27 February 2009

James 4:4

by Phil Johnson

illiam Butler Yeats wrote a poem shortly after World War I called The Second Coming. Despite the title, it was a very pessimistic poem. Yeats was observing the rapid dissolution of society, and he foresaw nothing but certain doom. An unbeliever, he dreaded the idea of Christ's Second Coming because he saw in it nothing but the end of the world.

As he looked at the dissolution of the social order, Yeats wrote,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And at the end of the poem, he pictured the coming day of doom as a
". . . rough beast, its hour come round at last,
slouch[ing] towards Bethlehem to be born."

In 1996, Judge Robert Bork borrowed and adapted that closing line from Yeats's poem and made it the title of his best-selling book—Slouching Towards Gomorrah.

Bork, like Yeats, could see that society is in rapid decline. Both men understood that society has no hope when good men "lack all conviction" and evil men "are full of passionate intensity." But Bork said the real problem in our society is not merely that some external doom is descending on us. The greater problem is that society itself is marching steadfastly into its own doom. Our problem is not some end-times beast that is slouching toward Bethlehem; the real problem is that society itself is slouching toward Gomorrah.

As we look at the state of Christ's church worldwide today, we see an even more frightening prospect. By and large, the church has fallen in love with Gomorrah, and has veered off that direction in a dead sprint. Christians seem as if they are on a collective quest to see how much of the world they can absorb and imitate. Instead of trying to win the world the way Christ commanded, the church seems determined to see how much like the world she can become.

It is a safe bet that whatever is popular in the world at the moment will soon be embraced by the church. Virtually all of today's secular fads will have Christian counterparts tomorrow. Seriously: there are even several "Christian" nudist colonies. Evidently there is no worldly novelty that someone, somewhere won't try to drag into the church.

For more than four years here at PyroManiacs we have been pointing out laughable examples of how the contemporary church has played the harlot with the world. When you listen to the rationale of people who advocate worldly innovations in the church, they invariably insist this is the only way to reach unbelievers.

Under pretexts such as "contextualization," "missional living," and "relevance" an unbridled willingness to accommodate Divine truth to human preferences is now going on virtually unchecked in the modern and postmodern evangelical movement. Multitudes of Christians today think it is their prerogative to mold and shape everything—worship, music, and even the Word of God itself—to the tastes and fashions of the world.

In 2002 I clipped an article from the front page of the Los Angeles Times. The article, titled "Hold the Fire and Brimstone" observed that the doctrine of hell has all but disappeared from the pulpits of evangelical churches. Here's what the article said:
In churches across America, hell is being frozen out as clergy find themselves increasingly hesitant to sermonize on [the subject] . . .. Hell's fall from fashion indicates how key portions of Christian theology have been influenced by a secular society that stresses individualism over authority and the human psyche over moral absolutes. The rise of psychology, the philosophy of existentialism and the consumer culture have all dumped buckets of water on hell.

The Times asked some pastors why the doctrine of eternal damnation has fallen from the radar in evangelical churches. One pastor said churches nowadays don't mention hell because "it isn't sexy enough anymore." The article also quotes Bruce Shelley, senior professor of church history at the Denver Theological Seminary. In his view, evangelicals' silence about hell is because "it's just too negative. . . . Churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer-oriented. Churches today feel the need to be appealing rather than demanding."*

That kind of thinking is all too typical. Until Christians recover their convictions and their passion; until we realize that the gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation; until we quit tinkering with the message to try to accommodate it to the tastes and preferences of every subculture; and until we give up these foolish efforts to make the gospel "appealing" and concern ourselves with proclaiming it accurately and making it clear, the church's impact on the world will continue to diminish and the world's influence will continue to define what the church looks like.

My assessment of what the church looks like at the moment: "As Isaiah predicted, 'If the Lord of hosts had not left us [a remnant], we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah'" (Romans 9:29).
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* PS: See the comments below, starting HERE. We have it on good authority that the pastor quoted at the start of the Times article was merely describing, and not advocating, the current evangelical reluctance to preach on the hard truths of Scripture. We strongly suspect the quotation from Bruce Shelley similarly misconstrues what Shelley himself believes preaching should be like. It's too bad the Times writers weren't more careful in how they treated their own sources, because the point these men were trying to make is the whole point of the Times article: evangelicals have misapplied the all-things-to-all-men principle, and that has resulted in (among other things) a pared-back, toned-down version of the gospel that simply isn't the same message Jesus gave us to proclaim to the world.

26 February 2009

Upcoming: Philadelphia Conference of Reformed Theology, Sacramento CA

by Dan Phillips

The PCRT is to come to my town, Sacramento, Kolly-fornia (as our gov says it). Some might see it as a sleepy, brain-dead, nearly Godforsaken town. Unkind observers could describe it as squalid, ugly, and flat — except for the innumerable concrete islands manically splitting every street, so that you have to drive a mile past your destination and pull a U-turn. The church scene (it must be said) is dominated by fad-ism, seeker-wannabe's, emerg*-wannabe's, tepid traditionalism, Charismatics, and cults, with a very few exceptions.

Lovely place. You must visit!

It's my home at present, and the people I love most in the world are here with me, and...

Anyway, the PCRT is to add its brief sparkle of light to our valley on March 13-15, and I plan to be there to report on at least the first two days for you, beloved readers.

So here are my questions for you:
  • Will I be seeing any of you there?
  • Do any of the speakers read Pyro? (Drop me an email, if you'd prefer.)
  • Check out the program. Any opinions as to which sessions you'd most like reports about? (To dangle a preposition.)
Host church information is HERE. (To wit, Immanuel Baptist.)

Yr obdt svt,
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25 February 2009

Why He Left You

by Frank Turk

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
I know these posts have been uncharacteristically-brief for me, but I don't want anyone accusing me of mericlessly beating any pastor over what they ought to be as they shepherd God's people. But I do want to make something absolutely clear: if you're a pastor, Paul here is telling Titus that he's not allowed to invent the position the way he thinks it ought to be executed.

Really: it's not up to you. I was listening to Matt Chandler preach one via podcast, and he made the wholly-sound point that, all told, I am stupid, and you are stupid -- that if we look back a decade or a year or even a couple of months, we can see how incomplete (to say the least) our wisdom and cleverness really is. And that doesn't get remedied by having a group of us get together: it gets worse.

So what we have to do is find some source of wisdom which, frankly, has already stood the test of time and, at its root, has a truly-wise source. So we turn to scripture for wisdom as Christians because it is all that.

But if this is true, the definition of being whatever it is we say we are in Christ had better come from Scripture. So as a pastor, one ought to have the obligation of doing that personally before he starts up with the rest.

Hence: Paul says to Titus, "This is why I left you in Crete."

You want to know why Paul sent Titus or Timothy to some place? Well, here it is. And if you're like them -- and we shall see in short order that you ought to be, brother pastor -- you should consider that this is why you are left in your local church.

We have covered the obligations of your congregation well enough that it can be said somewhat humbly that nobody is saying the whole burden of the local church is on you, dear pastor. But let's be clear: there is a burden on you, a task laid out. It would be well-considered of you to make sure you're doing that.

24 February 2009

Christianity and paganism contrasted in three vignettes

by Dan Phillips

(Some additional reflections on this post)

Vignette one: Centuries ago, when I was a brand-new Christian, I tried to witness to a friend in high school. He listened openly enough to such as I had to say. At the end, he had to confess:

"I just keep trying to convince myself that accepting Jesus would make me a better writer... but I can't!"

I blinked. I hadn't said anything of the sort.

Vignette two: Some time after, I was in the back yard with some family. Something (I think it was a Frisbee) got stuck on the cliff-like hill beyond the fence. One of a couple of adult ladies present said:

"Wish it down, Dan!"

I honestly had no idea what she meant. I must have goggled a bit, because her sister said, "You mean, 'Pray it down.'"

"Yeah!" she agreed. "Pray it down!"

Vignette three: A bit over a year ago, I was trying to explain an excruciatingly hard decision I'd had to make to a loved one who is an unbeliever. I tried to explain it simply and straightforwardly. But she completely disagreed with me, and warned me I'd regret it in ten years.

Her concern was strictly pragmatic. It wouldn't work for me. It wouldn't make me happy. I'd feel sad about it. I shouldn't do it.

Bottom line: the difference between Christianity and paganism is the difference between serving God as God, and trying to be God.

To the dear lady in vignette three, that I would do something simply because I believed it would best serve Christ was inconceivable. Didn't it hurt me? Make me sad? Look bad? Risk alienating others? Then, for pity's sake, why do it?

To the friends in the first two vignettes, God was something to use to get what I want. Could He do that? Make my friend a better writer? Get my Frisbee down?

The pagan conceives of God as (at best) a commodity, a resource, a tool. If the pagan can make no use of Him — or, worse, if God gets in the way of his desires and plans — then God is to be cast off.

How do Christians respond?

Well, how we do respond and how we should respond are, sadly, not always the same thing.

We should respond by preaching the Gospel as it really is: the word of truth, the word of the transcendent Creator and Lord (1 Thessalonians 2:13). We should respond by preaching the Gospel of the imminent Kingdom of God and call the unbeliever to repentance in light of that truth (Matthew 4:17; Acts 17:30-31; 28:31). We should respond by preaching God up, and preaching man down (2 Corinthians 4:1-18). We should unveil the glorious, transcendent majesty of God. We should expose the pathetic, inexcusable, guilty, doomed vulnerability of man. We should set out God's terms of reconciliation, through Christ, because of His work on the Cross. We should call man to immediate and unconditional surrender, by repentant faith.

That's what we should do.

What the church does instead is to try to repackage God, as if he were yesterday's widget, and sell Him as useful. I wish I could say this is seldom done, but you'd know I was lying. I've seen books, I've heard sermons, I've seen ads that present God as the best way to get what we want, to achieve our dreams, and as the ultimate Enabler of our agendas.

This is the god of Balak, the god who can be manipulated into serving our desires. The god of paganism.

This is not the terror of Isaac (Genesis 31:42, 53), the holy and majestic and unspeakably ultimate God of the fathers, the prophets, or the apostles. It is not the God our Lord Jesus proclaimed, served, nor revealed.

God forbid we offer dying men such a miserable substitute — let alone cling to such a lie ourselves.

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23 February 2009

Bible interpretation dodge #2 — the parts I don't like are figurative (NEXT! #5)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: I don't take the Bible literally.

Response: ...and you mean that figuratively, of course?

(Proverbs 21:22)

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21 February 2009


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 chapter 8, "What We Would Be" in the book An All-round Ministry. Spurgeon appended a note to this chapter, remarking that "This address was delivered in great pain." He also said the book-chapter was later edited "under much the same conditions."

     When Spurgeon gave this message, Modernism—the Emerging fad of his day—was beginning to suffer some of its earliest setbacks. Some Christian leaders who had previously been overly-tolerant of Modernism were beginning to see that the movement's drift was fatal to the health and vibrancy of their churches. Spurgeon was convinced the tide was beginning to turn, and that Modernism would eventually recede and finally drown under the weight of its own skepticism. (He was right about that, though he surely would have been distressed had he known how long modernism would survive even in its death-throes.)
     Still, this is hardly an upbeat message. Spurgeon clearly doubted whether the visible church and her institutions could ever fully recover from the killing effects of modernism. He spoke of denominational reform as a Quixotic hope. He must have sounded very pessimistic at the time. But again it turns out that he was quite right.
     He was right on all counts. The tide did change; and it has changed yet again. As we frequently point out here at PyroManiacs, we are now right back where Spurgeon was in his day—seeing the first inklings of ebb-tide for the post-modern trends,—but clouded with an uneasy feeling that the obvious lessons have been neither learned nor even observed by those who ought to see them most clearly.
     At the end of this excerpt, Spurgeon sounds a little like Voltaire's Candide: "We must cultivate our garden."
     I think he was right about that, too.

      mourn the terrible defections from the truth which are now too numerous to be thought of in detail; nevertheless, I am not disquieted, much less dispirited. That cloud will blow over, as many another has done.

I think the outlook is better than it was. I do not think the devil is any better: I never expected he would be; but he is older. Brethren, whether that is for the better or for the worse, I do not know; but, assuredly, the arch-enemy is not quite such a novelty among us as he was. We are not quite so much afraid of that particular form of devilry which is raging now, because we begin to perceive its shape.

The unknown appeared to be terrible; but familiarity has removed alarm. At the first, this "modern thought" looked very like a lion; the roaring thereof was terrible, though to some ears there was always a suspicion of braying about it. On closer inspection, the huge king of beasts looked more like a fox, and now we should honor it if we likened it to a wild cat.

We were to have been devoured of lions, but the monsters are not to be seen. Scientific religion is empty talk without either science or religion in it. The mountain has brought forth its mouse, or, at any rate, the grand event is near. Very soon, "advanced thought" will only be mentioned by servant girls and young Independent ministers. It has gradually declined till it may now be carried off with the slops. There is nothing in the whole bag of tricks.

At this hour, I see the tide turning;—not that I care much for that, for the rock on which I build is unaffected by ebb, or flood of human philosophy. Still, it is interesting to remark that the current is not setting in quite the same direction as heretofore. Young men who have tried modern doubt have seen their congregations dwindle away beneath its withering power; and they are, therefore, not quite so enamoured of it as they were.

It is time they should make a change; for Christian people have observed that these advanced men have not been remarkable for abundant grace, and they have even been led to think that their loose views on doctrine were all of a piece with looseness as to religion in general. Want of soundness in the faith is usually occasioned by want of conversion. Had certain men felt the power of the gospel in their own souls, they would not so readily have forsaken it to run after fables.

Lovers of the eternal truth, you have nothing to fear! God is with those who are with Him. He reveals Himself to those who believe His revelation. Our march is not to and fro, but onward unto victory. "The Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more for ever." Other enemies will arise, even as Amalekites, Hivites, Jebusites, Perizzites, and all the rest of them, rose up against Israel; but, in the Name of the Lord, we shall pass on to possess the promised heritage.

Meanwhile, it is for us quietly to labor on. Our daydreams are over: we shall neither convert the world to righteousness, nor the church to orthodoxy. We refuse to bear responsibilities which do not belong to us, for our real responsibilities are more than enough. Certain wise brethren are hot to reform their denomination. They ride out gallantly. Success be to the champions! They are generally wiser when they ride home again.

I confess great admiration for my Quixotic brethren, but I wish they had more to show for their valor. I fear that both church and world are beyond us; we must be content with smaller spheres. Even our own denomination must go its own way. We: are only responsible so far as our power goes, and it will be wise to use that power for some object well within reach. For the rest, let us not worry and weary about things beyond our line. What if we cannot destroy all the thorns and thistles which curse the earth; we can, perhaps, cleanse our own little plot. If we cannot transform the desert into a pasture, we may at least make two blades of grass grow where only one grew before; and that will be something.

Brethren, let us look well to our own steadfastness in the faith, our own holy walking with God. Some say that such advice is selfish; but I believe that, in truth, it is not selfishness, but a sane and practical love of others which leads us to be mindful of our own spiritual state. Desiring to do its level best, and to use its own self in the highest degree to God's glory, the true heart seeks to be in all things right with God. He who has learned to swim has fostered a proper selfishness, for he has thereby acquired the power of helping the drowning. With the view of blessing others, let us covet earnestly the best blessings for ourselves.

C. H. Spurgeon

20 February 2009

A Bagatelle on the Virtue of Joy

by Phil Johnson

on't make the mistake of equating levity and humor with the fruit of the Spirit. They aren't the same thing. Obviously, joy can produce laughter, but laughter is a fruit of joy, not the essence of joy.

In fact, modern society is filled with jokes but almost totally devoid of real joy. Have you noticed that some of the angriest people in the world are our best-known comedians?

Laughter is often used these days to mask the utter absence of genuine gladness. Postmodern culture has made mirth and merriment cheap substitutes for authentic joy. We in the church must not make that same mistake.

I enjoy humor as much as the next person. Perhaps even a little more. But just because something is funny doesn't mean it's good.

Just a thought.
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19 February 2009

Pagan "evangelicalism"?

by Dan Phillips

I'm going to assume you're familiar with the narrative of Numbers 22-24. Balak, son of Zippor, king of Moab (Joshua 24:9), tries to hire the services of a seer named Balaam. Balak believes that Balaam's words have power (22:6), and he wants Balaam to aim those words at his enemy: Israel.

The whole Balak/Balaam saga is a study in paganism vs. Yahwism. The pagan worldview is that the gods can be handled, "worked," manipulated to serve us and our will. The gods may not be much more than personified, magnified forces of nature; but if we work the right forms and rituals, we can make them serve us. We can make them do what we want them to do.

Balak approaches Balaam from this perspective, this worldview. It doesn't matter to Balak whether Balaam calls his deity Yahweh, Baal, or Brittany. He wants Balaam to work his mojo and get this Yahweh-thingie working for him.

Balak is absolutely nonplused at Balaam's insistence that he can't do that with Yahweh (22:13, 18). Balak is stunned. It does not compute, it blows Balak's circuits. It is inconceivable.

So, Balak figures there must just be a communication problem, or something. Or maybe Balaam's trying to haggle up the price? Balak offers more money. He sends more and flashier dignitaries. Finally, Balaam comes — but still he can't work the name of Yahweh into a curse (22:35, 38; 23:8, etc.).

But Balak doesn't give up. Maybe it isn't Balaam who's driving such a hard bargain. Maybe it's Yahweh. So... if not now, then maybe in a few minutes? If not from here, maybe from there? Or there? Or — come on, work with me! — surely from up there?

Not only is the answer an unrelenting "No," but Balaam blesses Israel, over and over.

Balaam himself is a troubling figure, though a sterling illustration of Biblical inerrancy (see Ronald B. Allen's crackling-good essay on the theology of the Balaam oracles). Balaam looms as a quintessential false prophet for his love of money (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14).

And yet even Balaam knew that Yahweh could not be manipulated, as could the false gods of paganism. Even he knew that Yahweh was Lord, and His word was law (cf. Numbers 22:13, 34, 38). Only thing Balaam finally could figure out to do was to get Israel to bring a judgment on themselves (cf. Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14).

So, Balak assumed that Yahweh — like all the gods — was both mutable and malleable. In truth, Yahweh was (and is) neither (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6). Hence Israel's cry,
"Who is like you, O LORD,
among the gods?
Who is like you,
majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds,
doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11).
Who is like Yahweh among the gods? No one!

We shake our heads at Balak's folly... but did it really die with him? Can we not see it in Christendom, or even in "evangelicalism"?

Of course you think "Word-faith movement," and of course you're right. But is it only those nutty, absurd heretics?

Do we see it, sometimes, when people try to get the pastor to "say a prayer" for them, as if he had more "pull" with God, and could get God to see it their way? Don't even the doctrinally more orthodox fall into trying to faith God into doing something, or much-word Him, or good-works Him, or better-than-the-other-guy Him?

Or can we even see whispers in ourselves, as we (unconsciously) try this or that to get God to support our agenda?

Obviously I believe in prayer, as the Bible explains and enjoins it. I've talked about prayer's divinely-designed limitations, and I've also discussed how significant it has been and can be, in the sovereign plans of God. But Christian prayer must always have the essential element that breathes Christ's spirit: "Not my will, but Yours." Even as we plead, argue Scripture, press the promises, lay out our case, we must know: if we actually could manipulate God, it would be the most disastrous event in the universe.

I've often said to God, in closing, after pressing my case to the best of my ability, "...but then, You get to be God — and that's a good thing!"

And I really mean it.

Leave paganism to the pagans.

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18 February 2009

The Something to Say

by Frank Turk

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
Last week we covered the idea Paul had in greeting Titus that the pastor/elder has the repsonsibility to preach for the sake of the elect (meaning: he is intended to do something for the believers) and for the sake of their knowledge of truth (meaning: he is intended to do this as a means to deliver truth), which all very well and good.

Was Paul then instructing Titus to deliver lessons on cooking and DIY home repair, or moralistic lessons?

Indeed: no. What Paul was doing -- and what Titus, who was Paul's true son in the faith ought to be doing -- is delivering that by means of God's own word, through preaching.

I'm travelling this week and have an early flight, so I can't do 1000 words on this today, but consider it, pastor: your words are not good enough to do what Paul was sent to do, and as his true son in the faith, they are not good enough to do what God intends for you to do.

God's words are good enough. They are the only thing which is good enough. Use them liberally. Lavish them upon the people God has given you.

They have been entrusted to you.

17 February 2009

Bible interpretation dodge #1 — plastic text (NEXT! #4)

by Dan Phillips Challenge: I think you can make the Bible mean anything you want. Response: So, you're saying that the meaning of the Bible is objectively fixed and crystal-clear?
(Proverbs 21:22)
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16 February 2009

What in heaven's name?

The steady march of Christianity Today toward a kind of modified universalism
by Phil Johnson

A few years ago, when Pulpit Magazine had multiple departments and was updated only once a month, I wrote a column in which we regularly chronicled and critiqued the cavalcade of errors that parade themselves each month in the pages of evangelicalism's house organ, Christianity Today. I'm perpetually amazed at how far from evangelical principles that magazine can stray and yet continue to pretend it's the voice of mainstream evangelicalism.

What follows is a column I wrote in 2003. Unlike most things I write, I kept no copy of this article on my computer, and when they took down the old Pulpit archives, I thought it was gone forever. But I recently found a backup copy I had made on my mom's computer. Here it is for your reading pleasure:

eter Kreeft, former Protestant apologist, recent convert to Roman Catholicism, renowned professor of Philosophy at Boston College, and author of more than 40 books, wrote a dreadful book a few years back, oxymoronically titled Ecumenical Jihad (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996).

The book took the ecumenical rationale behind Protestant-Catholic alliances like "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" to the next logical step. Kreeft claims the only viable solution to what ails modern society is for all the world's religions to unite.

Kreeft, whom many still regard as an articulate foe of postmodern secular moral relativism, is actually arguing for religious pluralism (which is nothing but a different form of moral relativism). He is convinced that Christians have no hope of winning the "culture war" unless they abandon the exclusivity of the gospel's claims and forge ecumenical alliances with all the world's major religions—including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

According to Kreeft, Christians "can and should investigate and learn from the wisdom of other religions" (p. 79). And why not? Kreeft thinks "the Holy Spirit seems to be working in other religions . . .. In studying His works, we are not studying something foreign and threatening, we are studying the Spirit and works of God, wherever His breath blows" (p. 83). Kreeft insists that "the very same God we worship in Christ is the God the Jews—and the Muslims—worship" (p. 160). Not only that; he also believes even "truth-seeking" agnostics and atheists may be unknowingly worshiping the true God "under this divine attribute of truth" (p. 161).

Kreeft is convinced that if all the religions of the world do not immediately embrace one another and form an alliance, we will lose the war against secularism. "I think it is very likely that the time will soon come—perhaps it is already here—when the emergency is so great that prudence dictates a moratorium on our polemics against each other and our attempts to convert one another" (p. 38). "There is no need for any competition. There is plenty of truth to go around" (p. 83).

Peter Kreeft's large-heartedness toward other religions has not dampened his enthusiasm for the Roman Catholic agenda. He makes this clear throughout his book, but it is best seen in a chapter near the end of the book titled "The Eucharist and Ecumenism," which Kreeft closes by promising that "the power that will reunite the Church and win the world is Eucharistic adoration" (p. 164).

He is speaking, of course, about the Roman Catholic practice of worshiping the communion wafer, based on Rome's teaching that the elements at the Lord's Table literally become blood and flesh by transubstantiation. Kreeft isn't quite clear why he believes this (of all things) might now have some mystical power to bring unity among the world's religions—especially since "eucharistic adoration" was universally condemned by the Reformers as idolatry, and both Jews and Muslims also regard the practice as idolatrous. But on the closing page of his book Kreeft once again solemnly assures readers that "the distinctly Catholic devotion of the Eucharist (and to Mary) may prove to be the key to victory in ecumenism and in the 'culture war'" (p. 172).

The book's back cover carries endorsements by Protestant ecumenists Charles Colson and J. I. Packer. Colson says of Kreeft, "On the front lines in today's culture war, Kreeft is one of our most valiant intellectual warriors." Packer's infamous endorsement says,
This racy little book opens up a far-reaching theme. With entertaining insight Kreeft looks into the attitudes, alliances, and strategies that today's state of affairs requires of believers. Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike need to ponder Peter Kreeft's vision of things—preferably, in discussion together. What if he is right?

Of course, if Kreeft were right, truth wouldn't matter much anyway. If he were right, religion in general would be a more potent force against the powers of evil than the truth of Christ in particular—and that notion is both antichristian and historically inaccurate. So Kreeft is not right. And Packer, of all people, surely knows this.

Anyway, the most talked-about chapter in Kreeft's book is a chapter titled "What Christians Can Learn from Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, and Moses." Here Kreeft chronicles an out-of-body experience (OBE) he claims he had while storm-surfing off Hawaii in the wake of Hurricane Felix. Kreeft says a wave broke over him and he nearly drowned. His mind left his body, and he experienced not heaven, but purgatory (p. 96)—which is what all good Catholic philosophers experience in their OBEs.

Perhaps Kreeft is merely being whimsical. If so, he does not admit it. He tells the story as if it really happened. He even prefaces it with this: "Whether what I experienced was Heaven or earth, I cannot say. Whether it was real or unreal, objective truth or subjective fantasy, I cannot say. All I can say is that it was certainly truer, incomparably truer, than the chapter I was planning to write. That's why I threw the old one away" (p. 86).

One wonders what kind of drivel must have been in the original draft of the chapter. In any case, if Kreeft's OBE account is "incomparably truer," it's a really good thing he threw the original draft away.

Kreeft's vision of the afterlife begins "on a Heavenly beach" (p. 86)—which turns out to be only "the outskirts of Heaven, the place you call Purgatory" (p. 96). Here he encounters and converses with Confucius, Buddha, Muhammad, and Moses, all in succession.

Each one of those historic religious figures qualifies for heaven, in Kreeft's view, because he thinks they all taught moral principles compatible with the teaching of Christ. Whatever may be faulty about their views is simply going to be refined in purgatory. In fact, when Kreeft's vision of Buddha employs a biblical allusion, Kreeft decides that Buddha must have "had a theological crash course somewhere in Heaven" (p. 92).

But when Kreeft meets Muhammad, the voice of the Lord solemnly tells him, "He will teach you the heart and soul of all true religion" (p. 98).

Kreeft says he was originally dumbfounded by Muhammad's presence in heaven. But then this exchange took place:
I turned the conversation to another point. "Are you a Christian now or a Muslim?"

He gave what seemed to me an evasive answer: "Why do you say 'or'? How can one be a Christian without islam to the one God?"

Because I thought his answer evasive, I challenged him more directly. "If you come from Heaven and not from Hell, what do you say to this?" And I whipped out my Rosary and held aloft the crucifix, as I would to Dracula. To my wondering eyes, Muhammad fell to his knees and crossed himself. My response was the only possible one: I bowed the knees of my mind to the words of a man who had bowed his knees to my Lord and His Mother . . .. (pp. 99-100).

And on it goes. Kreeft clearly has an unbiblical view of heaven and a faulty understanding of the gospel. And if he truly got this vision of heaven during an OBE and takes it seriously, then that's all the more reason not to take him seriously.

But when the editors of Christianity Today recently posted an article on heaven at their Web site, guess whom they got to explain "What Heaven Will Be Like" to their readers?

That's right. Peter Kreeft.

The article is filled with speculative, unbiblical, and fanciful reflections from Kreeft's philosophical mind. References to Scripture are few. And Kreeft's answers are often hopelessly vague or incomplete. For example, his answer to the question "How do you get to heaven?" (A: "It is free.") utterly ignores all the most significant points of the gospel—sin, atonement, repentance, and the cross and resurrection of Christ. In reply to the one question that most deserves a distinctively biblical and Christian answer, Kreeft dropped the ball.

No wonder. Kreeft doesn't think it's necessary to believe anything about Christ in order to get to heaven. He says (in his answer to question 34) that he believes "good pagans, Hindus, et cetera" will go to heaven.

He writes,
People who have never heard of Christ, and thus have neither consciously accepted him nor consciously rejected him, must also get to Heaven through Christ, for there is no other way. That much is clear from Christ's own words. But it is not clear what is going on in the unconscious depths of the souls of such people. Only God knows. Perhaps they know and love him in the obscure form of a deep, unconscious desire and love.

The article is just another sign that the editors of Christianity Today have self-consciously embraced inclusivism (the belief that heaven will be populated with people who have no explicit knowledge of Christ or faith in Him). And they are trying to position that view as a kind of moderate middle ground between rank universalism and the biblical view that faith in Christ is necessary, because "he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).

Kreeft echoes the Roman Catholic view that faith may be merely "implicit":
Christ the Savior is not only a 33-year-old, 6-foot-high Jewish man, but also the eternal God, the Logos that enlightens every individual (John 1:9). Thus everyone has a fair chance to accept him or reject him, whether implicitly (for all light of truth and goodness is from him) or explicitly. We are not saved by how explicit our knowledge is; we are saved by him.

He tries to defend the historical pedigree of inclusivism:
This is a traditional, mainline Christian position, from the time of Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria to the time of C. S. Lewis. It is halfway between the liberal view that one can be saved in other ways than Christ (for example, by good intentions) and the frequent fundamentalist view that it takes an explicit knowledge of Christ to be saved.

That, again, is precisely the position CT's editors now take. The book review section recently panned a universalist book for trivializing grace. But in the process, the editor was compelled to add this:
Note that there's a significant distinction between universalism—the view that all people will be saved, indeed, in some versions, that Satan himself will one day be redeemed—and the position often called "inclusivism," according to which people who have not knowingly accepted Christ may nevertheless be saved by his sacrifice on the cross, for God can read their hearts.

Three years ago, the same editor gave a sympathetic report on a lecture series at Wheaton College where John Sanders (of Open Theism fame) was advocating inclusivism. Sanders echoed Peter Kreeft's views on a number of key points, saying he sees "a remarkable similarity in the discussions about the divine nature in the major religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam."

That article closed with another paragraph attempting to portray inclusivism as a mainstream position:
In his lecture, which was followed by a lively question-period, Sanders took pains to emphasize that his view can be placed in a long Christian tradition that includes C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Whatever its merits, it cannot therefore be dismissed, as some would wish, as a capitulation to the fashions of contemporary culture.

Certainly there have been individuals in the evangelical movement who have seemed to feel the lure of inclusivism. But has it ever really been a mainstream view among evangelicals? Certainly not. CT's rejection of the exclusivity of Christ is just more evidence of how far that magazine has strayed from her Protestant evangelical heritage.

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15 February 2009

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

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 Father's Will," a sermon first published in 1873. We start with the text Spurgeon was preaching from:

"This is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:39-40).

he two phrases set forth the divine side of salvation and the human side of salvation.

You know, beloved friends, that the general custom is, with the various sects of Christians, to take up one part of the Bible and preach that part, and then it is the duty of all divines on that side of the question not to preach anything but that. Or if they find a text that looks in rather a different direction, these gentlemen are expected to twist it round to suit their creed, it being supposed that only one set of truths can possibly be worth defending, it never having entered into the heads of some people that there can be two apparently irreconcilable truths which nevertheless are equally valuable.

Think not that I come here to defend the human side of salvation at the expense of the divine; nor am I desirous to magnify the divine side of it at the expense of the human; rather would I beseech you to look at the two texts which are together before us, and to be prepared to receive both sets of truths. I think it a very dangerous thing to say that the truth lies between the two extremes. It does not: the truth lies in the two, in the comprehension of both; not in taking a part from this and a part from that, toning down one and modulating the other, as is too much the custom, but in believing and giving full expression to everything that God reveals whether we can reconcile the things or not, opening our hearts as children open their understandings to their father's teaching, feeling that if the gospel were such that we could make it into a complete system, we might be quite sure it was not God's gospel, for any system that comes from God must be too grand for the human brain to grasp at one effort; and any path that he takes must extend too far beyond the line of our vision for us to make a nice little map of it, and mark it out in squares.

This world, you know, we can readily enough map. Go and get charts, and you shall find that men of understanding have indicated almost every rock in the sea, almost every hamlet on the land; but they cannot map out the heavens in that way, for albeit that you can buy the celestial atlas, yet as you are well enough aware there is not one in ten thousand of the stars that can possibly be put there; when they are resolved by the telescope they become altogether innumerable, and so far exceed all count that it is impossible for us to reckon them up in order and say, that is the name of this, and this is the name of that. We must leave them: they are beyond us. There are deeps into which we cannot peer; even the strongest glass cannot show us much more than a mere corner of the starry worlds.

Thus too is it with the doctrines of the gospel: they are too bright for our weak eyes, too sublime for our finite minds to scan, save at a humble distance. Be it ours to take all we can of their solemn import, to believe them heartily, accept them gratefully, and then fall down before the Lord, and pour out our very souls in worshipping him.
C. H. Spurgeon

13 February 2009

BibleWorks 8 — the love goes both ways!

by Dan Phillips

I had to share this.

I'm in the process of learning BibleWorks 8 so that I can review the product (see BW7 review). As I do, I'm watching the instructive videos.

So I click on the one for the BW8 tool called Ermie (External Resources Manager). The instructor refers to websites and resources "that you typically open during the course of your study with BibleWorks."

And what is one of those resources featured in the tutorial video? I am not making this up:

There it is.

Over the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, and the Greco-Roman coins blog.

And with no others!

(Can't stop grinning.)

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12 February 2009

The Larry King question (NEXT! #3)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: So you think that all Jews who don't believe in Jesus are going to Hell?

Response: Well, that's what the Torah says. Jesus believed the Torah. I believe Jesus. So...you do the math.

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11 February 2009

Say Something

by Frank Turk

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
I have no idea how long this series is going to go on as I haven't really gotten to my favorite verse in this letter yet, but Paul's greeting to Titus is so rich, you have to at least admire the shiny parts even if you don't really count the stacks of wealth to find out all it is worth.

So we know that Paul thought of Titus and Timothy as true sons to him in the faith; we know that he believed that it was by God's command, and as a servant of God who commands, that he himself was called and therefore these men were called. But think about the purpose here Paul says the servant of God is called: for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth.

Now, what is that? I mean: if some are God's elect, what can anyone do about it? That's the quandry some would tell you is evident here -- Paul couldn't do anything about the elect, and certainly some non-apostolic preacher can't do anything about what God elects, right?

Well: plainly Paul says, "wrong". God hasn't just declared the ends but also the means of calling the elect -- and he hasn't published a proof of the book of Life so that the preacher or elder can just go out and scan the white pages and preach a limited a-phone-ment.


Paul is telling Titus here that Paul is himself appointed by God's command to be the means of faith for the elect, and a means for them to know the truth of the faith. And while I may repeat myself, that means Titus is also these things as a true son in the faith -- as one who has an inheritance from Paul to carry on the work.

So what are you doing, pastor? How do you spend your time in this respect? You have at least one day a week in which the people God has put under your care come to you and sit down, and wait for you to say something. Are you saying things for the sake of their faith, and for their knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ? Have you considered that your sermons must be about Him and not about them?

Well ... consider it. Be a true son in the faith with Paul, and work for the sake of the faith of the elect, and for their knowledge of truth -- not for some other purpose that seems useful today but changes from week to week.

10 February 2009

King Uzziah and women

by Dan Phillips

You don't remember Uzziah (c. 792-740 BC) having a problem with women?

Nor do I.

But he did have the same problem as some women.

Check 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 —
But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17 But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, 18 and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God."

19 Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. 20 And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him.

21 And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king's household, governing the people of the land.

Uzziah (aka "Azariah") had been a godly king. He had served the Lord faithfully in many ways. Before the excerpt above, we read that Uzziah "did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that his father Amaziah had done" (2 Chronicles 26:4). Further, Uzziah "set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper" (v. 5). Precious few kings warranted such commendation.

Nonetheless, the text tells us that Uzziah was "unfaithful," that he knowingly committed treachery against the law of Yahweh. He did what he knew Yahweh had forbidden to him: he acted as a priest.

The motivation we're given is "pride." Uzziah was toppled by that force that has ruined both man and angel, both great and small: pride. Worse, by spiritual pride. No man is so pathetic and unaccomplished that he is a stranger to pride, and Uzziah was neither pathetic nor unaccomplished.

With pride finding a receptive ear for its whisperings, no doubt Uzziah convinced himself that his treachery wasn't really treachery. Perhaps he reasoned the same way Dathan, Abiram and On did in Numbers 16:

The whole congregation is holy
I am a member of the congregation

Therefore I am holy — and entitled to do anything I feel led to do!

Or perhaps Uzziah reasoned that there were "two horizons," doncha know, and Times Had Changed. Culture had changed. Moses was dealing with his situation, but Uzziah's was totally different. Moses had given the Law new and fresh, and delivered it to an ignorant and untaught people — but Uzziah was the beneficiary of much instruction and teaching. So how could he, Uzziah, deny the leading of the Holy Spirit, just because of an ancient text given in a different setting to a different audience under different circumstances?

Uzziah was a king, not a commoner! He was a worshiper of Yahweh, not a Baalist nor an Ashtorite! He had shown his love and ardor for Yahweh! No one could doubt that.

Surely King Uzziah had every bit as much right to burn incense on the altar as... well, as women have to be pastors in our day!

And indeed, he did. Every bit as much.

Uzziah was soundly rebuked by the godly priests. How did he respond? Not as a wise man would have done (Psalm 141:5; Proverbs 9:8b-9). Uzziah did not humble himself under God's mighty hand, acknowledge the word and righteousness of God, repent, kill his sin, and do what was right. Pride motivated him, so Uzziah's response was anger. How dare they cross his will? How dare they oppose him? And for this, Yahweh judged him severely.

Clothed in the finest of robes, treachery is still treachery.

One of the oddest features of our day is the equation of Biblical faithfulness with pride. Let a man stand with the Word, over against the fitful currents of culture, and he is damned as "proud."

The Word itself makes the opposite connection. It is the man (or woman) who wanders off from God's commandments, after his own fancies and notions, who is arrogant (Psalm 119:21, 85). By contrast, the genuinely humble person is the one who trembles at God's Word (Isaiah 66:2).

And the test is always found at the juncture where God's word, and our will, cross.

Postscript: note that the text does not wink at this act, though Yahwistic kings were relatively rare and wonderful in Israel's history. This is condemned as an act of sheer hubris, and as unfaithfulness. It led to Uzziah's destruction, his ruin.

"Ruin"? We might think that the text was suggesting that Yahweh struck him dead — but He did not. Instead, Yahweh struck Uzziah with leprosy. Uzziah was ruined as far as participating in temple worship was concerned. So far from leading worship, Uzziah was banned from worship. His rebellious act of pride led to a shameful mark that humiliated and disciplined him.

He was excommunicated, if you will.

Instructive, no?

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