31 May 2009

Wanted: Mature Christians

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 "Ripe Fruit," a sermon preached 14 August 1870 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

he church wants mature Christians very greatly, and especially when there are many fresh converts added to it. New converts furnish impetus to the church, but her backbone and substance must, under God, lie with the mature members.

We want mature Christians in the army of Christ, to play the part of veterans, to inspire the rest with coolness, courage, and steadfastness; for if the whole army is made up of raw recruits the tendency will be for them to waver when the onslaught is fiercer than usual. The old guard, the men who have breathed smoke and eaten fire before, do not waver when the battle rages like a tempest, they can die but they cannot surrender. When they hear the cry of "Forward," they may not rush to the front so nimbly as the younger soldiers, but they drag up the heavy artillery, and their advance once made is secure. They do not reel when the shots fly thick, but still hold their own, for they remember former fights when Jehovah covered their heads.

The church wants in these days of flimsiness and timeserving, more decided, thoroughgoing, well-instructed, and confirmed believers.

We are assailed by all sorts of new doctrines. The old faith is attacked by so-called reformers, who would reform it all away. I expect to hear tidings of some new doctrine once a week. So often as the, moon changes, some prophet or other is moved to propound a now theory, and believe me, he will contend more valiantly for his novelty than ever he did for the gospel.

The discoverer thinks himself a modern Luther, and of his doctrine he thinks as much as David of Goliath's sword, "There is none like it." As Martin Luther said of certain in his day, these inventors of new doctrines stare at their discoveries like a cow at a new gate, as if there were nothing else in all the world but the one thing for them to stare at.

We are all expected to go mad for their fashions, and march to their piping. To whom we give place; no, not for an hour.

They may muster a troop of raw recruits, and lead them whither they would, but for confirmed believers they sound their bugles in vain. Children run after every new toy; any little performance in the street, and the boys are all agog, gaping at it; but their fathers have work to do abroad, and their mothers have other matters at home; your drum and whistle will not, draw them out. For the solidity of the church, for her steadfastness in the faith, for her defense against the constantly recurring attacks of heretics and infidels, and for her permanent advance and the seizing of fresh provinces for Christ, we want not only your young, hot blood, which may God always send to us, for it is of immense service, and we cannot do without it, but we need also the cool, steady, well-disciplined, deeply-experienced. hearts of men who know by experience the truth of God, and hold fast what they have learned in the school of Christ.

May the Lord our God therefore send us many such; they are wanted.

C. H. Spurgeon

29 May 2009

A word from CHS as you hone your sermons

posted by Dan Phillips
I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close. (Charles H Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students)

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28 May 2009

More about Da Book and da immediate future

by Dan Phillips

Thanks to everyone who made My Big Announcement fun for me. And thanks for your kind words. (I'm definitely noting down those book-title suggestions for future projects.)

The name of the brave man who contacted me is Brian Thomasson, Senior Developmental and Acquisitions Editor for David C. Cook. The particular post that struck Brian as maybe having some good ideas for a book is the one on sarkicophobia, though the book will be a good bit broader in scope than that.

Never having exactly done this before, I proposed a manuscript deadline for myself that is... well.... Let's put it like this: when I told Phil, there was a pause, then a disconcerting peal of hearty laughter, followed by "Good luck with that!"

Unnerving response. So I've been working like a madman, and already have the hardest six chapters drafted out. Praise God! Lots more to do, though.

So I have to trim my time. My dear wife and family are being very understanding and supportive and sacrificial. I stepped down from leading the Men's Fellowship, at least for the present. And I'm taking time off from work here and there.

What else to trim? Well, what I do at my blog I usually can wheedle in while I'm doing other things. But the posts at Pyro as a rule take up more of my otherwise-free time. So that is going to have to change, temporarily.

I have some more NEXT!s lined up to scatter here and there, and maybe a post on this and that. I have two three [oops] book reviews I should do at minimum (one here, one for my blog), and then my reading will all have to be related to the book.

What I need to do is make like Chicago and put out a few "Greatest Hits."

There's where you come in, Dear Reader.

Not for this thread, but in a future post, I'll ask for suggestions as to which from the last three years might make for good summer re-runs. You might be thinking now of which ones you might suggest. In fact, I hoping to make it a contest. There may be valuable gifts and prizes.

And now... you know that.

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27 May 2009

His Children [2]

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.

So the last time we left off with the question, "cent: as a Dad, I did all that -- and my son (or daughter) decided to do what was right in his own eyes. I thought he was a Timothy, and he's a Demas -- or worse. It kills me -- I can't express what it is to be a father with a child who has fallen out of the faith. But as I read what you say Paul is saying here, should I step down as an elder? Are you saying my child has disqualified me?"

See: we all get hung up on that phrase in the ESV which says "his children are believers". Let me suggest something which Justin Taylor needs to go back to Crossway about in future editions of the ESV: maybe they need to reconsider how that passage is translated.

Now, before anyone gets all, "cent's a liar! He says he knows Greek when he doesn't know Greek!" on us, I don't know from Greek. But what I do know is that the word here which the ESV translates as "believers", the NET Bible translates as "faithful" -- and to clarify, they give this translators' note:
Or “believing children.” The phrase could be translated “believing children,” but the parallel with 1 Tim 3:4 (“keeping his children in control”) argues for the sense given in the translation.
That is, the sense that the man qualified for eldership is able to keep order in his home, therefore he demonstrates he can keep order in the church.

There's also the matter of how this word is commonly used in the NT. For example, Mt 25:21, Luke 12:42, Acts 16:15 (and about 50 other places) all use this word to indicate reliability or trustworthiness or obedience. So it seems, especially given the NET translators' note, that Paul is here not talking about a man who has somehow procured the election of God for his children (thus my frustration with last week's comments about this passage), but about a man who can train others up to be trustworthy or reliable members of his household.

And in that, an adult child who has run away from the faith is a tragedy, but he is a tragedy the church can then deal with as with all adult tragedies of the same stripe. And if he has abandoned the faith, it is on his head and not his father's.

But consider it, dear pastor reader: does your family qualify you for the role of elder? Have you trained up your children in the way they should go, and seen them follow your leadership in the home? If we abide by the notion that those who are first faithful in little things can then be faithful in much, your family is your first calling and the place where you show that you can lead well.

Think on it.

26 May 2009

My Big Fat English Announcement

by Dan Phillips

Over the past couple of months, I gave a couple of intimations on Facebook of an imminent announcement. Turns out that I was a bit of a typical dispensationalist if I used the word "imminent," as it froze in a state of impending.

Until now.
One last time, I mentioned on Facebook Monday that I planned actually to make the announcement here today. A "watch thread" was started at my blog, featuring some ...er... very creative (and fanciful) investigative work.
Now, I am glad and grateful to be able to take this occasion to make a shameless, self-centered (uncharacteristically so, I hope) use of this precious platform to announce that, after years — nay, decades — of dreaming and wishing, and more than one failed attempt, I have been given the humbling opportunity of a lifetime.

Last January, I was approached by a long-time Pyro lurker, who asked me whether I had any interest in writing a book.

And I said Boy, did I!

And the really cool thing is that he was senior acquisitions editor for David C. Cook.

Fast forward: we talked, discussed some ideas; he helped me with a proposal... and now I have a signed contract and advance in my sweaty little hand!

Now if you want to proceed directly to the title-and-topic guessing portion of today's party....

(You do have to have a sense of humor to play.)

UPDATE: we've had some pretty marvelous title recommendations — just about the most fun I've had since this.

Here's a selection:

"Phillips' 66 Books of the Bible"
"Postmodern Bible Study: Passages that are Sworda Unclear"
"Continualist Christians in a World of Famine for the Word of God"
"The Secret Message of McLaren"
"An Old (Bald) Kind of Christian"
"The Book of not-so-Common Hair"
"Your Best Life Now - Then What?"
"Domesticated at Heart"
"They Like Jesus, But They Don't Like the Church, Dan Phillips, or Pretty Much Anybody Else Who Tells Them What They Don't Wanna Hear"
"Phillips Milk of Amnesia: Remembering What We Shouldn't Have Forgotten (as Soon as I Remember What it Was)"
"Got Milk? Red Meat From the Word"
"Pomo Wars: Daniel in the Lyin' Den"
"Left Behind: Places Where I'd Like to Kick Pomo Authors"
"The Pomo's Progress; from This World to... well, we're really not sure..."
"The Manger: Why What Happened There, Means We Don't Need The Shack"
"What Would Jesus Don't: Why the Ten Commandments Still Apply"
"Reading Jonathan Edwards for fun and Spiritual Profit"

Mesa Mike
"Costco Frozen Meat Chub vs. Fresh Red Meat: Contrasting Law and Gospel"
Brian Sporer
"Go back under your bridge: The comprehensive guide for dealing with trolls"
'Why the KJV Bible is the Only Inspired Bible: A Journey'
"Don't Waste Your Knife: A Dispensationalist Rightly Divides the Word of Truth"
"CalviDispieBaptoGelicalism: Even Better Than Doing Things Like Ministry"
"Phillips' 66: A Bibely Commentary"
Benjamin Nitu
"Truth, huh, yeah / What is it good for?"
"This Book Has Been Deleted by Blog Administrator: A First-Hand Encounter With Postmodern Tolerance"
"Why Every Self Respecting Calvinist is a Dispensationalist"
"Dan Phillips Study Bible — in Engrish"
"Hard to Believe : An Emergent commentary from Genesis to Revelation"
"Covenant, Schmovenant!"
"The Trail of Blood, Part II: A Study on the effects of My Kung-Fu on Dave Hunt's Kung Fu (A Pop-Up Book!)"
"NEXT!: A Bathroom Reader"
"The Snack : When Pizza and God Collide"
"The Gospel According to Star Trek"
"Don't Be Hatin': An Apology for Christian Hip-Hop"
"Herding Cats: The Life of a Pyro Meta Moderator"
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23 May 2009

No Need to Feed the Dead

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following selection is from "Feeding on the Bread of Life," a sermon preached at the Met Tab in London on Sunday evening 6 November 1881. The illustration with which Spurgeon opened this sermon came to mind while we were visiting the Capuchin crypt at Savoca, near Messina, Sicily, this morning.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life."—John 6:47, 48.

BSERVE carefully the order in which our Lord puts the two blessings he mentions;—first, life through believing on him, and then food to sustain that life;—first, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life;" and next to that, "I am that bread of life." Life comes first, and food follows afterwards. It is impossible for a dead man to feed, or to be fed; only the living can eat and drink.

I once went into the monastery of the Capuchins at Rome, and there I saw certain of the departed brotherhood dressed in their regular habits, although they had been dead, some of them a hundred years, some fifty, and one gentleman, I think, had scarcely been dead more than a year or so; but there they sat, with their breviaries in their hands, just as, if they had been alive; yet I did not see any preparations for feeding them. It would have been as ridiculous to attempt to feed them as it was to keep them there at all.

Now, when we preach the gospel, unless you have spiritual life, you cannot feed upon it; and if you were to come to the communion table, unless you were truly alive unto God, you might eat the bread, and drink the wine, but with real spiritual food, the body of Christ, and the blood of Christ, you could have nothing to do. We do not give food to people in order to make them live. That would be a useless experiment; but, because they are alive, they take food in order to sustain and nourish the life which is already in them. Always recollect, dear friends, that the best spiritual food in the world is useless to those who are spiritually dead; and one very essential part of the gospel is that truth which our Savior so plainly taught, "Ye must be born again." All attempts at feeding the soul are of no use until the new birth has been experienced; even that precious, priceless bread of life cannot be assimilated unless the soul has been quickened by the Spirit of God.

Judge, then, my hearers, whether you are alive unto God, or not. Before you can rightly know the truth, before you are qualified to learn its mysteries, pray that you may be made to live by faith in Jesus Christ; for before food comes life.

But, next, after life there must be food; for, just as surely as there will be no use for the food without the life, so will there be no continuance of the life without the food.

C. H. Spurgeon

22 May 2009

Sweattin' with the Fundies

by Phil Johnson

ne thing I have tried to keep an eye on whilst teaching theology in Sicily is this rumble among some of my fundamentalist friends.

It seems that at a recent meeting of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International (FBFI), Dr. Dan Sweatt inveighed against Calvinism. Apparently, he let loose in particular against the "Young and Restless" fundamentalists who are embracing the doctrines of grace. I haven't been able to listen to Brother Sweatt's message yet. I've downloaded it for my listening pleasure between Rome and Atlanta this weekend.

Anyway, our longtime friend and sometime critic Bob Bixby commented on the sermon, and Brother Bixby's blog has unleashed a flurry of discussion in the fundamentalist blogosphere not seen since—well, maybe since Dr. Dave Doran dissected one of my Shepherds' Conference seminars on fundamentalism.

Speaking of Dr. Doran, he has also weighed in admirably on the FBFI controversy. In fact, the subject has dominated the early posts on his new blog. (Trust me: that's definitely a blog to bookmark.)

Dr. Kevin Bauder, a true classic fundamentalist in the best sense of that term, has addressed the issues raised by brother Sweatt. (Virtually anything Dr. Bauder writes is worth reading.)

And last but by no means least, even Dr. Piper lobbed a blogpost into the mix.

So the whole brouhaha has been the subject of much dialogue at Sharperiron.org, the most active and interesting of all the fundamentalist blogs.

Read up; listen up; and when I get home, let's talk about it.

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21 May 2009

Misusing God's immutability as a continuationist dodge (NEXT! #13)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: The Bible says God doesn't change, so we should expect Him to [give revelation, semi-revelation, revelatory/attesting sign-gifts, do exactly as He did in the days of ____, etc.].

Response: Yeah.... Oh and say, can I have a bite of that ham sandwich? Cool shirt, by the way. And hey... where's your lamb? Well, see you in church Sunday, when you draw near to God to bring your spiritual offerings directly to Him through Christ, wherever you decide to worship.

(Proverbs 21:22)

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20 May 2009

His Children [1]

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.

Yes: welcome back to Titus.

I think what I enjoy about this letter from Paul so much is that from Paul's perspective, this is simply a brief letter (~900 words in English -- about 2 pages single-spaced in WORD), and he writes it to Titus as if it's just the way things are or ought to be.

But when we read it here at the blog -- and think about this now: we're allegedly the conservative watch-bloggers, the ones that are all literalist, inerrantist, high-on-holiness, serious Christian men and women (especially pastors) -- it's full of controversy for us.

What? "Establish Elders"?

"Blameless"? You can't mean that Paul means "blameless" -- who but Christ is truly "blameless"?

"Husband"? But Timothy and Paul weren't themselves married -- you can't mean "husband".

I think reading this letter really dispels from us the idea that we're really all that biblically literate or full of the expectations Paul was full of -- because as we walk through what he wanted from Titus and for the Cretans, we find out that maybe we forgot to want these things for ourselves.

So we get to this clause here -- and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination -- and I think it's going to be a deal-breaker for many of you, for a variety of reasons. Because in the first place, Timothy and Paul didn't have any children, right? Because they didn't have children, and Paul tells Timothy not to let anyone despise him for his youth, what Paul says to Titus here must be mitigated in some way -- we think.

But here's the problem: there's a big difference between Paul, the messenger from Jesus to the Gentiles, who personally learned the Gospel from Jesus and who wrote inerrant Scripture, and us -- who are, well, just look at us. We're more like the church at Galatia and Corinth than we are like even Jonah or Peter.

So we have to admit something: Paul's ability to choose disciples and leaders in the church is probably different in a better way than our ability to do so. While he might be able to choose a Titus or a Timothy, our ability to do so is probably lacking in some way. If that’s the case, we should follow his instructions for us first before we start fishing for loopholes.

And in this particular instance, Mark Driscoll does say something useful for us to consider which is a practical example of what Paul is talking about here: his schtick is that a young guy who wants to argue about paedocommunion ought to be more concerned with getting a job, loving a wife, and having kids than he should be about whether a baby gets a sip of wine during worship.

That is: you need to be a little more informed about the world God made than a bookish knowledge of how the family works if you want to be an elder/pastor in God's church. You need to have lived the faith before you start theorizing about the faith.

Voddie Baucham makes a far more bold statement about this qualification for the elder: if your family is not in order, you should get out of the ministry. You are not qualified.

But Paul actually goes farther than that: he says that if one's children are "open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination", one is not qualified. That's the rub, isn't it? That Paul actually goes farther than we are comfortable with in his qualification of a man for leading the church than we do.

And again, some will say, "well, Paul didn't have any children." Yes: Paul was chosen by Christ. Unless you have had the Damascus road experience, abiding by the normal standards presented by Scripture seems like a more prudent course than being a closet continualist by suggesting that anyone today was "called" in the way Paul was "called". God uses all manner of men in His plan to redeem the world -- but for the leadership of the church, He (through Paul) has listed specifically that having children who are themselves believers is a criterion to be qualified.

But why? See: I know these posts have been brief in the beginning, but it's critical to see why Paul is handing Titus qualifications for elders here. In a culture like the Cretan culture (that is, like our culture), the church needs more than a good feeling about somebody.

Paul wants someone who understands this:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
and this:
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
In short, Paul sees the role of elders to be fathers in the faith in the same way husbands and fathers ought to behave in the family. Men who have already demonstrated the key attributed of pastoral ministry ought to be the ones teaching others.

And if you don’t get the implication here, let me say it plainly: the pastorate/eldership is not for guys who are still working out their issues. And by that I mean this: it’s one thing to put someone in charge of a little to see if he can be trusted with more, and another to entrust the spiritual well-being of a flock of believers to someone who, himself, cannot be trusted with his own charge in his family. It’s ironic that ultimately the Bible says that the family is where we test men to see if they are suitable pastors and elders – because in our way of thinking, the family is more precious than the assembled believers. But in God’s economy, the church is where you put experienced men, and the family is where they gain that experience. The family is the lesser thing where men are tested, and the church is the greater thing where those who are qualified should go.

Now, the last objection to this is a sensitive one: "cent: as a Dad, I did all that -- and my son (or daughter) decided to do what was right in his own eyes. I thought he was a Timothy, and he's a Demas -- or worse. It kills me -- I can't express what it is to be a father with a child who has fallen out of the faith. But as I read what you say Paul is saying here, should I step down as an elder? Are you saying my child has disqualified me?"

That's a great question, and I will take it up next week.

19 May 2009

Men, fathers, husbands: under fire from all sides

by Dan Phillips

First, the admission. I imagine that I — a card-carrying male, husband, and father — am more sensitive to the way males, husbands and fathers are regarded. After all, I are one.

Now the musing. An editorial in the Washington Times briefly discusses "Anti-dad bias." At the start, it says that "American television has come a long way from the 1950s series 'Father Knows Best.'" I think the writer was riffing off the title of that series as a bench-mark of a day when fathers were respected and well-regarded. I loved that series as a child, but in fact it leaned in the opposite direction. The father, played by Robert Young (good actor, sad life and wretched religious choice), was portrayed as a well-meaning, bumbling inept. He's been followed by countless other similar portrayals, cut from the same moldy mold.

Here we part from the article, which leaves the general treatment of fathers in our culture to focus on on divorce, child-support payments and visitation issues. But as we pass Mother's Day and head towards Father's Day, my thoughts turn to dear ol' dad.

To say too much too briefly, I think men/husbands/fathers receive very varied treatment in evangelicalism, broadly defined.

On the one extreme you have folks who say, in so many words, that the father (has so much power and responsibility that he) is directly chargeable for everything that goes wrong in the family. He just needs to man up, feel the power, and get 'er done. There! There y'go. Now: on "three": one... two....

As I have argued at some length, I strongly disagree with that viewpoint.

At the other edge are those evanjellybeanicals who are working hard to turn men into women. Men are, pretty much, always wrong, stupid, contemptible — we're told. They'd do so much better if they'd just be more like their wives. I'm not kidding. I remember years ago listening to one of those Family Issues Experts, a man with a national ministry, books, seminars, radio — talking about a trip he took with his wife. Among other things, he'd planned that they spend time together in the Word and praying on their time away.

Well, boy oh boy. He hadn't secured her permission for that activity. And she punished him for it, bad boy that he was. And boy, was he sorry. And he told us all how bad he'd been, so we could all be good boys.

Now you all know by now that I'm not the sort who charts out extremes then picks a place in the middle, but that's where I find myself on this... to some degree. That is, being a man means taking responsibility. But it also means having a certain degree of — boy, is this going to set some people off — delegated and limited authority. God holds him to account, and he tells those for whom the man is to care that they should respect him and subordinate themselves to his leadership (Ephesians 5:22, 24, 33b; 6:1-3).

I think the phrase "servant leadership" has become almost useless. As commonly employed, the first word is used to obliterate the second. But we should remember that the premier example over all possible examples is Jesus Christ (Matthew 20:26-28) — and specifically in Him doing what nobody wanted Him to do! He crossed their wills (no pun), because they needed Him to.

So it's not all about taking a vote and going with the majority, any more than it's all about pounding your chest, doing a Tarzan-yell, and barking out overbearing orders.

So there's Dadhood Today for you. Steady hail of gunfire from both directions. You're too feminized, you need to get your testosterone on and TAKE CHARGE FOR GOD; and you're too brutish and domineering, and you need to become more like... well, more like your wife!

On the subject, I think there are only two kinds: people who recognize it's complicated, and idi... hm, what's the nice word? "The unthoughtful."

HSAT, I of course think it's best to err on the side of taking responsibility.

Illustration: once upon an undatable-by-you time, an unidentifiable-by-you pair of my four kids showed my dear wife a degree of disrespect that appalled me. I learned of this while at work.

On the way home, I bought some food for a meal such as my wife loves. I got home, set Valerie's place with care, called us all to dinner. Made my children stand with me as I seated Valerie with particular honor, and served her. We prayed.

Then I talked with them and explained what was about to happen. I reminded them of what I'd taught them since the cradle about respecting their mother. I told them how appalled and shamed I was by what they'd done (don't let your imagination go nuts; you'd probably think it a small thing — I think it related to homeschooling), and that I would never tolerate such treatment of their mother — ever.

And so, I told them that we would all keep Mom good company as she enjoyed her dinner. I told them they could have water — and that was it.*

And I told them I'd do the same.

Why? I told them that I must somehow have failed to communicate how deadly serious I was in what I'd taught them. So we'd all just let it growl a bit, together.

Did it "take," deeply? God knows. I can say that there was no replay. I did my best to get it across, I prayed it did, and that's about the limit of a mere mortal's abilities (the Dad-as-ominipotent-king group to the contrary notwithstanding).

All that to take a 180-degree turn, and say this:
An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,
but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones
(Proverbs 12:4)
I dearly hope you men regularly shower appreciation on your wives. I hope you used Mother's Day to do it even more. If not, better late than never, while you still can.

I also hope you ladies make your husbands feel like kings regularly, and use Father's Day to do it even more. Because it is also your responsibility to teach (yourself and) your children to honor your husband, their father.

Gentlemen, it is your responsibility to take the lead in showing your children how to honor your wife, their mother (Proverbs 31:28-31). Set the mark high.

Ladies, it is your responsibility to take the lead in showing your children how to honor your husband, their father (Ephesians 5:33b). It starts in your heart. Set the mark high.

*NOTE: No Phillips children were starved (or ever have been) in the teaching of this (or any) lesson. Trust me on this.

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18 May 2009

On the distasteful necessity of theological controversy

by Phil Johnson

nthony Trollope was a Victorian novelist whose output and popularity rivaled Dickens. His books aren't as well known today as the Dickens classics, but they are still easily available and Trollope still has a passionate following.

Trollope grew up in a poor but aristocratic family. His father, though related to the landed gentry, failed at practically everything he ever attempted. In later years Anthony's mother, Frances Trollope, scored some remarkable successes as a writer (achieving fame but not much critical acclaim with Domestic Manners of the Americans [1832] and several novels). But her earnings were not enough to overcome her husband's failures, and the family ultimately fled to Belgium so that Anthony's father could avoid debtors' prison.

The incongruity between his family's rank in society and their standard of living contributed much to the themes of Anthony Trollope's novels.

Many of those novels (most notably his best-known series, The Chronicles of Barsetshire) focused on the internal politics and doctrinal disparity within the Anglian church—high vs. low churchmen; evangelicals vs. Puseyites; and youth vs. experience. Trollope's sympathies clearly lay with the high church, anti-evangelical, traditionalist parties. (He was plainly no fan of Charles Spurgeon. He loved to lampoon evangelicals, including those within the established church as well as the nonconformists.) So in all candor I don't share Trollope's theological perspective and rarely appreciate his satirical commentary on ecclesiastical matters. Unfortunately for me, his novels are full of those themes.

But I admire his style of writing and his ability to make even his most outlandish caricatures seem real and living. He also had an uncanny knack for bringing common sense to bear against popular opinion, and at times—even while disagreeing with his fundamental perspective—I find myself in awe of his logic.

Here's a passage I especially resonated with from Barchester Towers. Eleanor Bold is conversing with Mr. Arabin, a vicar:

"I never saw anything like you clergymen," said Eleanor; "You are always thinking of fighting each other."

"Either that," said he, "or else supporting each other. The pity is that we cannot do the one without the other. But are we not here to fight? Is not ours a church militant? What is all our work but fighting, and hard fighting, if it be well done?"

"But not with each other."

"That's as it may be. The same complaint which you make of me for battling with another clergyman of our own church, the Mohammedan would make against me for battling with the error of a priest of Rome. Yet, surely, you would not be inclined to say that I should be wrong to do battle with such as him. A pagan, too, with his multiplicity of gods, would think it equally odd that the Christian and the Mohammedan should disagree."

"Ah! But you wage your wars about trifles so bitterly."

"Wars about trifles," said he, "are always bitter, especially among neighbours. When the differences are great, and the parties comparative strangers, men quarrel with courtesy. What combatants are ever so eager as two brothers?"

"But do not such contentions bring scandal on the church?"

"More scandal would fall on the church if there were no such contentions. . . ."

Then he continued: "What you say is partly true: our contentions do bring on us some scandal. The outer world, though it constantly reviles us for our human infirmities and throws in our teeth the fact that being clergymen we are still no more than men, demands of us that we should do our work with godlike perfection. There is nothing god-like about us: we differ from each other with the acerbity common to man; we triumph over each other with human frailty; we allow differences on subjects of divine origin to produce among us antipathies and enmities which are anything but divine. This is all true. But what would you have in place of it? There is no infallible head for a church on earth. This dream of believing man has been tried, and we see in Italy and in Spain what has come of it. Grant that there are and have been no bickerings within the pale of the Pope's Church. Such an assumption would be utterly untrue, but let us grant it, and then let us say which church has incurred the heavier scandals."

. . . . . . . . . .

"It is so easy to condemn," said he, continuing the thread of his thoughts. "I know no life that must be so delicious as that of a writer for newspapers, or a leading member of the opposition—to thunder forth accusations against men in power; to show up the worst side of everything that is produced; to pick holes in every coat; to be indignant, sarcastic, jocose, moral, or supercilious; to damn with faint praise, or crush with open calumny! What can be so easy as this when the critic has to be responsible for nothing? You condemn what I do, but put yourself in my position and do the reverse, and then see if I cannot condemn you."

"Oh, Mr. Arabin, I do not condemn you."

"Pardon me, you do, Mrs. Bold—you as one of the world; you are now the opposition member; you are now composing your leading article, and well and bitterly you do it. 'Let dogs delight to bark and bite'—you fitly begin with an elegant quotation—'but if we are to have a church at all, in heaven's name let the pastors who preside over it keep their hands from each other's throats. Lawyers can live without befouling each other's names; doctors do not fight duels. Why is it that clergymen alone should indulge themselves in such unrestrained liberty of abuse against each other?' and so you go on reviling us for our ungodly quarrels, our sectarian propensities, and scandalous differences. It will, however, give you no trouble to write another article next week in which we, or some of us, shall be twitted with an unseemly apathy in matters of our vocation. It will not fall on you to reconcile the discrepancy; your readers will never ask you how the poor parson is to be urgent in season and out of season and yet never come in contact with men who think widely differently from him. You, when you condemn this foreign treaty, or that official arrangement, will have to incur no blame for the graver faults of any different measure. It is so easy to condemn—and so pleasant too, for eulogy charms no listeners as detraction does."

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16 May 2009

Against Eloquence

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 "Acta Non Verba," ("Act, don't speak") an essay Spurgeon wrote for the January 1873 Sword and Trowel."

ine language amuses the ear, as the tinkling of their little bells pleases the continental coach-horses, but it cannot satisfy the soul any more than the aforesaid tintinabulations can supply the place of corn and hay.

The art of arranging words, and balancing sentences, is a mental jugglery, as astonishing when perfectly practiced, as the feats of the Chinese or Japanese artistes who just lately have charmed vast audiences at the Crystal Palace; but cui bono? what is the good of it, and who is the better for it? Who was ever convinced of sin by an oratorical flourish? What heart was led to Jesus, and to joy and peace in believing, by a fine passage resplendent with all the graces of diction? What chaff is to the wheat, and dross to gold, that is the excellence of human speech to the simplicity of the word of God.

For awhile fascinated by the siren voice of vain philosophy and affected culture, many of the churches have drawn perilously near to the rocks of heresy and doubt, but divine grace is visiting them, and they will shake off the spell.

Everywhere there is a cry for the gospel, for men who will preach it in the love of it, for ministers who will live it, and inoculate others with its life: the church is growing sick of essayists, and asks for men of God. She is weary of word-spinners, and pretenders to deep thought, and she cries for men full of the Holy Spirit, who are lovers of the word and not speakers only. Soul-winners will soon be in demand, and your genteel essayists will have to carry their dry goods to another market. Sane men do not need fiddlers, while the life-boat is being manned to save yonder perishing ones from the devouring deep.

The intensely practical character of Christianity might be inferred from the life of its founder. In Jesus we see no display, no aiming at effect, nothing spoken or done to decorate or ornament the simplicity of his daily life. True, he was a prophet, mighty in words as well as in deeds; but his words were downright and direct, winged with a purpose, and never uttered for speaking's sake.

Nobody ever looks at Jesus as an orator to be compared with Cicero. "Never man spake like this man." He was not of the schools. No graver's tool had passed over his eloquence. In his presence Demosthenes is seen to be a statue, carved with great skill, and the very counterfeit of life; but Jesus is life itself,—not art's sublimest fac simile of nature, but the living truth.

C. H. Spurgeon

15 May 2009

An unkind word, which is better than a kiss from an enemy

by Frank Turk

I’ll admit it: yesterday went badly.

Mostly, there was an abject refusal to obey the rules I asked all players to abide by, and while Dan valiantly tried to stem the tide, it all went completely downhill sometime around the place where I posted my reply to Adam O. Calvinists and their deniers were all to blame, so please everyone pause for a moment of repentance and shame.

OK. Now that you are all appropriately chastised, I have a couple-three observations about yesterday’s meta, and then a couple of words regarding why you should just stop pretending that modern-day objections to “Calvinism” are really “Arminian”, really not “pelagian”, and really do any good for you as you think about and proclaim the Gospel.

On the meta:
  1. Isn’t it somewhat bizarre that, given the opportunity to simply shine and show off how logical and biblically-cohesive their view is, the non-calvinists/anti-calvinists didn’t have much to say until the meta fell apart?
  2. And isn’t it completely telling that, as Dan pointed out, you can’t make the non-calvinist position make any sense in 500 words – you have to go long and hope that the reader isn’t paying close attention?
  3. Most importantly, isn’t it most telling that the non-calvinists really wind up being people who don’t receive Paul’s answer to the hypothetical questioner in Romans 9 with any kind of seriousness? You know: Romans 9 where God has apparently failed in His promise and man is sort of just a victim of God’s capricious choice to save or not.
Now, that all said, I know this post has a tone of simple disdain. I know it because I cannot avoid it – I really try to have patience for the non-calvinist, but the truth is that they don’t really have any patience for the Calvinist under any circumstance, and they as a group don’t really listen: they just want to bluster on about God being the author of evil as if the book of Job didn’t exist, or the point of Acts 2 wasn’t God’s final sovereignty over the most heinous act in the history of the world.

But here’s the thing: almost none of these people are really “arminian”: they are post-Finney revivalists who are afraid that the Gospel in Calvinistic terms is too hard on God. It makes God too seriously-involved in the real world so that He might be (mis)construed as the author of evil. But the consequences of that concern have consequences these people do not have any regard for. For example:
  1. If God does not (in the Gen 50 sense) “intend” evil in any way, he certainly does not “superintend” the acts of the universe – so the future, while God may “know of it” in some way, is not in His control. The case the Bible makes plainly that God knows even if a single sparrow falls to the ground, and how many hairs are left on your head, and He knows the content of men’s hearts, and He does nothing without knowing the end from the beginning. No “arminian” makes any sense of this problem – which is a foundationally-biblical problem as it is actually the point of most of the Bible.
  2. Suffering has to make sense in this world. It is too pervasive a state for a “gospel” which is to be declared to every man to ignore – and the “arminian” who is trying to protect God from being sovereign over ever evil is stripping the Gospel of any credibility in a world where children starve, babies are murdered, old people suffer in pain and loneliness, nations suffer under despotic and vile men, and acts of nature dispossess people of life, liberty, and property every single minute of every day. The rosy world of the anti-calvinist simple, blithely, whistles past the pervasive nature of evil and pain in this world. If God is not in charge of it in some meaningful way, the universe He is allegedly running is running away from Him.
  3. The death of Christ cannot be explained if God did not intend it is some direct and specific way. It was an evil act: make no mistake. Peter says in Acts 2 it was an act of evil men. But He also then says it was God’s plan accomplished by God’s means. There is no meaningful explanation of the crucifixion of Christ unless it is to say that God intended it specifically and particularly.
These other explanations dismantle the Gospel and make Christ’s work, and the whole world, about how man can do better – and you people haven’t been reading Pelagius, so I don’t imagine that you’re enamoured of him and want that to be your patron saint. But what you have (unintentionally) done is become influenced by the children of Charles Finney.

Finney was himself a virulent anti-calvinist, so much so that it is hard not to call him a full-blown pelagian. His view that the faith should be about new methods and moral reform plainly spell out the problem: he doesn’t see man as essentially unable to be faithful to God – and frankly, that's Pelagius version 2.0. We sort of admit in humility that we are “sinners”, but that label doesn’t imply, for example, real enmity and rejection of God: it only means we make mistakes.

The Gospel comes, and Christ is sacrificed on a cross, not because you didn’t try hard enough. Christ’s work wasn’t made so you had an example of how to live a better life. The wall of enmity had to be torn down, and the only power strong enough to do it was perfect obedience and God’s authority. So I am sure you people will run the meta into the ground again today – because you didn’t really know this about yourselves, and it’s hard to hear. Listen: I’m on vacation. I’m not headed back this way today. You make sure you abide by the normal rules of this blog, and you can have the last word.

And go ahead and be in God’s house with God’s people on God’s day this week, and you could there repent of thinking God isn’t really great enough to be in authority over evil without being the author of evil. I forgive you – if you repent. God offers you the same deal – and it’s his opinion which should matter to you.

And I lack my normal sig file, so you'll have to suffer through ...

[Perhaps I can help — DJP]

14 May 2009

When "contextualization" is made a dodge (NEXT! #12)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: Well, Jesus hung around with prostitutes and sinners!

Response: ...and called them to repentance, so they became exes. Correct.

(Proverbs 21:22)

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13 May 2009

How the Other Half Lives

by Frank Turk

I admit it: yesterday’s post from Dan bothered me because of the frankly-inane meta which followed it.

So we’re going to take a one-week break from Titus to look deeply into the eyes of our non-calvinist friends (in spite of the way they treat us, btw) and give them the opportunity, which they have often and never seem to use very well, to get themselves together and really hand us evil and theologically-wanton Calvinists our head, and to move on past the reformation.

So here’s the deal:

[1] I will only have access to the internet for about an hour around lunch, and around an hour around dinner time, so I’m asking Dan to simply delete any comment to this post which doesn’t abide by the spirit of these rules. If I stop by and find someone fudging, I will delete their comment with no warning.

[2] We get it: you think Calvinism misses the boat. We get it and you don’t have to reiterate it. In fact, I insist: anyone blustering about the failings of Calvinism will be deleted.

[3] Your first task is this: in less than 150 words, define the objective of the Bible as intended by its author, who is God. I can do it in less than 50 words, so I am giving you enough rope to hang yourself. If you do not start there, you will be deleted.

[4] Your second task is this: define the phrase “free will” in less than 150 words in such a way that it underscores the strength of non-Calvinistic theology, and so that an actual Calvinist would deny your definition as biblically sound. If you cannot do this, your comment will be deleted.

[5] Your third task is this: given [3] and [4], explain how these two facts are bound together either narratively or systematically in the Bible. That is, if your [3] answer is, effectively, “The Bible is a book about how God and man relate”, and your [4] answer is, effectively, “’Free Will’ is the image of God in man so that man can actively choose between good and evil and make a decision where either outcome can be rightly selected,” your [5] will be your brief soliloquy explaining how both can be true at the same time. Your word limit is 500 words, more or less. People who abuse the word limit will be deleted.

Here’s my theory: no one who is Arminian, Semi-Pelagian, or Pelagian can answer [3] and [4] and then harmonize them credibly in [5]. The explicit purpose of the Bible, regarding God’s purpose in revelation, decimates the non-reformed position; the biblical definition of the nature of man's will obliterates the non-reformed position. These are key apologetic issues (and not the only ones) which work against all theologies except foundational reformation theology.

So no grandstanding. Answer the two key questions and then provide your thoughts on how these two critical issues relate to each other in brief form. If you’re not one of these people who have so many harsh words for the “calvinists”, I’m asking you to resist your urges to fly to the defense of the Gospel and Jesus and all that’s holy and let these people have their say. I promise you: if anyone takes up this challenge, they will do far more harm to their own confession than you ever could by arguing with them. In other words: no rebuttals in the meta. I’ll delete those as well.

Now have at it. And mind your P’s and Q’s.