31 August 2009

The Devil's Shifting Tactics

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 Snare of the Fowler," a sermon on Psalm 91:3, delivered Sunday morning, March 29, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

t was once said by a talented writer, that the old devil was dead, and that there was a new devil now; by which he meant to say, that the devil of old times was a rather different devil from the deceiver of these times. We believe that it is the same evil spirit; but there is a difference in his mode of attack.

The devil of five hundred years ago was a black and grimy thing well portrayed in our old pictures of that evil spirit. He was a persecutor, who cast men into the furnace, and put them to death for serving Christ.

The devil of this day is a well-spoken gentleman: he does not persecute—he rather attempts to persuade and to beguile. He is not now so much the furious Romanist, so much as the insinuating unbeliever, attempting to overturn our religion, while at the same time he pretends he would make it more rational, and so more triumphant. He would only link worldliness with religion; and so he would really make religion void, under the cover of developing the great power of the gospel, and bringing out secrets which our forefathers had never discovered.

Satan is always a fowler. Whatever his tactics may be, his object is still the same—to catch men in his net. Men are here compared to silly, weak birds, that have not skill enough to avoid the snare, and have not strength enough to escape from it. Satan is the fowler; he has been so and is so still; and if he does not now attack us as the roaring lion, roaring against us in persecution, he attacks us as the adder, creeping silently along the path, endeavoring to bite our heel with his poisoned fangs, and weaken the power of grace and ruin the life of godliness within us.

C. H. Spurgeon

28 August 2009

Shall We Show Deference to False Pastors?

by Phil Johnson

I know I'm about 18 hours overdue with this blogpost, but I'm jet-lagged, busy, and preoccupied with a stack of more urgent things. Thanks for your patience.

Just now I was doing some reading in preparation for a message on Sunday, and I picked up one of my favorite sources of pithy comments on the gospels—J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (vol 2). In his comments on John 10, Ryle makes a Pyro-worthy observation regarding "our Lord's strong language about the false teachers of the Jews. . . ." Ryle writes:
Those who think that unsound ministers ought never to be exposed and held up to notice, and men ought never to be warned against them, would do well to study this passage. No class of character throughout our Lord's ministry seems to call forth such severe denunciation as that of false pastors. The reason is obvious. Other men ruin themselves alone: false pastors ruin their flocks as well as themselves. To flatter all ordained men, and say they never should be called unsound and dangerous guides, is the surest way to injure the Church and offend Christ.

Talk amongst yourselves.

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27 August 2009

Olive Tree Greek NT and Hebrew OT for iPhone (review)

by Dan Phillips

Olive Tree Bible Software lays out a very impressive array of resources for the iPhone. A surprisingly large list of free books are available on the site. In this review, we take a look at Olive Tree's Hebrew and Greek Bibles.

(Click all images to enlarge.)

The Hebrew text is the standard Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). I really love the display: very clear characters, sharp vowel-points and accents. In fact, their Hebrew display is even clearer than in my dearly-beloved BibleWorks.

There are a couple of temporary glitches, which actually allow me to illustrate another Olive Tree strength. In some displays, the Hebrew text is cut off (i.e. in the right margin of Psalm 32:4). But this has been reported through their online forum, and Olive Tree support is always very responsive. They're working for a resolution.

One other oddity about the text; in just a few passages that I've seen so far, boxes are inserted (see left, Isaiah 7:14). They are also aware of this problem, and working to resolve it.

You would not expect a textual apparatus for such a small display, and there isn't one. However, the text does preserve the kethib/qere'. [The former preserves the traditional text without emendation even when it made no sense to the copier; the latter is the way the text should be read aloud.] The readings are indicated by bracketing the kethib between single hash-marks, and the qere' between double marks, as in the image at the right.

The Greek text is the 27th Edition of the Nestle-Aland Text of the Greek New Testament.

It is also a very sweet, clear display, very easy to read. Like the BHS, the Greek text also contains no textual notes whatever. After Mark 16, the text includes both the "shorter ending" and vv. 9-20 in French brackets. Same with John 7:53—8:11, as in the following image.

Another very nice feature of Olive Tree's iPhone software is the ability to split-screen. Thus you can have (say) the Hebrew text and its English translation:

...or the original Hebrew OT prophecy and the Greek quotation in the NT:

Navigation is performed by selected book, then chapter, then verse. The application even supports Hebrew and Greek searches, either by exact spelling, or using wild-cards.

You can alter the font sizes, if you prefer larger or smaller displays, change colors, and perform other customizations.

I don't think anyone looks to his iPhone to support a full-orbed study program such as BibleWorks or Logos. But I think these are some absolutely terrific apps for redeeming the time (Ephesians 5:16), "using up odd moments" as F. F. Bruce once wrote me. Waiting for the doctor, or the DMV clerk, or the teller in the bank — you could be listening to some nice classical music, and reading your Hebrew OT or your Greek NT.

What was a pointless aggravation becomes an occasion for firming up your grasp on the very Word itself.


(I also have the ESV Study Bible by Olive Tree on my iPhone, and plan to review it at a later date.)

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26 August 2009

Great Things He Has Done

by Frank Turk

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
You know: many of you are enthusiastic followers of Mike Horton and his cohorts on the White Horse Inn. And let's face it: good on ya. There's a lot more good than harm eminating from their call for a modern reformation, and I myself am capitaved by their little chats.

I've been listening to the 14 June 2009 podcast all summer, which is titled "God's Story vs. Our Stories". And if I had to sum it up in one sentence, I'd say that podcast is seeking to make the point that the most important story in the Christian life is God's story.

I mean: fair enough, right? That's what Paul is saying here to Titus to a large degree: The grace of God has appeared bringing salavation, giving us the blessed hope of the return of Jesus, and who purified us by redeeming us from lawlessness. The message is Jesus; it is not, "I cleaned up my life and now God loves me," or any other such twaddle. Our purification is because Christ died for us, not because we do better now.

There's a parallelism, btw, with our sin state here: we are not made sinners by our sinning, but in fact we are sinning now because we have the nature of sinners. It is our state as being in love with sin which makes us do sinful things, and our sinfulness is what makes us revolt against God. Because we are not pure, we do unpure things. Out of the overflow of the heart, as they say, the mouth speaks.

But it is exactly that parallelism which puts me off what our friends at WHI said in that podcast. In Mike Horton's view -- and in the view of his cohorts there -- somehow the consequence of "purified by redemption" doesn't have the necessary implication "his own possession who are zealous for good works".

Here's what Prof. Horton said:
Now when you run into "emergent", what's called the "emergent churches", even the "emerging churches" which is a broader category, often what you hear is, "well, now we what to see people live it, and enough creeds: it's time for deeds." And "really, the thing that's keeping Christianity from being taken seriously in our culture is that people really aren't living it." Don't you think that this -- first of all, there's nothing new or post-modern about that; I grew up with that, my grandmother grew up with that --do you think that that actually undermines the Gospel? that is it actually the very opposite because the Gospel, the Scriptures say, is the power of God unto salvation, not my living the Gospel. There's one person that lived the law, and that is the Gospel.
Yes: that is the Gospel. He is right that the active and passive obedience of Christ, his life and his death, followed by His resurrection as God's sign that He will keep His promise, is the Gospel.

But there are two things here which the White Horse Inn-mates (it's a joke; relax) are overlooking, and almost tragically so.

The first is that the Gospel is for someone. The Gospel is not just a spectacle but a gift, a grace which God gives to someone -- namely, His people who have faith. It is done, but it is for us. cf. last week's post on this passage: that's why it ought to be proclaimed -- to call out those for whom it is given.

But the second point is at least as important: It is not either deeds or creeds, but deed and creeds, or better still deeds as a necessary consequence of what the creeds say and mean. The creeds are not a law unto themselves; they are an enumeration of in whom we have faith and what He has done. They are not the faith but a limited description of the faith. And in that, if we believe what they say, we will live, as Paul says to Titus, as his own possession who are zealous for good works.

I love my wife, y'all. Without overstating this theologically, I love her because she loves me first. It's easy for me to go the extra mile for her when I have to because the name of Mrs. Centuri0n is "lovingkindness".

Now, that's sweet of me to bring it up, I know. I mention it because it is true. But what if you followed me around for a few days, and I was acting like Jon Gosselin -- or worse, that I was constantly calling her and checking up on her, making sure she wasn't cheating on me or leaving the kids unattended? Would my confession that Mrs. Cent is a wife of lovingkindness make any sense, or carry any credibility? Would my actions adorn the doctrine of Mrs. Cent?

Or would my actions prove I don't believe a word of it?

See: the doctrine of Mrs. Cent can be true objectively, but as Rod Rosenblatt points out so cunningly, maybe nobody believes it. Maybe nobody believes the good news of Mrs. Cent -- particularly her husband for whom she has done all these great things.

Here to Titus, Paul makes the equally demanding point that it is not enough to merely declare that truth that Christ is a Savior who has done great things; we must be a people for whom great things He has done. A people for whom great things have been done will not be an unchanged people. And in the same way that our sinners' nature has caused us to sin, our savior's redemption and purification will cause us to love what is good, and do it.

And you, dear pastor reader, must preach this. You must teach this. And you must live this. Your people will not be perfect, but they are purified. Teach them to live because that is true.

25 August 2009

Telling sinners how to be saved

by Dan Phillips

Last week, I posed a number of questions how to respond if asked, "What must I do to be saved?" As with the first post in this series, a spirited and substantive discussion broke out. However, the Thread Cop (yr obdt svt) was obliged to write out a number of citations for length-violations. Very sad. Nonetheless, you gave some terrific answers.

Here were the popular answers, often scorned by Calvinists, we re-examined:

  • Receive Christ
  • Pray to receive Christ
  • Believe in Jesus
  • Believe in Jesus sincerely
  • Let Christ into your heart
  • Ask Christ into your heart
  • Accept Jesus / accept Jesus as your Savior / accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior
  • Believe that Jesus died for your sins
Here are the questions, with my own responses and thoughts.
  1. Are those all really abominable answers? No, they really aren't.
  2. Are those all really un-Biblical answers? No, not really — though some Calvinists pour molten scorn on every one of them. In fact, it is some Calvinists who offer the most un-Biblical answer: to tell the sinner that he can do nothing in response to the Gospel, as if the Gospel is "sit there and go to Hell." Acts gives as many examples of that as part of bearing Gospel witness as it does of "Jesus died for your sins."

    Scripture does say we should receive Christ (John 1:12), and there is, to say the least, no Biblical reason not to pray to Him for this (Matthew 7:7-8; John 7:37). Now, there is a danger. This can be perceived as urging a blind leap, a mere existential encounter, a mystical vibration — which it is not. It may, if misunderstood, elevate the mystical and the emotional over the central and Biblically-warranted element of faith.

    But in that case, it seems to me best to redeem the image (since the image itself is, after all, Biblical) rather than abandon it or excoriate everyone who uses it. Simply teach that we must receive Christ, and we must do so by faith. Which segues nicely into...

    "Believe in Jesus" is exactly what the Scriptures say to do (John 3:16 — we do still believe that one, right?). We should make clear that Biblical faith is repentant faith, and that it involves the truth of Christ understood, accepted as true, and embraced. But we shouldn't make it sound like quantum physics, because Jesus emphatically doesn't (cf. Mark 10:15; Luke 10:21; John 6:35, 37).

    Shouldn't this faith be sincere? Mustn't Christ come and live in our hearts (John 14:23; Ephesians 3:17)? Isn't there a volitional element in faith?

    These are Biblical ideas, even if John Owen didn't phrase them exactly thus. When we carp at their precise wording, I think we advance nothing worthwhile nor essential. We don't make Christ and His Gospel look glorious. Instead, we just make ourselves look like snotty, imperious nitpickers, more excited about finding fault than in seeing people come to Christ. At best.

    Give me the brother who is doing the right thing imperfectly, rather than the man who does nothing but find fault — perfectly .

    I forgot to include another oft-criticized phrase: "accept Jesus as your personal Savior." That one is faulted because it may encourage a maverick mentality, and seems to negate that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. However, I believe the intent of the phrase was to counter barren institutionalism. That is, it was crafted to penetrate the thinking of cradle-Catholics and cradle-Baptists, who think that they are Christians because their parents were, or because they grew up in church, or because they attend a Christian church.

    That being the case, mightn't it also be a useful phrase to communicate a Biblical truth? After all, God has no grandchildren. The gate is narrow, admitting one at a time. I am not saved by being related to a Christian or a Christian institution. Christ must be my savior, or I am not saved.

    It may come as a surprise that my least-favorite version is "Believe that Jesus died for your sins."

    Why? Because I am really uncomfortable with making salvation the result of singling out any one fact, one statement, and making ascription to that statement the vehicle of salvation. It isn't the characteristic way of Scripture. You see more believe-Him than believe-that. I can't think of any example in Acts where this is what is preached, nor anything in the epistles that elevates this one statement above others as being essential to conversion.

    I'll return to this, but what we as evangelists want to do is get our hearers to Christ. Not to one fact about Him or His work; not even to a select cluster of facts about Him, but to Him, Himself. "Come to Me," Christ bids (Matthew 11:27). Come, believe, eat, drink, look, live (John 6:32ff.). Believe in Him, the apostles echo (Acts 16:31).

    What should I believe? Everything. Everything Jesus Himself says, everything He moves His apostles to say. But wait, I don't even know everything, when I become a Christian. For that matter, thirty-six years later, I still don't have that down. So what does that mean to a would-be convert?

    It starts with believing Jesus, with accepting Him as true, and His word as binding and true. We enroll in His school; and in that school, true students will continue and grow (John 8:31-32). But the premise is His truth and Lordship.

  3. Is it really horribly complicated, requiring a certain education-level? Saving us was horribly complicated for God, in order that it might not be so for us. We should not "improve" on what He has done and offered. Otherwise, see previous answer.
  4. Is an unsaved person who does one of these still unsaved? On what authority? If an unsaved person exercises repentant faith in the real Jesus of Scripture, he is saved, period. And that on the best and highest authority (John 3:36; John 6:35, 47, 54).
  5. And crucially, you put it simply and better, so a child or a simple man or woman could understand: what must I do to be saved?
I think what I've said probably points the way, as I see it. There are many ways of expressing the central truth of the sinner's need to exercise repentant faith in Christ alone, coming to Him by faith. They might be made to fit expression of that unchanging truth to the individual.

But of all the many really fine answers that were given, the one that echoed my own heart best was Penn Tomasetti's:
Go to Jesus to be saved! He said, "I am the way..." He said, "Come to me..." (Mtt.11:28). He said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink..." (Jn.7:37). He died and rose again to bring us to God. Salvation is in no one else. He was dead (in place of repentant sinners), and behold He lives forever and ever, and He holds the keys to death and Hades... (Rev.1:18). He has power and authority to forgive sins (Mk.1:10). He came to save sinners... trust Him, believe Him, rely on Him, do not turn away from Him. Christ Jesus is called "our great God and Savior.” Don’t harden your heart, but give up trusting in your own goodness to save you, and whatever else you are holding to, and trust Him alone. He will never turn away anyone who comes to Him in true repentance (Jn.6:37).

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24 August 2009

Does Scripture Permit Us to Regard ANY Truth as "Secondary"?

What do common sense and Scripture tell us about the relative weight of different truths?
on the essential distinction between primary and secondary matters.

(First posted 14 September 2005)

Pyromaniacsommon sense makes it crystal-clear to most people that some truths in Scripture are of primary importance, and other truths are less vital.

For example, most people would agree that the deity of Christ is an essential doctrine of Christianity, but Sabbatarianism is not. (In other words, committed Christians might differ among themselves on the question of whether and how rigorously the Old Testament Sabbath restrictions should apply to Christians on the Lord's day; but authentic Christians do not disagree on whether Jesus is God.) Again, common sense is sufficient for most people to recognize the validity of some distinction between primary and secondary truths.

Unfortunately, "common sense" is not as common as it used to be. (It's one of the early fatalities of the postmodern era.) And with increasing frequency, I encounter people who challenge the distinction evangelicals have historically made between fundamental and secondary doctrines.

Some rather extreme fellows have begun a quasi-Christian cult located not far from where I live, and they actually teach that all truth is primary and every disagreement is worth fighting about and ultimately dividing over if agreement cannot be reached. Either agree with them on everything, or you are going to hell.

Others—equally extreme—argue, in effect, that "truth" isn't primary at all; relationships are, and therefore no proposition or point of truth is ever worth arguing about with another professing Christian. The latter position is gaining adherents at a frightening pace.

Does the Bible recognize a valid distinction between fundamental and secondary doctrines? How would you refute someone who insisted that all truth is of equal import? How do you answer those who claim no truth is worth arguing over? Could you make a biblical case for a hierarchy of truths, or for recognizing a distinction between core doctrines and peripheral ones? If so, how do you tell the difference? Do you have biblical guidelines for that? What if we disagree on whether a particular doctrine is essential or secondary? How is that question to be settled?

Those are questions which in my opinion have not been pondered seriously enough by contemporary evangelicals. You have to go back a couple of centuries to find writers who wrestled with such concerns in any depth. Volume 1 of Francis Turretin's Elenctic Theology includes a section discussing this subject (starting on page 49). Herman Witsius also deals with it near the beginning of vol. 1 of his two-volume work titled The Apostles' Creed.

It seems to me that the distinction between primary and secondary doctrines is implicit rather than explicit in Scripture. But I think the distinction is still very clear. Here, briefly, are five biblical arguments in favor of making some kind of distinction between primary and secondary doctrines:

  1. Jesus Himself suggested that some errors are gnats and some are camels (Matt. 23:24-25). And He stated that some matters of the law are "weightier" than others (v. 23). Think about it; such distinctions could not be made if every point of truth were essential.
  2. Paul likewise speaks of truths that are "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3)—clearly indicating that there is a hierarchy of doctrinal significance.
  3. Certain issues are plainly identified by Scripture as fundamental or essential doctrines. These include:
    1. doctrines that Scripture makes essential to saving faith (e.g., justification by faith—Rom. 4:4-5; knowledge of the true God—Jn. 17:3; the bodily resurrection—1 Cor. 15:4; and several others).
    2. doctrines that Scripture forbids us to deny under threat of condemnation (e.g., 1 Jn. 1:6, 8, 10; 1 Cor. 16:22; 1 Jn. 4:2-3).
    Since these doctrines are explicitly said to make a difference between heaven and hell while others (the "gnats" Jesus spoke of) are not assigned that level of importance, a distinction between fundamental and secondary truths is clearly implied.
  4. Paul distinguished between the foundation and that which is built on the foundation (1 Cor. 3:11-13). The foundation is established in Christ, and "no other foundation" may be laid. Paul suggests, however, that the edifice itself will be built with some wood, hay, and stubble. Again, this seems to suggest that while there is no tolerance whatsoever for error in the foundation, some of the individual building-blocks, though important, are not of the same fundamental importance.
  5. The principle Paul sets forth in Roman 14 also has serious implications for this question. There were some differences of opinion in the Roman church which Paul declined to make into hard-and-fast matters of truth vs. heresy. In Romans 14:5, he writes, "One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." That clearly allows a measure of tolerance for two differing opinions on what is undeniably a point of doctrine.
         As an apostle, Paul could simply have handed down a ruling that would have settled the controversy. In fact, elsewhere he did give clear instructions that speaks to the very doctrine under debate in Romans 14 (cf. Col. 2:16-17). Yet in writing to the Romans, he was more interested in teaching them the principle of tolerance for differing views on matters of less-than-fundamental importance. Surely this is something we should weigh very heavily before we make any point of truth a matter over which we break fellowship.
One thing I would like to say, since I am sometimes cast in the role of someone who attacks heresy: I'm as eager to see evangelical unity as I am to attack ecumenical compromise. But in order to keep the two straight, it is crucial to have clear biblical reasons for treating various doctrines as either fundamental or secondary. I've given a considerable amount of thought to these issues in recent years, but I'm interested in feedback from readers of my blog. Anyone know of resources where these issues are discussed in depth? Phil's signature

23 August 2009


Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "A Mighty Savior," a sermon delivered Sunday morning, January 4, 1857, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

nce a poor Irishman came to me in my vestry. He announced himself something in this way: "Your reverence, I'm come to ax you a question."

"In the first place," said I, "I am not a reverend, nor do I claim the title; and in the next place, why don't you go and ask your priest that question?"

Said he "Well, your riv—sir, I meant—I did go to him, but he did not answer me to my satisfaction exactly; so I have come to ask you, and if you will answer this you will set my mind at peace, for I am much disturbed about it."

"What is the question?" said I.

"Why this. You say, and others say too, that God is able to forgive sin. Now, I can't see how he can be just, and yet forgive sin: for," said this poor man, "I have been so greatly guilty that if God Almighty does not punish me he ought, I feel that he would not be just if he were to suffer me to go without punishment. How, then, sir, can it be true that he can forgive, and still remain the title of just?"

"Well," said I, "it is through the blood and merits of Jesus Christ."

"And" said he, "but then I do not understand what you mean by that. It is the kind of answer I got from the priest, but I wanted him to explain it to me more fully, how it was that the blood of Christ could make God just. You say it does, but I want to know how."

"Well, then," said I, "I will tell you what I think to be the whole system of atonement which I think is the sum and substance, the root, the marrow, and the essence of all the gospel. This is the way Christ is able to forgive. Suppose," said I, "you had killed some one. You were a murderer; you were condemned to die, and you deserved it."

"Faith," said he, "yes I should deserve it."

"Well, her Majesty is very desirous of saving your life, and yet at the same time universal justice demands that someone should die on account of the deed that is done. Now, how is she to manage?"

Said he, "That is the question. I cannot see how she can be inflexibly just, and yet suffer me to escape."

"Well," said I, "suppose, Pat, I should go to her and say, "Here is this poor Irishman, he deserves to be hanged, your Majesty. I don't want to quarrel with the sentence, because I think it just, but, if you please, I so love him that if you were to hang me instead of him should be very willing.

"Pat, suppose she should agree to it, and hang me instead of you, what then? would she be just in letting you go?"

"Ay" said he, "I should think she would. Would she hang two for one thing? I should say not I'd walk away, and there isn't a policeman that would touch me for it."

"Ah!" said I, "that is how Jesus saves. 'Father,' he said, 'I love these poor sinners, let me suffer instead of them!' 'Yes,' said God, 'thou shalt' and on the tree he died, and suffered the punishment which all his elect people ought to have suffered, so that now all who believe on him, thus proving themselves to be his chosen, may conclude that he was punished for them, and that therefore they never can be punished."

"Well," said he, looking me in the face once more, "I understand what you mean; but how is it, if Christ died for all men, that notwithstanding, some men are punished again? For that is unjust."

"Ah!" said I, "I never told you that. I say to you that he has died for all that believe on him, and all who repent, and that was punished for their sins so absolutely and so really, that none of them shall ever be punished again."

"Faith," said the man, clapping his hands, "that's the gospel, if it isn't, then I don't know anything, for no man could have made that up, it is so wonderful. Ah!" he said, as he went down the stairs, "Pat's safe now, with all his sins about him he'll trust in the man that died for him, and so he shall be saved."

Dear hearer, Christ is mighty to save, because God did not turn away the sword, but he sheathed it in his own Son's heart; he did not remit the debt, for it was paid in drops of precious blood, and now the great receipt is nailed to the cross, and our sins with it, so that we may go free if we are believers in him. For this reason he is "mighty to save," in the true sense of the word.

C. H. Spurgeon

21 August 2009

Sometimes fellowship is better than a fight. Sometimes not.

The futility of crying "Peace, Peace," when there is no peace.

(First posted 15 September 2005)

pyromaniacne thing you'll quickly notice if you make even a casual study of historical theology is this: the history of the church is a long chronicle of doctrinal development that runs from one profound controversy to the next.

In one sense it is sad that the history of the church is so marred by doctrinal conflicts, but in another sense that is precisely what the apostles anticipated. Even while the New Testament was still being written, the church was contending with serious heresies and dangerous false teachers who seemed to spring up everywhere. This was so much a universal problem that Paul made it one of the qualifications of every elder that he be strong in doctrine and able to refute those who contradict (Titus 1:9). So the church has always been beset by heretics and false teachings, and church history is full of the evidence of this.

Obviously, then, we who love the truth cannot automatically shy away from every fight over doctrine. Especially in an era like ours when virtually every doctrine is deemed up for grabs, Christians need to be willing and prepared to contend earnestly for the faith.

On the other hand, even in an obsessively "tolerant" age such as ours, the opposite danger looms large as well. There are some people who are always spoiling for a fight over little matters, and no issue is too trivial for them to overlook. It seems they are looking for reasons to take offense, and if you're not careful what you say or how you say it, they'll throw a major hissy. More often than not, it's an insignificant issue, an unintentional slight, or an inadvertently indelicate "tone" that provokes the tantrum. (Ironically, these same folks are sometimes more than willing to tolerate major doctrinal errors in the name of "charity.")

Scripture includes all the following commands: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18). "It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11). "I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations" (Romans 14:1). "Follow peace with all men, and holiness" (Hebrews 12:14).

Clearly, there are two extremes to be avoided. One is the danger of being so narrow and intolerant that you create unnecessary divisions in the body of Christ. The other is the problem of being too broad-minded and sinfully tolerant—so ecumenically minded that you settle for a shallow, false unity with people whom we are commanded to avoid or whose errors we are morally obligated to refute.

It would seem that the only way to be faithful to all the above commands is to have a sound and biblical understanding of how to distinguish between core doctrines and peripheral ones.

But search for serious material that carefully discusses biblical guidelines for making such distinctions wisely, and you'll come up mostly dry. This is an issue I fear most Christians have not considered as soberly and carefully as we should, and it would be my assessment that one of the crying needs of the church in this age of mindless postmodern subjectivity is a clear, careful, and thorough biblical understanding of when it's time to fight and when it's time to fellowship.

Few subjects interest me more than this. It seems a pretty obvious and foundational issue for the church and her leaders to settle. You might think the early fundamentalists ought to have done extensive work on the subject, but as far as I can see, they didn't. They treated several key doctrines as fundamental, based mainly on what happened to be under attack by the modernists, and they declared themselves devoted to "the fundamentals."

But they didn't always keep very clear focus on the distinction between what was fundamental and what was not. As a result, later generations of fundamentalists often fought and fragmented over issues no one could rationally argue were "fundamental." Predictably, the fundamentalist movement slowly collapsed on itself.

There are some valiant efforts currently underway to improve and preserve the best remnants of the fundamentalist movement. I sincerely wish them success. But it seems to me that unless the brightest minds and most careful theologians in that movement are willing to go back to this basic question and carefully think through the biblical and theological rationale for the original distinction between fundamental and secondary truths, certain things that ought to be clear will remain murky, and fundamentalism will be doomed to repeating cycles of failure.

If there's anyone left in the "evangelical movement" who is truly evangelical in the historic sense, the same thing applies to them, by the way.

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20 August 2009

"Doomed" evangelism? (Classic post re-posted)

by Dan Phillips
[The deadline for my manuscript is almost upon me, and I have the joy of preaching this weekend. Staying with Tuesday's theme of evangelism, we take Danny2's suggestion from this thread, and reach 'way back to 2006 to re-consider the following.]
Suppose I imagined that God commonly gave extra-Biblical revelation today. I so many kinds of don't—but suppose I did.

And suppose God said, "I want you to go tell this guy the Gospel, because I have hardened his heart so that, not only will he not repent and believe, but he'll become infuriated and want to kill you and torment the people you care most about. I'm going to use this situation to do all sorts of wonderful things."

The whole prophetic revelation thing aside—what would I think?

"Okay now, wait—'because'? You want me to talk to this guy, knowing that he won't believe? In fact, You're going to make sure that He won't believe? But for us who believe in Your sovereignty, the whole premise of evangelism is that we don't know who is and isn't elect, so it's our place to sow in hope, and leave the results to You. But here You're telling me, right off the bat, that it's going to be a bust? And that's why You want me to go in?"

It struck me that this is precisely Moses' situation in dealing with Pharaoh, and specifically in Exodus 10—
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, 2 and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD."
Wouldn't that be grim news? "Go in... for, because, I have hardened his heart." Were I in Moses' sandals, it might be hard to get motivated.

But might that not be because our whole motivation is out of whack? Why would it bother us so much?

Well, it would bother us because we don't like to fail. Might as well be honest about it: we don't. "Here, try something you have no chance of achieving" isn't much of a sales pitch. We do things because we hope we might succeed in doing them. "Thirty Days to Miserable Failure" wouldn't be a catchy title for a church program, I'm thinking.

And then of course, on a higher level, it would and should bother us because we care about the person we're talking to. Unless there's something very wrong with us, we don't want to see anyone go to Hell. We want to be used by God for deliverance, not judgment. We don't evangelize to seal folks' doom. We evangelize in the hopes that the Word will bring hearing, and hearing will bring saving faith (Romans 10:17).

So what motivation does Yahweh offer Moses, apart from the mere and sufficient fact that it is He who calls him to talk to Pharaoh? I see a threefold motivation:
  1. "that I may show these signs of mine among them"
  2. "and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them"
  3. "that you [plural] may know that I am the LORD"
The "signs" Yahweh is about to show are signs of judgment. Yahweh actually had announced His program right from the start. Pharaoh's heart would be hard, he'd reject Yahweh's word, and this would become the occasion for Yahweh glorifying Himself by mighty acts of judgment (Exodus 3:19-20; 4:21). He had even told Pharaoh flat-out that this was why Pharaoh still stood: to serve as an object-lesson, revelatory of Yahweh and His ways (9:16).

So in the final analysis, Moses' entreaties and warnings to Pharaoh weren't about Moses and his success-quotient, they weren't about Pharaoh and his wellbeing, they weren't even just about Israel. They were about Yahweh, about His glory. Indeed, they would be instructive to Moses (6:1), Pharaoh (8:10), the Egyptians (7:5), the Israelites (16:6), and their children (10:2). But the main star occupying center stage would be Yahweh Himself. This "evangelism" was, in the final analysis, about Yahweh.

Brief aside: you'll notice that this is what drives unbelievers absolutely nuts. All the specific carpings and whinings and scoffing and mocking and verbal pouts boil down to this: they just really hate God being God. It scares the stuffing out of them. Quite properly so.

What's sad is when professed Christians clearly hate God being all that much God, too.

Back on-topic. So then I think this way. If Moses was to go in with boldness and passion, knowing in advance that Pharaoh would blow him off—how much more should we? Because in fact we don't have direct revelation telling us whether or not this or that person is elect or not. We have no idea whatever whether this scroungy-looking, tattoo-covered boastful drunk may be gloriously converted, while that sweet, loving, lovable friend may despise the gospel of Christ. If we decide not to speak of Christ because of these impressions, we act from the folly of unbelief.

Because like Moses, we should not be primarily focused on succeeding in "winning souls." Nor is the be-all and end-all our neighbor's salvation. That is indeed a commandment to us, but it is the second. Not the first.

Our focus in evangelism (I preach to myself, nice of you to listen in) must be the glory of God. Lift up the Lord Jesus, lift up His gospel, lift up the Cross, and God will be glorified. He may be glorified by converting our hearer; or He may be glorified in judgment. But either way, He will be glorified.

God's glory—not redemption, nor any other concomitant good—is the center of history, the center of the Bible, the center of everything.

It should be the center and focus of our evangelism.

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19 August 2009

Grace appeared!

by Frank Turk

First thing today – I wanted to thank Dan for filling in while I was out of the country. You can’t get too much DJP, and someday years from now you’ll wish you had listened to me when I told you that.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
Briefly today, back to Titus in order that we might finish with the Pastorals in 2009. I am tempted to give you 500 words on the use of the word “For” here, but I’m going to refrain from that to tell you this instead: this paragraph ought to make you weep, or want to weep.

If you live in this world at all – if you are actually in the world, even if you are not of the world (and you should not be of the world, but you must be in it)—you can see that people need saving. Often we go to the headlines to work this out to talk in some kind of meta-narrative way, but I can tell you that in my own life, the people around me need saving. The guy who quits his marriage to save his job needs saving from his self-contained and sinful values. The little guy who gets caught in a brush fire needs saving from a world in which the punishment for our sinfulness if death and suffering. The beer-gourmand needs saving from his beer, and the tea-totaler needs saving from his tea.

And most of all, for the readers on this blog, the religious people need saving from the high-fallutin’ idea that their systematics make them the court of final appeal for other Christians and the church. The Grace of God has appeared, people! And it’s bringing salvation to all people -- it’s good news for all the people.

You know: good news. It's a refuge from this world. It's the joy that set before us. And it's good news to people who are hurting and dying. This is why it should make you weep: because it is so lavish, and we are often so stingy with it when it comes down to really being faithful to our alleged ideals.

I know, I know: the meta is now going to break out in the mad dash to fortify election and God’s particular atonement of a peculiar people. Shut Up already. You’re not a hyper-calvinist (I hope), and you don’t believe that there is any person on this planet to whom the Gospel is not addressed, so stop splitting hairs when there are lost people who need to know that the grace of God has appeared.

And if you have read the rest of Titus so far, you’d see what Paul is saying here:
  • The church must be set in order
  • To do so, we need Elders
  • Elders are mature men who have manifested the fruit of the spirit
  • They do so in order to credibly preach the word of God
  • They are credible because they live like they believe this stuff
  • They must teach others to do so as well
  • Because the Grace of God has come, to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Try that out. Live like that. Then, after your life has been used by God to save many through the Gospel, you can start your lectures on the limits of God’s grace. It will look different than the things you’re saying now.

18 August 2009

Communicating better: what must I do?

by Dan Phillips

With our first installment in this series-of-indeterminate-length (i.e. this could be the last one), you offered your thoughts on the famed/dreaded Altar Call. Then I offered mine.

Now let's take up a related topic: the answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?"

Like the first, here's one in which Calvinists really puzzled me, even long after I'd become convinced of the doctrines of grace myself. It was the way they dealt with that critical question.

Christians at large would tell a seeker any or all of the following:
  • Receive Christ
  • Pray to receive Christ
  • Believe in Jesus
  • Believe in Jesus sincerely
  • Let Christ into your heart
  • Ask Christ into your heart
  • Accept Jesus / accept Jesus as your Savior / accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior
  • Believe that Jesus died for your sins
At one time or another, I have heard Calvinists pour molten flames of scorn on every one of those answers, except maybe the last one. I have heard them — not merely disagree, not merely suggest they might be inadequate, not merely express concern but — mock and ridicule and reject these responses, just as roundly as if one had said "Put on a pink tutu and dance the Conga in the rain."

You hear things sneered with much acid, like:
"You don't accept Jesus. He's a King! He doesn't need your acceptance!"

"'Believe,' pah! The demons believe. You have faith in your faith. That won't save you. You're lost!"

"The Bible never says to pray to receive Christ!"

"The Bible never says to let Christ into your heart!"
So, we're clearly supposed to think that these are horrible answers. I became very clear on that.

And once again, these Calvinists showed a wonderful facility for criticizing, shredding, tearing down, and explaining why everyone else was wrong. What didn't come across so clearly — in spite of a pretty strong Biblical background and a lot of reading and listening — is this one thing: what are you supposed to do to get saved?

All the energy goes into tearing down virtually every other Christian who draws breath. Not so much in providing a better answer. Far more concern in talking about how wrong everyone else is.

So, here are my questions:
  1. Are those all really abominable answers?
  2. Are those all really un-Biblical answers?
  3. Is it really horribly complicated, requiring a certain education-level?
  4. Is an unsaved person who does one of these still unsaved? On what authority?
  5. And crucially, you put it simply and better, so a child or a simple man or woman could understand: what must I do to be saved?
If you want to say "Believe in the Lord Jesus," all those other approaches are trying to say the same thing. Tell me how, and make it clearer and better and more Biblical than all those approaches that so many Calvinists despise.

Same rules as before: stay on-topic, and observe a firm 200-word limit. Nobody broke the rules last time; let's keep our good record. I really don't want to have to delete anything.

Also, once again: this is an in-house discussion. You're not a Calvinist, you don't have a dog in this hunt. Do the Scarlett O'Hara thing for today, please.

If you can't answer all the questions, pick some.

Have at it. Then perhaps next time, I'll share my own thoughts.

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17 August 2009

Jesus vs. the Pharisees

posted by Phil Johnson

If you haven't seen John MacArthur's op-ed in last week's Washington Post, be sure to read it. The theme of that guest editorial is an echo of John MacArthur's new book, The Jesus You Can't Ignore. I think it's one of his best books ever, and I have read them all. Here's an extended excerpt from the book:

enerally speaking, avoiding conflicts is a good idea. Warmth and congeniality are normally preferable to cold harshness. Civility, compassion, and good manners are in short supply these days, and we ought to have more of them. Gentleness, a soft answer, and a kind word usually go further than an argument or a rebuke. That which edifies is more helpful and more fruitful in the long run than criticism. Cultivating friends is more pleasant and more profitable than crusading against enemies. And it's ordinarily better to be tender and mild rather than curt or combative—especially to the victims of false teaching.

But those qualifying words are vital: usually, ordinarily, generally. Avoiding conflict is not always the right thing. Sometimes it is downright sinful. Particularly in times like these, when almost no error is deemed too serious to be excluded from the evangelical conversation, and while the Lord's flock is being infiltrated by wolves dressed like prophets, declaring visions of peace when there is no peace (cf. Ezekiel 13:16).

Even the kindest, gentlest shepherd sometimes needs to throw rocks at the wolves who come in sheep's clothing.

Was Jesus Always "Nice?"

The Great Shepherd Himself was never far from open controversy with the most conspicuously religious inhabitants in all of Israel. Almost every chapter of the gospels makes some reference to His running battle with the chief hypocrites of His day, and He made no effort whatsoever to be winsome in His encounters with them. He did not invite them to dialogue or engage in a friendly exchange of ideas.

Jesus' public ministry was barely underway when He invaded what they thought was their turf—the temple grounds in Jerusalem—and went on a righteous rampage against their mercenary control of Israel's worship. He did the same thing again during the final week before His crucifixion, immediately after His triumphal entry into the city. One of His last major public discourses was the solemn pronunciation of seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees. These were formal curses He pronounced against them. That sermon was the furthest thing from a friendly dialogue. Matthew's record of it fills an entire chapter (Matthew 23), and as noted earlier, it is entirely devoid of any positive or encouraging word for the Pharisees and their followers. Luke distills and summarizes the entire message in three short verses—Luke 20:45-47: "Then, in the hearing of all the people, He said to His disciples, 'Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.'"

That is a perfect summary of Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees. It is a blistering denunciation—a candid diatribe about the seriousness of their error. There is no conversation, no collegiality, no dialogue, and no cooperation. Only confrontation, condemnation, and (as Matthew records) curses against them.

Jesus' compassion is certainly evident in two facts that bracket this declamation. First, Luke says that as He drew near the city and observed its full panorama for this final time, He paused and wept over it (Luke 19:41-44). And second, Matthew records a similar lament at the end of the seven woes (Matthew 23:37). So we can be absolutely certain that as Jesus delivered this diatribe, His heart was full compassion.

Yet that compassion is directed at the victims of the false teaching, not the false teachers themselves. There is no hint of sympathy, no proposal of clemency, no trace of kindness, no effort on Jesus' part to be "nice" toward the Pharisees. Indeed, with these words Jesus formally and resoundingly pronounced their doom and then held them up publicly as a warning to others.

This is the polar opposite of any invitation to dialogue. He doesn't say, "They're basically good guys. They have pious intentions. They have some valid spiritual insights. Let's have a conversation with them." Instead, He says, "Keep your distance. Be on guard against their lifestyle and their influence. Follow them, and you are headed for the same condemnation as them."

This approach would surely have earned Jesus an resounding outpouring of loud disapproval from today's guardians of evangelical protocol. In fact, His approach to the Pharisees utterly debunks the cardinal points of conventional wisdom among modern and postmodern evangelicals—the neo-evangelical fondness for eternal collegiality, and the Emerging infatuation with engaging all points of view in endless conversation. By today's standards, Jesus words about the Pharisees and His treatment of them are breathtakingly severe.

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