30 November 2008

Another word from Spurgeon for the postmoderns among us

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 "Motives for Steadfastness," a sermon preached Sunday morning May 11, 1873, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

eloved, be stedfast. . . . Do not be as some are, of doubtful mind, who know nothing, and even dare to say that nothing can be known. To such the highest wisdom is to suspect the truth of everything they once knew, and to hang in doubt as to whether there are any fundamentals at all.

I should like an answer from the Broad Church divines to one short and plain question. What truth is so certain and important as to justify a man in sacrificing his life to maintain it? Is there any doctrine for which a wise man should yield his body to be burned? According to all that I can understand of modern liberalism, religion is a mere matter of opinion, and no opinion is of sufficient importance to be worth contending for.

The martyrs might have saved themselves a world of loss and pain if they had been of this school, and the Reformers might have spared the world all this din about Popery and Protestantism. I deplore the spread of this infidel spirit, it will eat as doth a canker.

Where is the strength of a church when its faith is held in such low esteem? Where is conscience? Where is love of truth? Where soon will be common honesty? In these days with some men, in religious matters, black is white, and all things are whichever color may happen to be in your own eye, the color being nowhere but in your eye, theology being only a set of opinions, a bundle of views and persuasions. The Bible to these gentry is a nose of wax which everybody may shape just as he pleases. Beloved, beware of falling into this state of mind; for if you do so I boldly assert that you are not Christian at all, for the Spirit which dwells in believers hates falsehood, and clings firmly to the truth. Our great Lord and Master taught mankind certain great truths plainly and definitely, stamping them with his "Verily, verily;" and as to the marrow of them he did not hesitate to say, "He that believeth shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned;" a sentence very abhorrent to modern charity, but infallible nevertheless.

Jesus never gave countenance to the baseborn charity which teaches that it is no injury to a man's nature to believe a lie. Beloved, be firm, be stedfast, be positive. There are certain things which are true; find them out, grapple them to you as with hooks of steel. Buy the truth at any price and sell it at no price.

Some have one creed to-day and another creed to-morrow, variable as a lady's fashions. Indeed, we once heard a notable divine assert that he had to alter his creed every week, he was unable to tell on Monday what he would believe on Wednesday, for so much fresh light broke in upon his receptive intellect.

There are crowds of persons nowadays of that kind described by Mr. Whitfield when he said you might as well try to measure the moon for a suit of clothes as to tell what they believed. Ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. Shifting as sandbanks are their teachings and as full of danger.

The apostle says to us, "Be ye stedfast." Having learned the truth hold it, grow into it, let the roots of your soul penetrate into its center and drink up the nourishment which lies therein, but do not be for ever transplanting yourselves from soil to soil. How can a tree grow when perpetually shifted? How can a soul make progress if it is evermore changing its course? Do not sow in Beersheba and then rush off to reap in Dan.

Jesus Christ is not yea and nay; he is not to-day one thing and tomorrow another, but the "same to-day, yesterday, and for ever." True religion is not a series of guesses at truth, but "we speak what we do know, and testify what we have seen." That which your experience has proved to you, that which you have clearly seen to be the word of God, that which the Spirit beareth witness to in your consciousness, that hold you with iron grasp.

C. H. Spurgeon

27 November 2008

Giving hard thanks

by Dan Phillips

One of the questions Todd Friel was asked during The Dr. Phil Show was "How do I give thanks for bad things?"

Scripture says that one of the marks of the Spirit-filled believer is that he gives "thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20). In fact, we're flat-out commanded to "give thanks in all circumstances" — and, as if that's not enough, Paul adds, "for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We see that men of God have reached out to do just this. Famously Job, pummeled with tragedy after tragedy, responded, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). Similarly, the writer of Psalm 119 sings, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:7).

In that spirit, I'd like to invite readers today specifically to express their thanks to God for difficult chapters and events in their lives, for what I call "rough providences," in which they've come to see God's hand of blessing and/or instruction in some way.

The first of many that spring to my mind is my first senior pastorate. It was among the most difficult chapters in my life. There were many blessings and "successes," but also many bleedingly-difficult challenges, and wretched failures. Worse, I have a burning, gnawing string of bitter, bitter regrets. How bitter? Twenty-plus years later, I still have dreams where I have an opportunity to do things differently.

Yet the slow process of reflection and learning have been very instructive to me. God walloped my pride severely and unsparingly. I see (in the rear-view mirror) follies and sins in my attitude of which I was completely and wholly unaware at the time. That very fact is humbling and instructive to me today.

I could have read it all in a book; but I'd not have learned it from a book. I'm grateful to God for teaching me; I'm prayerful that I have time left, and opportunity to come, in which I can bear fruit of the repentant education it brought me.

What would you share from your own walk with the Lord, on this day of giving thanks?

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My favorite holiday (part deux)

by Phil Johnson

wo years ago, I wrote this post, explaining why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. In short, I said it is the one holiday that has not been hopelessly commercialized, secularized, and trivialized. No egg-laying bunnies, jolly elves, or quasi-omniscient, omnipresent fat men dominate this holiday's imagery. It's all about our thankfulness to God, and it's pretty hard to think of a way to reduce that to a humanistic concept.

It seems our culture's media moguls are trying, though. All the football commentators and newsmen have been carefully trained to refer to the holiday as "Turkey Day" instead of Thanksgiving Day (which is one of the reasons Johnson family tradition calls for pizza instead.)

Then last week whilst in Florida, I saw a television advert for a food-store chain that featured a long series of properly-diverse folks (ranging from lesbian "families" to biker gangs) standing around various Holiday tables giving thanks—to one another. They were all telling people in their "families" what they were grateful to one another for. That, evidently, is what a politically-correct, neatly secularized "Thanksgiving Day" is supposed to look like.

Telling our loved ones why we are grateful for them is not a bad idea, mind you—unless you see it as a substitute for thankfulness to God, which is what this day is supposed to remind us of.

Remember that today, and make the most of it.

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26 November 2008

You May Be a Hyper-Calvinist If...

by Phil Johnson

ithin the militantly Arminian sector of the Southern Baptist Convention, it seems there are still those who insist that "by the definition of Phil Johnson," James White is a hyper-Calvinist.

That charge was made earlier this month by Dr. David Allen at the "John 3:16 Conference" in Woodstock, GA. I first read about it a day later from a couple of live-bloggers who were present at that conference—Andrew Lindsey and the blogger known as johnMark. I commented on Dr. Allen's accusation immediately—first at Challies.com, then here on the blog. James White also responded to Dr. Allen both on his blog and via his webcast.

I figured that would be the end of the matter. Evidently not.

My initial response to Dr. Allen was admittedly written very quickly. (After all, it was a comment on Tim Challies' blog, not a doctoral dissertation.) Reading it more than a week later, however, it still seems clear enough, and I stand by everything I said. The gist of it was that if Dr. Allen thinks James White is a hyper-Calvinist by my definition, then he doesn't understand my definition.

Dr. Allen has now responded to his "critics." I can't tell whether he includes me in that category. I hope not, because classifying me as a "critic" makes it sound as if I'm the one on the offense. For the record, that is not the case. I would never have replied to Dr. Allen's lecture at all if he had not misused and misquoted my "Primer on Hyper-Calvinism" in a way that seemed calculated to pit me publicly against a friend.

Evidently, Dr. Allen isn't buying my explanation of my own position. He has a totally different interpretation of my notes on hyper-Calvinism, and he says he's going to "wait to see what Phil Johnson says" after I read his exegesis of my words. For those who have wondered: No, he didn't actually write me with any questions before undertaking to explain my views—or afterward, for that matter. Unless he used a pseudonym, he didn't comment on my blogpost here, either. (That would probably have been the best place to interact with me about the issue if he had been so inclined.) But I've heard nothing from him directly. If a friend had not pointed out that Dr. Allen had posted that response on another blog, I would have had no way of knowing that he is "wait[ing]" to hear from me at all. So I gather he is not exactly waiting with bated breath.

Nevertheless, Dr. Allen's "defense" demonstrates conclusively that he doesn't understand my definition of hyper-Calvinism. He relentlessly ascribes to me a position I have frequently refuted. He insists on paraphrasing my opinion in precisely the kind of ambiguous language I have emphatically repudiated. And (most frustrating of all) he utterly ignores everything I said in my earlier response to his lecture that might have helped shed light on the very things he misconstrues so badly.

For example, I made the point on November 7 that contrary to what Dr. Allen claimed in his lecture, my "Primer on hyper-Calvinism" deliberately says nothing whatsoever about God's "desires" with regard to the salvation of the reprobate. The use of such optative terminology with respect to the divine decrees is notoriously problematic, because terms like desire and wish are usually loaded with Arminian freight. So I try never to use such expressions without taking the time to explain what I mean. (Read carefully, for example, footnote 20 in "God Without Mood Swings.")

Yet Dr. Allen continues to insist that by my definition, one valid litmus test for hyper-Calvinism is a yes-or-no question about "God's universal saving will; namely, that God wills and desires to save the non-elect."

Before I point out how thoroughly wrong that idea is, let me also note that the fellow who provided blog space for Dr. Allen's "Defense" insinuates that my earlier reply to Dr. Allen's remarks was based on a false report: "Johnson apparently has only responded to what was 'live-blogged' which is virtually limited to 'James White is a hyper-Calvinist according to Phil Johnson's definition.' I have not seen anything from Phil Johnson—or James White, for that matter—that comes close to dealing with what Dr. Allen actually presented at the J316C." (The fellow elsewhere wrote a whole post blaming the livebloggers' "mistakes" for most of the controversy generated in the wake of the "John 3:16 Conference." But I've been listening to recordings of the messages today, and in my assessment, the actual conference was ten times more of a travesty than I gathered from reading the livebloggers' reports.)

In light of all that; since people are still talking about this; and since Dr. Allen is apparently waiting to hear from me, here are my further thoughts on Dr. Allen's original remarks and his more recent defense (including his blog-host's comments):

Regarding the supposed misrepresentation by livebloggers

First, let me say that I am utterly mystified by the suggestion that my earlier reply to Dr. Allen's comments was based on misinformation I got from people who blogged about the conference. My post began by citing Andrew Lindsey, who wrote: "Dr. Allen asserted that Dr. James White is a hyper-Calvinist according to Phil Johnson’s primer on hyper-Calvinism, as Dr. White says that God does not have any desire to save the non-elect." Now, if a secondhand source like that proved to be wrong, I would indeed owe Dr. Allen an apology. But the other liveblogger there was johnMark, whose account said, "James White is a hyper-Calvinist by the definition of Phil Johnson. Oct. 10 on the Dividing Line White denied God wills the salvation of all men which is against Tom Ascol."

By the mouth of two independent witnesses, we had agreeing accounts.

I realize, of course, that while two eyewitness accounts might satisfy the biblical standard of evidence for capital crimes (Deuteronomy 17:6), they don't necessarily constitute infallible proof. So after reading Dr. Allen's "Defense," I listened to his complete "John 3:16" message for myself. (He sounds almost exactly like Jeff Foxworthy; hence the title of this post.) Not only am I very impressed with the accuracy and objectivity of the livebloggers' summaries, I have to say that the excerpts Dr. Allen himself quoted from his own message are worse, not better, than the summaries I had previously read. The full recording is worse yet.

Here are his exact words regarding me and James White: "Ladies and Gentlemen, James White is a hyper-Calvinist. By the definition of Phil Johnson in his A Primer of Hyper-Calvinism, Phil Johnson [founder] of spurgeon.org, who is the right hand man of John MacArthur, Phil Johnson tells you the five things that make for hyper-Calvinism, and James White by his teaching is a hyper-Calvinist."

Notice the ambiguity of the clause after that final comma, and the double ambiguity of the prepositional phrase "by his teaching." Who is the antecedent of the pronoun there? Is Allen saying that James White's teaching makes him a hyper-Calvinist, or that my teaching declares him to be so? And is he saying Phil Johnson "tells you . . . James White is a hyper-Calvinist"? Surely not, because that would be a complete lie.

Nevertheless, I would be interested in knowing how anyone could possibly think the livebloggers portrayed Dr. Allen's remarks as something worse than they really are, because I frankly felt his actual remarks were a far worse misrepresentation of my opinion than I was led to believe merely from the blog summaries.

Regarding my definition of hyper-Calvinism

Remember: in my notes on hyper-Calvinism I purposely avoided the use of optative expressions. The "Primer" was a short article (published in 2002 in Sword and Trowel, from London's Metropolitan Tabernacle), and I simply did not have space to delve into the difficulties such language presents. Besides, optative language is inherently ambiguous and usually loaded with Arminian freight. Ultimately, the question of whether and in what sense God "desires" the repentance of the reprobate is important, but declining to use such language does not ipso facto make someone a hyper-Calvinist. More important, the use or non-use of such expressions in the totally-unqualified way Dr. Allen insists on using them is far from the pivotal issue between historic Calvinists and hypers. In fact, his notion of "God’s universal saving will" sounds indistinguishable from Arminianism. (Is he suggesting that if you're not Arminian in your understanding of God's saving purpose, then you are a hyper-Calvinist? It sure sounds like that.) Someone of his stature and position really ought to fulminate less and define and qualify terms more.

I thought my November 7 response to Dr. Allen's comments already said or implied all those things. (I know I linked to a place where I had dealt more carefully with the problem of attributing unfulfilled "desires" to God.) For him to continue paraphrasing my position in terms I have expressly, emphatically, and repeatedly rejected makes a joke of his own claim (early in his lecture) that he is determined not to misrepresent any Calvinist whom he quotes. Moreover, his insistence on restating "my" position in his own terms (which I emphatically reject) runs counter to his own professed preference for "original sources."

Dr. Allen suggests that according to me, the essence of hyper-Calvinism is a denial of "God’s universal saving will; namely, that God wills and desires to save the non-elect." But none of the expressions he employs in that assertion are mine. Nor would I ever use or endorse unqualified language like that. Nor is that a close paraphrase of anything I did say.

The only biblical expressions of God's "desire" with respect to the salvation of the reprobate is His command regarding what they should do: "he commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). He has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (Ezekiel 33:11, etc.). Those texts speak of His preceptive will—His will with regard to what they should do.

God's decretive will—His intention with regard to what He Himself will do—is normally kept secret from us until His will is accomplished, but it is this aspect of His will that He refers to when He says, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose" (Isaiah 46:10).

The distinction between the two aspects of the divine will is vital to historic Calvinism. It is dealt with thoroughly by John Piper here. (My "Primer" contains a link to that article.)

Regarding Dr. Allen's definition of hyper-Calvinism

Every word of the expression "universal saving will" is problematic, particularly when Dr. Allen's only explanation of that idea is the phrase "namely, that God wills and desires to save the non-elect."

The word universal with no qualifying terms or explanation suggests that God has no specific intention to save one sinner as opposed to another. Presumably the term suggests that God's ultimate purpose with regard to all sinners is universally the same. So the question of who is saved is decided solely by the individual wills of sinners rather than the eternal purpose of God. That, of course, is precisely what Arminianism suggests, and absent any teaching to the contrary, I wonder if that is indeed the idea that Dr. Allen intends to convey. If so, he ought to say so clearly. If not, he needs to stop using the expression, or explain it better.

The word saving suggests that God's only sovereign purpose in the preaching of the gospel is salvation, and thus either His purpose will be thwarted, or all men will be saved. Either view is deplorable doctrine.

In a context like this, the word will must be disambiguated. Dr. Allen clearly knows about the classic Calvinist distinctions. Whether he understands them is unclear, because he never bothers to explain how he is using the word will in this expression. Is this a reference to the decretive will of God (his secret, eternal purpose, which He Himself will bring to pass without fail), or His preceptive will (His will with regard to what He commands sinners to do)? In my assessment, much of Dr. Allen's critique of James White hinges on equivocation between the two senses of that word.

And what, precisely, is the purpose of Allen's insistence on putting so much stress on the idea of God's "desire to save the non-elect"—without any comment on the problem of how optative terminology like that can properly apply to a God who is immutable, impassible, and sovereign; and without noting how infrequently such expressions are used in Scripture? Is he purposely trying to portray God as eternally frustrated by unfulfilled longings? Or does he recognize that those terms are anthropopathisms suited to our humanness but imperfect in their ability to explain the affections of God?

Dr. Allen never grapples with nor mentions any of those questions about the ambiguity of his key expression. That glaring omission makes it impossible to take his critique of Calvinism very seriously.

Regarding the sincerity of God's proposal of mercy in the gospel

Dr. Allen seems to build much of his case on my use of the word sincere. I use that word in the formal, straightforward sense of "not feigned or pretended."

He raises this question about my position: "Is he or is he not saying that a 'sincere proposal' by God to all necessarily presupposes his willingness to save all, such that a denial of God's desire to save all is the same as denying the well-meant nature of the offer?" First, I don't see how "willingness" necessarily implies "desire." I'm willing to get up early tomorrow morning if circumstances make it necessary; I am even prepared to do so. But as it is a holiday, I desire to sleep in. This notion that if God's offer is "sincere" it must be the exact equivalent of what we think of humanly as a "desire" is a classic case of Dr. Allen's equivocation.

I've said repeatedly that I'm convinced God's pleas for the reprobate to repent are well-meant. Those beseechings are not (as some sterner Calvinists often suggest) feigned entreaties designed only to increase the damnation of those whom God only hates. I believe God has a genuine love for the non-elect because they are His creatures, made in His image. But it is not the same love He has for the elect.

If Dr. Allen recognized those distinctions, he might be in a position to criticize high-Calvinist opinions meaningfully. As it is, his critique sounds like the classic Arminian misrepresentation: "Everyone more calvinistic than I am is hyper."

Regarding various personal connections I have to this debate

Dr. Allen cited David Ponter as a source for some of his material. I've known Mr. Ponter since the mid 1990s, when he himself belonged to a hyper-Calvinist denomination. He has gradually moved toward the opposite end of the spectrum of Calvinist belief. Meanwhile, he has compiled an impressive collection of material (mostly quotations from early Calvinistic source material) arguing that historic mainstream Calvinism was of a milder flavor than the style of Calvinism that currently dominates most Internet discussions. David's archives contain some excellent stuff, but it is definitely a very one-sided perspective. It is sometimes cited (and David is named) by Arminians and self-styled four-pointers who don't represent low Calvinism very well. David has lately tried very hard to keep his name out of debates like this. But since Dr. Allen cited him by name, I thought I would acknowledge his work and note that I don't necessarily fault him for every rhetorical and polemical faux pas made by people who gobble up his resources.

Curt Daniel, whose works are often cited favorably by "four-point Calvinists" and other types of Arminians, is likewise a friend of mine. He is perhaps the world's foremost authority on hyper-Calvinism, and no one who has not read Dr. Daniel's massive dissertation on John Gill should pretend to be well-informed on the history of hyper-Calvinism. Dr. Daniel might also hold to a milder sort of Calvinism than I do, but he is not the type who automatically labels every Calvinist who disagrees with him "hyper."

Regarding James White, he has been my friend longest of these three—dating back at least to the early 1990s. We did a conference together last week and did not get an opportunity to discuss Dr. Allen's lecture. If I had known the issue was going to resurface this week, I would have tried hard to make time for that discussion.

There may be points on which James White and I would differ on how to explain and defend Calvinism. He seems to be a higher sort of Calvinist than I am. That doesn't make him "hyper."

My own convictions are thoroughly and unapologetically Calvinistic—but more in the vein of Iain Murray than Arthur Pink. If you've read Murray's biography of Pink, you will know what I mean.

I often find myself standing in the middle, urging low Calvinists not to be so quick to label their high brethren "hyper," and likewise urging high Calvinists not to be so quick to dismiss their low brethren as crypto-Arminians. From my position, it is absolutely clear that there are many different hues of Calvinism; we are not a monolithic community.

Critics on all sides would do well to try harder to understand that. I rather suspect Dr. Allen would be somewhat perturbed if his Calvinist critics incessantly argued that his view of a god with eternally unfulfilled longings is really nothing more than the doctrine of Open Theism.

That, in my opinion, would be the exact equivalent of Dr. Allen's claim that high Calvinism's reluctance to make blithe use of optative language to describe God's demeanor toward the reprobate is nothing but the distilled essence of hyper-Calvinism.

I think he better think it out again.

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25 November 2008

Sanctification challenge: find me the verse

by Dan Phillips

As a sort of capper to Thinking like a slave, and in my never-ending struggle (A) to make the simple and pointed still more simple and more pointed, and thus (B) better to serve those who serve the Body as pastors:
  • Find me the verse that says it's OK with God if Christians flat-out refuse to do as He tells them (e.g. Matthew 21:28-32 and Romans 6 would not make good examples).
  • Find me the verse where the Lord or His apostles address a command to the Holy Spirit, instead of to Christians (e.g. Romans 8:13; 12:9-21 would not make good examples).
  • Find me the verse that says that disobedience to God's Word is a sign of healthy faith and strong grace (e.g. 1 Peter 1:13-21 would not make good examples).
  • Find me the verse that says that God desires that we put off obedience born of faith until we feel like it (e.g. James 4:17 and 1 Peter 4:3 would not make good examples).
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24 November 2008

What's New with the New Age?

Why Christians need to remain on guard
against the threat of New Age spirituality

Part 1 of a 4-part series
by Phil Johnson

See also:

This series was originally published as a single article in the Winter 2006 issue of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.

ew Age spirituality is fast-food religion perfectly suited for a postmodern culture like ours. It offers a quick-and-easy feeling of satisfaction with almost no real nourishment for the soul, while it contains additives and artificial ingredients that are actually harmful to true spiritual health. But you can still have it your way. There are no dogmas, few demands, no sense of self-denial, and little need for faith. This is a kind of anti-religion: a spiritually-oriented worldview for people with an intuitive sense of the sacred, but who are wary of organized religion.

As a matter of fact, the so-called New Age movement is nothing like any organized religion. It has no headquarters, no central hierarchy, no holy book, no recognized clergy, no common set of doctrines, and no confessional standards. It is not, technically, a religious cult or even a formal "movement" (which implies structure and membership and mission).

And yet the most outstanding features of the New Age phenomenon seem very much like distinctives that properly belong to a cult or a movement. "New Age" is, after all, mainly an approach to spirituality—a way of viewing and interacting with the spiritual realm. It has spawned an enormous publishing and retail industry, major conventions, countless seminars and programs, and a very large community of people who identify with one another and share common ideas and concerns. In fact, those publishers and those conferences serve as the backbone for a vast but informal network of many small sects, cottage industries, and social groups all populated by individuals who practice various forms of spiritual self-exploration and who are absolutely convinced that we are living at the dawn of a New Age.

In that sense, it is fitting to speak of the New Age phenomenon as a "movement"—and a religious movement at that. The clergy of the New Age are usually called practitioners rather than priests or pastors. Their influence varies as does the content of their teaching, because one of the distinctives of New Age spirituality is that it recognizes no authority higher than one's own personal experience. This is indeed a kind of religion, but it is a classic expression of the postmodern preference for religion as experience, not dogma.

Of course, the New Age phenomenon is much more than a religion. It is also a social and cultural current that has endured for two or three decades and has had profound effects on western lifestyles. The movement has engendered such diverse trends as holistic medicine, natural diets, and a unique style of instrumental and electronic music. The widespread fascination with crop circles, UFOs, earth's mysteries, crystals, alchemy, and ancient forms of superstition; the popularity of astrology, pseudo-science, and environmentalism; and the burgeoning interest in Native American culture are all common side effects of New Age spirituality. These things and others like them have become badges of New Age identity.

Because of the diversity of belief among New Age enthusiasts and the amorphous nature of the New Age network, a formal, succinct definition of the New Age movement is well-nigh impossible. But it will nevertheless be helpful to begin with a simple thumbnail description of the phenomenon we are concerned with. Then in a series of follow-up posts, we'll look more closely at some of the major elements of this simple description in order to consider why the New Age movement ought to be a matter of concern for biblical Christians.

The New Age movement is a diverse and eclectic approach to spirituality that stresses individual self-exploration through a variety of beliefs and practices borrowed from a wide array of extrabiblical sources and non-Christian belief systems, ranging from astrology to eastern mysticism to science fiction, and beyond.

Notice the key characteristics: New Age spirituality is wildly eclectic and therefore radically syncretistic; it is individualistic and therefore ultimately man-centered; and it is almost purely subjective and therefore devoid of any sense of absolute authority. As such, it is inherently hostile to virtually every distinctive element of a biblical worldview.

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22 November 2008

The Intolerance of True Religion

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 Way of Salvation," a sermon preached Sunday morning, August 15, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

"Neither is there salvation in any other."

id you ever notice the intolerance of God's religion? In olden times the heathen, who had different gods, all of them respected the gods of their neighbors.

For instance, the king of Egypt would confess that the gods of Nineveh were true and real gods, and the prince of Babylon would acknowledge that the gods of the Philistines were true and real gods: but Jehovah, the God of Israel, put this as one of his first commandments, "Thou shalt have none other gods besides me;" and he would not allow them to pay the slightest possible respect to the gods of any other nation: "Thou shalt hew them in pieces, thou shalt break down their temples, and cut down their groves."

All other nations were tolerant the one to the other, but the Jew could not be so. One part of his religion was, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one God;" and as the consequence of his belief that there was but one God, and that that one God was Jehovah, he felt it his bounden duty to call all pretended gods by nicknames, to spit upon them, to treat them with contumely and contempt.

Now the Christian religion, you observe, is just as intolerant as this. If you apply to a Brahmin to know the way of salvation, he will very likely tell you at once, that all persons who follow out their sincere religious convictions will undoubtedly be saved. "There," says he, "are the Mohammedans; if they obey Mohammed, and sincerely believe what he has taught without doubt, Alla will glorify them at last." And the Brahmin turns round upon the Christian missionary, and says, "What is the use of your bringing your Christianity here to disturb us? I tell you our religion is quite capable of carrying us to heaven, if we are faithful to it."

Now just hear the text: how intolerant is the Christian religion! "Neither is there salvation in any other." The Brahmin may admit, that there is salvation in fifty religions besides his own; but we admit no such thing. There is no true salvation out of Jesus Christ.

The gods of the heathens may approach us with their mock charity, and tell us that every man may follow out his own conscientious conviction and be saved.

We reply—No such thing: there is no salvation in any other; "for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

Now, what do you suppose is the reason of this intolerance—if I may use the word again? I believe it is just because there is the truth both with the Jew and with the Christian. A thousand errors may live in peace with one another, but truth is the hammer that breaks them all in pieces. A hundred lying religions may sleep peaceably in one bed, but wherever the Christian religion goes as the truth, it is like a fire-brand, and it abideth nothing that is not more substantial than the wood, the hay, and the stubble of carnal error.

All the gods of the heathen, and all other religions are born of hell, and therefore, being children of the same father, it would seem amiss that they should fall out, and chide, and fight; but the religion of Christ is a thing of God's—its pedigree is from on high, and, therefore, when once it is thrust into the midst of an ungodly and gainsaying generation, it hath neither peace, nor parley, nor treaty with them, for it is truth, and cannot afford to be yoked with error: it stands upon its own rights, and gives to error its due, declaring that it hath no salvation, but that in the truth, and in the truth alone, is salvation to be found.

Again, it is because we have here the sanction of God. It would be improper in any man who had invented a creed of his own, to state that all others must be damned who do not believe it; that would be an overweening censoriousness and bigotry, at which we might afford to smile; but since this religion of Christ is revealed from heaven itself, God, who is the author of all truth, hath a right to append to this truth the dreadful condition, that who so rejecteth it shall perish without mercy; and in proclaiming that, apart from Christ, no man can be saved. We are not really intolerant, for we are but echoing the words of him that speaketh from heaven, and who declares, that cursed is the man who rejects this religion of Christ, seeing that there is no salvation out of him. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

Now I hear one or two persons saying, "Do you imagine then, sir, that none are saved apart from Christ?"

I reply, I don't imagine it, but I have it here in my text plainly taught.

"Neither is there salvation in any other." A man may seek after it and labor after it in his own way, but there he cannot possibly find it, "for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
C. H. Spurgeon

"Mamma Don't Let your Babies Grow Up to Be Pastors" — discuss

by Dan Phillips

Some really good folks are really loving this:

I'm having a set of differing reactions.

A lot of you are pastors and pastors' wives.

What's your response, and why?

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21 November 2008

This Is Where I Am Today (part 972)

by Phil Johnson

(click image for more info)

This Is Where I Was Yesterday

hour 1 | hour 2

. . . and I'll see you at Grace Church Sunday morning.

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20 November 2008

Thinking like a slave

by Dan Phillips

Offensive title, eh? What do you figure this post will be about? About racism? About how we shouldn't still see ourselves as slaves of sin, but as free men? About how slaves get into a slave-mindset that's hard to break, like men who've been in prison for decades?

Actually, it's about going to church — and many other things.

In Why you need to be in a church this Sunday, I laid out an inductive, cumulative case for why anyone and everyone who names Jesus as his Lord must involve himself, in person, in a "local assembly of believers where pastors lead, the Word is preached, the ordinances are observed, and discipline is carried out."

Much of the response was positive, personal, heartfelt. Then there were scattered demurrals. Two had in common that they refused to interact with the Biblical content of the post — which is to say, with just about all of the post. Both hate Biblical teaching about authority and submission. As I showed, that means they hate the institution of God, and reject Him (Romans 13:1-7). Thus there really isn't much to discuss, beyond pleading with them either to repent or toss off the false name of "Christian."

I might summarize the other "But's" and critiques in that meta and elsewhere — many of which were doubtless well-meant — thus:
  • But I've had bad church-experiences (accompanied by many and varied details and stories)!
  • But it's hard to find a good church!
  • But it's hard for me to be with people!
  • But churches sometimes aren't friendly and welcoming!
  • But I've had really, really bad church-experiences (accompanied by many and varied details and stories)!
  • But I've known bad and abusive and lame and inept and unfit pastors!
  • But that's just barking out commands and duty, not explaining how it's really good for me!
  • But God just hasn't led me to a church; just to the internet!
  • But the churches around here aren't all that good!
Now, I'll be candid with you, shall I? At first scan, that looks like a fairly diverse list of eight or nine different reasons, doesn't it? And you're thinking, "Yikes, if he responds to every one, this is going to be a long, long post."

But no. I can roll them all together, and deal with them all in one. Every one of these excuses, though presented in great deal and with great conviction, shares the very same fatal flaw.
Every one of them views
the Christian life
as a process of

That is, among the demurrals, there wasn't one serious and honest attempt to counter the Biblical case. It was tacitly accepted by most that the Bible indeed does paint us into that corner: God says that He expects us to be involved, in-person, in a local assembly. God said it, yes... but!

Now this sort of thinking is perfectly appropriate, if God and we are peers.

But it is wholly inappropriate if God is our Lord, and we are His slaves.

What is the tenor of our relationship, as depicted in Scripture?

"If you love Me" — what? "If you love Me, you will give Me a shot at convincing you that My way is in your best interests?" Is that how you read? Or is it not, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15)?

"This is love for God that we" — what? Is it "that we wait until we feel led, and find it easy and stress-free and effortless, to give the nod to His suggestions"? Or is it not "that we keep His commandments" (1 John 5:3)?

Is the person called to Christ as a freeman Christ's peer, His debating opponent? Or is he not Christ's slave (1 Corinthians 7:22).

Are we to keep the parts of our body as our own, to use at our convenience and according to our preferences? Or are not rather we to present them all as "slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification" (Romans 6:19) — which would include getting them to church, whether it was convenient and easy or not?

And if it be countered that we are not merely slaves, but also sons, I'd have more questions. Is a son his father's peer? Or does a son not owe his father honor and obedience (Deuteronomy 21:18; Malachi 1:6; Colossians 3:20)? If so with our earthly fathers, is it not much more the case with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:9)?

Look, this is a crucial point, whether we're talking about church attendance, or doctrine, or marriage, or any other area of Christian living. When we respond to Divine commandments with a "But" or a series of excuses, we echo the Serpent, and treat God as our peer — or our inferior.

This is not thinking like a slave. And make no mistake: if we are not slaves of God, then we are slaves of sin (Romans 6:15-23). But we are slaves!

So here's where the rubber meets the road: what do you do when faced with a clear commandment, with clear teaching of Scripture, that crosses your will? Today, it just happens to be the fact that you need to be involved in church, learning and growing, serving and submitting and accountable.

Tomorrow it will be how you treat your spouse, or whether you keep your pants/dress on, or whether you keep your hand out of that guy's pocket, or whether you keep your fingers from around his throat, or whether you deny or fudge that unfashionable doctrine.

You see? It's all one. Jesus is Lord, or we are. If we are, He isn't; if He is, we aren't.

You and I need to think like a slave; and not only a slave, but a crucified slave, who has died to his old master, and come to life for another.

Then you and I take our truckload of excuses and rationales and dodges and rationalizations, we say "Yep, I'm going to need help," we take them and ourselves to the Cross, we count ourselves dead to them, we plead for the enabling grace of God...
...and we obey.

Here's the practical key, then: move the "but."
Until now, it has been: "God says to obey, but I have these excuses/challenges/difficulties." And so you don't start. The issue is still whether to obey. This thinking ill-befits a slave, much less a son.

From now on, it must be "I have these excuses/challenges/difficulties, but God says to obey." And then you start. Now, the issue is not whether, but how. This is thinking like a slave, and thinking like a son.

Move that "but."

Then move yours.

So whoever knows the right thing to do
and fails to do it,
for him it is sin
(James 4:17)

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19 November 2008

Is that the start, or the end?

by Frank Turk

Briefly today as I am travelling for work and am frankly worn out:

So God loves the church, and He's coming with the fuller's soap to make sure she's clean and pure. Now, how does that line up with my classic rephrase, "Be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people," replete with some pointed barb about your personal foibles intended for your own good?

Isn't the sort-of logical conclusion of my points here that church on Sunday is the end unto itself, and good for you for being there and doing that? You know: if you listen to Michael Horton talk about it, you might think that Sunday is the end-all of the Christian life.

Fortunately for me, I'm not saying that or implying that at all. In fact, I'd say this: the assembly on Sunday is not the end of Christian life but in fact the beginning of Christian life.

Listen: I "get it" that not every pastor is a Tad Thompson, a Lance Quinn, or even a Timmy Brister -- let alone a MacArthur, Piper, Dever, or what-have-you. But let me say this plainly: you're no Golden Apple yourself. I'm no bronze ikon of the Christian faith. But that's actually the problem, and the solution is not hiding in your personal fortress of solitude hoping that the golden age of the church will somehow "return".

The only "return" we are looking forward to is the return of Christ -- and we are actually looking for it: we want it, we believe it will be universe-changing. But until then, we are gifted with a Gospel which is good news, a savior who is like us in every way and who knows what we need, and He has given us the church. I'm tempted to say "such as it is", but the fact is that it is the same as it ever was, just like Corinth, just like Anitoch, just like Thessalonica (that's the city which rejected Paul, unlike the Bereans), just like Ephesus. So "such as it is" is actually "such as God has given it to us".

And if you think of the church as "they", let me say plainly that this doesn't bode well for you. The church ought to be a "we" if you are a believer.

And they can't possibly be worse if you joined with them. In fact, it might improve both of you -- especially if you personally keep the Gospel in mind.

Prolly won't get back to the comments until after dinner tonight. Carry on.

18 November 2008

Book review — Reasons We Believe, by Nathan Busenitz

by Dan Phillips
Reasons We Believe, by Nathan Busenitz (Crossway: 2008; 224 pages)
I kind of hate Nate Busenitz. (You know... in a Christian way.)

He's, like, twelve years old (if that), and has already published an apologetics tool that (A) is really worthwhile; (B) will deservedly get much use; and (C) is recommended by John Frame.


But I'll try to set my personal issues aside and introduce you to Nate's opus, because I think you'll find it both informative and useful. It is an fine book, and I recommend it highly.

What Nate does here is something fresh and very needed. He takes the lofty theories of presuppositional apologetics, and shows us how to make use of Christian evidences. Specifically, Busenitz focuses on the Bible's own way of arguing for the truth of revelation, and then he points to real-world demonstrations of those truths.

I've long lamented a lack of such materials, which Nate has now supplied. Historically, presupp's have been wonderful in presenting negative cases, and not-so-much in presenting the positive. For instance, Douglas Wilson absolutely devastated Christopher Hitchens in a series run by CT. The negative case was nothing short of withering.

But as a positive case? Wilson actually says "I noted from your book that you are a baptized Christian [as a baby], so I want to conclude by calling and inviting you back to the terms of that baptism" — "terms" to which Hitchens had never himself agreed, and in which he was an unwilling participant. Wilson also passingly alludes to ankles, sneezes, and baptizing babies as evidence. I don't think Hitchens was left "without excuse"; I know he wasn't persuaded.

And so it has been. Presupp's do awesome destructive work, but not so much along the lines of positive evidence. That is left to the various stripes of evidentialists, who however allow for mythical "brute facts" and objectivity, and build a probabilistic case that does not always challenge the unbeliever's autonomy, nor leave him "without excuse."

That's where Nate steps in with Reasons We Believe. He actually does evidence, within a presuppositionalistic framework.

What I tried to do briefly and inadequately here (in supplying that lack), Nate does much better and at greater length. He takes "50 lines of evidence that confirm the Christian faith" (the book's subtitle), and traces them out. With documentation — in footnotes! What is unique about the fifty lines of evidence is that they are taken to reflect the Bible's own way of presenting the truth of God, its own line of argument, rather than one derived from some alien philosophy and hostile premise.

Then, from that Biblical starting-point, Busenitz shows how these truths evidence themselves in facts, logic, history. He does not try to adopt a fictitious "brute-fact" premise and try to argue from nowhere to the Bible; he begins with the Bible and shows how reality reflects its truth-claims.

Nate divides the book into six sections: an argument that Christian faith is reasonable and not blind; why we believe in God; why we believe in the Bible (subdivided into two parts), and why we believe in Jesus (also subdivided into two parts). Each of the last five sections is in turn subdivided into a series of concise lines of argument. Ten lines of argument explain why we believe in God; a total of twenty show why we believe in the Bible; another twenty demonstrate the rationale for faith in Jesus Christ.

Nate's style is concise, very readable, and at times conversational. The chapters tend to be brief and handily condensed. For instance, Reason Three for belief in God (order and design point to a Designer) is seven pages long; Reason 5 for belief in the NT Gospels (early Christians would have demanded an accurate record) is but three pages long.

Each argument is buttressed with substantial documentation. I was constantly struck by the wide variety of writers Nate used, ranging very broadly from the lightly popular to the deeply academic, and taking in practitioners of the various apologetics schools. He cites arguments from and/or quotes Carl F. H. Henry, Norm Geisler, John Frame, Gary Habermas, Josh McDowell, John Stott, Roger Nicole, F. F. Bruce, John Ankerberg, Henry Morris, Paul Little, Ron Nash, C. S. Lewis, Harry Rimmer (apologist from a past generation; I actually worked for his son in the 70s), William Shedd, Robert Saucy, Dan Wallace, and literally a host of others.

This brings me to one suggestion I would urge for future editions — for this is a book that deserves long life and eventual revision and extension: Busenitz uses too many secondary sources. "Cited from" occurs in footnote after footnote (i.e. pp. 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, etc.).

Here's why I think this matters: this is a book that deserves to be used by many, and in many settings. I easily see high school and college students using it as a text. At present, students would be forced to use some of the citations with this formula: "Abraham Lincoln, as cited in ___, as cited in Busenitz...." I say with genuine respect, an author should do that footwork for his readers so that they don't have to. Use primary sources.

Pastors and friends and evangelists and bloggers and family members and writers of letters to the editor and most of the world won't care about that, however. And they're the ones who (in addition to students) should have this book. It deserves wide circulation and use. I talked our men's fellowship into making it our next study book.

I hope I've talked you into doing the same.

Well done, Nate.

(You punk!)

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17 November 2008

"Honesty" Without Truth?

by Phil Johnson

mong the many words (and concepts) that have been deconstructed and redefined for these postmodern times is the idea of honesty.

You know: doubt is the new "humility"; free-thinking is the new "tolerance"; moral apathy is the new "charity"; and now querulousness is the new "honesty."

To the postmodern mind, "honesty" has come to mean the uninhibited venting of every egocentric feeling, every nagging doubt, every petty complaint, every subversive thought, and every negative passion. Maturity and discretion used to keep people from indiscriminately expressing certain potentially-destructive thoughts aloud—much less broadcasting them to the world. In fact, a natural—and valid—sense of shame kept most of our ancestors from publishing detailed memoirs of their own crimes and misdemeanors for all the world to see (cf. Ephesians 5:12).

But nowadays you can blog a detailed account of your latest argument with your spouse; post it so that everyone from here to Timbuktu can read it; claim you are simply journaling a candid confession—baring your very soul for the cathartic effect such unbridled candor brings; and then just luxuriate in the warmth of countless flattering comments from voyeurs who will enthusiastically congratulate you for your "refreshing honesty."

As if such "honesty" were in short supply these days.

There are forums in every corner of the Internet where people enthralled with that style of honesty go to exhibit the mischief in their brains for one another's benefit, and to enjoy one another's fulminations. You've got the pub-themed group blogs on the dark side of the Christian blogosphere, countless forums and e-mail lists that serve a similar purpose, and plenty of participants all around who are happy to reinforce one another's petulance—all in the name of transparency.

One of the best-known and most creative of these is PostSecret, a blog where people make grunge-art post-card "confessions" of their deepest, darkest secrets. (I would link to it, but frankly many of the confessions are too smutty to get a link from here.) I find "PostSecret" deeply disturbing. I'm especially amazed and appalled that so many people say they think it's "beautiful." Still, what really kills me is all the self-congratulatory braggadocio about "honesty" from people who like to make a pageant of their shame. How honest, really, is an anonymous "confession"?

In a similar way it turns my stomach when these quasi-Christian Internet forums populated by people who revel in doubt and dissidence give themselves kudos for their "honesty" while they are busy making a burlesque of the very idea of truth. And ditto when someone wants to pretend there's something extra-candid about smutty language.

See, the thing is—real honesty is about truth. And if your attitude toward truth ranges anywhere from angry contempt to blithe indifference, you don't get to pat yourself on the back for your "honesty," no matter how unrestrained or exhibitionistic you let yourself be with those things you'd probably be better off seeking private help for.

"A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back" (Proverbs 29:11).

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15 November 2008

The Danger of Perpetual Uncertainty

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 "On Laying Foundations", a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, January 21st, 1883, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

eware of a religion without holdfasts. But if I get a grip upon a doctrine they call me a bigot. Let them do so. Bigotry is a hateful thing, and yet that which is now abused as bigotry is a great virtue, and greatly needed in these frivolous times. I have been inclined lately to start a new denomination, and call it "the Church of the Bigoted."

Everybody is getting to be so oily, so plastic, so untrue, that we need a race of hardshells to teach us how to believe. Those old-fashioned people who in former ages believed something and thought the opposite of it to be false, were truer folk, than the present timeservers.

I should like to ask the divines of the broad school whether any doctrine is worth a man's dying for it. They would have to reply, "Well, of course, if a man had to go to the stake or change his opinions, the proper way would be to state them with much diffidence, and to be extremely respectful to the opposite school."

But suppose he is required to deny the truth?

"Well, there is much to be said on each side, and probably the negative may have a measure of truth in it as well as the positive. At any rate, it cannot be a prudent thing to incur the odium of being burned, and so it might be preferable to leave the matter an open question for the time being."

Yes, and as these gentlemen always find it unpleasant to be unpopular, they soften down the hard threatenings of Scripture as to the world to come, and put a color upon every doctrine to which worldly-wise men object.

The teachers of doubt are very doubtful teachers. A man must have something to hold to, or he will neither bless himself nor others.

Bring all the ships into the pool; but do not moor or anchor one of them; let each one be free! Wait you for a stormy night, and they will dash against each other, and great mischief will come of this freedom. Perfect love and charity will not come through our being all unmoored, but by each having his proper moorings and keeping to them in the name of God. You must have something to hold to.
C. H. Spurgeon