30 April 2009

Why I love Spurgeon: "much of my former obduracy remains"

by Dan Phillips

(This could equally well be titled, "Reason #47 Why I Love Spurgeon")

I have read a book or two on Spurgeon that were more hagiographical than biographical. Even the terminology was glittery, gauzy, glistering and gagular.

Spurgeon's own remarks about himself were nothing of the kind.
Once I had nothing but a heart of stone, and although through grace I now have a new and fleshy heart, much of my former obduracy remains. I am not affected by the death of Jesus as I ought to be; neither am I moved by the ruin of my fellow men, the wickedness of the times, the chastisement of my heavenly Father, and my own failures, as I should be. O that my heart would melt at the recital of my Saviour’s sufferings and death. Would to God I were rid of this nether millstone within me, this hateful body of death. Blessed be the name of the Lord, the disease is not incurable, the Saviour’s precious blood is the universal solvent, and me, even me, it will effectually soften, till my heart melts as wax before the fire. (Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening : April 28 PM, emphases added)
I confess that this deeply resonates with me. Spurgeon echoes laments and prayers of my own, as if he had eavesdropped on some (many) of my own pleas, supplications, and confessions.

And this is why I have kept coming to Spurgeon for something like three decades, now. I have known of a fine Bible teacher or two, perhaps accurate in their rehearsal of doctrine and interpretation, but whose
confessions of imperfection (if they ever come) seem de rigeur and formal rather than heartfelt. Sermon illustrations are drawn from others' follies or frailties.

Spurgeon's confessions never, ever have that feel. They are clearly always heartfelt and genuine. Yet at the same time he always avoids the opposite snare of that sort of self-indulgent transparency which betrays the generation of God's children (Psalm 73:15).

For with these admissions, all the more do we read of Spurgeon's deep love for Christ, his unending and ever-fresh delight at the riches of God's covenant with His elect. As I've said, he's like a man amazed to find himself an heir, incredulously plunging his hands deeply into piles of gold coins again and again, letting them trickle out and ring back into the abundance. Only for Spurgeon the riches are far better than gold; they are the riches of Christ.

In this I think he rather reflects the Psalms that he loved (and I love) so much. We overhear both strains in the songs of Israel, often and poignantly.

If we hear the psalmists sing...
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD--how long?
(Psalm 6:1-3)
For evils have encompassed me beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me, and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
my heart fails me
(Psalms 40:12)
...we can also overhear...
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
(Psalm 4:7)
Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.
(Psalm 43:4)
...and again...
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
(Psalm 32:11)
Spurgeon admits his neediness, but he does so that the reader may identify with him as he does so, and then immediately Spurgeon takes both himself and his reader to the Savior. Never does Spurgeon plead for pity; always does he speak so that the reader will hasten to the same Cross, the same grace, the same mercy, the same Savior, to whom Spurgeon himself keeps hastening with all his sorrows and needs and pain.

Spurgeon uses himself as James uses Elijah: "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours," he says. The KJV memorably renders ἄνθρωπος ἦν ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν as "a man subject to like passions as we are." The BAGD lexicon explains the adjective as " pert. to experiencing similarity in feelings or circumstances, with the same nature."

And? What of it? James continues, "and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth" (James 5:17). We do not and must not look at Elijah (nor Spurgeon) and see a creature of different frame than we. They are of the same frame as we. Ah! but captivated by faith — what did God do through them! So, take heart, hope, trust, rise, do also.

"I know weakness and frailty and coldness, in myself, like you," Spurgeon says (in effect). "But I find all I need and more in Jesus Christ. I am poor in myself, I despair of myself; but that drives me to Him, and I rejoice in Him, and am rich in Him. We have the same nature, you and I, and we have the same Savior. Flee to Him, as I do, and find your sorrowing heart's deepest desire — as I have."

I know that Christ is perfect. But I also know I am not. What I need to know is: can such a miserably flawed man as I find hope, life, and joy in Christ?

Spurgeon tells us he knows for a personal fact that we can.

And his testimony has both the ring of authenticity, and the backing of Scripture.

Dan Phillips's signature

29 April 2009

A Sidebar on "Blameless"

by Frank Turk

I've been busy in the last week doing all manner of things, and we're still steeped in the first 5 verses of Paul's letter to Titus, but last week's post seems to have thrown a lot of people for a loop. I have tried to form up some private letters to answer some of the private questions asked, but I keep coming back to the same thing I started with last week -- at least internally.

I don't think the criterion of "blameless" is either hard to grasp, nor is it all that controversial. And in order to make my point, I found a dose of Spurgeon to help me say what I think Scripture itself is saying to us on this matter:
Where the Spirit of God comes he creates in the man a new nature, pure, bright, fresh, vigorous, like a fountain, and the fact that this new nature does exist in multitudes of men is a standing evidence that the gospel is true, for no other religion makes men new creatures, no other religion even pretends to do it; they may propose to improve the old nature, but none of them can say, "Behold, I make all things new." This is the sole prerogative of Jesus our Lord.

The existence of the new life is matter of fact. We ourselves know many whose lives are pure and blameless; they have faults before God, but before the eyes of men they are perfect and upright, blameless and harmless. The godly lives of Christians are good evidence of the truth of the gospel. Did I hear some one object, "But many professors of Christianity are not holy"? I grant you it, but then everybody knows that they are inconsistent with the religion which they profess. If I heard of a lustful Mahomedan I should not consider him inconsistent with Mahomedanism; is he not allowed his harem? If I heard of a licentious Hindoo, I should not consider him to be dishonoring his religion, for some of its sacred rites are disgusting and unmentionable. The same may be said of all the idolatries. But everybody knows that if a man professes to be a Christian and he is guilty of a gross fault, the world rings with the scandal, because it recognizes the inconsistency of his conduct with his profession. Though some may at the first breath of a slander blazon it abroad and say, "This is your religion," the world knows it is not our religion, but the want of it. Why do they themselves make such a wonder of a fallen professor? Are adulterers so very scarce that such a noise should be made when a minister is, truly or falsely, charged with the crime? The world's conscience knows that the religion of Jesus is the religion of purity, and if professed Christians fall into uncleanness the world knows that such a course of action does not arise out of the religion of Christ, but is diametrically opposite to it. The gospel is perfect, and did we wholly yield to its sway sin would be abhorred by us, and slain in us, and we should live on earth the life of the perfect ones above. Oh, may God produce in his church more and more the witness of the new life, the testimony of holiness, love, meekness, temperance, godliness, and grace: these are the gospel's logic, its syllogisms and demonstrations, which none can refute.
And as I read that, I wonder: is that actually true today? Is this who we are?

Isn't that who we ought to be? And that's merely those of us who are Christians in the broad sense. How much more should this be true of our pastors, in order that they might say, as Paul did, "Insofar as I am an imitator of Christ, be imitators of me."

28 April 2009

Keller on idolatry at TGC 2009

by Dan Phillips

In the past, I've had a few critical words to say about this and that from Tim Keller. I reserve the right to have a few more in the future.

But not about his talk at The Gospel Coalition 2009. I am working (enjoying) my way through the talks, and Keller's was first. It was titled The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and Idolatry. On balance, I found it thought-provoking, instructive, convicting, and helpful. To the point where it stopped me in my tracks as I walked, more than once; and I had to pause my iPod to deal with some of what Keller had said.

We should not think that preaching on idolatry is something that should be done in evangelism alone, and then safely dropped after a profession of faith. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols," are the apostle's closing words to Christians (1 John 5:21).

Now, I wondered if I had to get my angry eyes when Keller started quoting two apostate Jews on the subject of idolatry, towards the end. But their comment was apposite, and then Keller brings a very deft, on-target observation that could be paired with Messiah-rejecting Judaism vis-a-vis the Old Testament, on the whole.

I commend Keller's address to you.

Dan Phillips's signature

27 April 2009

Some More Thoughts on Effeminate Evangelicalism

by Phil Johnson
This is a continuation of the topic introduced last Friday. The following notes are from a message I gave at a men's conference last year. Before we get into it, here's a definition, taken from the Oxford English Dictionary:

ef · FEM · in · ate —Characterized by or proceeding from unmanly weakness, softness, or delicacy.

That's not a slur against women or femininity. The point is that certain qualities which are admirable traits for mothers and wives are dishonorable mannerisms for men to exhibit (or hide behind) when duty calls them to proclaim truth boldly or defend the faith against error. While there are certainly times in ministry when it is appropriate for ministers to be gentle (1 Thessalonians 2:7; 2 Timothy 2:24-25); that's not true all the time (1 Thessalonians 2:11-13). And daintiness is a particularly inappropriate attribute when it defines someone's pulpit style. A preacher is supposed to deliver the message "as one who speaks oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). The pulpit is not for wimps.

oday's evangelicals seem committed to keeping the church a soft, delicate, sissified environment. All the sharp corners are carefully filed down and rounded off every truth. Even the tone of the preacher has to be suited to the sewing circle—and qualities like sponginess and hesitancy have become a thousand times more common than accuracy and plain speaking. Evangelicals constantly say they want their leaders to be "vulnerable."

VUL · ner · a · ble—Able to be wounded; susceptible to physical or emotional hurts; easily damaged or harmed, esp. by aggression or attack
Think about this: we're nearing the end of evangelicalism's twenty-five-year-long love affair with the seeker-sensitive movement. Have you ever thought carefully about what's implied in just that term (seeker-sensitive)? It sounds like something a weak and frightened person thought up. Where does "seeker-sensitivity" fit into the biblical description of what the church should be?

Answer: it doesn't. It's a typically effeminate trend.

Now we've got something even worse—the post-evangelical myth that "conversation" is morally superior and pragmatically more effective than preaching. Churches are rearranging the furniture in a circle; trading pews for couches; exchanging preachers for "discussion facilitators"; giving then a bar stool in the center of the room instead of a pulpit at the front; and hosting a perpetual, aimless dialogue about everyone's personal opinion.

Post-evangelicals don't want teachers who will declare the difference between truth and error with manly conviction. They just want to have fun.

The whole drift of the evangelical movement reflects a steady movement away from the one, singular New Testament command that ought have first place on every pastor's agenda: "Preach the word . . . in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.") And it reflects a movement in the opposite direction, toward an ego-massaging message that conditions people "not [to] endure sound doctrine, but [to] heap up for themselves teachers [who cater to their itching ears]; and . . . turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:2-4).

And they tend to get angry when anyone points those things out.

It's worth pointing out the problem anyway. Coddle an effeminate disposition and it will get worse. And this could very well be the worst possible time in all of history for the church to go soft. It's not a problem we can afford to ignore politely.

"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong" (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Phil's signature

25 April 2009

The Sin of Setting Temptation Before Others

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 "Accomplices in Sin," a sermon delivered Sunday Evening, 30 March 1873, at the Met Tab in London.

e may be partakers in other men's sins by tempting them to sin. This is a most hateful thing, and makes the man who practices it to become the devil's most devoted drudge, servant, and slave.

I have known such tempters of others,—old men who, from their youth up, had sinned in such a shameful way that their very looks were full of lechery. There was a leer about their eyes that was almost enough to destroy all chastity that came beneath their glance; and their speech was full of the double entendre, insinuations, and innuendoes, which were almost worse than open profanity. I have known one such walking mass of putrefaction defile a whole parish; and when I have seen a boy walking with such a demon incarnate, or sitting down with him in the public-house, I knew that the boy's character would be ruined if that vile doctor in devilry could only instruct him in the vices with which he is himself so shamefully familiar.

There are such fiends in London, and we could almost wish to have them all buried straight away, for they are Satan's servants spreading wickedness all around them. I do not suppose I am addressing one such dreadful creature; yet I know that some great sinners of that sort do come within these walls, and they will, of course, be very angry because of my allusion to them; yet I never knew a thief who was fond of a policemen, and I do not expect or wish to secure the approval of scoundrels whose evil character I am exposing.

If, sir, I have described thee, and thou wilt not repent of thy sin, I tell thee that the hottest place in hell is reserved for thee, for thou hast led young men to the alehouse, and taught them to drink the devil's drugs, and to repeat thy foul blasphemies, and to imitate thy scandalous lasciviousness. Yet, ere it is too late, I beseech thee to repent of thy sin, that it may be blotted out by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, which cleanseth from all sin; for, if not, "other men's sins" will cry out against thee for judgment at the bar of the Almighty.

I solemnly charge all of you, who have not committed this iniquity, never to do so; take care that you never say a word which might stain the innocence of a child's mind, and that you never let fall an expression which might, in any way, be the means of leading another person into sin, for it is an easy thing for us to become partakers of other men's sins by tempting them to commit iniquity.

C. H. Spurgeon

24 April 2009

Manly Men

by Phil Johnson

ots of people are talking these days about the church's failure to reach men. The problem is an old one. To a large degree it is rooted in the eighteenth-century tendency of post-puritan preachers to temper hard truths and cushion the message as much as possible.

Victorian-era preachers added an extra layer of complexity to the problem with their love of flowery rhetoric. Grandiloquence. Turgid oratory. Bloated, high-sounding language designed to impress listeners with the speaker's sophistication rather than rouse consciences with the power of God's Word.

Pulpits became soft places where men loved to show off their refinement. Manly passion was deemed vulgar and lowbrow.

Charles Spurgeon abhorred that trend. He exemplified the opposite style. In fact, when Spurgeon first took his pastorate in London, one of the earliest caricatures published in the London newspapers about Spurgeon pictured him casting the shadow of a young lion from his pulpit—and it contrasted him with a typical Anglican clergyman, who cast the shadow of an old woman.

Spurgeon hated the effeminate tendencies of the Victorian pulpit, and he did everything he could to model a different trend. He said it's OK to be meek, and we ought to work hard at being gentle. But, he said, don't be "indifferent to truth and righteousness. God [does not choose] milksops destitute of backbone, to wear his glory upon their faces. We have plenty of men made of sugar, nowadays, that melt into the stream of popular opinion; but [men like that will] never ascend into the hill of the Lord."

When Spurgeon lectured his students on preaching, he cautioned them strongly against adopting effeminate mannerisms. He said,
Abhor the practice of some men, who will not bring out the letter "r," such a habit is "vewys wuinous and wediculous, vewy wetched and wepwehensible."

"Mawwiage . . . "

Spurgeon went on. He told his preaching students:
Now and then a brother has the felissssity to possessss a mosssst winning and delicioussss lisssssp . . . . [That will] ruin any being who aims at manliness and force. I can scarcely conceive of Elijah lisping to Ahab, or Paul prettily chipping his words on Mars' hill. There may be a peculiar pathos about a weak and watery eye, and a faltering style. . . . Where [those things] are the result of intense passion, they are sublime; but some possess them by birth, and use them rather too freely: it is, to say the least, unnecessary for you to imitate them.

Spurgeon was a man's preacher, and his ministry reflected that. He influenced men—and he is still influencing men from the grave. And even though he was criticized and despised and belittled in his own time for being too aggressive in his defense of the truth, notice that we still read Spurgeon, and his words are still absolutely relevant to our times. But everyone has utterly forgotten all the effeminate preachers of that era who at the time were absolutely certain that they were more "relevant" because they were more in tune with their own times than Spurgeon was.

You know what? They were wrong. And they were wrong for the same reason people are wrong today to follow whatever is deemed stylish. We ought to let Scripture, not the trends of secular culture, define for us what the church should be like.

The Bible says the church ought to be led by men, and every man in the church ought to aspire to be like the perfect man, Jesus Christ. And that involves, among other things, the manly proclamation and defense of the truth of Scripture; as well as aiming to be living reflections of the kind of character He embodied—including, of course, the fruit of the Spirit, courage, conviction, compassion, zeal for the truth, and the kind of gentleness that keeps those characteristics in proper balance, as opposed to nullifying them.

Phil's signature

23 April 2009

"Continuationist" dodge (NEXT! #11)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: I'm a continuationist.

Response: Really? And here I am, "stuck" with a sixty-six book Bible. You guys must have hundreds of inerrant, morally-binding Bible books by now!

(Proverbs 21:22)

Dan Phillips's signature

22 April 2009


by Frank Turk
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.
There is absolutely nothing to say about this clause which will not be misunderstood or searched for a subtext, so I will say this, which has no subtext:

The demand that the elder in a church be above reproach does not end after he gets "tenure". I prefer to trust the translators and simply examine the words they give us, but in this case, the word "ἀνέγκλητος" leaves no room for doubt. It means "that which cannot be called into to account; unreproveable; unaccused; blameless."

That doesn't mean "tries real hard" or "is transparent about his flaws". It means "blameless." There's nothing to blame him for.

That's a pretty strict guideline when Paul is telling Titus to establish elders in Crete, where the men are all liars and evil beasts. "Blameless" is pretty much the opposite of the Cretan culture, opposed to the low moral standards of those around them.

And I'll leave it at that.

21 April 2009

Porn and paper pastors

by Dan Phillips

Decades ago, I read a disturbingly candid essay by a pastor about his struggles with pornography. It was in Leadership magazine. Years later, two of his realizations still stand out to me.

The author came to see (as I recall) that he was attracted to these images because they were unreal. The women in the pictures never had bad days, were never crabby and demanding, never disrespectful and demeaning. No mood swings. They always suited his mood, his needs, his wants. They were unreal.

He came to see that he had no actual relationship with these women whatever. If (he named a female celebrity) had sat down next to him in an airplane, she wouldn't know him from Adam. Whatever may have happened in his sinful fantasies, the two of them had no relationship in the real world.

Of course, this is why so many women resent actresses and models. It isn't catty pettiness or smallness. It is that they know how visually-tempted men can be, and they know that they can't compete with a fantasy — if their man is fool enough to chase one.

And they're right, in a way. They can't compete with these women. Because these women don't exist in the real world! They may not even look like their pictures! Thanks to computer wizardry, the images we see may actually bear only the slightest resemblance to the actual women.

Nobody can compete with a fantasy.

And this post is not about pornography, men, women, nor marriage.

It is about people with paper pastors.

Now, some professed Christians sin outright, by never physically attending an actual, in-person church. We've talked about that, and they aren't our focus.

But others do attend a church — physically. They come in, they sit down. They sing, they may give financially. They may look at you, Pastor, as you preach.

But you know their heart belongs to another.

Their real pastor isn't you. It's Dave Hunt. Or it's John Piper. Or it's John MacArthur, or Ligon Duncan, or Mark Dever, or Paul Washer, or Joel Osteen. Or it's Charles Spurgeon, or D. M. Lloyd-Jones, or J. C. Ryle. Or Calvin, or Luther, or Bahnsen, or de Mar, or R. B. Thieme, or J. Vernon McGee.

And they're such better pastors than you are! You know they are!


Well, paper pastors are never in a bad mood. They're never cranky, or sleepy or sick. (Especially the dead ones.)

They've never just had someone else pull their guts out with a rusty fork, and then had to turn and listen graciously to your complaint about the translation they preach from, or argue about a Greek word you can't even pronounce. They don't have a family who loses the time you use. They never half-listen, never have an appointment that cuts short their time. Their office hours are your office hours. They're available 24/7, and everywhere, at your whim, and you always have their undivided attention.

What's more is they always have all the answers! They can tell you with complete confidence and masterful eloquence. They never stammer, guess, nor search their memory. And they can prove it — whatever they're saying! With footnotes!

And these paper pastors maintain the perfect distance. If you don't want to hear something, they don't press it — or you can instantly shut them up, snap! They never ask you to do something uncomfortable and follow up on you. They never persistently probe an area of sin, in you, in person, eyeball to eyeball... nor will they. Church discipline will not be a threat with them. Ever.

Because they don't know you from Adam.

Yet how many pastors know that there are people in their flocks, thinking, "John Piper would never say it that way. Dave Hunt says that what he just preached is heresy. John MacArthur isn't like that. Mahaney says that... Mohler says that... Lloyd-Jones said...."

So, because it's awkward for your pastor to say it to you — and because I've no church who'd suspect I'm talking to them, at the moment — I'll just tell you plain:

Brother, sister: John Piper isn't your pastor. John MacArthur knows nothing about you. Dave Hunt never got on his knees and prayed for you. Lloyd-Jones won't come to your house when you're recovering from surgery, or one of your children shatters your heart, or your marriage is shaking and rocking and barely hanging on. Charles Spurgeon won't weep with you as you weep.

You could buy or not buy _____'s next book, and he'd never know it. But if you're in a manageable-size church with a caring pastor and you're suddenly gone next Sunday, he'll be concerned. He may call. He may ask if everything's okay.

God gave you the pastor He gave you.

God told Paul to tell you:
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
God told the writer to the Hebrews to tell you:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
Your flesh-and-blood pastor can't compete with these paper pastors for the same reason you can't compete with paper women and paper men.

Because they're not real.

Dan Phillips's signature

20 April 2009


by Phil Johnson

ixteen years ago Crossway released John MacArthur's Ashamed of the Gospel. That book has never gone out of print. It was a critique of Willow Creek- and Saddleback-style quests for "relevance."

Things are different now. For one thing, virtually everything that seemed so breathtakingly fresh and relevant in the world of seeker-sensitivity sixteen years ago is now out of fashion. Some of it has even become fodder for post-evangelical scorn and mockery. Bill Hybels finally seems to have stopped talking about "unchurched Harry." Rick Warren has broadened his schtick and is trying hard to tie his name to some of Hollywood's pet political causes. (So much for "felt needs.") Other terms that were in vogue back then (like seeker-sensitive and user-friendly) aren't quite as popular today as they were sixteen years ago, either.

But the pragmatic philosophy underlying those terms is still the driving force in the wide, wide world of evangelical and Emerging religion. Advocates of religious pragmatism nowadays generally call what they do "missional." (That's not to suggest that everything called "missional" is bad. It's not.) But let's face it: the champions of missional ministry haven't done a very good job clearly distinguishing their philosophy from old-style pragmatism, and there are hordes of mere-pragmatists who have sneaked in and staked out a claim under the "missional" banner.

Anyway, while the specific trends and gimmicks that were so cutting edge in 1993 are no longer relevant at all, MacArthur's book still is—because it is a critique of that underlying philosophy.

So Crossway thought it was a good time to release a Second Edition of the book. I'm thrilled that they did. I helped edit the original, and it would surely rank as one of the three best books I have ever been privileged to have a hand in editing in 35 years of publishing. Here's a trivia item about it: Ashamed of the Gospel is the book that first sparked my interest in Spurgeon. (I had never read more than isolated quotes and quips from Spurgeon before MacArthur chronicled the Down-Grade Controversy in this book.) Naturally, I lunged at the opportunity to help edit the second edition, even though everyone knows I am burned out on books and deadlines.

So that's what I have been editing for the past several weeks. Crossway will have the complete new manuscript in house later this week, after John MacArthur has had a chance to approve the final edits. I don't want to spill the beans completely, but here's a very short sample from one of the new chapters:
Several decades of nonstop talk and strategizing about relevance, contextualization, and clever methods for engaging the culture have had no perceptible positive spiritual effect on the world we live in. The influence of the church within our culture continues to diminish; our society has grown steadily darker; and the message the church is now giving to the world is more confused and confusing than perhaps any time since the Dark Ages. . .

To be blunt: the church has become a laughingstock with no moral authority to stand before the world and confront sin, declare Christ's lordship, and speak with any credibility about sin, righteousness, or judgment.

It goes on in that vein for several paragraphs. I can't wait to see the finished product.

(This is the first-edition cover:)

Phil's signature

18 April 2009

A Day of Division

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 Church of God and the Truth of God," a sermon delivered on Sunday morning 14 September 1856—within the first 2 years of Spurgeon's London ministry. So this is Spurgeon speaking as a young man, several decades before he became embroiled in the Down-Grade controversy:

E live in very singular times just now. The professing Church has been flattering itself that, notwithstanding all our divisions with regard to doctrine, we are all right in the main. A false and spurious liberality has been growing up which has covered us all, so that we have dreamed that all who bore the name of ministers were indeed God's servants—that all who occupied pulpits, of whatever denomination they might be, were entitled to our respect, as being stewards of the mystery of Christ. But, lately, the weeds upon the surface of the stagnant pool have been a little stirred and we have been enabled to look down into the depths. This is a day of strife—a day of division—a time of war and fighting between professing Christians! God be thanked for it! Far better that it should be so than that the false calm shall any longer exert its fatal spell over us!
C. H. Spurgeon

17 April 2009

Truth and Apologetics

by Phil Johnson

ecently I got an e-mail that raised an excellent, but difficult, question about apologetics. My correspondent was trying to make sense of the inevitable tension we face in those moments when we are called upon "to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . . with gentleness and respect"—and yet we know that the best biblical answer we have to someone's question or challenge is strongly counter cultural and possibly even offensive to the person we're speaking to.

My friend wrote:

I attended a weekend seminar on "Cultural Apologetics" taught by a well-known philosopher/apologist. Toward the end of the final session, the professor opened up the floor to general apologetics questions.

One gentleman asked, "How do I defend the sacking of Canaan by the Israelites?"

My answer was that the Canaanites were destroyed because they were an abomination unto God. There is scriptural basis for that position: "For every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods" (Deuteronomy 12:31). The professor said that was not a good answer, because a non-believer wouldn't care that God's laws had been transgressed.

He then said it was an extremely difficult point to defend against.

I've been wondering ever since. What is the appropriate response? If an unbeliever brings this up, should I divert the conversation and talk about the resurrection instead?

[this was edited somewhat to preserve everyone's anonymity]

My reply:

I have no problem with the answer you gave. "Because they were an abomination to God" is a perfectly valid response: It's true, and it is, after all, the correct biblical answer to the question.

I think it's a serious mistake to evaluate answers to difficult questions by imagining whether a non-believer is likely to respond positively or not. Jesus never did that. He simply proclaimed the truth. That's the same approach we need to take. If unbelievers reject the answer anyway (and some always will, regardless of the cleverness of our strategies), then that's not necessarily an indication of failure on the ambassador's part.

Certainly we should do all we can legitimately do to minimize offense (and eliminate unnecessary offense) to unbelievers, but to dismiss a truthful answer as "not a good answer . . . because a non-believer wouldn't care" is in my view a gross miscarriage of our duty as Christ's ambassadors.

The professor's attitude toward biblical truth reflects in microcosm the very point where contemporary evangelicalism went astray and Protestantism lost its vigor. When people get timid about declaring what Scripture plainly says—especially when that apprehension is driven by fear about how unbelievers might respond—someone has lost sight of what it means to give a defense of the truth.

Being apologetic about the truth of Scripture is something quite different from being an apologist for it.

Phil's signature

16 April 2009

Does "faith" matter?

by Dan Phillips
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1)
Consider a man whose time just hadn't come yet.

It's a pretty amazing story. Guy comes into a Royal Bank of Scotland, goes over to a teller, and tells her that he has a gun in his backpack. Hand over the money.

The tellers are terrified, and they begin to comply. But customer Andrew Stewart wasn't alarmed at all. He walked over to the would-be robber said, "It's April the 1st isn't it mate? It's April Fool's Day." (This happened on March 31, 2008.)

The robber replied, "I've got a gun. I will shoot you." Stewart retorted, "Go on then, shoot me!"

The robber fled. The bag — was empty. Stewart went back to the paper he had been reading.

I would love to have seen Stewart's face when he learned the truth.

Think of it. Why was Stewart so calm and so brave? Well, really, he was calm; but he wasn't brave, exactly, was he? Stewart was calm because of his faith. Stewart believed that it was all just an April Fool's hoax. No bravery required.

He did what he did, because he believed what he believed.

But here's the thing: he was wrong! He was just (what most folks would call) lucky. If there'd been a gun, we wouldn't be chuckling. Nor would Stewart.

Of course, it wasn't luck. There is a "time to die" (Ecclesiastes 3:2), and the Lord, who kills and makes alive (Deuteronomy 32:39), didn't say it was Stewart's time.

From this incident, I glean two points: one general, one more specific and convicting.

Here's my more general point.

Forget everything you know about this event. You're watching this scene with no words, no sound. You watch what Stewart does. Then I ask you, "Can you tell me what that guy believes and why?"

You'd say, "I can't tell you why, but yeah, I can tell he believes he's in no danger. He believes he knows what he's doing. He believes he's doing the right thing."

Stewart showed us his faith by his works (James 2:18). Works — deeds, decisions, actions, priorities — reveal faith. They reveal faith more truly than lips alone reveal it (James 2:14). The Bible says and shows this a hundred, two hundred different ways (Proverbs 14:2; 1 John 2:29; etc.).

Anyone can say he's a Christian. You can teach a parrot to say he's a Christian. But life as lived reveals reality.

Now, the really convicting point. Ready? Strapped in? Okay.

Say it's not Stewart we're watching without sound. It's you. It's me.

Can you tell what we believe, and why? The things we spend the most time on, feel the most strongly about, invest the most of ourselves in — what do they say about our faith? Our priorities, our goals, our rules of engagement — looking at them, what do we believe?

Do we live boldly, confidently, riskily, like people who believe they have a loving, giving, kind, sovereign Father who has dealt fully and finally with all their sins, forever, in Christ? Think of the roll-call of faith in Hebrews 11, and the amazing feats accomplished by people who really, truly believed in the Word of God. Do we live like people who believe that His word is our law, for our thoughts and choices and affections?

Do we live the lives of people who believe this world is passing, and that only he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17)? Do we live like we believe that seeking His kingdom and righteousness is our priority (Matthew 6:34)? Is His glory our all-consuming passion (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

Do we live like we believe that we are surrounded by lost rebels whose only hope is the Gospel we say we know and believe to be the saving power of God?

Does "faith" matter?

Oh, absolutely. We do what we do, because we believe what we believe. Faith makes all the difference. Not should make, but does make.

But what faith?

And what difference?

Dan Phillips's signature

15 April 2009

Establish Elders [4]

by Frank Turk

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.
OK -- after a coupla weeks speaking my mind about apologetics, in God's providence, I got sucked back into the world of CARM and I will regret it, I promise you. But that said, rather than spin out something pithy about the theologically-undead which inhabit the message boards and troll the interwebs looking to literally eat your brains out, let's get back to what Paul was talking about here.

See: so far in this series I have been on about what Paul wants the men he is instructing here to be -- but a final critical issue in this phrase (yes: next week we move the underline) is that Paul did want these guys there.

You know: there is a perpetual merciless beating against pastors on the internet -- and I admit that some of them need it. But one of the things, dear pastor reader, that you must take to heart is that God really did intend that the local church have local pastors. That is, pastors and not vigilante theological or political brawlers. Or, if I may say it without stepping on too many toes, a face on a jumbotron. Men who are, well, like the next part of this passage who are frankly charged with the well-being of Christ's people for the sake of teaching them who Christ is, who He has made them, and what that means in their daily life.

Paul wanted Titus to establish elders. That was the plan. God says it's a good idea, and you should agree with him.

14 April 2009

Charismatic low-octane "prophecy" dodge (NEXT! #10)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: Prophecy is no more infallible than preaching.

Response: Okay, now replace "prophecy" with the pan-Biblical definition of (1) "inerrant, (2) morally-binding (3) direct revelation from God," and try that again.

(Proverbs 21:22)

Dan Phillips's signature