30 September 2008

Nothing We Can Say: Total Eclipse of the Blog

by Phil Johnson

So despite what I said the other day, the archives will be available this month. Dan Phillips checked and found a way to turn off the comments without turning off the whole blog.

Click to listen
Todd Friel, host of "Wretched," learns about TeamPyro's Month Off (Click picture to Listen)
So many loose ends; where does one start? Frank had one more post left in a series on the gifts. I'm tempted to say that series has ceased, but I know that would provoke an argument. I'm pretty sure he intends to finish it when we get back to blogging, but at the moment he has more important and more far-reaching things to do.

For those who have asked, my tooth finally seems to be healing well. But now I have a very annoying case of bronchitis. (It's going around the office. Even John MacArthur had it.) So I'm glad to have a break from the blog. Thanks for understanding.

Here are some places you can get a daily fix during our down time:
. . . and don't forget that we have some of the best blogs in the Christian blogosphere listed over there in the right sidebar.By the time you're caught up with all that, we'll be back. Adios Phil's signature

Too much time on my hands?

by Dan Phillips

As PyroManiacs is about to "go dark" for nearly a month, some of our gracious readers find themselves looking at a gap in their routine.

Of course, Frank and yr obdt svt are not vanishing off the face of the earth, we'll both keep the coffee on at our places, and you'll be welcome. But many daily routines will change, if only a bit.

Minor as it is, changes do bring to mind the daily menu of our lives: the agenda of distractions, imposed from without and from within, that pushes minutes to hours, hours to days, days to weeks, months, and years — and, ultimately, impels newborn on towards the grave.


Unless you're God, you've only got so much time. What's the plan? What's the theme? What's the metanarrative of our lives?

Younger readers will nod less enthusiastically than fellow-codgers if I talk about the phenomenon of vanishing years. When you're young, you measure years in halves: "I'm six-and-a-half." But then, you come to the time when it literally seems as if you've scarcely put away the Christmas decorations — and it's time to take them back out again. The year just went by that fast.

Nonetheless we know that a lot of moments went into that passed year. But what went into the moments?

Proverbs raises this issue more than once. Consider this pair:
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense. (Proverbs 12:11)

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty (Proverbs 28:19)
In Hebrew, the wording of line A is identical in each; that of line B nearly so — more closely than the ESV shows.

Line A considers a landowner. It is his land, land he owns himself, ultimately entrusted by God into his care. For since all the earth is Yahweh's (cf. Exodus 9:29; Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 24:1; 50:12, etc.), every part of the earth is also his. That part you own, therefore, is put in your stewardship by God. It was and remains His; He has loaned it to you. It is to God you and I must answer for what we do with it.

The man in question "works" his land. Solomon uses the verb `bd, which we first encounter in Genesis 2:5 and 15. There the picture is Adam, taking the garden as his first assignment in subduing the earth (cf. 1:26-28). Moses couples `bd ("work") and 'dmh ("ground," "land") in Genesis 2:5, and Solomon echoes that exact same pairing.

So when a farmer works his land, he is participating in God's created design for mankind. Not only does he serve God, he serves himself. "He will be full of bread," Solomon says literally. Not that the land grows loaves of bread, but that it produces that with which the man further labors, and from which he produces bread and all sorts of food. God has graciously ordered creation so that man is the beneficiary of his own labors, in God's service, over God's land.

Line B in each sets up a contrast. Unfortunately, the ESV simply replays the tepid rendering of the RSV, "he who follows worthless pursuits." The Hebrew text is more vivid: identically worded in each, it is "But he who pursues empty things." Solomon envisions a pursuit. It is focused, deliberate, and strenuous. It isn't that the man is aimless. He aims! The problem is his target: it is hollow, empty, insubstantial, unproductive.

The earth is potentially productive and pregnant and, if worked, will produce food. What this man chases after may be pretty, but it is hollow, and produces nothing — or, rather, nothing he wants.

In 12:11 the foolish man himself is characterized; in 28:19 it is his harvest. The man (we are told) is "short on brains." In fact, Solomon takes us on a tour of this man's field in 24:30-34 —
I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense ["short on brains"],
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.
This vignette actually combines the thoughts of both 12:11 and 28:19. The man actually owns a field. However, sadly, he is "short on brains," so instead of working his land and being filled with bread, he lets it go (while he pursues empty things) — and is full... of poverty.

Now as we prepare to turn out the lights for a few weeks, I leave you with a few provocative questions.

What "land" has God entrusted to you? Are you working it? Are you working it wisely, and towards a definite end? Or are you pursuing empty things?

Pastor, are you plowing up the rocks, and plucking the weeds in your fellowship? That is, do you reprove, rebuke and exhort with all patience and doctrine (2 Timothy 4:2b)? Do you show false teachers the door after a first and second warning (Titus 3:10-11)? Above all, do you richly sow the Word (2 Timothy 4:2a), so that the word of Christ richly indwells your fellowship (Colossians 3:16)?

Or have you listed to the siren call of the marketers, and started "beefing up" you worship with crunchy, insubstantial vanities, "pursuing" horizontal popularity at the cost of vertical infamy?

Hard work

Christian, do you do this for your own soul? Do you test yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5), accept reproof (Proverbs 12:1), fill your heart with the Word of God (Psalm 1)? Do you do something with the Word? Or are you a well-known expert at fluffy nothings?

Parents, do you do this for your children, finding creative ways to saturate their home life with God's self-revelation out of full-out love for Him (Deuteronomy 6:5ff.)? Or is "peace and quiet," and "happy" kids, your sole aim?

These are just the lightest touch of implications we can draw on this subject. Plus, we can gain yet more wisdom and perspective on this by marrying Solomon's wisdom, as expressed both here and in another of his writings, with the Christ-centered perspective of Paul:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)
This is an approach to life that sees it not as a mere rehearsal, but as a passing and pivotal arena. As far as we know, we shall never again have the opportunity to serve God on the battlefield. This world is not our home. We must work our fields with an eye to Christ, His judgment seat, and His kingdom.


Let's work the land God gave us.

See you at my blog, then back here on October 31, Lord willing.

Dan Phillips's signature

28 September 2008

As Month's End Approaches . . .

by Phil Johnson

ince our longest-ever hiatus is only a couple of days away and Dan and Frank no doubt have major posts yet to come, I'm going to try to clean out my bottom drawer without getting in the way. To start with, here are a few stray PoMotivators®:

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A Question That Must be Pressed Home

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 sermon "A Home Question and a Right Answer," preached Sunday evening, February 5th, 1882 at the Met Tab in London. Spurgeon was dealing with Jesus' challenge to the disciples in John 6:67: "Do you also want to go away?"

    say deliberately that if I go away from my Master I can expect nothing but the hottest wrath of God for ever. Unhappy, unhappy wretch, to have preached to such multitudes, if I deny my Lord! Condemned out of my own mouth a thousand times over! I shall be a mark for all the arrows of vengeance.

And what shall I say of my brethren behind me, the deacons and elders of this church? If they go away from Christ and forsake him after their brave professions, who shall apologise for them? Many here are marked men and women. Your experience of Christ has been long, sweet, deep, remarkable, and you have spoken of it to others with much confidence and delight. If you go away you will deserve to be hung up like Haman, on the gallows, fifty cubits high-an exhibition of direct treachery, and a monument of the awful wrath of God against such as trample on the blood of Christ. You will be sinners above all the sinners of your time.

Oh, may it never be, for if one of the twelve shall do it, it will be the greatest sin of all. It will grieve the heart of the Master, it will open the mouths of blasphemers, it will afflict the saints, it will disgrace the apostates, and bring down upon them infinite condemnation.

And yet, do you know, when others are turning aside, the question had need be asked, for apostasy is very contagious. We are called sheep, and it is of the nature of sheep that if one goes right the next will follow; but if they meet with a gap in the hedge and one leaps through it they will all follow the same road. When backsliding and apostasy become fashionable you may ask even the twelve, "Will ye also go away?"

As I have seen, in my short experience, minister after minister turning aside to novelties of doctrine, and especially into the deep pit of modern thought, into which the abhorred of the Lord do fall, I have thought of one and of another, "Will ye also go away?" As men that I have spoken with, and prayed with, and trusted in, have one by one apostatized from the faith of God’s elect, I have been staggered and astounded; surely this fashionable sin has a fascinating influence over many minds, and would delude, if it were possible, the very elect.

How few stand to the landmarks in this age of wandering! How few are found approved in the day of trial! The question is one that must of necessity be pressed home, "Will ye also go away?"
C. H. Spurgeon

27 September 2008

A Further Word on the Touchstone Saga

Some Clarifications and Follow-ups
Plus Some Observations about Apostasy
by Phil Johnson

First, an urgent prayer request: A member of the TeamPyro community, Pastor Terry Stauffer,

lost his precious 14-year-old daughter in a senseless murder Saturday afternoon. Please keep him and his wife Juanita in your prayers. (Here's an article from the Calgary Herald with some details.)


riday I spent the morning at the dentist (again!) and the afternoon visiting a friend whose wife is in the hospital with a very serious and painful form of cancer. I was surprised to see the amount of activity in the combox under Wednesday's post, but I read it with interest (and sadness).

I want to comment on several things related to that post, starting with some of the misunderstandings reflected in the early part of the comment-thread:

  1. I didn't accuse Touchstone of lying because he claimed that he was "a deeply committed, 'sold out' believer for decades." His lie is the claim that as recently as a year ago he was "a devout Christian husband . . . committed to [his] belief in God and [his] faith in Jesus as [his] redeemer and savior." The record of his own words demonstrates that he was promoting skepticism in numerous Christian forums on the Internet nearly two years ago.
  2. In point of fact, I don't think Touchstone is lying when he says he used to be a Christian. Though it's patently obvious that he is playing fast and loose with the timeline, I do not doubt that he once thought he was a committed Christian.
  3. Touchstone wrote:

    If you have the courage of your convictions in saying what you do here, I encourage you hear from my friends and family, who remain devout Christians, about my commitment, and more importantly the "fruit" I was known by as a Christian. I'm happy to make it convenient for you to hear from them if you are willing to report back here what testimony you receive from them.

    I replied: "I would be more than happy—delighted, actually—to speak to your former pastor, friends, or whoever you think might set me straight about your spiritual journey over the past two years. In fact, I'd be happy to speak to you personally in a venue where you don't get to hide behind a veil of anonymity. My contact info is easily attainable. Give me a call." So far, neither Touchstone nor anyone he encouraged me to "hear from" has contacted me.

  4. A few other people who say they know Touchstone have contacted me, though. All of them say there was indeed a time—several years ago—when he seemed to be a devout Christian. All of them also say he grew deeply skeptical and became openly critical of biblical truth long before the point where he claims he was still "a devout Christian." In other words, none of them vouched for the veracity of his "testimony."
  5. Those who claimed to know Touchstone have differing ways of interpreting his apostasy. Some believe he is totally and permanently hardened against the truth; others believe he was so committed as a Christian that he could not possibly have been self-deceived or deceiving, and thus he will most likely return to the fold eventually. (Neither Scripture nor experience warrants such optimism, sadly.)
  6. Those who said they know Touchstone all gave essentially the same description of his life as a Christian. There's no reason to doubt any of the facts that were related to me. No one who knew him before his deconversion told me they suspected that he would ever turn from the faith. As far as they could see, he seemed a sincere, committed Christian and an honorable man. I'm convinced that if I had known him at the time I would have made the same assumption.
  7. I'm not going to describe details about Touchstone's personal background that were related to me, even though I have no reason to doubt their veracity. I will say this, however: If the facts as related to me are accurate, his faith seemed to begin to unravel in the wake of a series of profound personal tragedies, reminiscent of Job's experience. It's hard not to have sympathy for his plight when you hear the trouble that befell him.
  8. That, of course, doesn't alter the fact that his "testimony" completely and deliberately misrepresents his true state of mind over the past couple of years. And this seems an especially perfidious style of dissembling, when we remember that it comes from someone who often waved aside criticisms of Mormonism, evolution, postmodernism, or other theological and epistemological aberrations by suggesting that the arguments Christian apologists have used are marred by discrepancies that hinge on the literal meaning of a word, etc. This is someone who handles biblical truth-claims like a little boy tearing the wings off butterflies. When you're willing to treat virtually every difficulty in Scripture as a "contradiction," you don't get to play fast and loose with the facts when you are telling how you became an atheist.
  9. Touchstone thus illustrates an easily discernible pattern: Most of the "deconverted" care less and less about truth as time goes by.
Now let me make a couple of comments about the latter half of that thread:
  1. The gentleman who posted as "Former_Fundy" is indeed known to me personally. I had a face-to-face meeting with him once in my office around 1995, and I corresponded with him for about a year from 1995-96. He had raised some specific points about fundamentalist separatism that he wanted to discuss, so he started a small forum by e-mail, and I participated from time to time in the discussion. I went to Africa for several weeks in the summer of 1996, and when I returned, the e-mail forum had disbanded and "Former_fundy's" e-mail address was no longer working. After that, I lost track of him and have often wondered what became of him. It made me profoundly sorry to read his story.
  2. In 1995, he gave every sign of being a devoted Christian and a sound and solid believer. He was a very kind and cordial person, who at the time seemed to be struggling to break free of a more or less extreme variety of Bapto-fundamentalism. He was a highly respected teacher, who was held in high esteem by both his students and fellow ministers. To be clear, I didn't know him really well, but my impressions of him were entirely positive.
  3. So he is who he said he is. The only part of his story that doesn't ring true is his current participation with a group of the most obnoxious propagandists for skepticism on the Internet. If "Former_Fundy" is, as he claims, an "agnostic" rather than a full-on atheist, his newfound zeal for promoting unbelief alongside the likes of John W. Loftus and crew is a little hard to understand. I gather there is more to "Former_fundy's" story than he has acknowledged, but I'm not going to speculate further about that. Let's just say that the revelation that he has abandoned the faith leaves me profoundly sad.


Some Observations about Apostasy

've had perhaps four or five friends over the years who seemed to be truly devout believers but abandoned the Lord unexpectedly. Nice guys, all of them—intelligent, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and (in one or two cases) active in full time ministry. So we're not talking about people who briefly made a questionable profession of faith while trying to keep one foot in the world. These were people who seemed completely devoted, exemplary disciples—just like Judas seemed to be right up until the point where he betrayed Christ. Let's call them Type-J Apostates. There are several other key similarities and differences from case to case:

  1. In each case, news of their apostasy came to me as a profound shock and deep disappointment. It wasn't preceded by any plea for help or probing questions. After the fact, every one of them described their struggle as a lengthy emotional and psychological battle with nagging doubts in which they desperately sought answers from every conceivable source. But in reality, I've never had an opportunity to discuss their doubts or questions with any one of them until after they are settled in their unbelief.
  2. The actual pattern seems to be that the person will seem to disappear from circles of Christian fellowship for an extended time. If they actually do express their doubts to anyone, it's usually under a false identity on the Internet. Under the cloak of anonymity, they will begin to gravitate toward skeptical forums. And if they do voice their doubts in "Christian" forums, rather than going where they might get help from mature believers, they tend to favor mixed forums featuring totally unmoderated discussion dominated by lay people, novices, and cranks. Moreover, if they voice their doubts in such a context, it will usually be in an argumentative way, and not as someone genuinely seeking answers.
  3. Then after a year or three, the person resurfaces as an agnostic, and after "coming out," becomes increasingly aggressive and militant in spreading the gospel of skepticism. They rarely seem able truly to put their faith behind them, but become more obsessed with Christianity as unbelievers than they were as "believers." I call it the Loftus Phenomenon.
  4. Half the time (or more), it has later come to light that the person's original "doubts" were related to a moral struggle. (In three of the five instances I have specifically in mind, one was addicted to pornography, another was having an extramarital affair, and the third had decided to openly indulge a homosexual bent he had struggled with secretly for years.)
  5. A disproportionate number of apostates seem to come from the kind of über-rigid fundamentalist backgrounds where what you do seems to be given ultimacy over what you believe. That kind of stress on externals naturally cultivates Pharisaism rather than authentic faith, so we shouldn't be surprised at the high percentage of apostates such a system produces.
  6. The New Testament prominently features several very sobering warnings about the dangers of spurious faith. Jesus Himself said that many will come to His judgment seat and be completely surprised to hear Him say, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matthew 7:23). This is also a huge theme in the epistles. It's the central theme of Hebrews. In fact, every major New Testament epistle (and some of the minor ones) at least touches on the dangers of false and half-hearted faith.
  7. Jesus' words in Matthew 7:21-23 suggest that a large number of people whose faith is spurious are self-deceived. They blithely assume their faith is real and sufficient. By all external measurements, they seem genuine enough. (Which is why the other disciples trusted Judas enough to make him their treasurer, and all the others suspected themselves rather than accusing Judas when Jesus said one of them was about to betray Him—Matthew 26:21-22). So there's no reason to think that all (or even most) of the "former" believers who now promote skepticism on the Web are consciously lying when they say they were once devoted believers. (As I have said repeatedly, that wasn't the argument I was making about the discrepancies in Touchstone's story, either.)
  8. Combine the potential for self-deception (Jeremiah 17:9) with the reality that Scripture expressly warns us that many people will be turned away at the judgment who claim to know Christ, and it is a good reason for each of us to examine himself, to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). In fact, every time we come to the Lord's table, we are supposed to take the opportunity to do that (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). We need to take that duty seriously.
  9. If you find yourself resentful and doubting in the wake of personal tragedy, don't cultivate that kind of emotionally-driven doubt. (And if you do, don't salve your mind by assuring yourself that your doubts are "rational.") I do understand and sympathize with the depth of grief suffered by someone who is suffering personal loss such as the death of one's children or the loss of one's health, or whatever. Job lost everything at once, and his response is the model of true faith: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). That didn't keep him from saying (later in that very same verse), "Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him." But if the opening phrase of that verse doesn't describe the quality of your belief in God, your "faith" probably will not survive the inevitable sorrows and hardships of life in this sin-cursed world.
  10. In the combox under that earlier post, the question was raised about whether apostasy is the unpardonable sin. I want to be clear: I don't think apostasy per se is automatically unpardonable. But I do think there are certain flavors of apostasy from which no one ever recovers. I also think it's clear from the context of Matthew 12 that the sin Jesus described as "unforgivable" was unforgivable not because of any limit on the mercy and grace of God but because of the deliberate nature of the sin. Hebrews 6 and 10 likewise speak of the impossibility of being renewed to repentance after deliberately turning away from Christ with full knowledge and conviction of the truth of His claims. There is no litmus test that I know of to verify infallibly whether it is possible " to renew [this or that person] again to repentance." But in my experience, the longer they persist in unbelief and unrepentance, the more agressive they become as campaigners for skepticism, the more hatred they have for Christ, the more impervious they become to biblical and rational answers to their "questions," and the more like taunts those "questions" begin to sound. I can't recall ever hearing about one of these "de-conversions" being reversed. The hardened skeptic will say a statistic like that is proof that skeptics are truly enlightened. Scripture points to it as proof of how dangerous skepticism is.
I preached on these topics three times over the past year, before any of this even came up on the blog. The third of three messages in that series is most germane to this discussion and can be downloaded free right here. Or you can get the whole series, free of charge and with no strings attached, here. If you are someone wondering how shaky your faith is, I encourage you to acquire those messages and listen.

Phil's signature

25 September 2008

A couple of things

by Phil Johnson

his evening Darlene and I went to the Hollywood premiere of Kirk Cameron's movie:

We gave it two thumbs up.

The film was made by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA—the same church that made "Facing the Giants." I'm sure a lot of secular reviewers will complain that "Fireproof" is too preachy, because the gospel is at the heart of the story, and it's not slipped in there subtly or couched in euphemisms. It's very direct.

That's what I liked best about it. Also, (while I'm no movie critic) I thought Kirk Cameron's performance was stellar. I was amazed at the range of emotions he achieved, and how he was able to take the audience (several times) from the rawest kind of anger to instant comic relief—and do it believably.

The movie is story-driven (with a couple of well-executed action scenes) and the writing is superior. Lots of little things in the script impressed me, but particularly the way the dialogue transitioned into the gospel. I won't spoil the plot for anyone, but pay attention to what's going on at that point in the movie, and I think you'll agree that it is a very well-conceived segue and a powerful moment.

It's pretty amazing that a movie such as this appears at a point in our culture's history when religion (especially biblical Christianity) is increasingly being pushed out of the public square. Even most Christians today are convinced that if we want to be heard, we need to dilute and sweeten the gospel and deliver it with the utmost subtlety. "Fireproof" breaks all those rules, and does it with style.

It's a great story, well-told. If you are a guy, take your wife. She'll love it. Big time.

That's all I'm going to say about it, except that I was really amazed by Kirk Cameron's ability (especially early in the movie) to be unlikable. He's a gifted actor and a great guy. In case you haven't seen his Today Show interview from yesterday, I linked it in the sidebar. Check it out.

Photo credit: Sharon Devol
Photo Credit: Sharon Devol

On another note, we're about to take our longest blog hiatus ever. We need a break. We've shut down for a week or two a couple of times in the past. This time we're going dark for a full month.

I recently had a complicated tooth extraction that requires some follow-up work. (I've already made five visits to the dentist in three weeks' time, with another one scheduled first thing tomorrow, and more to come next week.) I've canceled all my October travel (including a conference in Italy) to make sure I have adequate time to recover some time and energy and get everything else done.

Frank is currently transferring to a whole new city. He might have something to say about that eventually.

And Dan, who assured me he would be perfectly willing to keep the blog afloat on his own for all of October, would almost certainly burn out if we let him attempt that, especially during the run-up to a presidential election.

So we're going to close for all of October, and we will reopen at the end of the month with Dan Phillips's annual Reformation Day post.

Between now and then, Frank has a series he wants to finish; Dan has more to say about the Proverbs; and I'm going to try to make one last follow-up to one of my recent, more-or-less controversial posts (I'm not saying which one). We may be posting on top of one another between now and the end of the month, trying to get every last word in before the blog shuts down.

But be forewarned: October 1, we will close for the whole month. We're not going to have the weekly Doses of Spurgeon, and we'll close all comment threads and everything. It will be a total eclipse of the blog for a full month. If you come here, all you will see is a single .jpg image telling you we are on vacation. Even our archives will disappear for the month.

So brace yourselves, and make your final comments in the next couple of days or so. We'll come back, Lord willing, stronger than ever. But between now and then, I for one am going to be hard to goad out of hiding. In other words, if you've been holding back some really ugly insult you want to lob my way, October 2 would be a good day to post it, because my resolve not to show my face anywhere in the blogosphere for the month of October is pretty strong.

I'll see you one last time on Monday, then adios for a month.

Phil's signature

Our dreadful, accountable freedom

by Dan Phillips

If you've been an alive Christian (which should be a tautology) for more than five years, you've already had the heartbreak. If you've been a faithful pastor, you've had it many times. Goes like this:

You tell an unbeliever of Christ, giving it your faithful and loving best. Or you warn a professed believer of some dreadfully foolish or sinful path he's taking. In both cases, you tell him something from the Word of God — that Word that (we are told) is powerful: living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).

And what happens?


Nothing, or worse. He shrugs it off, she makes lame excuses. There is no sign of impact, whatever. You might as well have been throwing cotton balls at a charging elephant. Throwing, and missing, as a matter of fact.

Inwardly, you think you really messed up. Deeply inwardly, where no one can see, you think that you dare to wish that the "powerful" Word looked... well... a little more powerful. You wish that it showed a little more power. But for effect, it might as well have been a fortune cookie you were reading — not the Word of the mighty King of all kings.

So consider Jeremiah 36, one of the most strikingly vivid narratives in the Word. Yahweh directs Jeremiah to put all his prophecies into writing (v. 2). The prophet does so, and directs Baruch to read them at the Temple. They do cause a stir and a reaction — but not the appropriate response (cf. vv. 7 and 24). Nonetheless, word reaches wicked King Jehoiakim, who has the scroll fetched for a private reading.

Now, think of it: this is the very Word of God. There is no issue of transcriptional variations, there is no question of translation. These are the ipsissima verba Dei. One pictures the text crackling with Divine power, like static electricity before a lightning bolt strikes.

But does the bolt strike? How does the king respond to the words of the King?

Well, it's a cold day, with a nice little fire going in the brazier (v. 22). Fires need fuel. The king decides he's found a fit use for the Word: not food to warm his heart, but food to feed the flames. Strip by strip, as Jehudi reads, the king slices off the despised Word, and throws it to the fire (v. 23).

How could Jehoiakim do that? How could Yahweh let him do it?

Such is our frightful freedom, our dreadful liberty, that we can shrug off pleas and warnings of the Sovereign of the Universe.

And all the while, Yahweh sat apparently idle. He did nothing, and nothing happened. Not immediately.

But then, when Jehoiakim was done, Yahweh announced in effect, "Was that fun? Terrific. Now here's the bill (vv. 29-31)."

Yahweh directed Jeremiah to rewrite the prophecies — and "many similar words were added to them" (v. 32). I'll go out on a limb here and say that I don't think they were "happy words." They weren't about the king's best life, now; they were about his date with justice, soon (vv. 30-31). The evil monarch's rejection did not cause the words of God to disappear, nor did it nullify God's judgment. On the contrary, by his refusal, Jehoiakim assured that judgment.

And so it is with us, with our hearers — and with our readers. Not all slice away unwelcome revelation with a pen-knife (though some do the literal equivalent). No, they use a keyboard. They use wit, sneers, storming off, sniffing off, various forms of "never laid a glove on me."

But He who sits in the Heavens knows, He sees. It counts. What you heard, what our hearers heard — it counts.

The silence we hear is deceptive, when we do not see it through the spectacles of God's Word.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you

and lay the charge before you.
(Psalm 50:21)
Consider in closing this word of testimony from Augustine's Confessions (Book Two, Chapter 3):
Woe is me! Do I dare affirm that thou didst hold thy peace, O my God, while I wandered farther away from thee? Didst thou really then hold thy peace? Then whose words were they but thine which by my mother, thy faithful handmaid, thou didst pour into my ears? None of them, however, sank into my heart to make me do anything. She deplored and, as I remember, warned me privately with great solicitude, "not to commit fornication; but above all things never to defile another man's wife." These appeared to me but womanish counsels, which I would have blushed to obey. Yet they were from thee, and I knew it not. I thought that thou wast silent and that it was only she who spoke. Yet it was through her that thou didst not keep silence toward me; and in rejecting her counsel I was rejecting thee--I, her son, "the son of thy handmaid, thy servant."
If it is God's Word — He is speaking. He has spoken. He has spoken to you, and to me.

It counts.

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23 September 2008

Stone-Cold Liar

A real(?)-life moral tale with some poignant lessons for our post-evangelical friends.
by Phil Johnson

ongtime readers will remember a character who posted in our comment-threads for several months as "Touchstone." He's one of only half a dozen people or so who in three years' time have managed to get permanently banned from commenting here. He was banned for (among other things) repeated acts of recreational profanity. I hated banning him, because he was more interesting than the typical miscreant who invades our meta. But it seemed he wanted to get banned, because his rule violations were deliberate—and they escalated in intensity after he was warned.

I first encountered Touchstone at the Pulpit Live blog, where he showed up to take a swipe at me for suggesting that Brian McLaren "despises" certainty. Of course, Brian McLaren badmouths certainty at practically every opportunity—saying things like "Certainty is overrated," and fulminating about how irritated he gets when he hears preachers on the radio who sound more sure than he is about their biblical convictions.

Has Mclaren ever actually used those precise words: "I despise certainty?" Huh? No? Then—sez Touchstone—"I don't think an honest reviewer could say that McLaren 'despises' certainty."


Touchstone was a master of that kind of nitpicky, pointless deconstruction, highly skilled in the use of hyperbole and evasion—but the strictest of literalists when it came to parsing his critics' words. You know: a classic postmodern post-evangelical. Naturally, Touchstone himself didn't seem to think much of certainty either (except when it came to his own unshakable conviction that his personal opinion is more authoritative than the Bible).

Nevertheless, in his early interaction with me, Touchstone deliberately implied that he considered himself a Christian, writing at one point, "I tell people who ask for a starting point that I unreservedly affirm and support with *certainty* the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed. I can quote them here, but I'm sure you're familiar."

Careful scrutiny (employing Touchstone's own preferred style of deconstruction) will show that this is no profession of faith at all. He "tell[s] people who ask . . ." that he affirms the basic creeds of Christendom. But did he really embrace the truths set forth in those creeds? I never once saw him profess actual belief in any vital point of Christian doctrine. His specialties were denial and deconstruction, and his attitude toward Scripture was overtly and consistently hostile. That was evident from the start of our interaction (almost two years ago now).

The ambiguous and minimalistic way he tried to imply that he was a Christian was not the only reason to distrust him. In our earliest exchange, he demanded evidence—"at least a token footnote reference"—demonstrating that there is increasing uncertainty among professing evangelicals regarding whether absolute truth even exists.

My first-ever message to him started by giving him the documentation he had asked for, in the form of statistics from a Barna survey. He ignored that part of my comment and continued to insist the original point needed documentation. When I suggested that he had overlooked the link I gave, he said he'd seen it, but it wasn't the kind of documentation he wanted.

That basically defined his style of discourse. When anyone refuted him he moved the goalposts. He was relentless. Practically every comment he ever made was dripping with smug postmodern skepticism and infused with a tone of ridicule. But he was sometimes amusingly clever, occasionally somewhat articulate, and always tirelessly verbose. So I answered as many of his comments as time permitted. I can't recall any time that he ever conceded a point on anything, no matter how insignificant.

He generally weighed in on threads dealing with the Emerging Church, postmodernism, or the authority of Scripture. Several of the post-evangelical critics who hang out in our combox used to tag-team with him, high-fiving and echoing his dismissive remarks. I almost said "arguments," but he had just one argument: that we had misunderstood or were misrepresenting post-evangelical opinions.

Still, his actual agenda always seemed to be a little deeper than merely defending postmodernity. His own blog showed little interest in Emerging/Emergent Christianity; it was basically a rationalistic attack on the Genesis account of creation. Though he never brought that issue up here, he hammered the theme in the combox at Triablogue (and on his own blog). It was clear, if you read his comments here and there, that the presupposition underlying all his opinions was a belief that science and theology are mutually exclusive. Science is rational; theology belongs to the realm of the imagination. That, of course, is modern atheism's main tenet.

I began to wonder if he was really an apologist for atheism, posing as some kind of Christian.

Everything he ever posted was consistent with that hypothesis. Virtually all his comments on our blog found a way to promote skepticism, attack some vital Christian truth-claim, or question the plain meaning of Scripture. He sounded like one of those de-converted former pastors who spreads the gospel of atheism with more zeal than he ever had for the faith. He clearly had a close familiarity with evangelicalism. His carefully-guarded anonymity and his finesse as a writer and polemicist made me wonder if he was someone we'd all be familiar with if we knew his real name.

Here's a typical sample of one of my replies to him, from this thread:

Touchstone illustrates precisely what I've said about why a postmodern attitude toward "truth" undermines the authority and perspicuity of Scripture.

If you grant a radical redefinition of terms like true and authoritative (in effect making those concepts infinitely relative), there's ultimately no level of unbelief you couldn't label "faith"; and there's no heresy you couldn't teach while simultaneously professing to hold an orthodox opinion on whatever doctrine you're actually denying. If you can also get people to swallow the claim that your radically redefined view of Scripture and the Christian faith is nothing more than a difference in "interpretation," you can put anything on the table for discussion.

That's precisely what's happening as Emerging/Postmoderns gain influence among evangelicals.

And that's also why I wouldn't necessarily take any postmodernist's profession of confidence in the "truth" and "authority" of the Bible at face value.

Touchstone: "So Phil can contend that I'm simply a liar, I suppose."

Let's be clear: That's exactly what I contend. Whether it's deliberate on Touchstone's part or he's self-deceived, I don't pretend to know. But we are obliged to "let God be true, but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4)—and Touchstone usually sounds more cynical than serious. Do the math.

If the charge is that I have a very high view of Scripture, I plead guilty. Christ likewise had a high view of Scripture. To suggest that a high view of Scripture constitutes a kind of "idolatry" is a lie that strongly echoes the father of lies himself.

On the other hand, someone who thinks the Bible is a human work, full of errors, and subject to an infinite number of possible interpretations, doesn't really believe in the truthfulness, authority, and perspicuity of Scripture in any meaningful sense.

Redefining terms like truth and authority and then claiming you affirm those things doesn't really make your unbelief any more "orthodox"; it just makes your error more subtle.

Incidentally, anyone tempted to be sympathetic to Touchstone's complaints about my refusal to "engage" him in "dialogue" should note that there's a history to my discussions with him. Read some of our earliest interaction; note how he asks for documentation; ignores it when given; then shifts the whole ground of his complaint. That, in microcosm, is how "dialogue" with him invariably goes. You can judge for yourself whether he sincerely seems to desire a good-faith conversation or merely aspires to be an annoying gadfly. After numerous verbose and cynical comments from him, always negative and usually grounded in a position on Scripture that is contrary to the Protestant confessions, I can't resist the conclusion that it's the latter. I'm not going to waste time or dignify his skepticism by treating it as genuine faith colored by nothing more than a different hermeneutic.

And I'm not going to pretend to take him more seriously than he himself takes the Word of God.

Shortly after we had to ban Touchstone from commenting at PyroManiacs, Peter Pike made a post at Triablogue documenting some of Touchstone's blatant lies. Pike pretty well furnished proof of what I had long suspected: Touchstone was really an atheist pretending to be some sort of believer.

Touchstone made a lengthy but lame comment in the combox under Peter's post. He neither affirmed nor expressly denied Peter's main premise. But in a remarkable instance of the irony that often colored his comments, he accused the Triabloggers of attacking his integrity because they could not answer his arguments.

The next day, Steve Hays banned him from Triablogue. That was 25 August 2007, (NOTE:) more than a year ago.

If Touchstone ever replied further to Peter Pike's post, I didn't see it. He more or less seemed to disappear, and I had nearly forgotten about him—until last Friday, when I followed a link from one of his old comments back to his profile.

Turns out he's now openly promoting atheism. He has dropped any pretense of being a Christian and joined a band of atheistic e-vangelists who have twice the zeal and half the elegance of a Salvation Army tambourine band at Christmastime.

His atheistic "testimony" (posted just last month) is one long bald-faced lie. Touchstone now claims he went from being "a devout Christian" ("a deeply committed, 'sold out' believer for decades") to a full-on atheist just within the past twelve months. He insists (with a straight face) that this all happened to him quite unexpectedly and totally against his will—while he was merely trying to rebuild and fortify his faith.

Touchstone's testimony is instructive on multiple levels. He says he had become disillusioned with evangelicalism, stopped attending church for three years, then decided to become Catholic. (He insists that during his three-year hiatus from church he was still "committed to [his] belief in God and [his] faith in Jesus as [his] redeemer and savior.") But "about a year ago now" (after getting banned here and at Triablogue?) he decided to put everything on the table for reexamination. He became (in his own words) a "provisional atheist," ostensibly as a way of buttressing his faith through some sort of rational process of reinvestigation.

Now, it is patently obvious to anyone who ever read his comments here and at Triablogue that Touchstone was no "devout Christian" a year ago. In fact, he was already an inveterate skeptic almost two years ago. And you've got to assume he didn't get there from his supposed evangelical upbringing overnight. So the veracity of Touchstone's story (especially his imaginary time line) is easily debunked, merely by doing a Google search here and at Triablogue and reading the comments he was making as far back as 2006. Those comments are irrefutable proof in his own words that the story he is now telling is sheer fantasy.

Virtually everything significant about Touchstone's online persona—including his recent "coming-out"—is a charade. Remember: his deep skepticism was evident here from the start. In one way or another agnosticism and contempt for biblical authority infused virtually every comment he ever posted here. We knew he was an atheist more than a year ago.

But what's most fascinating to me is the very high level of synergy between him and the small cadre of post-evangelicals who like to hang around our combox. Many of them use the same style of argument, share some of the same epistemological presuppositions, and hold the same contempt for certainty that he had. He fit in remarkably well with a certain sector of post-conservative, post-evangelical, post-certain commenters here and elsewhere around the blogosphere. It is evidence of something I've been saying for more than a decade: the postmodern perspective on truth and certainty has a dose of atheism built right into it. At the very least the postmodern enshrinement of values like doubt, ambiguity, distrust, demurral, and uncertainty is inherently agnostic.

Furthermore, Touchstone's need to fabricate a bogus "testimony" like this vividly illustrates another principle that ought to be self-evident: those who deny the truth are themselves untruthful. People who scoff at faith are naturally untrustworthy.

Despite the fact that Touchstone's testimony is an obvious lie, some of the emotions described in his account have the ring of bona fide experience. Reading his account made me sick at heart—and profoundly, deeply sad over the inevitable impact of his worldview on his wife and family. Touchstone is a fitting cautionary emblem for people who think postmodern epistemologies are interesting playthings. He is a flesh-and-blood example of the vital truth of Proverbs 4:23: "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (See the full context of Proverbs 4:23-27, and remember that "evil" includes false ideologies.)

I rather suspect that Touchstone's account is an Oliver Stone-style blend of modified fact and sheer fantasy—a compressed and romanticized retelling of an experience that stretched across several years. If we take the general contours of his testimony at face value, it should be clear (to those who have eyes to see) that unbelief was the engine giving momentum to his "quest" from the beginning. He decided very early in the process that he would not have the Bible as his authority. Rejecting the very notion of revealed truth out of hand, he chose to make his own rationalistic judgments about what is true, in essence making his own thoughts authoritative over God's Word rather than vice versa. For all the energy he spent defending postmodernism here in our combox, it turns out he fell for the quintessential modernist lie.


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How to be a fool, in four easy steps

by Dan Phillips
"How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you turn at my reproof,

behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen,
have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded,
25 because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when terror strikes you,
27 when terror strikes you like a storm
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me,
but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently
but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
30 would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
32 For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but whoever listens to me
will dwell secure
and will be at ease,
without dread of disaster."
(Proverbs 1:22-33)
How to be a fool:
  1. Do nothing, since folly is our natural state (cf. 1:24-25, 32; 22:15a).
  2. Don't listen to your parents, to sermons, or to wise friends (cf. 9:8a; 10:8; 12:15; 13:1; 15:12; 19:20, etc.).
  3. Don't think about Biblical blog posts that bother you (cf. 5:13; 9:7-8; 13:1b; 15:12, 31-32).
  4. Do nothing, since folly is our natural state (cf. 1:24-25, 32; 22:15a).
More along this line Thursday, Lord willing.

UPDATE: thanks, Doulos, for the birthday wishes. That feline having escaped the satchel, I share with y'all that I briefly considered some kind of "what I've learned" post. But really — and maybe this is an indictment of me — I don't think I could improve much on my 25 things I've learned, from 7/07. If we were each to list out ten of our own Pyro posts we imagine are most important, that would probably be one of mine.

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22 September 2008

Not the sharpest knife in the drawer. . .

by Phil Johnson

Found in my e-mail out-box

If I had a nickel for every e-mail like this I get . . .

(First posted Tuesday, September 13, 2005)


From: Phil Johnson
To: Andrew M______
Subject: Re: Logical fallacies in "Defeating Darwinism"

Dear Andrew,

Many thanks for your message. You wrote:

> Dear Mr Phillip Johnson,
> I have read with interest your book
> called "Defeating Darwinism"

That's not my book. I'm Phillip R. Johnson. The book was written by Phillip E. Johnson, who teaches law at Berkeley. The starting point of my bio at the Web site where you found this e-mail address explains all of this in careful detail.

> Your book was not able to cast
> the slightest doubt in my mind
> that random evolution is and has
> been the primary creative force
> operating on this planet.

I do not wonder at that fact, assuming you read the book with no more care than you took in ascertaining whom you were writing to.

Too bad. It's a pretty good book and would definitely make you think--if you were given to that kind of thing. I recommend you read it again.

Phillip R. Johnson
The Spurgeon Archive

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