30 June 2008

An Addendum on the Church and Politics

by Phil Johnson

Some additional thoughts on what it means to "Let your light shine."

ne of the greatest dangers of the political activism of the so-called "religious right" is this: It fosters a tendency to make enemies out of people who are supposed to be our mission-field, even while we're forming political alliances with Pharisees and false teachers.

To hear some Christians today talk, you might think that rampant sins like homosexuality and abortion in America could be solved by legislation. A hundred years ago, the pet issue was prohibition, and mainstream evangelicalism embraced the notion that outlawing liquor would solve the problem of drunkenness forever in America. It was a waste of time and energy, and it was an unhealthy diversion for evangelicals and fundamentalists during an era when the truth was under siege within the church. Lobbying for laws to change the behavior of worldly people was the last project evangelicals needed to make their prime mission in the early 20th century. Just like today. Remember Galatians 2:21: "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." And Galatians 3:21: "If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law."

We have the true and only answer to sins like homosexuality, divorce, drug addiction, and other forms of rampant immorality. It's the glorious liberty of salvation in Christ. It's a message about the grace of God, which has accomplishes what no law could ever do. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation—Good News that truly changes hearts—and we need to proclaim that message. Politically-driven hostility against our neighbors is not the best way to let the light of the glorious gospel of Christ shine unto them.

We're like lighthouse keepers in a dark and stormy world. We've been given a mission of rescue and mercy. We can't be like James and John, who in a moment of weakness and immaturity wanted to call down fire from heaven to annihilate some unbelievers who took an opposing stance. We are ambassadors of the true light, who came down to earth to seek and to save the lost—not to destroy men's lives, but to save them.

There's a true sense in which we are not to love the world or the things of the world. But the people of the world are another matter. We're supposed to love them all, including our enemies. Scripture is clear on this. We don't condone sin, and we certainly can't pretend to let our lights shine if we're having fellowship with the deeds of darkness. But we should have a Christlike love for sinners, and that is an essential part of what He demands when He calls us to let our lights shine, so that people see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father. In this way, true disciples of Christ must be markedly different from the Pharisees.

If you don't have a sense of deep compassion and heartfelt benevolence toward sinners, you're not letting your light shine. If you, as a redeemed sinner, look on other sinners with no feeling but disgust, that's nothing but pride. That was the very sin of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, who "stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." And Jesus said that attitude is what kept him from being justified in God's eyes. Jesus, by contrast, "when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd."

That's the perspective it takes to be a true light in this world.

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28 June 2008

A word about constantly-mutating evolutionists, skeptical philosophers, and speculative theologians

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This week's excerpt is from a "My Own Personal Holdfast," a sermon first published in 1889 but originally preached in the Metropolitan Tabernacle at some undetermined time within the prior decade or so.

Evolutionists consider their theory: "If we can just prop it up, it'll be good as new again."

    Here's some background on Spurgeon's argument below. In 1890, William Platt Ball published Heredity and Evolution.; Are the Effects of Use and Disuse Inherited? An Examination of the View Held by [Herbert] Spencer and [Charles] Darwin. Ball was himself an evolutionist, but he (along with others in the same vein) departed from Darwin—and even more so from Herbert Spencer—on the question of whether and how our parents' and ancestors' behavior influences the characteristics we inherit from them. Will the offspring of a hardworking man who uses his muscles inherit any benefits from his working out? Or if the tails of Cocker Spaniels are clipped for enough years so that generation after generation of dogs never use their tails, will a breed of naturally tailless Spaniels eventually result through the evolutionary process?
    Spencer, for one, seemed to think so. He pointed to giraffes as proof of the "use and disuse" theory, claiming giraffes could never have evolved such long necks unless their tendency to stretch ever higher had some effect toward actually lengthening the necks of their offspring across many generations. Thus Spencer (and evolutionists who followed him) argued, evolution is a hopeful doctrine for the future of humanity. It suggests that humanity will eventually get better if we act better. That was the standard evolutionary doctrine of salvation through the 1870s or so.
    The actual progeny of that brand of humanistic optimism, however, was a whole new species of evolutionists, including William Ball. They pointed out a stubborn fact: the laws of genetics mitigate against our inheriting the effects of our parents' behavior through any kind of purely biological process. As an illustration, Ball pointed out that Jewish men have practiced circumcision from time immemorial, and Jewish infants are nevertheless still always born with fully intact foreskins. Ball insisted that evolutionary changes needed to be explainable by some more scientific means than the theory of use and disuse. He wasn't sure how animals evolved fantastic traits, but he insisted the process could not be explained by the use-and-disuse theory; that was simply unscientific.
    Those who held the older evolutionary opinions employed human morality as a counter-example. The use-and-disuse theory is the only way to account for human guilt in the evolutionary paradigm, they insisted. They pointed to the immoral proclivities so evident in human behavior as undeniable proof that we have inherited behavioral influences from our animal ancestors. Suddenly some of the same modernists who had long scoffed at the idea of original sin were now acknowledging the ubiquitous manifestations of original sin in order to prop up their now-outmoded evolutionary theories.
    That debate was raging when Spurgeon preached this sermon, and it explains the setting in which these comments were made. Spurgeon seems to indicate that he expected the theory of evolution itself to be debunked and replaced by some other fallacy in a very short time. If so, he would be disappointed by the tenacity of that theory today. In the most important respect, however, Spurgeon was exactly right: evolutionists have never found a stable, tenable theory to explain the most fundamental difficulty of their system: how did ordered information get programmed into the genetic code in the first place, and why are there zero observable instances of positive mutations in which additional information is added to a species' genetic code by some "natural" process? In their quest for answers to that question, evolutionists keep changing their story, and the textbooks still have to be completely rewritten every three years or so. Spurgeon observed this trend more than 130 years ago.
    And for good measure, he threw in a rebuke aimed at the trendy, emerging, modernist church leaders of his day who aped the style of secular scientists and philosophers by shifting their opinions every three years or so to suit the times. Don't miss that part in the closing paragraph of this excerpt.

he history of philosophy is in brief the history of fools. All the sets of philosophers that have yet lived have been more successful in contradicting those that came before them than in anything else.

It is well when the children of Ammon and Moab stand up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir utterly to slay and destroy them; the enemies of God are good at the business of destroying each other. Within a few years [today's] evolutionists will be cut in pieces by some new dreamers. The reigning philosophers of the present period have in them so much of the vitality of madness that they will be a perpetual subject of contempt; and I venture to prophesy that, before my head shall lie in the grave, there will hardly be a notable man left who will not have washed his hands of the present theory.

That which is taught to-day for a certainty by savants will soon have been so disproved as to be trodden down as the mire in the streets. The Lord's truth liveth and reigneth, but man's inventions are but for an hour. I am no prophet, nor the son of a prophet; but as I have lived to see marvellous changes in the dogmas of philosophy, I expect to see still more.

See how they have shifted. They used to tell us that the natural depravity of our race was a myth—they scouted the idea that we were born in sin, and declared with mimic sentiment that every dear babe was perfect. Now what do they tell us? Why, that if we do not inherit the original sin of Adam, or any other foregoing man; yet we have upon us the hereditary results of the transgressions of the primeval oysters, or other creatures, from which we have ascended or descended. We bear in our bodies, if not in our souls, the effects of all the tricks of the monkeys whose future was entailed upon us by evolution.

This nonsense is to be received by learned societies with patience, and accepted by us with reverence, while the simple statements of Holy Writ are regarded as mythical or incredible. I only mention this folly for the sake of showing that the opponents of the Word of God constantly shift their positions, like quicksands at a river's mouth; but they are equally dangerous, whatever position they occupy. In the announcement of heredity philosophical thought has deprived itself of all power to object to the Biblical doctrine of original sin. This is of no consequence to us, who care nothing for their objections; but it ought to be some sort of hint to them.

According to modern thinkers, what is true on Monday may be false on Tuesday; and what is certain on Wednesday it may be our duty to doubt on a Thursday, and so on, world without end. Every change of the moon sees a change in the teaching of the new theology. A good stout hypothesis in the old times served a man for a hobbyhorse for twenty years; but nowadays their sorry jades hardly last twenty months. Said I not well that the smallest promise of God is worth more than all that ever has been taught, or ever shall be taught, by skeptical philosophers and speculative theologians? Let God be true, but every man a liar. Whatever may be the truth in science, God is true, and on his promise we build our confidence. We will distrust the witness of all men and angels, but we cannot, we dare not, distrust the Lord.

C. H. Spurgeon

Airborne Pyro, part three

by Dan Phillips

The third of three segments I recorded for the "Bible Burgh" radio program is to be aired tomorrow, June 28 [— er, 29th], at 9pm ET; you can listen to it streaming here; or download it Monday hence.

It was a good experience. Hope we can do it again sometime!

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27 June 2008

Buncha Stuff

by Phil Johnson

Friday Afternoon Bonus:

Great post at Piper's blog today. He nails it. Don't miss it.

    I've had about fifteen mostly-trivial things floating in my brain that I want to blog about but no time to write much, so I'm going to deal with as many items as possible from my "To Blog About" list today in one post, if you'll bear with me.

I've been traveling more than usual this summer. I was supposed to be on sabbatical, and before those plans got rearranged, I had accepted several invitations I simply couldn't back out of, thinking I would be free to travel because I wouldn't be juggling deadlines and whatnot. But the publishers who govern my deadlines refused to let me take any extended time off this summer, and now I have to meet the deadlines plus fulfill most of those other commitments I made. (The sabbatical will have to wait till next year. Or the next.)

That, plus a spate of odd and unusual computer problems (mostly network issues, surely related somehow to the activities of demons), have kept me from putting much serious time into the blog lately. Sorry.

Anyway, last week I was at Cornerstone Seminary in Vallejo, CA, teaching a week-long summerim session on the life and ministry of Spurgeon, with special emphasis on his preaching and the controversies he provoked. While preparing for those sessions, I read all at once through all the past weekly doses of Spurgeon, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for Spurgeon's courage and steadfastness. I recommend the exercise.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at a church in the Atlanta area. My reputation for eating odd delicacies has got around, and when I travel, people frequently offer me challenging, barely-edible tidbits to see how far I will go with it. In Atlanta a dear woman (Marie, if I recall her name correctly), gave me a package of squid jerky (yes, I'm serious) plus a bag of freeze-dried anchovies. Great salad toppers. Thanks.

Also, during one of my recent trips I had the inestimable pleasure of meeting (for the first time in person) our long-time friend and honorary PyroManiac Todd "Freakishly Tall" Friel. In the picture there, we're both standing on a level floor. He really is tall. He's the same in person as you hear on the radio, and irrepressibly funny. I wish we'd had a few more days to talk, but one of us would probably have got the other one in trouble somehow. If you've never heard Todd on Way of the Master Radio, you're missing the best daily live show on Christian radio. Get the podcast. Also, if your cable company carries Familynet, check out Todd's daily television program, Wretched. That's the name of the show, not an evaluation of it.

Speaking of evaluations, my next item for today is a brief book review. I got my copy of The Last Men's Book You'll Ever Need from David Moore, the book's author, who kindly sent me an autographed copy with a courageous invitation to review the book candidly.

I would have loved to give the book my unqualified endorsement. Indeed, there is much positive to say about it, and Justin Taylor has covered most of that ground. In addition to what Justin wrote, I would add that I appreciate Dave Moore's resistance to the therapeutic approach to human relationships that dominates so much of evangelical discourse nowadays. Moore points out that everyone is "wounded" and we don't really deserve merit badges or undue sympathy for our personal hurts when we ourselves are guilty of waging war against righteousness. Also, while we're carefully nursing our personal wounds, "we need to remember that we inflict our fair share of them" (p. 118). That's wise advice, especially in our culture where so many men (and women) "focus on the hurt they've received [and] tend to discount or diminish the hurt they inflict on others" (p. 114)—not to mention the sins against Almighty God we're guilty of. Moore calls us back to a more biblical (and manly) view of our own sin.

Moore makes a number of helpful, insightful, and thought-provoking points like that. The book definitely has its fair share of high points.

As much as I'd like to stop with that, however, the manly candor Dave Moore rightly solicits compels me to say that I think the book also has too many shortcomings to fulfill the promise of its own title (which title, David Moore assures me, is supposed to be tongue in cheek). If I were looking for just one standalone book to recommend to your men's fellowship for group study, I'm sorry to say this would not be it.

Let me keep my remarks about the book's shortcomings as brief as possible by simply saying that in one way or another, all my criticisms are related to the fact that Moore brings up some very serious topics without handling them very seriously. Several of the topics that are especially crucial for men in these post-modern times warrant much more thoughtful and sober-minded analysis than Moore gives them.

In a section on the struggle with sexual lust, for example, Moore leaves the impression that prudery and sexual addiction are equally serious dangers. He describes them as "both deadly extremes" (p. 104). Now, I have counseled a lot of men who are struggling in areas related to sex, the thought life, single-mindedness, and relationships, and I can't honestly say that I have ever met one man who fell into trouble spiritually because he succumbed to the deadly danger of prudery. Virtually every man I know who is seeking to live a godly life in the Internet age actually wishes he could recover some of his pre-adolescent innocence. Prudery of the right sort is actually a virtue (Romans 16:19).

At that point in the book, where many men would be most eager for Moore to give truly practical help, he has surprisingly little to say. And he quotes without attribution from "one very wise writer" (I Googled and discovered he was quoting Doug Jones), with some intriguing lines about how porn divorces beauty from goodness and therefore turns true beauty on its head, peddling a concept of beauty that is really ugly in the extreme (pp. 106-7). But despite Moore's confident assertion, I don't think that brief thought from Doug Jones is going to "change" many struggling readers' lives.

Moore clearly knows the lives of sinners are changed only when the Holy Spirit applies the Word of God to hearts, and I wish he had followed the ramifications of that truth when dealing with (of all things) men's battle against lust. He could have—and should have—handled such topic a lot more seriously.

I won't belabor the point further, but this book would be much better if it were twice as long and ten times more serious. For my money, Justin Taylor's edition of John Owen's Overcoming Sin and Temptation is a better, richer summary of what the Bible says about "Guy Stuff." Not as funny, perhaps, but much better for men who are seeking help with the problems of being men.

Still, there's help to be gleaned and good thoughts to be found in David Moore's book, and for some men (if taken with a dose of biblical discernment) this might be a good starting point if they are seeking to understand their manhood in a spiritual and biblical light. But by no means is it the last book on manhood any man will need. (In all seriousness, as someone who has been involved in Christian publishing for more than 30 years, if I had been on the titling committee during the concept phase of this book, I would have lobbied hard for a different title, no matter how much marketing appeal this title might have.)

Oops. Dave Moore e-mailed me to correct one detail in my review. I said he quoted Doug Jones without attribution. Not true. The book uses those new-fangled end-notes where there is no documentation or note-number in the actual text itself, but if you go to the end of that chapter there is indeed a full footnote. It isn't signified anywhere in the actual text, but the documentation definitely is there. Sorry about that. Incidentally, Dave Moore took my critique like a man and sent me a kind note of thanks, which exemplifies the manly courage he wrote about. For the record, he also tells me that his publisher had imposed on him a strict word-limit, which prohibited from the get-go his aiming for an Owenesque style. Perhaps he can do a sequel or two that will fill in the some of the gaps. I'd definitely read it.

Thanks again to David Moore for his kindness and courage in submitting his book to PyroManiacs for review. To other authors out there: feel free to send any of us your books, but we can't promise to review any particular books, and we especially refuse to try to coordinate our reviews with any publisher's promotional timeline. Generally, we review books we either really like or truly, absolutely hate—and we leave the tepid reviews to Justin Taylor and Tim Challies. Book reviews are relatively rare at our blog anyway, but don't let that discourage anyone from sending us free books.

Enough about book reviews. I've run out of time and space in what was supposed to be a short post.

One last thing: Whatever else you do today, don't neglect to read about the importance of being "missional," succinctly explained by the enigmatic Dissidens.

Have a great weekend, and remember to spend the Lord's Day with the Lord's people.
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26 June 2008

Sister... show mercy! (Annual repost #1)

[With some encouragement, I've made an executive decision to make this post from 2006 a yearly thing — with any editing I see fit to make — until I think the message has gotten through. It hasn't, so... Here y'go!]

Preface: "What are you? Nuts?!"
Just thought I'd lead with the question you'll be wondering in a few minutes. I am about to stick my finger in the fan, about up to my elbow, and I know it. But I really think someone needs to say this — and why not me? I have less to lose than many who've thought the same thing, but daren't say it.

So here we go.

What will change, and what won't. Spring's sprung, and summer looms. Mercury rises, fashions change. But one thing that won't change, unless I'm happily mistaken: some good Christian sisters will not dress as helpfully as they could.

I chose that word with care: "helpfully." I am not talking about sin, shame, indecency, wantonness, or the like. Perhaps I could, with some justification. But that's for another time — and probably another writer. At this point, I just want to talk about being helpful.

Sister, if there's one thing you and I can certainly agree on, it's this: I don't know what it's like to be a woman, and you don't know what it's like to be a man. We're both probably wrong where we're sure we're right, try as we might. So let me try to dart a telegram from my camp over to the distaff side.

"Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man" (Proverbs 27:20). Solomon doesn't use the Hebrew words that would indicate males exclusively, so this and Ecclesiastes 1:8 may apply across the gender-board. Libbie pointed out very ably that we men wrongly assume that we alone battle with temptations entering through the eye-gate.

But. But if men aren't alone in the battle, they may have a particular weakness for this aspect of it. Consider passionately-godly King David, whose psalms express aspirations after God beside which our own are pale, bloodless things. One day King David is in the wrong place, at the wrong time; sees a naked woman bathing next door, and boom! he's gone (2 Samuel 11). Family, kingdom, God — all forgotten, consumed in the flash-flame of a lust that was only visual in its inception.

And what of that Israelite Philistine Samson and his own "eye trouble?" He sees a fetching young pagan, and bellows at his dad, "Get her for me, for she looks good to me" (Judges 14:3 NAS). Where did Samson's passions take him? How did his course end?

Unless all the men I've known personally or at a distance are completely unrepresentative, it's a lifelong struggle, a lifelong weakness. As I recall from a Proverbs lecture on mp3, Bruce Waltke says that his dad, at around age 100, told him, "Bruce, I still have the same struggles I did when I was 50." It was sobering for Dr. Waltke to hear; sobering for any man! (In fact, put me down for "disheartening.")

Where am I going with this? Oh, don't try to look so innocent. You know exactly where I'm going.

This is... church? So here comes this brother into the assembly of the saints, hoping for a rest from the battles of the week, a moment to regroup, sing, pray, get the Word, fellowship. He looks up to the choir, or to his left or his right — and in a tick of the clock, he's facing the same struggle he faced every time he turned on his TV, opened a magazine, or went down a city street. He's seeing things that make it far too easy for him not to keep his mind focused where it needs to be focused.

And he's not in a nightclub, he's not at a singles' bar, he's not at the beach. He's in church.

Now, some very direct disclaimers:
  • Every man's sin is his own, and every man's struggle is his own (Proverbs 14:10)
  • No one makes a man think or feel anything (Proverbs 4:23)
  • It is each individual's responsibility to guard his own heart (Proverbs 4:23)
  • Beauty is a wonderful gift of God (cf. Exodus 28:2; Song of Solomon 1:8, 15, etc.)
Having said all that: while it may be true that I'm the one holding the matches, you won't help me if you pile twigs all around my feet and douse them with lighter fluid. To be a little more specific: if you know I've had trouble with drunkenness, you won't offer me a glass of wine. If you know I battle covetousness, you won't take me window-shopping in high-end stores I've no business frequenting.

That is, you won't do those things if you love, if you care for me.

So I put this question: what are some sisters thinking, in how they dress?

"Attractive"? As the ladies pick clothes, they'll consider what's pretty, what's flattering, what's attractive. Who could blame them? But, "attractive" to whom? In what way? To what end? With what focus?

I want my lure to attract trout so they will bite and get hooked, and I can kill them and eat them.

A business wants to attract buyers so they will spend money and acquire their product or service and make them rich.

By that blouse, those pants, that skirt — what are you trying to attract? Attract to what, so that they will feel what, and want to do what?

Consider the questions again. "Is it pretty?" Fine question, no evil in it. "Is it comfortable, is it complimentary, is it fun?" No problem. I'd just suggest you add one more question: "Is it helpful, or is it hurtful, to my brothers in Christ? Will this unintentionally contribute to their having a focus that is harmful to their holy walk?"

Now, lookie here:
In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; 19 the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; 20 the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; 21 the signet rings and nose rings; 22 the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; 23 the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils (Isaiah 3:18-23)

...likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10)

Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing-- 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:3-4)
What it isn't. Immediately we'll swing in, as we always do, and say, "Now, the writer's not saying that women can't dress nicely, or wear jewelry, or blah blah blah." And we'll all disown our Fundie forebears who focused on nylons and lipstick, and came up with precise hemline measurements. We'll want to make sure that we're not advocating a new line of Bible Burqaware™ for evangelical women. All that will be true and valid enough.But... what is it? But I'm concerned that, in our anxiety to be sure to prevent the wrong interpretation, we effectively cut off all interpretation. We have swung from making the passages say silly things, to not letting them say anything. These passages have to mean something! They must have some application! What is it?

Surely the passages warn against vanity, externality, sensuality; and promote a focus on a godly character as true beauty. Who you are; not just what you look like. Remember: "As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion" (Proverbs 11:22 NAS).

Oh boy, I'm going to make it worse now. Deep breath....

Say what? What are your clothes saying about you, sister? What are they supposed to say to your brothers? "Hey, look at this?" Well, they actually are trying to look at the Lord; it's not good for them, not helpful for them, to be looking at that. No, it's not your fault that they have a problem. We established that. And it's really great that God has made you beautiful. May your husband (present or future) celebrate your beauty.

But, please hear me: you can help the brothers who aren't your husband, or you can not-help them. Which are you doing? If you're not married, and a man looks at you, is he thinking, "What a great character"? Or are you giving him reason to think something else about you is "great"?

I know many of the responses. I've heard them. "You don't know what it's like to buy women's clothes, you ignorant man!" Mostly true. My first just-for-fun purchase of (what I thought was) a pretty blue dress for my wife was, well, it was appalling. What a good sport my wife was. I took it back to the store immediately, and made a much better choice.

"I caaaan't." But this: "I can't find anything modest! It's all too revealing! It's impossible to get something that looks nice, yet isn't too tight, or too short, or too-something / not-something-enough!"

Sorry, but baloney.

I put "modest women's clothing Christian" in Google, and 43,200 pages come up. Yes, some are funny and quaint at best. But are they all Amishwear? "Can't find?"

More fundamentally: I do not accept that anyone has to wear clothes that are too tight or too sheer or too short — unless you are the largest and tallest woman living in the hottest part of the planet. Because I see larger, taller women than you walking around in hot weather, and they're all wearing clothes, every last one of them. They got those clothes somewhere, I reason. You could too.

"But — but they won't look good on me! The shoulders will be wrong!"

Need-to-not-know. I'm not sure that's necessarily true, but let's accept it and pose a counter-question. You tell me. Which is worse: your shoulders hanging a half-inch too low? Or a blouse/skirt that simply (shifting into turbo-delicate) provides need-to-know information to those with a need-to-not-know?

I'm sure we all agree that there are clothes that show off what others have no helpful business seeing. Here's what to show, in clothes-selection: show a Godward focus, discretion, a godly character.

And show mercy.

Parting thought. Darlene pointed me to a statement by Arthur Pink, which makes everything I've just said look awfully mild. But there's no denying that Pink has a point. I'll close with it:
Again, if lustful looking be so grievous a sin, then those who dress and expose themselves with desires to be looked at and lusted after-as Jezebel, who painted her face, tired her head, and looked out of the window (2 Kings 9:30)-are not less, but even more guilty. In this matter it is only too often the case that men sin, but women tempt them so to do. How great, then, must be the guilt of the great majority of the modern misses who deliberately seek to arouse the sexual passions of our young men? And how much greater still is the guilt of most of their mothers for allowing them to become lascivious temptresses?
Now, note, Pink and I speak to different ends. I speak to those who I charitably assume are inadvertently dressing in an unhelpful manner. Pink speaks to those whose intent is to allure. Between the two of us, I can pray we've provided food for thought, prayer, reconsideration, and needed change.

One last thought: it is a mistake to think I have church-attire in mind. I am thinking of anywhere where both sexes are present.

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25 June 2008

The Spirit, and Power

by Frank Turk

I'm majoring in drive-by blogging these days due to circumstances at work and at home (as in, I have to go home when I'm not at work, and "going home" implies that I am mentally there when I am physically there), so this post and the ones which will follow it will be brief, if not an actual drive-by.

Our spiritual friend John Piper has been podcasting an older sermon series over the last two weeks regarding the spiritual gifts, and as I start writing this I admit that I have only listened to them through 6/17/08 -- so if my comments today will be answered in his future podcasts on this subject, I am ready to post corrections or retractions as they are necessary.

Overall, I think I like his spirit in these messages, even if (as you might suspect) I think he has made some mistakes in his reasoning from the text. I appreciate that he approaches this subject with the fact clearly in mind that his father, whom he loved deeply, believed he was flatly wrong about his position.

But, speaking broadly, I think Dr. Piper makes two mistakes in the messages I have heard so far -- and they are really foundational to the gap between the cessationist and the continualist.

[1] He overlooks or underplays the cessationist admission that God still works miracles today. In all seriousness, there are no cessationists that I know who would say flatly, "No: God works no miracles today." None. And in missing this, Dr. Piper's messages seem to argue against someone who doesn't exist.

Yes: he does frankly say with words that the cessation view is that the gifts are not normative. The problem is that what we mean by that looks a lot like what he means by that in saying, for example, that his father (a cessationist) would admit that only about 5 times in his life could he look back and say that he had prayed a "prayer of faith" in which he knew for certain God would do something specific.

"Not Normative" means "rare, and not an experience around which to build the life of the church". The Lord's table is normative; Scripture is normative; church discipline is normative; prayer itself is normative. The Gifts as Dr. Piper explains them are frankly not normative.

And in that, I credit him for saying in one of his intros to these messages that both cessationists and continualists can be distracted by from the Giver of all good gifts by seeking the gifts and not the Giver. That, to me, is a very serious admonition.

[2] He also, I think, misses the difference between (on the one hand) corporate prayer and even the prayer of the elders and (on the other) passages like Acts 3 (Peter heals the beggar), and Acts 9 (Peter raises Tabitha). It is one thing to say that the prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and another to say that every prayer should be made with the kind of command authority demonstrated in these passages -- especially, I would add, when even Dr. Piper admits that many of these supplications will go unanswered.

Yes, I know this opens up a can of worms. I will listen to the rest of these sermons and come back with more thoughts. Your thoughts, insofar as they are on-topic and not linked to questionable site content, are welcome in the meta.

24 June 2008

George Carlin, and us

by Dan Phillips

Comedian George Carlin died of a heart attack at age 71 Sunday evening.

I am old enough to have a perspective on Carlin's significance. He signaled a change in comedy. Comedy had been more of the Henny Youngman variety: one-liners, shticks, gags. Carlin started "straight" and buttoned-down, then developed a very different approach to comedy. He pioneered a more observational sort of humor, such as we can see in Stephen Wright, Jerry Seinfeld, Ritch Shydner, and a host of others.

Carlin's worldview took a toll on him, as drug-use reportedly started the heart-problems that eventually killed him. Five years before his death, the "funny-man" voiced a very dark view:
"I sort of gave up on this whole human adventure a long time ago," he said a couple of years ago. "Divorced myself from it emotionally. I think the human race has squandered its gift, and I think this country has squandered its promise. I think people in America sold out very cheaply, for sneakers and cheeseburgers. And I don't think it's fixable."
Here you see a man who is confronted with the disaster which autonomy has brought on our race. Carlin sees some of the bitter fruits of man's rebellion against God. He longs for redemption. He sees that it will not arise from within us. Yet, like the classic definition of insanity, he has no prescription but more of the same. He was raised Roman Catholic, and probably thought (alas, wrongly) that this exposed him to Christianity, to Christ, to the Gospel. Thus he often expressed contempt for religion. Rejecting the fake, like so many he was inoculated against the real item. Thus apparently Carlin never seriously considered the actual cure whose absence he would later feel so keenly: Jesus Christ, the only hope and redeemer of mankind (John 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:1).

As we all naturally do — in spite of his many keen insights — Carlin misdiagnoses the cause, and thus completely misses the cure.

When I think of Carlin, I think primarily of his riff on "stuff," and his riff on how we view different ages: we "become 21, turn 30, push 40, reach 50 and make it to 60; now you've built up so much speed that you hit 70!" (Someone added some trite "happy life" thoughts and circulated it, made it totally un-Carlin; but I've heard the man give the first part.)

As articles across the globe remember Carlin, those routines aren't what they celebrate (?) in Carlin. What they remember — often in their obit headlines — is a routine he did on, and exulting in, seven obscene words. (I won't link to that one.)

I don't think that would bother Carlin, unfortunately. His routines were often badly profane, which is why you don't see links to them. But it bothered me. What a way to be remembered: Carlin made many clever, wry, gentler observations; but it was a juvenile, potty-mouthed rant that ends up as his epitaph.

Which got me to thinking a bit of how any of us will be remembered when we pass away. Which got me to thinking of Mark Driscoll.

Don't brace for a bash. This isn't meant as one. I think we here at Pyro have a range of estimations of Driscoll, with a lot of overlap. I have heard at least a couple dozen of Mark's sermons or talks, and liked most of them very much... with some reservations.

But if Driscoll were to pass away right now, how would he be remembered? Would it be: "Revolutionary voice for Christ in Washington passes away: Driscoll preached Bible in an anti-Christian setting"?

No, you know what it would probably be, still: "'Cussing pastor' dies: anti-feminist shocked Christians with coarse language, blue sermons on sex."

Now, would that be fair? As a summary of all of Driscoll's work and preaching and writing, no, I don't think it would be fair at all. But you know it would happen.

Part of that would be the fault of the paint-thin, sensationalistic, spiritually clueless, despicable, contemptible MSM.

But part of it wouldn't.

It's worth our giving that a thought, regardless of the size of our circle of influence, fame, infamy.

I'm not asking that we convince the world to like us. Not going to happen — or we've messed up, somewhere (James 4:4). I'm not saying we should expect fairness from the MSM. I'm more thinking of what we make our emphasis. If the media noted our passing, and mischaracterized us, would our friends have abundant resources to show how ridiculous they are? Or would we have played right into their hands by poor judgment, poor priorities, over-fondness of applause, playing for laughs and roses?

I'm saying it's worth real thought.

The memory of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot
(Proverbs 10:7)

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold
(Proverbs 22:1)

A good name is better than precious ointment,
and the day of death than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
(Ecclesiastes 7:1-4)

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23 June 2008

Won't get fooled again?

Are the kids alright?
by Frank Turk

These kids are apparently not reading what Phil and I are writing, and don't really get what happened to their allegedly-religious parents on the right.

Do they not even listen to the music of the revolution? "Meet the New Boss -- same as the old boss"?

UPDATED: Even when I agree with what Dobson says, I can't bring myself to agree with why he says it.

Postmodernism's favorite "virtues" vs. biblical faith

by Phil Johnson
ualities like diversity, ambiguity, mystery, and novelty—especially when blended with qualms about expressing our own certainty—will sound like positive virtues to almost anyone steeped in postmodern entertainments and mass media. But from a biblical perspective, those things are not inherently virtuous at all. In fact, they are all fraught with serious and significant dangers, especially when applied with lavish abandon to biblical theology and hermeneutics.

Sober, careful consideration of the biblical exhortations for Christians to guard sound doctrine would soon peel the mask of "virtue" off the postmodernist value system. Specifically, a better understanding of the biblical concept of humility would help correct the most glaring, fundamental flaw in the approach to Scripture and doctrine currently in vogue among post-evangelicals. I'm speaking of the trademark of the post-evangelical worldview: an almost impenetrable confusion about what's really true, blended with a nonchalant apathy about their own know-nothingism. It's hard to imagine any attitude more hostile to the biblical concept of faith.

In biblical terms it is anything but humble to imply that God's Word is not sufficiently clear—as if we can't possibly be sure what the Bible means, and as if we should never be so "arrogant" as to defend its truths against the enemy's relentless attempts to twist and subvert what God has said. For Christians blithely to accept (or even defer to) the postmodern premise that certainty and arrogance are essentially the same thing is to surrender a major portion of the very ground we are called to defend. This is no minor or incidental matter.
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22 June 2008

"Honest" doubts?

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 "Guile Forsaken When Guilt Is Forgiven," a sermon originaly preached at the Met Tab in London and published in 1877.

ne sorry piece of craft which Satan teaches to many is to make them doubt, or pretend to doubt, anything in Scripture which frowns upon them. If they find that dying as they are they will be driven from the presence of God for ever, they comfort themselves by recollecting that a wise man has discovered that everlasting does not mean for ever, and they hear that a clever divine has found out that there is to be a general jail delivery in hell, and everybody is to be admitted into heaven in due time.

They hear this and they hear that, and as drowning men catch at straws so do they cling to any new inventions which promise them ease in their sins. They lay the flattering unction of false doctrine to their souls as if it were the balm of Gilead. "Perhaps it may be so," they say, and thus they risk their future happiness upon so poor a chance as the hope that, perhaps, these modern thinkers may turn out to be right, and the plain teaching of Scripture prove to be a mistake.

It is a wonderfully easy thing to make yourself out to be an honest sceptic, and from this earthwork to assail your assailants, and yet all the while you may have no doubt at all, but in the core of your heart may, like the devil, believe and tremble. Ah, ye pretended doubters, if you were stretched on a dying bed you would believe the old revelation fast enough, and begin to cry out for mercy in the scare which the approach of death would bring upon you.

Half the men who talk so much about their not believing, believe a great deal more than they would like to admit, and they dare not test their own imaginary infidelity by spending an hour alone in their chamber at eventide and looking into their own hearts. There are many hypocritical believers, but are there not quite as many pretended unbelievers to whom doubting is a mere sop to quiet the Cerberus of their conscience? Guile plays its part with the human intellect, and conjures up an army of ghosts in the form of doubts, but when the sun of truth arises they immediately disappear.
C. H. Spurgeon

20 June 2008

More fiery goodness on-air

by Dan Phillips

For anyone who cares: the second of three segments I recorded for the "Bible Burgh" radio program is to be aired this Sunday at 9pm ET; you can listen to it streaming here; or download it Monday hence.

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19 June 2008

Preacher, lay down your cards

by Dan Phillips

I alluded earlier to a pastor who played the "guidance of the Holy Spirit" trump-card pretty heavily. It wasn't the only such card in his deck, though. He could also point out to us that he had been studying Greek for thirty years. Nobody could match that. Most of us hadn't even been alive for thirty years.

(I reflect that now I myself have been studying it for about thirty-five years. But that wouldn't matter; were he still with us, he would have been studying it for sixty-five years, and I'd still be handily trumped.)

He was a caring, patient man, and indeed very intelligent and learned. But this had the effect of putting any possibility of challenging him out of reach by two removes : (1) the Holy Spirit directly guided him; since we had no access to that private pipeline, we couldn't question it; and (2) he'd been studying Greek since well before I was born.

This sort of brow-beating within a church isn't much of the spirit of Paul, who said, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith" (2 Corinthians 1:24). He didn't lord it over their faith, not because the Corinthians were so bright and stable (they were neither), but because they were a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9).

The Biblical truth about the priesthood of all believers isn't a note from Mom, excusing juvenile, chip-on-the-shoulder rebels from respecting Divinely-instituted authority (Romans 13:1-8; Hebrews 13:7, 17; etc.). It isn't about authority at all. It means that each of us approaches God directly, and is ultimately accountable to Him.

A practical application of this truth was brought to my mind tangentially in a book I'm reading, Thinking Like Your Editor. The author is explaining how to make a good case, an argument. Her second point stood out: "All your conclusions must come out of the facts you make available to the reader on the page." She elaborates:
For every conclusion there must be a trail of facts available in the text. I mean on the page, capable of being independently evaluated by the reader (p. 130)
She is talking about writing, but I immediately saw an application to preaching.

A chief way to avoid browbeating or lording it over a flock illegitimately is simply to lay your cards on the table, and let the case stand on the evidence.

I think that all of my hearers, in 30-odd years of preaching and teaching, would bear me out that I never base a sermon or a major case on anything out of their reach. Of course, I'll utilize the fruits of my training to illustrate, underline, add color and focus. But I'd be thunderstruck if anyone could ever point to a sermon in which I said anything approaching, "You can't possibly understand this because you don't know Hebrew / don't know Greek / haven't studied theology / don't have a degree / didn't hear God's still small voice like I did. You'll just have to take my word for it."

The training is a tool to use for my own understanding, and to help my hearers. It isn't a meat chub.

The honest and honoring approach to preaching is to lay it out for the priesthood to see. Make your case from facts in evidence. Lay out the texts, and look at them with your hearers. You're like an expert guide in an art museum, pointing out minute touches and flourishes — but as soon as you point them out, your audience sees them too! You aren't saying, "This is invisible to all eyes but mine, so you simply must trust me." Instead, you observe, "Maybe you didn't notice this stroke, this figure in the shadows, this perspective; but here's what that signifies."

Our aim is to be able to say, with Paul,
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:2-4)
Now, do I speak to pastors only? Not at all.

You have been, are, or likely will be in the position of looking for a church. Consider this as you weigh preachers. Does he lay it out for you, in a manner befitting an honest man openly serving God by serving the priesthood?

Or does he base major points on mysteries, deep knowledge, revelations, visions, special in-depth studies, things you have no possible way of seeing nor verifying?

If the latter, my advice would be to head out the door, and never turn back.

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18 June 2008

Two kinds of Law

by Frank Turk

I have about 20 minutes this morning to make a post, and I wanted to expand on my brother Dan's response in the meta to my reply to him about his post last Friday.

A-hem. Dan said this:
Did God judge Sodom and Gomorrha because they weren't saved, or because of their sins? How about the iniquity of the Amorites getting "full" for judgment (Genesis 15:16)? How about Jeremiah 18:7-8, or 29:4-7? Do these and the many, many related passages have no application to this discussion?
It's a great question, as one would expect. But I think it tries to go too far.

Here's what I mean: the truth -- as we receive it from Scripture -- is that God's Law didn't save anybody. I mean, sure -- all those examples Dan listed are where people got condemned, but those aren't all the examples, are they? Seriously: nobody was saved by the Law. Nobody kept the whole Law; none of the sacrifices of the Law ever took away sin. The Law condemns. This is so vivid when we even read the institution of the Law in Deuteronomy, and then in Joshua, and then in Samuel: God, by a prophet or judge, says to the people, "keep my commandments," and the people say, "Yes, God: we will," and God -- either to the Prophet or to the people -- says, "well, that'll be a testimony against you, because I know you won't."

The Law of God does not save. Instead, it is (as it says in Galatians), a tutor. That is, it teaches us what's wrong in order that, when what is right comes, we are ready for that.

So if the Law of God doesn't save, why would we think even for a minute that the law of man will ever save? See: this is the point I would make (and I think Phil has been making) when I have blogged in the past about para-church politicking. I think you should vote and attend local governemnt meetings and so on. But I think -- I think -- that when we put it on government that it should make a law like God's Law in order to rule, we forget that the only purpose of that law is for the lawless. It is to condemn them so that they will seek a savior.

And unless our state is also our church, the savior that the state will evangelize will not be Christ. I would say that even if our state was also our church, it would probably not evangelize for Christ.

We are not ambassadors for some worldly power: we are ambassadors for Christ. We live in a place, and will abide its law insofar as it does not offend the law of God. But we live under a higher law, one sealed by the blood of a great savior, and ratified by his resurrection.

That's where our time and money need to be spent if we are serious about changing the world.

17 June 2008

Jonah — model preacher?

by Dan Phillips

[These thoughts were sparked a bit tangentially from a good sermon on Jonah, delivered 6/15/2008 by Chad Hertzell, one of my church's elders.]

Jonah has to be one of the strangest preachers, ever.

As a pastor, I often lamented the lack of visible effect of my sermons — or puzzled over the disproportionate effect. That is (to take it chiastically), some sermons that I felt I had simple massacred, or bobbled, or fumbled, seemed to be used for a particularly rich blessing to the folks present. On the other hand, sermons that seemed rich and edgy and on-target and powerful... not so much!

As a rule, I preached through books. So, by no design of my own, we would come on a section which should finger an area of sin or resistance in some regular attender — and then either that person would not show up, or the Word would evidently sail right past, a clean miss. And I'd worry, and puzzle, and agonize.

But I never, ever preached a message, saw the Word go home to great and glorious effect — and then got angry at God because of it!

Yet of course that is exactly what Jonah did.

And what a doof he was: God tells him to preach to this one group of Gentiles, and so (famously) Jonah runs away — and ends up preaching to another group of Gentiles (1:9ff.)! It isn't much of a sermon: it's terse, it's brief, it's virtually forced out of him. But it is 100% true, and God apparently uses it to bring these men to saving faith (1:14-16).

In spite of Jonah.

And then after Jonah's own volte-face in chapter two, he is re-commissioned to preach to Nineveh. This time he does it. But not very well! Again, it's a terse, sparse sermon, as reported in the 3:4. It's a mere five words in Hebrew, eight in English: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed!"

Not a lovely sermon, not a winsome sermon. But it was the message Yahweh had given him to preach, and he preached it faithfully — and Yahweh used it to produce a massive repentance throughout the city, as they grasp at a straw of hope (3:5-9). The straw of hope was real (cf. Jeremiah 18:7-8) and, however deep or shallow their turning, judgment was averted.

Was Jonah happy? Wouldn't you be? I speak to my pastor-readers, or anyone who's ever told an unbeliever about Christ. Would you be happy to see one hearer repent? Five? Five thousand?

One hundred and twenty thousand (4:11)?

I think you or I would be delirious with joy and praise and gratitude.

But of course, Jonah was not at all happy. He was smoldering, ugly, angry at God; and he got himself a nice little public, for-all-time hiding for it (chapter 4).

From this little tale, I adduce two thoughts.

First thought: why hasn't some ambitious religions entrepreneur made a best-selling book of this? He could call it, Your Best Preaching Now! Or The Prayer of Jonah. Or The Secret Message of Yahweh. Or A Stingy Homiletics.

The message of that barn-burner of a book could be,
"Figure out what God wants you to do, listen for the voice of God — and do the opposite! Preach angry! Preach short, graceless, dessicated little dehydrated sermons! Preach a hard message that nobody wants to hear! And make it harder! Don't pray for conversions! In fact, pray against conversions! You'll experience unparalleled success and explosive growth!"
Maybe you're laughing, maybe you're groaning. But you know that the premise of many very popular books has even less textual basis in the Bible than that.

Jonah serves as another example of the importance of reading each part of the Bible in light of the whole Bible. He also serves as an illustration of how dangerous it can be to mistake description for prescription.

Second thought: no wonder the center of the book is Jonah's confession in 2:9b — "Salvation belongs to Yahweh!" Isn't that the real message of Jonah's wretched example? The results (both in the boat, and in Nineveh) are in no way proportionate to Jonah's consecration, his holiness, his love for God or man, his oratory, or any series of gimmicks or enhancements you could imagine.

From Jonah's example, I can discern only one positive lesson for application: when you preach, preach God's truth. Jonah did do that. Not well, not eloquently, not eagerly, and not with a good spirit. But he did do that much.

But beyond that, the real lesson I glean is this:
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)
Now, I'm just going to ask you mentally to plug in here all that the whole Bible says about what a preacher's heart and attitude and spirit should be, about what focus he should have, and about what he should aim to accomplish in his preaching.

But — catch this, it's the big point — we should do that not because it's the method that will work. We should do it because we love God, and that is the orientation that reflects and pleases Him.

Because in the final analysis, it isn't the method, anyway. Look at Jonah! It's GOD who saves. Salvation belongs to the Lord!

You and I might as well face it: on our best and holiest and most consecrated, God-centered, Spirit-filled day, preaching the most exalted, beautiful, Heaven-breathing sermon we will ever preach...

...at our very best, we're just clay pots, conveying a fantastically extravagant treasure not of our making.

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