substitutionary atonement] is a strong tower;
the righteous man runs into it and is safe (Proverbs 18:10)
The purpose of Proverbs is expressly stated to be the acquisition and practical living out of God's viewpoint (Proverbs 1:1-6), so one will not expect a focused doctrinal exposition per se. However, when Proverbs 1:7 says that absolutely everything is based and built on the fear of Yahweh, we now understand that Solomon means the fear of Yahweh, the God who can be approached only through faith and on the basis of penal, substitutionary atonement.

In sum, then: the first signpost is in Solomon's use of God's name "Yahweh." The OT knows of no Yahweh who is not the God approached by faith on the basis of penal, substitutionary atonement.

In the next installment, I plan to examine a verse that directs us towards the atonement in a surprising manner; then to bring both posts together in a concluding statement.

UPDATE: part two.

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28 April 2008

A Brief Thought for a Frustrating Election Year

by Phil Johnson

othing in the past half century has done more damage to the evangelical cause than the notion that the best way for Christians to influence society is by wielding our collective political clout. If you think the most important answer to the ills of our society is a legislative remedy; if you imagine that political activism is the most effective way for the church to influence culture; or if you suppose the church is going to win the world for Christ by lobbying in the halls of Congress and by rallying Christians to vote for this or that type of legislation—then both your trust and your priorities are misplaced.

Personally, I think the tendency to seek legislative remedies for every social ill is one of the absolute worst tendencies of contemporary secular society, and it disturbs me greatly to see Christians more or less follow that pattern blindly.

We need to remember that political clout has nothing whatsoever to do with spiritual power. Study the priorities for the church in the New Testament; look at the duties Scripture outlines for shepherds of the flock. You'll find no mandate to press the government for legislation on moral issues. In fact, what you'll see is that jockeying for political clout is one of the very strategies Jesus named as worldly methods that are not to characterize leadership in His kingdom. He said His kingdom is permanently set apart from every earthly dominion because Christ's kingdom is advanced by humble service rather than through the kind of political strategies that depend on the exercise of human authority.
Jesus called [the disciples] to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25-28).

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26 April 2008

On the Sort of "Politeness" that Stifles Truth

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from an Article titled "The War-Horse," published in the May 1866 issue of The Sword and the Trowel.

en are perishing, and if it be unpolite to tell them so, it can only be so where the devil is the master of the ceremonies.

Out upon your soul-destroying politeness; the Lord give us a little honest love to souls, and this superficial gentility will soon vanish. I could with considerable refreshment to myself pour sarcasm after sarcasm upon religious cowardice. I would cheerfully sharpen my knife and dash it into the heart of this mean vice. There is nothing to be said in its favor.

It is not even humble; it is only pride of too beggarly a sort to own itself.
C. H. Spurgeon

24 April 2008

The "accountability" thing

by Dan Phillips

BoB. One of the questions posed to the Band of Bloggers panel (at which our blog was ably represented by Phil Johnson) was on the issue of "accountability."

I think "accountability" has taken on the status of a buzzword. You say it's important, everyone nods knowingly and murmurs "Mmm, accountability," and you're in. They know you're okay.

But what does "accountability" mean?

In some contexts, it means "infinite-buck-pass." Folks who rankle at submitting to any human authority simply assure that everyone (else) can be trumped by someone. This usually ends in a majority vote. Folks like this feel a lot better about majority-vote.

This solution has long puzzled me. In the Bible, the majority is almost invariably wrong.
Q: Can 10 out of 12 spies be wrong?
A: You betcha!

Q: Can virtually an entire nation be wrong?
A: You betcha! More than once!

Further, to whom is the majority "accountable"? With mob-rule, who rules the mob?

The question of accountability strikes me as particularly odd in the context of blogging. Nonetheless, let's take it seriously, and work towards a serious answer.

To whom is a Christian blogger "accountable"? First, we have to define "accountability." Is that an easy task? Let's try to make it easy by suggesting answerable as a synonym. But does that really make it easy? What would you mean by either word? Are you asking who has the authority to censor a blogger, or to reprove him, to correct him? To force him to change his mind, or to change one of his posts?

How about his pastor? I actually think that's a good suggestion for some sort of accountability, since it is indeed the role of a pastor to keep watch over (and answer for) the souls of those under his charge (Hebrews 13:17). We are to respect our pastors and follow their lead (1 Corinthians 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17; etc.).

So I think it would be perfectly appropriate for a pastor to read his sheep's blogs insofar as he is able to do so, or at least to check on occasion to make sure that the blogger is representing Christ faithfully. After all, as I mean to develop in another post, blogging is indeed a stewardship with some attendant formidable responsibilities.

Frank Turk has shared that his pastor keeps tabs on him, and I think that's great. I had the pleasure of meeting Pastor Tad at T4G and offered my sympathies and prayers. It would certainly be faithful pastoring to offer correction and encouragement and direction to those under one's charge (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2).

Additionally, we three keep tabs on each other. More than once, each of us has put up a post in "Draft" status and invited the others for feedback. Or if a discussion heats up, we'll invite assessment or criticism or perspective, confident that we'll be candid and honest with each other.

But beyond that, what would one suggest? An advisory panel of Christian Blogger Overlord Watchdogs? What a great idea. We could call it "CBLOW."

But, seriously. What further "accountability" is called for?

I honestly think that to pose the question thoughtfully is to answer it. To whom is a Christian blogger answerable? Good heavens — what is more public than blogging?

Think about it: you talk to a fellow church member, and one person hears you. You teach a Sunday School class, and maybe a few dozen hear you. Preach, and (unless it's recorded) dozens or hundreds hear you.

But when you blog?

Blog, and everybody hears you — or at any rate everyone can. It is right out there in public, all of it, for God and everyone to see, analyze, fact-check, pick over, misrepresent, treasure, slander, repeat, steal, discuss, debate, and any other appropriate verb you might choose.

In the past, and very frequently, I've taken great comfort in this fact. When someone glances at a post-title and then blurts out his immediate emotional reaction, or skims to my last paragraph and rips apart what he imagines I said, or runs off to his own blog or another's to cry and complain about something... the public nature of this entire "conversation" is very comforting to me. I know that any fair-minded reader can examine what I said, and decide for himself — up, down, or sideways.

And if they're not fair-minded? Oh well; wasn't going to win them anyway.

I remember a fellow who angrily demanded that I source a quotation. But I had! I'm obsessive about sourcing. It was right there in the post. I even re-read it myself again and again — but he insisted it wasn't sourced, and got madder and madder at me for being so irresponsible. But everything I had written was on display for everyone to see. Very comforting to me, in that case.

But on the other hand, the knowledge that everything I write will be read by all sorts of people is very sobering as well. Think about it: everything I write will be read by people smarter than I, better-educated than I (the two are not necessarily interchangeable); by people who know things I don't know, and who see things from angles I haven't considered. Some of them will be supportive of what I want to say, some will be very angered by it, some will be bitterly opposed to it. And they all have access to a public forum. Genius or... er, non-genius, they have equal access to the same public forum that I access.

If I did in fact say something foolish and/or irresponsible and/or stupid, they can tell everyone. Everyone. On this blog, on their blog, on anyone's blog. Forever, until I die or am hounded off the scene in shame, known only as "Oh-yes-Dan-Phillips,-that-pinhead-who-____."

How's that for accountability?

And it works, too. In fact, it's a big reason why I tend to crankiness when someone quick-draws (and sloppy-shoots) some challenge to a question I already anticipated in the post. Before I hit PUBLISH POST, I try to read the post from several angles to anticipate challenges and questions it might provoke. I doubt anyone likes to be made a fool in public, and I try to avoid it whenever possible.

But what is the final court of appeal? When I (say) vigorously affirm the sufficiency of Scripture, a lot of folks are delighted, but equally a lot of folks are madder than wet cats. To which group am I responsible, to which am I "accountable"?

In the final analysis, to none of them.

Where the buck actually stops. On the great Day, my ministry as a blogger won't be passed before a majority vote, but before a vote of one (2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 4:13).

I know that's got to seem suspiciously convenient to some. Consider these Scriptures, then:
You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:14)

You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 25:17)

For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. 43 You shall not rule over him ruthlessly but shall fear your God (Leviticus 25:42-43)
All these ethical demands, and each has the same motivator: fear your God.

The disabled person cannot avenge himself — but you had better fear God! The neighbor you bilk may not know enough to call your dishonesty — but you had better fear God! Your helpless fellow-Israelite may not have the power to deal with your injustice — but you had better fear God!

One might counter, "But there were courts and judges to which people could appeal. Israelites were accountable to them." Perhaps so.

So who was at the top of the human authority-ladder? Where did the buck stop? Who had no humans to whom he was "accountable," in that sense? That would be the king. As Solomon wrote:
I say: Keep the king's command, because of God's oath to him. 3 Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. 4 For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, "What are you doing?" (Ecclesiastes 8:2-4)
And where was the king's accountability?
"And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them.... (Deuteronomy 17:18-19)
The king was to learn from the Law the fear of Yahweh. The priests made sure he copied it accurately, but there's no indication of further responsibility on their part. The king was directed to the Word, and the Word taught him to fear Yahweh. That was to motivate him, keep him in line. Hold him accountable.

And besides, ultimately, if the fear of God is insufficient motivation, then we have a problem not soluble by committee.

This dimension should both humble and embolden the Christian blogger (Proverbs 28:1). He will welcome wise criticism without being its slave (Proverbs 9:8b-9; 11:2; 26:12).

He's wise enough to mistake neither his critics' judgment, nor his own, for God's.

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by Dan Phillips

For you who are keeping score at home, I do have a post in Draft. But it's waiting a bit of peer-review... and since it deals, in part, with peer-review, I think I'd better wait.

So my mouth is temporarily stopped... but not in a bad way.

I leave you temporarily to the schmerodactyls.

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23 April 2008

Mouths Must Be Stopped

by Phil Johnson

o one would argue that everything in the Bible is crystal-clear. The inspired text itself contains an acknowledgement that "some things [in it] . . . are hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16). We're not to imagine, however, that most of the Bible is sheer mystery—so lacking in clarity that every interpretation and every opinion about every doctrine deserves equal (or automatic) respect.

In fact, Christian leaders in particular are charged with the task of defending the truth against those who would twist it (Acts 20:28-31). As politically incorrect as this might sound to postmodern ears, there are abroad and within the church "many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers . . .. They must be silenced" (Titus 1:10-11). Or, in the more picturesque imagery of King James parlance, "[Their] mouths must be stopped."

How false teachers are to be silenced is one of those things in Scripture that is crystal-clear. It is not by physical force or auto-da-fé. But they are to be refuted and rebuked by qualified elders in the church who are skilled in the Scriptures, "able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it" (v. 8). That presupposes that vital truth is clear enough to know for certain. And it prescribes a clear remedy involving exhortation, reproof, rebuke, and correction.

This is to be done patiently, not pugnaciously: "The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil" (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

And yet even within those boundaries, the defense of the faith sometimes requires a kind of spiritual militancy (1 Timothy 1:18; Jude 3). The Christian life—especially the duty of the leader—is frequently pictured in Scripture as that of warfare (2 Corinthians 10:3-6; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:3-4).

So the defense of the faith is no easy task. But it is an indispensable duty for faithful Christians. Again, Scripture is not the least bit vague or equivocal about that.

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22 April 2008

My whereabouts

by Dan Phillips

My dear wife and I are concluding a wonderful time in Tennessee and regions thereabouts. As soon as I post this I'll dive into washing up, packing up, and moving out. Then it's back to California.

The last ten days have provided rich fodder for thought and action, and I plan to filter it through here and my own blog as soon as I can. A few highlights:
  1. The last two Sundays we had the great joy of ministering to and fellowshipping with the good folks of Calvary Community Church in Louisville, Tennessee. What a great bunch of folks, alive and enthused about the Word. It was a pleasure beginning to get to know them and our good brother (their pastor) Ted Steen.
  2. What a beautiful state Tennessee is, simply gorgeous. And we were overrun with neither scorpions nor bears, contrary to reports!
  3. I don't understand why everyone isn't 400 pounds plus, given the abundant and superb eateries. We did miss the chance to get some alligator in Kentucky, however, to my disappointment. Just didn't work out. Maybe next time?
  4. Together for the Gospel was a rich feast of another kind. We're still discussing, and re-listening to the addresses.
  5. Seeing the Johnsons and the Turks was delightful as always, and it gave me a lot of joy for my dear wife to get to know them some, and vice-versa.
  6. Of course I loved spending more time with my dear wife, apart from the hustle, the bustle, the busyness. No matter how much we love things we do at home, we still need those times apart and alone together. And now here I sit, inwardly stammering to express what a great lady my wife is and how I love her and marvel at her and thank God for her. But I think I'll leave it at that, for the moment.
  7. It was a pleasure to meet so many readers, from our beloved lurkers to fellow-bloggers. (It was encouraging to find that some lurkers have names you all would know!)
And that's Where I Am Right Now, and where I'll be going shortly. Lots more to tell you in the days to come, Lord willing.

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21 April 2008

The Value of Setting Your Affections on Heaven

by Phil Johnson

n Psalm 17:14, David describes his enemies as men whose vision is totally earth-bound—who cannot see beyond the earthly value of this life's material blessings. They are "men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes."

In other words, they are already planning how to divide the family estate among their children. That is as far into the future as they can see. They have looked no further ahead than that, and they have no higher thoughts than that. All their hopes and expectations are tied to this life and this temporal world. They are utter worldlings, with no hope of heaven, no desire for heavenly things, and no concern about eternity. In that myopic vision lies the seed of all their wickedness. They are infatuated with this world, and therefore they are enemies of God.

David's world-view was totally different. And he sums it up in verse 15—one of my favorite verses in all Scripture: "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness."

In stark contrast to his enemies, David's hope lay beyond the present and beyond this world. What he was looking for was something that will not come in this life. He would ultimately be satisfied, but not until he awakened in his Savior's likeness.

So the center of David's greatest hope and longing was something that can be realized only in eternity. It is not something that pertains to this life. And therefore it is not something that can be shaken by the troubles of this life.

Here is an anchor for any believer who is downcast: Keep your center of focus in eternity. Don't be distracted by the anguish and the hardship of this life. A time is coming when all of that will be done away, and we will be perfectly and eternally satisfied. Cling to that hope and press toward that goal.

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19 April 2008

Gratuitous Mobile Device Post

by Frank Turk

I realize that I'm the only one on earth who cares about this, but I haven't posted here in two weeks, I have insomnia and a hacking cough that's causing me a lot of pain, and you weren't really doing anything else. If you don't want to read about my experiments with my new iPod Touch, just skip down to the Dose of Spurgeon, below, and God Bless you.

So I was away on a business trip two weeks ago and won a 16 GB iPod Touch at the conference I was attending. Completely fabulous. And I have a wireless network in my house, so my iPod is now like my personal access point to the universe in every place within 100 ft (~30m for you metric types) of my router. And I have really pushed the thing to its limit, noticing stuff like my own home blog doesn't render at all in the iPod Safari browser due to that site's heavy reliance on Flash to do a lot of the dirty work.

So, note to Apple: iPod/iPhone needs Flash support.

But that said, you can obviously read this blog -- the one you are reading right now -- in your iPhone/iPod without many problems, but it takes like 500 years to load, and then you have to zoom in and scroll, and blablahblah. Yes: it looks very nice, but suddenly we're back in 1999 when bandwidth was a major consideration in web design and the old rules about content start rearing their ugly heads.

So what to do? How does this get fixed?

Honestly: I'm working on a way to redirect your mobile device to a mobile-friendly feed which still gives you the graphics and stuff but in a way which doesn't cause you to shake your iPhone in such a way that DHS will show up at your house and take it into protective custody. But until that work bears fruit, my suggestion is that you link your mobile device to our built-in ATOM feed for the blog, which your iPhone/iPod will handle very well, and leave all the in-line graphics in tact. I know: you will miss the rotating TeamPyro logos and all the sidebar stuff if you do this. That is why I am working on a better solution than merely grabbing the raw feed. However, until then, no sense in punishing yourself.

I'm sure I have something deeper than that to say after listening to R.C. Sproul expound on the curse motif, but it won't come to me until I stop trying to cough up a lung.

Carry on.

On the Broad-Minded Spirit of Sadduceeism, and How to Answer It

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Charge of the Angel," A sermon delivered 8 July 1888 in the morning service at the Met Tab..

HE second persecution of the church, in which all the apostles were put into the common prison, was mainly brought about by the sect of the Sadducees. These, as you know, were the Broad School, the liberals, the advanced thinkers, the modern-thought people of the day.

If you want a bitter sneer, a biting sarcasm, or a cruel action, I commend you to these large-minded gentlemen. They are liberal to everybody, except to those who hold the truth; and for those they have a reserve of concentrated bitterness which far excels wormwood and gall.

They are so liberal to their brother errorists, that they have no tolerance to spare for evangelicals.

We are expressly told that "the high priest, and all they that were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) were filled with indignation." That which had been done deserved their admiration, but received their indignation. Such gentlemen as these can be warm at a very short notice, when the doctrine of the cross is spreading, and God the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with signs following. Let them display their indignation, it is according to their nature.

To them the only answer which God gave was spoken by his angel: "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." Argument will be lost upon them; go on with your preaching. They have lost the faculty of believing: go and speak to the people. They are so given over to their doubts, that it is like rolling the stone of Sisyphus to persuade them to faith. They are so eaten up with objections, that to attempt to answer all the questions they raise would be as vain as the labor of filling a bottomless tub.

Go on with your preaching, you apostles; but address yourselves mainly to the people. Extend as widely as possible the range of the truth, and thus answer the opposition of its adversaries. It is better to evangelize than to controvert. The preaching of the word of life is the best antidote to the doctrine of death.

Clearly enough, if they had known it, and had been capable of seeing it, these blind Sadducees were answered at every point when the apostles were brought out of prison and bore witness to their Lord. Here was the creed of the Sadducees: they said that "there was no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit"; but these apostles stood up and witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. What did they make of that?

An angel had come from heaven and had brought these apostles out of prison. Then there were angels.

As these apostles were set free while the sentries remained standing before the doors, and those doors were afterwards found fastened, if there were no spirit, assuredly materialism had acted in a singular fashion.

Every item of their negative creed had been made to fall like Dagon before the ark. The Lord always arranges Red Seas for Pharaohs. All that the apostles had to do was to go on with their preaching, and this they did; for "daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."
C. H. Spurgeon

18 April 2008

End of Week Update

by Phil Johnson

  • T4G was awesome. Thanks to all of you who greeted us and said you are regular readers. It was an encouraging week. We'll say more about it in the days to come.
  • This weekend I'm speaking at the Ninth Annual Rochester Theology Conference, with Jerry Bridges. If you're in the area, come by and say hi.
  • Darlene and I will be back home Monday for a short week before leaving for my annual week-long marathon teaching a survey of systematic theology (eight hours a day for five days straight) in Sicily. This year we complete our three-year cycle. So don't expect a lot of substantial posts from me for the next couple of weeks.
  • I do hope to post one fairly thorough reply to Andrew Jones's articles on contextualization. I appreciate the work he did on those (even whilst on the rad in remote parts of the world).
  • Perhaps I'll also reply (though I shouldn't have to) to C. Michael Patton's post categorizing PyroManiacs with those who hold the hyper-Calvinist opinion that God is the efficient cause of evil.
No time now though. I'll see you later. Phil's signature

14 April 2008

Paul and Charitableness

The final entry in a long series on Acts 17
by Phil Johnson

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

harity is defined in 1 Corinthians 13. Among other things, it "does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (v. 6).

"Charitableness" (the postmodern substitute for charity) is something altogether different. It's a broad-minded, insouciantly tolerant, unrelenting goodwill toward practically every conceivable opinion. Its twin virtue—often labeled "epistemic humility'—is a cool refusal to hold any firm and settled convictions. These cardinal postmodern moral values are both seasoned with blithe indifference to the dangers of heresy.

In other words, if you want to be "charitable" by the postmodern definition, you must always leave open the possibility that someone else's truth is equal to if not better than yours. You must never write off other people's beliefs completely. Above all, you must seek to be conciliatory, not confrontive. Bottom line: you pretty much take the position that nothing we believe is ultimately anything more than a personal opinion.

Naturally, then, building bridges to non-Christian worldviews is deemed a better tactic than challenging error head on. Winning the admiration of unbelievers becomes vastly more important than demolishing the false ideologies that bind them. As a matter of fact, one of the best ways to gain non-Christians' respect and appreciation is by looking for common ground and then stressing those areas of agreement, rather than pointing out differences between what the non-Christian believes and what the Bible teaches. The more compliments and congratulations you can give to other points of view, the better. And the more your ideological adversaries like you at the end of the dialogue, the more gratified you are entitled to feel.

That obviously means that candidly telling someone he or she is in error is unacceptable. To the postmodern mind, direct contradiction like that is the polemical equivalent of dropping a nuke; it's an extreme last-resort tactic—rarely used at all in dialogues with unbelievers, but reserved mainly for other Christians whose views are too rigid or too conservative for your tastes.

Did Paul use the tactic of postmodern-style charitableness in Athens?

It sounds pretty silly even to raise that question, doesn't it? You know he didn't. He simply proclaimed the message Christ had given him to preach—"not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Corinthians 2:4). Just as Paul had always done, he headed straight for the one truth he knew very well would sound most like utter foolishness to them: the resurrection of the dead.

Remember, the Areopagite philosophers were all materialists. Even the ones who believed in a kind of afterlife thought the idea of heaven and hell as actual places where people had glorified physical bodies sounded so utterly foolish and unthinkable that when Paul got to that point in his message, it brought the house down. End of sermon: "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, 'We will hear you again on this matter.' So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them" (vv. 32-34).

Three reactions, and I think it's a reasonable conjecture that Luke lists them in declining order from the majority response to the minority.

"Some mocked." That's what you would expect someone steeped in Greek philosophy to do. "Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified . . . to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Paul's worldview was so utterly and completely in contrast with the Athenian culture and belief system that most of these guys simply turned away.

That doesn't mean Paul failed. Listen: even if every last person in the philosophers' circle had turned away angry, that would not mean Paul's ministry strategy was wrong. His only task as an ambassador for Christ is to deliver the message clearly and accurately, and he did that. If they had all picked up stones to kill him (as the crowd at Lystra did in Acts 14), God would still have judged Paul faithful. But if he compromised the message in order to win people's appreciation rather than their repentance, that would not have been faithful.

Others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." Paul's straightforwardness evidently gained their interest in what he had to say. He had an open door to preach the gospel again to them.

However, some men joined him and believed. For a handful of people, including "Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them," this was the moment of conversion. They believed, and became disciples.

That's what faithful evangelistic ministry looks like. It doesn't cower before opposition. It isn't intimidated by human wisdom. It isn't shaken by rejection. It doesn't waver from the truth. It doesn't shift and change content to suit the preferences or felt needs of an audience. It has one theme, and that is Christ in His death and resurrection. It has one strategy—to unpack the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection and proclaim it with clarity. It confronts every worldview, every false religion, every superstitious belief, every human philosophy, and every skeptical opinion. It rises above all those things and speaks with unshakable authority, because the gospel is the truth of God, and the power of God for salvation.

Contextualize that.
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