30 July 2009

February 11: the most pivotal day in my life (part one [requested classic re-post] )

by Dan Phillips
[Revisions of the manuscript, in the light of some excellent input I've gotten, continues. In this thread, I solicited suggestions for posts that readers thought worth another go. The greatest surprise to me was that (A) anyone, let alone (B) so many, really wanted to see my three-part testimony again. So now we reach back to February 13, 2007 for that (lightly-edited) word of praise to God for His grace, and encouragement for those speaking to hard-hearted, seemingly hopeless-case mockers.]
Can you name dates on which your life literally turned around, forever?

Significant dates. Pardon my duh, but the most obvious is one's birthday. That's rather a sine qua non, on a personal level. We'll just stipulate that we've all had one, and move on.

For those to whom it applies, another has to be one's wedding anniversary, and I'd certainly second that as mine [March 19] approaches. Though a lot led up to that date, for a Christian, the date itself signals changes that affect virtually every region of one's world. No longer can one think in terms of one; one must think in terms of two in finances, socializing, use of idle time, everything.

Then I'd list the day I enrolled in my first pastoral training course, the day I started learning Greek, ditto for Hebrew; the day I enrolled in Talbot, the day I graduated, the day I took my first senior pastorate (and the day I left it). A host of dates argue for inclusion.

My most important date: in pre-history.

But granted the foreordained necessity of my existence, my first pivotal date is itself undatable. It takes place in eternity past, in the counsels of the Trinity. It is that moment when the Father saw my helpless and hopeless estate, "knew" me, set His eternal love on me, and gave me to the Son for the securing of my salvation (John 17:6; Ephesians 1:4-11; 2 Timothy 1:9, etc.). At that moment, the course of my life forever was assured (Romans 8:29-30), as on the Cross it was secured (Matthew 20:28; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:12).

How this played out in my life is of no great global significance, though its impact in my life is literally incalculable.

Caveat: please read through to the end, or don't bother to read at all, and no hard feelings. The incomplete story will be the wrong story.

I was born to dear, devoted parents who professed no Christian faith as I grew up. For my father, that profession had been left in his youth; for my mother, it lay in her future. (I have reason to hope that Dad literally made a deathbed return to the faith in Christ he once professed; a story for another day, perhaps.)

But I was raised without Christian witness at home. In keeping with my culture and the media I developed a growing and deepening contempt for Christianity in general, and Christians in particular. I passed through a very young atheist phase, to agnosticism, then at the start of the '70's to a pre-new-age cult known as Religious Science (or Science of Mind) in my early teens.

My cult. The message of Religious Science, founded in 1927 by Ernest Holmes, was what I wanted to hear. God was in all of us, expressed itself as all of us, demanded nothing, gave everything. There was no sin per se, and any harm we did to others, they brought on themselves by their state of mind. There was no Hell nor sin to be saved from, so no salvation to be sought, nor any Savior to be chained to nor obeyed.

"Deeper sense." Jesus was the perfect embodiment of this divine principle, but any human being could be the same as He. Christians, idiots that they always have been, hopelessly muddled the Bible in general and Jesus' teachings in particular. (Anticipating the Emergents by a good thirty years — as they were anticipated in every vaunted "innovation" — we sneered at [Biblical] Christianity as hopelessly "Western.)

We Religious Scientists reclaimed those real teachings of Jesus by seeking and finding the "deeper sense" in His words, a deeper sense — which often turned out to be the opposite of their plain sense. But that wasn't surprising. Jesus was a mystic, and men have always botched the teachings of mystics.

All of this held great theoretical promise and relief for me. I really was the center of the universe, as I'd always suspected; and my desires really were paramount. I was blamable for nothing, beholden to no one, and could have everything merely by developing my consciousness of the divine I AM within me. My own heart held the key to all; to find myself was to find God, to delve within myself was to be one with Him/Her/It.

There were only two catches in my journey.

Minor catch: Jesus. The minor "catch" in my seamless picture was Jesus. When I was about 16, I actually wrote a play based on the four Gospels, from the Religious Science perspective. I found that I kept having to "help" Jesus out, because He expressed Himself (to my mind) so poorly. Let me explain.

Jesus meant to say what we Religious Scientists said, but He kept saying it so badly!! He meant to say that Hell was unreal, not a place of God's wrath, just a phase of consciousness; and that we could save ourselves from that consciousness at any time. But He kept speaking of it as if it were an objective place of immense and eternal torment (Matthew 5;22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 43, 47). He even spoke of fearing God for His ability to throw us into this Hell (Luke 12:5). He really needed our help to clear up these muddy bits.

And Jesus seemingly kept harping on Himself, making Himself the issue, when He should have been making it clear that we're all the same, all equally manifestations of God. Jesus kept saying things such as that He would give himself as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), pouring out His blood to secure forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 26:28). This was all wrong, to us—both the implication that sin was an objective reality, and that His death would do anything about it. He kept teaching that knowledge of the Father was dependent on personal knowledge of Him—Jesus—and calling men to Himself (Matthew 11:25-30).

John's Gospel in particular was full of such wrongheaded teaching. The worst of it, to me, was John 14:6"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." I knew it couldn't mean what it seemed to mean... but it sure was obnoxious. Particularly because those idiot Jesus Freaks kept harping on it.

Most of us in the Science of Mind tried to "help" Jesus by explaining what He really meant when He said all these things, bringing out the "deeper meaning" of His words. I knew that the words couldn't mean what they seemed to mean. That was my story, and I stuck to it.

Until I tripped on the major catch.

Major catch: me. So (we believed) God is within all of us, and to know God, we must go within. Well, I did that. With great gusto, determination, absorption, and confidence. It was a great theory.

The problem was that what I found within was nothing like anything I'd ever want to call "God."

For the first years, I diligently applied the rationalizations explanations of Religious Science to what I found. These dissonant thoughts and attitudes were capable of many explanations. And I tried them all.

But I finally did a rigorous, unblinking, warts-and-all inventory of myself. What I found appalled me. Everything circled around me. Every relationship, every endeavor was sheerly selfish. Friends, family, things, all arrayed on a hierarchy of utility to me.

And what of that me, at the center? Selfish, bitter, moody, avaricious, lazy, arrogant, loveless. Lustful, but loveless. Dumb as a dung-beetle, on the large scale of things. Dumber.

And God? In my universe, God existed to serve me. Concocted to fulfill my demands, and customized to my desires. Created in my own image.

So, my religion was designed by me, to serve me, and rested upon me. It was from me, though me, and unto me, world without end, amen. I just found a "church" that agreed with me, confirmed my opinions, told me what I wanted to hear. But I was the foundation.

And what a foundation!

Crash. I was seventeen, and the impact of these realizations was devastating. I was undone. I was plagued by a sharp yet foglike sense of guilt, detachment, and dread. The foundation and authority for what I believed was destroyed. I was rocked to the core of my being.

What happened then?

Next time, Lord willing, I'll talk about how the minor became the major, and everything changed.

[This way to Part Two]

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29 July 2009

Interlude: Y-O-U

by Frank Turk

I had planned to do a part 2 to last week's post, but the week (!) got away from me. So, given that we're sort of phoning some stuff in this summer, I dug up the following post from my blog which ought to hold you over for a week.

What, exactly, is supposed to be happening on Sunday Morning? The Presbyterians, of course, have a very high-minded view of the way we ought to worship, and I can’t really fault them for that – they have a high-minded view of everything. They’re thinkers (well, the good ones anyway), and their view of freeing up the act of worship from preferences and human conceits looks pretty good until you realize that their theology of worship is exactly a human conceit, top to bottom.

That’s not a criticism, really: just one of those things Baptists have to say to Presbyterians in order to keep the prebsys on their toes and to maintain street cred with the weaker-brother Baptists.

Anyway, if that’s how I’m going to play off the regulative principle, let’s imagine for a second (you can’t maintain this mentally for more than a few seconds, so asking for a minute would be gratuitous) that Baptists and their non-denominational kin are right about the broad strokes and that Sunday morning doesn’t have to be one particular “way” but does have to include some things and exclude others.

You know: like God. Sunday morning ought to be about God and not about me personally. It’s like having a birthday party for your 87-year-old Grandma, inviting a bunch of people who say they love her, and then having to bake a different flavor cupcake for each to make sure they all come. They shouldn’t be coming for the cake: they should be coming for Grandma – because they love her, and this party is about loving her, right?

Yeah, OK – so what’s that got to do with preachin’? Adrian Warnock was trying to get my dander up earlier this week by quoting Rick Warren to me in an e-mail, and if I wasn’t so danged busy at work, I would have had 3 parts on that e-mail, but I am, in fact, busy like a bee. But in that, Pastor Warren wanted to say that preachin’ ought to be about application – about “how-to” in the pew.

You know what – that’s pretty good. If I had to vulgarize 1 Corinthians, I’d say it’s Paul’s “how-to” letter to the church at Corinth. But look at what that crazy exegete Paul does in 1Cor: he demands of the Corinthians that all their problems are because they have a wrong view of Jesus Christ -- from their dumb squabbles about who has status to their inability to solve disputes, to their misunderstanding of daGifts, to their abuse of the eucharist, they could get it all right if they just understood who Jesus Christ was and what He has done.

Yes: Paul had to understand that there were people in Corinth, and that they were doing things in real time and space, and that they ought to be doing something else than what they were doing – but the solution was not a self-help program. The solution was Jesus Christ. You may not understand this today, but eventually you will:

Jesus Christ is the SOLUTION to CULTURE.

So if you have a marriage problem – like yours is bad – Jesus Christ is the solution. If you have poor people in your town that you think are causing problems, Jesus Christ is the solution. Your kids are spoiled rotten and you don’t know how to communicate with them? Jesus Christ is the solution. Your church is a miserable bore and you don’t “get anything out of it”? Jesus Christ is the solution.

Many of you right now are thinking, “cent, that’s facile and sloganeering. In what way is Jesus Christ the solution?”

That, my friends, is the primary purpose of reading and expositing the Scriptures every Sunday from now until Christ returns: not to get a better life, but to get Jesus. Time to get Jesus.

So for that purpose, be with God’s people in God’s house on God’s day this week, and try to get a little Jesus while you’re there. You. Not the person you think needs Jesus: you.

28 July 2009

I know how to start an instant 200-comment brawl, and here's the proof

by Dan Phillips

Of a (say) 90-minute service, how much should be devoted to songs, announcements, other things?

How long should the sermon be?

How many choruses?

How many hymns?

What is excessive?

And, in every case, on what principle?

This is a more-or-less free-for-all, but within the posted blog rules, and my apparently random (but judicious) exertion of sheer sphere sovereignty. And I further stipulate that this is a discussion over those things, not over whether we should discuss those things.

Keep it friendly.

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27 July 2009

Can We Talk?

Can't we all just get along?
Why "playing nice" by postmodernist standards is a losing proposition
by Phil Johnson

This post is from 2005, the year I began blogging. It states some things that have been recurring themes here ever since. Enjoy.


The favorite buzzwords of the postmodern spirit all sound so warm and friendly, don't they? Conversation, dialogue, openness, generosity, tolerance. Who wouldn't want to participate in discourse with someone who truly prized human values such as those?

On the other hand, the very same Zeitgeist has demonized a host of other essential biblical values, such as authority, conviction, clarity, and even truth. In the milieu of the emerging discussion, this second category of words has been made to sound harsh, unreasonable, arrogant, and extreme—if not downright evil.

Moreover, postmodern human values are increasingly being defined in a way that expressly precludes eternal biblical values. For example, the prevailing opinion nowadays is that you cannot be "open" and certain at the same time. A person who speaks with too much conviction is ipso facto deemed an "intolerant" person. Above all, anyone who recognizes the full authority of Scripture and insists that God's Word deserves our unconditional submission will inevitably be accused of deliberately trying to stymie the whole "conversation."

This is not to suggest that disagreement per se is prohibited in the postmodern dialectic. Quite the contrary, "deconstruction" is all about disputes over words. Postmoderns thrive on dissent, debate, and contradiction.

And (giving credit where credit is due) it should be noted that postmodernists can sometimes be amazingly congenial in their verbal sparring with one another.

One thing the participants in the postmodern "conversation" simply will not tolerate, however, is someone who disagrees and thinks the point is really serious. Virtually no heresy is ever to be regarded as damnable. The notion that erroneous doctrine can actually be dangerous is deemed uncouth and naive. Every bizarre notion gets equal respect. Truth itself is only a matter of personal perspective, you see. Everything is ultimately negotiable.

Now, if you want to join the postmodern "conversation," you are expected to acknowledge all this up front—at least tacitly. That's the price of admission to the discussion. Once you're in, you can throw any bizarre idea you want on the table, no matter how outlandish. You can use virtually any tone or language to make your point, no matter how outrageous. But you must bear in mind that all disputation at this table is purely for sport. At the end of the day, you mustn't really be concerned about the truth or falsehood of any mere propositions.

Some "conversation." The ground rules guarantee that truth itself will be a casualty in every controversy, because regardless of the substance or the outcome of the dialogue, participants have in effect agreed up front that the propositions under debate don't really matter.

Entering the "conversation" at all is tantamount to breaking the seal on a software package. The moment you do it, you have putatively given your consent to the postmodernist's ground rules. If you then violate those rules—meaning if you take any doctrine too seriously or insist that Scripture is really authoritative—you will be savaged as someone who is cruel, intolerant, unenlightened, and hopelessly arrogant.

That's why it is well-nigh impossible to have an authentic, meaningful conversation with a devoted postmodernist and ever see anything genuinely resolved. The postmodernist by definition has no real hope or expectation of arriving at the truth of any matter. That's not the goal of the postmodernist exercise. It's not even a desirable objective. The only real point is to eliminate certitude altogether. This is done not by settling disputes, but by silencing or assimilating everyone who resists the unrestrained free flow of the postmodernist idea-exchange.

Truth is under attack on countless fronts today. What's popular these days—even among professing Christians—is glorying in ambiguity and uncertainty. Precious few are still committed without reservation to the truth and authority of Scripture. The very last thing I would willingly do in times like these would be to pledge a moratorium on candor or agree to a ceasefire with people who delight in testing the limits of orthodoxy. See Nehemiah 6:2-4.

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26 July 2009

On the Folly of Constantly Seeking "New Truth"

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 2 ("Forward!") in An All-Round Ministry.

las! in these times, certain men glory in being weathercocks; they hold fast nothing; they have, in fact, nothing worth the holding. They believed yesterday, but not that which they believe today, nor that which they will believe tomorrow; and he would be a greater prophet than Isaiah who should be able to tell what they will believe when next the moon doth fill her horns, for they are constantly changing, and seem to have been born under that said moon, and to partake of her changing moods.

These men may be as honest as they claim to be, but of what use are they? Like good trees oftentimes transplanted, they may be of a noble nature, but they bring forth nothing; their strength goes out in rooting and re-rooting, they have no sap to spare for fruit. Be sure you have the truth, and then be sure you hold it. Be ready for fresh truth, if it be truth; but be very chary how you subscribe to the belief that a better light has been found than that of the sun.

Those who hawk new truth about the street, as the boys do a new edition of the evening paper, are usually no better than they should be. The fair maid of truth does not paint her cheeks and tire her head, like Jezebel, following every new philosophic fashion; she is content with her own native beauty, and in her aspect she is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.

When men change often, they generally need to be changed in the most emphatic sense.

Our "modern thought" gentry are doing incalculable mischief to the souls of men. Immortal souls are being damned, yet these men are spinning theories. Hell gapes wide, and with her open mouth swallows up myriads, yet those who should spread the tidings of salvation are "pursuing fresh lines of thought." Highly-cultured soul-murderers will find their boasted "culture" to be no excuse in the day of judgment.

For God's sake, let us know how men are to be saved, and get to the work; to be for ever deliberating as to the proper mode of making bread while a nation dies of famine, is detestable trifling. It is time we knew what to teach, or else renounced our office. "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth," is the motto of the worst rather than of the best of men. Are they to be our model? "I shape my creed every week," was the confession of one of these divines to me. Whereunto shall I liken such unsettled ones? Are they not like those birds which frequent the Golden Horn, and are to be seen from Constantinople, of which it is said that they are always on the wing, and never rest? No one ever saw them alight on the water or on the land, they are for ever poised in mid-air. The natives call them "lost souls"—seeking rest and finding none; and, methinks, men who have no personal rest in the truth, if they are not themselves unsaved, are, at least, very unlikely to be the means of saving others

He who has no assured truth to tell must not wonder if his hearers set small store by what he says. We must know the truth, understand it, and hold it with firm grip, or we cannot be of service to the sons of men. Brethren, I charge you, seek to know, and, knowing, to discriminate; having discriminated, I charge you to "hold fast that which is good."

C. H. Spurgeon

24 July 2009


More from the e-mail out-box

ere's a brief e-mail exchange relative to our occasional discussions about "contextualization." I originally posted this on the first "Pyromaniac" blog several years ago, and it generated quite a conversation. Let's have a go at it again:

To: K___ B_____
From: "Phillip R. Johnson"
Subject: Cr--t-r?!

Dear K_____,

You wrote:

> I serve M-ss--h in a Jewish
> context. Hence the omission
> of the vowels in the names
> of G-d. You have my per-
> mission to publish any part
> of my messages you choose,
> but I have one request: Please
> do not edit my words so as to
> add the letters I have omitted.
> Were my post to come into the
> hands of a Jew, my credibility
> with the community would be
> suspect for writing out the
> name of the Cr--t-r. See what
> Rav' Shaul (the apostle Paul)
> wrote in 1 Cor. 9:20-21.

Perhaps you could explain this practice further. It seems to me that this is an accommodation to a superstition that is grounded in an unbiblical notion of what it means to take the Lord's name in vain. And as far as I can tell, it is not even the whole Jewish community who follow this superstition, but a fairly narrow segment of Hasidim.

Since the whole idea behind this practice goes against what Christ taught, I've always felt it is inappropriate for Christians to cater to it. We don't cross ourselves or bow to the communion elements in order to accommodate the superstitions of Roman Catholics. Why omit vowels in order to accommodate selected Pharisaic-style superstitions? (And even in the word Cr--t-r?!! That's the first time I've seen that.)

This isn't a case of obeying any law or tradition that reflects the true intent of the Old Testament commandments. In fact, it tacitly seems to sanction a perversion of God's law. It's precisely the kind of thing Y'shua refused to accommodate for the sake of pleasing overscrupulous Pharisees (cf. Mark 7:2-9). In fact, He attacked the myth that lies behind the superstition against pronouncing or spelling out the name of God (cf. Matthew 23:16-24).

I also think it's a huge and totally unwarranted logical leap to portray this practice as a legitimate application of the 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 principle: "Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law . . . that I might gain them that are without law."

Since you've appealed to that text, I have four questions for you:

  1. Have you carefully considered the possibility that your observing this practice is perpetuating a myth about the appropriate way to express one's reverence for God's name? Again, I refer you to Mark 7:2-9 for our Lord's own example of how to deal with Jewish traditions that subvert the true meaning of the law.
  2. If the no-vowels-in-God's-name rule is a perversion of the law rather than a legitimate application of the third commandment, do you really imagine Rav' Shaul would have sanctioned it?
  3. Do you follow both sides of Rav' Shaul's maxim? When you write to me, you're writing to a Goy. So why do you insist on retaining (and to a large degree, it seems, flaunting) the ceremonial and religious accoutrements of Jewish culture? What about becoming as one who is without law to them who are without law? Do you ever do that? Or are you treating certain Old Testament ceremonial requirements as inviolable, even among the Goyim?
  4. Are you really Jewish? Because in my experience, a high percentage of Christians who imitate Hasidic practices are not really from orthodox Jewish backgrounds at all, but Goyim-born Hebrew-wannabes (or secular Jews who have embraced Christ as Meshiach)—with the mistaken notion that cloaking the Christian faith in the robes and phylacteries of Orthodox Jewish religious traditions somehow makes Christianity seem more "authentic." (As if Christ were not Savior of the Goyim, too.) That's the very mindset that gave rise to Galatianism, and it's a troubling and persistent tendency of Messianic Judaism, I fear.
You wrote,

> As a trained Rav', surely Shaul
> would have not have shown such
> disrespect to G-d's name as to
> write it out when corresponding
> with fellow Jews.

However, he did just that, in his epistle to the Romans, which included Jewish recipients.

And he certainly would not have shown such disrespect to his Gentile brethren as to insist on treating God's name as unspeakable in his correspondence with them. Nothing you have said explains why you insist on observing Hasidic superstitions in your correspondence with me.

Thus my objection to the missing vowels still stands. This is not a legitimate principle of Old Testament law, but a manufactured tradition invented by men, or worse—a matter of superstition based on a serious corruption of the law.

And I think it is a serious mistake for Christians to play along with such superstitions.

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23 July 2009

Unbelief is depressing [requested classic re-post]

by Dan Phillips
[Well, friends, I've finished the complete first draft. Now some select folks are reading and giving feedback, and I'm editing it in preparation for submission to the publisher. It's coming down to it! Also, I've a Bible conference in October to be thinking about. So... in this thread, commenter Deborah bids us reach back to November of 2006 for this re-post, slightly edited. It provides perhaps a balancing consideration to some thoughts I just offered on depression over at my blog, with attendant discussion, as well. Oh, and before you ask, I'm just fine, thanks!]
Sad to say, I have the personal resumé to write an extended series of articles about depression.

In reading through Numbers, I was reminded of one potent cause of depression. (No, I don't mean that reading through Numbers causes depression.)

The nation of Israel was dallying in the desert. They were there as a penalty for their unbelief. In these wanderings, they came to Kadesh, and ran short on water (Numbers 20).

This was their reaction to the situation:
And the people quarreled with Moses and said, "Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! 4 Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? 5 And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink" (Numbers 20:3-5)
First, I'd observe that their concern had a basis in reality. I've lived in the desert. Water is nothing to spit at. (Pause for laughter to die down.) (It's a very short pause.) You just don't go anywhere without spare stores of water on-hand. And so here were many hundreds of thousands of people, in the desert, and they'd come short on water. This isn't an "Oh, well, what's on TV?" situation. It is a legitimate crisis. Without water, they would die.

Depression, however, doesn't need an objective cause. M'man Spurgeon spoke of causeless depression, and I may add my own thoughts someday. Dealing with free-floating depression is like boxing a deadly fog bank. But this situation was not of that nature. This depression was able to fix on objective realities.

Second, their viewpoint was incomplete, and that in two specifics. Glaringly, the Israelites had forgotten why they were still in the wilderness. They were stuck in the desert because of their own unbelief. Surely you remember the story, from Numbers 13-14. In sum:
God said "Go"
They said "No"
So God said "No go"
They said "Woe!"
(Some tried...
...they died)
So in their response here, they blame everyone — everyone, that is, except themselves. It's Moses' fault. It's Yahweh's fault (cf. 21:5). But of course the truth is that it was their fault, it was the fault of their unbelief. And so, having failed to learn from the previous lesson, they simply repeat their sin.

Let me underscore that point.

"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction," (Romans 15:4), and we mustn't miss the lesson here. Refuse to learn from discipline for sin, and we will repeat both sin AND discipline. This is why Proverbs is so full of thunderous warnings and reproofs for the man (or woman) who bull-headedly refuses to accept discipline, rebuke, correction (cf. 1:24-31; 10:17; 12:1; 15:10; 29:1, etc.).

You and I may stop our ears, stiffen our necks, harden our hearts, and turn our backs. We may even eventually forget. But God doesn't. We can be sure that it will come up again, and again, until we either address the issue or fall under it.

I think of my kids in our home school. On occasion, some kid may give me a bunch of sloppy, slapdash, thoughtless homework. I take my red pen and (as my dear wife puts it) proceed to bleed all over it. Then, if nothing comes of that, I lecture. If there is no change in direction, I may add some stiff penalties in terms of lost privileges and/or extra work. It escalates.

And if that child then clearly seethes with anger at me, I say, "If you blame me for what just happened to you, I guarantee it will just keep happening to you, again and again. Today is a result of the decision you made when you were supposed to be doing your homework yesterday. Think and do the same today, and the same (or worse) will happen tomorrow, and for the exact same reason."

So why were these Israelite knotheads still in the desert, in the first place? Unbelief. So how do they respond to the crisis they face, here, in-the-desert-because-of-unbelief?

With more unbelief.

And in their unbelief, they had left God out of the equation. On the one hand, nobody could argue with part of their assessment of the situation. They were indeed short on water. Without water, an unpleasant death was certain. That's "dire" according to any dictionary.

But what of God? Their thinking did not include Him fully. That miscalculation, from the matrix of unbelief, was the cause and sustenance of their despair.

The essence of depression, and the unbelief that is so often at its root, is not that it is completely baseless. It may have a fragile and tenuous basis, or it may have a large and overwhelming basis. Either way, its vantage point is incomplete. It is incomplete in a way that makes it end up completely wrong.

Suppose I meet this little shrimpy old guy in an alley, and he tries to rob me. I say, "Dude, you're old, and I've got a hundred pounds on you, plus a green belt in karate. You're completely outmatched."

He shrugs and says, "True. Except for this gun."

"Yeah, well, except for that," I reply, noting sagely that one factor can alter the entire equation.

And so Israel, never having dealt with their sin head-on, never having confronted the abhorrent and appalling nature of their unbelief head-on, and never having estimated God correctly, once again miscalculates. They leave out one crucial factor. They leave out God. And they're depressed.

And so I suggest to you that, at the root of much (— not all!) of our depression is a similar miscalculation.

But while we're shaking our heads at what nincompoops those dumb Israelites were, we should reflect pointedly on our own unbelief. We have one thing they didn't have. We have their instructive story. Plus a truckload of additional revelation, including the whole New Testament.

So when our own unbelief casts us down into our own depression, let us learn from their example, that we not repeat it. Let us reach into our own coats, and pull out the precious key called Promise that let Christian and Hopeful out of Doubting Castle. Let us make it ours by faith, use it, escape from Giant Despair, and head for the joy that is our portion.

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22 July 2009

Adorn the Gospel [1]

by Frank Turk

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
The thing about this letter is that it just wells up on the reader. I think a lot of people miss that for their own reasons -- most of them not intentional -- but here the stuff that ought to stick to your ribs, theologically and practically, is simply so obvious that I think most people read past it.

The reason I say that is this: it's somewhat astounding that Paul doesn't here break into doxology, doesn't break into Eph 1-2, doesn't publish a digested book of Romans. I mean seriously: this is Paul. This is inspired Paul who is totally capable of writing something you can't even explain in a 200-page Doctoral thesis -- and here, after warning good Titus to hold fast to the truthworthy word, and to teach and rebuke, and to establish men who can do the same, Paul tells Titus: make sure you administer the sacraments rightly.

Oh wait -- no. Paul says, "make sure you uphold the continuity of the covenants by baptizing babies and maintaining the Law/Gospel contrast."

Huh. Paul doesn't say that, either, does he? What about this: "Get serious about your Greek and Hebrew, and make sure every sermon you preach is verse-for-verse, word-for-word preaching." This is what we want him to say, I am sure. This is what we sort of glaze over with after we see Paul say, "teach what accords with sound doctrine." But those things are not what he says.

To Titus, who is sent to put things in order, and who must raise up elders, and is in a culture that is, frankly, as far from the Gospel as the most unchurched city in the ancient world could be, Paul tells Titus, "teach people how to adorn the Gospel." Teach what accords with sound doctrine because these people need to adorn the Gospel.

I could probably name ten men right now who would take this post here at TeamPyro and accuse me of adding works to faith, adding works to grace, thereby voiding the Gospel by reading this paragraph exactly as it is written. But this passage is astonishing for one reason only: it says unequivocally that the church ought to be training itself up in such a way that the word of God will not be reviled. That is: it ought to be teaching people how to live after they know the Gospel is true.

The doctrine in this passage is shoe-leather doctrine. It says that those of us who are in the church must act like the church -- that it is necessary and not optional. And in that: we have to be building each other up. The older must teach the younger -- not merely systematics but pragmatics, like how to love one's husband and be submissive to him, how to be a self-controlled young man, how to grow old with dignity and sound in faith.

And this makes perfect sense, given what Paul has already said about raising up elders: if elders ought to be men who are clinging to the word of God, and are formed by the word of God, bearing fruit by the word of God, somehow the church has to be the place where these kinds of men are grown.

We're going to come back to this again next week, but think about this, dear pastor reader: somehow good works adorn sound doctrine. Somehow, the facts about God ought to be adorned with a people who are a "model of good works". And it's your job to preach doctrine and the consequences of those doctrines -- that is, how to live now that this is true.

21 July 2009

"Adam's headship isn't fair" dodge (NEXT! #17)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: It isn't fair that Adam would be tested and judged on my behalf. I should stand my own test.

Response: Okay, then — oops! FAIL! (Wow, that was quick.)

(Proverbs 21:22)

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19 July 2009

Are We "Original Thinkers" or Witnesses?

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 comes from Not Sufficient, and Yet Sufficient," a sermon preached Sunday morning, August 24th, 1890, at the Met Tab, London.

n these days we are rather overdone with "great thinkers." Wherever you go you hear of "advanced thinking," "modern thought," and so forth. It is true that ten bushels of the stuff are not worth half a farthing in the estimate of those who hunger for spiritual food; but chaff takes up much room, and as the wind blows it about it excites great attention.

A fourth part of a cab of doves' dung, worth nothing in ordinary times, fetched a long price during the famine in Samaria; and to-day, when there is a famine of true theological learning, a great fuss is made concerning the crude speculations of vainglorious "thinkers."

I do not believe the apostle ever tried to think upon religious matters otherwise than as the Spirit of God taught him. He was content to abide within the circle of inspiration. I pray that we may never travel beyond our orbit, and quit the divine circuit of revelation. I find enough in my Bible to think about without going beyond that sphere.

If we should ever exhaust Holy Scripture, we might then try to think something "as of ourselves"; but as we shall never do that, we may be satisfied to tarry in revelation as in a land which floweth with milk and honey.

Let us not aim at being original thinkers, but at being witnesses and heralds of what God says to men. Our Lord Jesus strove not to be an original thinker, for he said, "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me."

The Holy Ghost does not speak as an original thinker; for the Lord Jesus said, "He shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you."

As we have reminded you before, the original thinker of the Bible is one of whom it is said, "When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own." We are not wishful to emulate him in such originality. We are not sufficient to think anything as from ourselves!

C. H. Spurgeon

16 July 2009

Jesus' "dumb question" that wasn't (and isn't) [requested classic re-post]

[Reader philness on this thread requested that we reach back to January of 2008 to repost this slightly-edited essay, which keeps coming back to haunt him.]
by Dan Phillips

Did Jesus ever ask a dumb question?

Given that everyone wants on the "Jesus" bandwagon, it's hard to picture anyone answering "Yep, a-hyuk! You betcha: Jesus asked all sorts of dumb questions." Folks of every worldview enthuse about how wise and how wonderful Jesus was. "Dumb" isn't on the list of customary adjectives from thoughtful observers.

Yet surely I'm not the only one who raised an eyebrow the first time this verse came into focus:
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?"
(John 5:6)
You know who we're talking about. This was a disabled man in a society not particularly accommodating to the crippled: no handicapped parking, special doors, ramps, codified employment protections.

The man had been disabled in some way, unable to walk — and not for a week, a month, or a year. Not for a decade, or two decades, or even three. He had been crippled for nearly four decades, for thirty-eight years (v. 5).

We don't know whether his condition was static or progressive. We do know that he had been this bad for a long time. And we know that, at this point, if no one moved him, he didn't move much (v. 7). Most of the time, he seemingly had no one to help him.

How did he spend his time? What was his life? What were his days like? What were his hopes or aspirations, his fears or regrets? We're left to speculate, except for this: when we find him, he's simply hanging around a bunch of people just like him: helpless, and just next-door to hopeless.

He's apparently got some notion about getting into the pool first (v. 7), perhaps to snag a healing. But what a cruel hope even that seems to have been. Think it over. To get the most help, you had to need it the least!

So Jesus comes up, and what does He say to the man? Well, what would you have said, or what would I have said? Would we even have noticed him, as we strolled by on our strong, healthy legs with our little group of equally-mobile friends?

Jesus does notice the man, and He walks up to him, and He speaks to him. Oh, but what He says! I mean, honestly — isn't it about the last thing you'd have thought to say, unless you had lost your mind for a moment? And (be honest), if you didn't know who was talking, and what was going to happen, wouldn't you say that about the dumbest thing to say to this man would have to have been —

"Do you wish to become well?"

Yet that's exactly how the Greek has it: are you willing — do you desire, do you wish— to become healthy (θέλεις ὑγιὴς γενέσθαι;)?

Now, I don't believe Jesus ever asked a stupid question in His life. Not when He was twelve (Luke 2:44-47), and not now that He's an grown man. On the contrary, I've often thought what a searching, probing, apposite, and divinely-wise question this was. As a result, I've wondered the same thing myself betimes, wanted to ask the same of some others in different "binds."

(Note: what I am about to say can be easily misunderstood and misrepresented. I shall try to speak precisely and with care.)

Much as you and I might recoil from another's state in life, that person might not share our revulsion.

One can grow to identify with a condition, to find meaning and individuality and significance in something that of itself offers nothing desirable whatever. Whether it be a natural handicap or a totally different weakness, failing, misery, affliction or sin, we can come to think of ourselves as Noble Sufferers, as Tragic Victims, as Tormented Souls. So (pathetically and unhealthily) rewarding is this identification, that we unknowingly have no real desire to be parted from our badge of uniqueness, our gimmick, our shtick.

Conversation about other people, or events, or even Biblical truths may coast along tepidly. Oh, but when the topic of their ailment or suffering or woes come up... cue the passion, the animation, the heartfelt involvement.

This is particularly the case in our American culture, where we have come to prize, seek out, cultivate, and luxuriate in the status of victimhood.

To be clear: I speak not of a healthy, positive God-centered response to a difficult turn of Providence; nor of the experience of pain, as often seen in the Psalms. I speak of an unhealthy and God-dishonoring embrace of an undesirable state or behavior, an investment in an identity as a Person Suffering From ____.

Am I the first to see this in the passage at hand? No. Reynolds, in The Pulpit Commentary, thought that Jesus'
question implies a doubt. The man may have got so accustomed to his life of indolence and mendicancy as to regard deliverance from his apparent wretchedness, with all consequent responsibilities of work and energy and self-dependence, as a doubtful blessing. ...There are many who are not anxious for salvation, with all the demands it makes upon the life, with its summons to self-sacrifice and the repression of self-indulgence. There are many religious impostors who prefer tearing open their spiritual wounds to the first passer-by, and hugging their grievance, to being made into robust men upon whom the burden of responsibility will immediately fall.
You see, it's an axiom of human nature that we do what we think works for us. The most maladaptive person, who chooses to careen from one horrid relationship or situation or choice to another, persists in doing so because he is getting something out of it.

And so Jesus asks — not the question you or I would ask, if we spoke to the man at all, but — that question. "Do you wish to become healthy?" Then He heals the man, and He warns him to change his life (v. 14).

Isn't this question just as probing and incisive today as it was when Jesus first posed it? Again, I've thought so time and again.

I've thought it of some folks who identify themselves with a dead-end, road-out sexual passion God condemns, who go on and on about how lamentable their lot is, how grandly they suffer from it, how sad their life is. The only object that arouses more passion than, well, their passion, is any person or organization who dares to try to help them find freedom from their vices.

I don't dispute that theirs is a miserable and unhappy lot, and that such temptations are sheer misery. I just wonder, sometimes, of some of them: do they want to become healthy? Do they want freedom?

Or would it shatter their cherished identity and threaten their status?

I've also thought it of some folks who make so much of the grays and the gaps and the question-marks, who luxuriate in any uncertainty they can magnify and exaggerate. These folks work so hard to blunt edges and blur lines, yet they strike grand and dramatic poses as great and brave Pioneers of the Void. They invest a lot of energy into convincing us how agonized they are by their noble doubts and uncertainties — though not with quite the energy with which they scald and upbraid anyone who dares to try to help them find truth, certainty, and assurance. Or who claims to have found them.

And so I find myself wondering, of some such: do they want to become healthy? Do they want to know the truth God has revealed? Or would it ruin the image they've crafted so carefully, spoil their cherished public image, lose valued associations?

Similarly, I think of a woman in a church I pastored. She complained bitterly about her husband, what a failure he was as a leader, how passive and unengaged he was. So I took her at her word, befriended her husband, and worked with him. Before long, he began to engage, and to exercise some relatively mild Christian leadership in the home.

Was she happy? It was, after all, what she said she wanted, and offered relief from what she very dramatically claimed to be the source of a lot of misery.

"Happy"? Good heavens, no! She was madder than a wet cat. You see (I came to realize, reluctantly) it messed with her shtick. What she loved was the status her "suffering" gave her, the opportunity to complain and grouse. She had no intention of giving up control. It served her too well. (I've since seen the same phenomenon for husbands with troublesome wives, by the way.)

Now, I think if any of us have as yet felt no singe from this reflection, we've not heard Jesus' question. That proneness to quick temper; to lingering too long over the wine; to clicking on the wrong links; to self-pity; to coldly rebuffing your wife; to belittling or shredding your husband; to faithless depression; to laziness; to selfish indifference; to cursory (or no) Bible reading; to hasty and shallow prayers — you and I lament these and more.

But do we want, do we wish, are we willing to be made healthy?

I'll answer the question with which I began. Jesus never asked a dumb question. This wasn't a dumb question at all.

In fact, it was (and remains) an uncomfortably, confrontively excellent question:

"Do you wish to become well?"

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15 July 2009

I Lose, You Win

by Frank Turk

We're taking a break from Paul to Titus this week to review a book which, in one sense, breaks my heart -- and in another sense, makes me very happy.

The "breaks my heart" sense is that, like what appears to be all bloggers writing for blogs north of 2000 daily readers, I've gotten the acquisition call from a publisher you'd recognize, and I was working on a book -- no deal yet but the agreement was/is that after the book was presentable they'd help me get it over the hedge of the proposal, across the back yard of finishing, and into the glistening suburbia of published books. No contract, but active interest from the acquisitions people, which is better than I was at last year or even last quarter.

But this book -- Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck -- turns out to be exactly the book I was writing. You know? So it was a great idea, I just had it 2 years too late. Back to the drawing board.

But in the very real and more-fulfilling "this is exactly the book I was writing" sense, you get to read the book for yourself and get infected by the right attitude toward the bride of Christ which is the church. The bonus for Christian publishering is that they don't have to risk publishing a book I would write which, let's face it, would vex many people and embarrass many more.

So what's so great about this book? Well, first of all, Ted Kluck is one of the great things about this book. I love the way he writes. Get this:
Church isn't boring because we're not showing enough film clips, or because we play an organ instead of guitar. It's boring because we neuter it of its importance. Too often we treat our spiritual lives like the round of golf used to open George Barna's Revolution. At the end of my life, I want my friends and family to remember me as someone who battled for the Gospel, who tried to mortify sin in my life, who found hard for life, and who contended earnestly for the faith. Not just a nice guy who occasionally noticed the splendor of the mountains God created, while otherwise just trying to enjoy myself, manage my schedule, and work on my short game.
You know: Booyah. Take your faith seriously enough to treat it as if it was more important than something. Anything.

And the other great thing about this book is Kevin DeYoung, who may be the most vivacious baby-baptizer in the world:
We all have different callings. Some may be drawn to pro-life issues, and others to addressing global hunger, but let's make sure as Christians that our missional concerns go father than those shared by Brangelina and the United Way.

What makes the church unique is its commitment, above all else, to knowing and making known Christ and Him crucified. True, the biblical story line is creation, fall, redemption and recreation. But the overwhelming majority of Scripture is about our redemption, how God saves lawbreakers, how sin can be atoned for, how rebels can be made right with God.
This book is not for sissies, and it's also not written over anyone's head or down from some lofty confessional soap box. Here are two young guys who are great writers, very good thinkers, lovers of people, and humble servants to God's word, seeking to call people out of the world and into Christ in the only place God's people normally are found. (watch what happens to that in the meta)

The list of endorsements of this book is as long as my arm. If you find it stuck on the shelf somplace spine-out, you'd probably buy it based on those endorsements. But here you have a book which, in a way far better than I have done in my few years in the blogosphere, hammers out the gracious necessity of the church for the believer, and points at convictional reasons for you people to go and find a church, join together with a church, worship God in a church, and be part of the church.

Read this book, repent of your past neglect for these things, and rejoice that God will for give you. You won't regret it.

14 July 2009

"Church is an organism" dodge (NEXT! #16)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: I don't think there should be structure or hierarchy in a church. After all, a church is an organism. Not an organization.

Response: So... what happens when an organism gets disorganized?

(Proverbs 21:22)

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13 July 2009

The Adventures of Pecadillo

by Pecadillo

Editor's note: Pecadillo and wife are celebrating their first anniversary by driving from Los Angeles to the scene of their wedding last year. In lieu of his annual blogpost, Pecadillo submitted this series of Tweets last night.

Driving through cow country. This part of California smells like a giant, open-air AM/PM.

The journey to our hotel was a blogpost in and of itself. After we got settled in the room, we discovered we weren't alone in the room.

There was a bat in our room and it was flying at us like a Japanese kamikaze pilot.

I've never seen a bat before aside from at the zoo. I nearly soiled my pants.

In fact, had I not been in the bathroom when the trophy wife discovered the bat, I'm quite sure I would find myself in need of a new wardrobe.

We're at a spa by the beach in Mendocino. There are only 10 rooms and no on duty staff after 9 PM. It's very secluded. Translation: no help.

Luckily, there was a hotel masseuse that looked and talked exactly like Peter Lorre, who was on his way out the door who helped us.

He was probably 7 feet tall—no joke. He had to do the limbo to get thru our door—and he had big Carly Simon/Gary Busey teeth.

He also had a creepy Eastern European accent that woulda sounded menacing had he not been prancing away from the bat.

Then another guy showed up with a pool net that was still wet and dripping chlorine all over our room and bed.

After literally 45 minutes of me & the pool guy trying to catch the bat in the room (Peter Lorre was in the hall, hiding) we finally got it.

Literally, for 45 minutes I watched this flying rodent soar all over our room, landing on our stuff. I'm pretty sure my luggage has rabies.

To be honest, I wasn't exactly John Wayne during those 45 minutes, although I did almost shoot it numerous times.

Let's just say I'm glad there weren't too many other people around to observe my "power stance" whenever dracula flew by.

Still, at least I was in the room. Peter Lorre was out in the hall and had to be consoled by the trophy wife.

The only person tall enough to reach the bat was the same guy who was trying to hide in the laundry room. Wonderful.

Anyways, after 45 minutes of trying to catch the beast that wikipedia calls a "natural reservoir for many zoonotic pathogens" we got it.

We were trying to catch it in the net (the pool guy was a hippie) but accidentally hit it with the pole and it fell to the ground, lifeless.

With that, the pool guy scooped up little Adam West (we named it) in the net and left the room to go dispose of it. He was very apologetic.

Our room has chlorine water everywhere, net marks all over the walls and ceilings, and probably more viruses than a petrie dish.

And there's no one here who can get us into another room. Fantastic.

On his way out, Peter Lorre offered us 20% off the cost of a massage at the spa. Yeah, that's gonna make it all better.

Somehow, the trophy wife was already able to fall asleep. Not me. I want to be awake when lockjaw sets in.

12 July 2009

On Philosophical Apologetics

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 Weaned Child," an undated sermon delivered at the Met Tab and published in 1875.

"Oh, but really one ought to be acquainted with all the phases of modern doubt."

es, and how many hours in a day ought a man to give to that kind of thing? Twenty-five out of the twenty-four would hardly be sufficient, for the phases of modern thought are innumerable, and every fool who sets up for a philosopher sets up a new scheme; and I am to spend my time in going about to knock his cardhouses over?

Not I! I have something else to do; and so has every Christian minister. He has real doubts to deal with, which vex true hearts; he has anxieties to relieve in converted souls, and in minds that are pining after the truth and the right; he has these to meet, without everlastingly tilting at windmills, and running all over the country to put down every scarecrow which learned simpletons may set up.

We shall soon defile ourselves if we work day after day in the common sewers of scepticism. Brethren, there is a certain highway of truth in which you and I, like wayfaring men, feel ourselves safe, let us travel thereon.

C. H. Spurgeon