30 September 2009

Word Up

by Frank Turk

Before I give you my review of this next book, let me be up-front about something: I'm a formal translation guy and I like to use a formal translation when I'm reading the Bible because, well, I do.

I don't want to be too glib about that choice on my part because I am pretty sure it's a reasoned choice -- and I could line out for you the reasons in about 5000 words if we had that kind of time today, but we don't.

At the root of it, I like a formal translation of the Bible because when I am studying seriously (for example, when I am teaching at church) and I open up the reference material to see what's going on behind the text in the original languages (not because I can read Greek or Hebrew, mind you, but I took Methods and Research in Grad School and I can use reference books), it's always reassuring that what I see in the English is somehow representative of what the Greek or Hebrew expresses according to the lexical experts.

I mean: it always bothers me when we have a translation that we have to debunk for the reader so that as a teacher (or as a preacher) we have to say, "but what the Greek really says is ..." Translation is an art, to be sure, but it's not a baffling mystery which leaves the reader at the mercy of the translator to the place where the translator has interjected himself as the author's editor.

But in that, I have a respect for "functional" or "dynamic" translation as a methodology for some purposes. For example, I think there is a good use for the NLT as a first-pass read through the whole Bible -- because it seeks to deliver the message of the text without using a collegiate-level vocabulary. That is valuable in evangelism and in other kinds of ministry to those who are not pre-grad or post-grad egg-heads.

That said, there is a larger debate going on in the realm of Bible translation regarding the methodology which is best for the church and for Christians in general. For me, the most forceful spokesman for the "essentially literal" approach is Leland Ryken. He's an English professor, and if you ask me we need more men like him teaching English at the college level so that there are more, better readers of our language. He also wrote my favorite all-time book on the philosophy and theology of Bible translation: The Word of God in English. The egg-heads among you readers should read that book and forget about the rest of this review/recommendation.

But Dr. Ryken has just written a new book for Crossway called Understanding English Bible Translation, and it will be reviled by anyone who has any affection for dynamic equivalence. Coming in at 194 pages before the brief appendices and index, it's a brutal assessment of the flaws of dynamic equivalence and a brief and popularized argument for the use of what Dr. Ryken calls "essentially literal" translation. It's red meat for the common inerrantist, and frankly it's a pretty gripping read for the kind of book that it is because Ryken argues with passion and keen intellect. He doesn't let much get by on the other side, and while he gives gracious credit for some things (for example, he's gracious about the really good motives for some dynamic equivalent practitioners [e.g. - evangelism]), he doesn't let that get in the way of making his case at every point. By the end of the read, if you're not a convicted "essential literalist", I'll need to see your baptismal certificate and have a talk with the elders at your church.

Now, having said that, and now saying explicitly, "buy this book, read it, and get other people to read it," let me offer some criticisms of the book which I think are important to consider.

First, I think Dr. Ryken's approach to translation philosophy veers dangerously close to a correspondence theory of translation which, let's face it, would be a little simplistic. There is no way to say that every word in (for example) Greek has a categorically-equal corresponding word in English both lexically and practically. And because this is true -- that in some cases we would need an uncommon word in English to translate a relatively common word in Greek -- we have to admit that often translators ought to make a judgment call about how to present some text as the author intended, thereby having occasions in which giving us just one word for another is an inadequate approach.

And this happens in all translations of the Bible, including the KJV, the NASB and especially in the ESV. However, Dr. Ryken seems to make the case that the practice of doing this across the board in order to improve the reader's basic comprehension of the ideas of the text is inherently disreputable and undesirable for philosophical reasons. The irony here is that I agree with his objection but I disagree with the force with which he makes it. By a long shot, this is best exemplified by his lumping together of the NIV and the Message as two types of the same kind of Bible translation -- and this is simply a category error. Everyone by now knows that the Message is a paraphrase and not intended to do anything but, well, paraphrase the original text rather than translate it. And while his system of explaining this issue may simply call all translations to the "right" of the NKJV "dynamic translations", it seems to me to be a difficult pill to swallow to make the NIV or the HCSB texts which destabilize the common understanding of the Bible.

And that, I understand, is a pretty stiff criticism of a book which one is actually recommending and endorsing. However, in spite of this concern I have for this book, Dr. Ryken's book is a stiff tonic in an age where all manner of issues relating to the author's original intent in the text is being subverted for the sake of appealing to contemporary, metropolitan sensibilities. If you want to clear your head about this subject, get this book and read it. In the end, you may not agree with this argument or the substantive reasons for it, but you'll be better made over having had to grapple with the scope and direction of this book.

29 September 2009

A Good-Natured Rant

by Frank Turk

With DJP trapped in a vacation of his own making in high-altitude parts-unknown, and Phil suffering through the urban delights of Houston (Eat at Papasitas, Phil!), you're left with me to carry the water for the week, and fortunately for all of us I have a giant stack of books to review in order to maintain my credibility as a blogger who lives up to his end of the bargain when someone sends in a PDF or promo copy for the sake of good will.

If you visit my blog, there are about a dozen books in the sidebar I have listed as "required reading" mostly because they are books I have enjoyed and benefitted from. There are some other books I need to add to that list, but the book I have in my hand today would probably serve most of you as a sort of survey of those books -- a survey of the landscape of the evangelical church.

Warren Cole Smith has published A Lover's Quarrel with The Evangelical Church, which is a sort of late-comer to the cottage industry of recounting the evangelical church's loss of its first love, as they say. Smith sees himself as an insider and longer-term traveller inside the conservative evangelical movement, and as such he has come to a lot of the same conclusions a lot of the rest of us have -- the church is facile, ahistorical, sentimental to the point of being trite and irrelevant, ironically market-driven in spite of its irrelevance, more concerned with gaining an audience rather than growing disciples, and so on. There's a chapter on each of those subjects, and you can really see the problems pretty vividly when he's done.

Which, of course, is fine. These are observations made by David F. Wells, Mark Noll, David F. Wells, Os Guinness, David F. Wells, D. A. Carson, David F. Wells, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, and of course David F. Wells. maybe it's actually David Wells who has done all the legitimate leg-work here and everyone else has sort of cited him or referred to him.

In that, it may be unfair of me to make that my primary criticism of Warren's book: it's not really anything new. However, that criticism misses the numerous and copious end notes (sorry, Dan) he has provided to the reader to demonstrate that he has in fact done his homework and he is in fact not the first guy to bring all this up.

In a real way, all that work makes this conversationally-styled book perhaps all the more damning as it seeks to speak the truth in love to the English-speaking church: this has all actually been said before, and the problems are not really getting all that much better. At some point, the church has to stop reading books which tell us how charming we are or ought to be and instead hold up the mirror to ourselves and say plainly, "you didn't really mean to come out of the house looking like that now, did you?"

So here's the thing: I enjoyed this book. It's nice when a book can say something is deeply wrong with the church and still have confidence (even if it is a sub-textual confidence) in the Gospel in spite of the flaws of the people in churches today. I appreciated the non-apocalytic tone of the book -- it was urgent and serious when it needed to be, but not hardly a "this may be the last Christian generation" sort of jeremiad. It was sort of an old friend in a new pair of jeans and some loafers who came over to the house for a bit of a good-natured rant.

So I recommend it -- on a scale of 5, I'll round up and give it a 4, though students of David Wells will chide me for grade inflation.

I have a couple of other books to review tomorrow, so we'll pick up there, then.

27 September 2009

The Blessing of Forgiveness from an Omniscient God

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 "Free Pardon," a sermon first published in 1873, based on Isaiah 43:25: "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and
will not remember thy sins."

he Lord knows all our sins. There is not a sin that has ever escaped his eye. Those committed in the secret chamber, in the darkness of the night, those which never struggled into action—sins of the heart and imagination, those which have never been whispered into any human ear, God has known. What doth he not see?

And this is a blessed thing for us, because it causes the pardon to cover fully the whole extent of the sin. A priest once said that if we did not recollect all our sins, and confess them, they would never be forgiven. Well, then, certainly they never will be forgiven, for no man can ever recollect one thousandth part of his transgressions; but blessed be God, the pardon does not rest with our knowledge of the sin, but with God's knowledge of the sin; and, therefore, that pardon is complete which comes from the all-seeing God.

"I, even I, am he,"—the Omniscient who am everywhere present, who saw thee in the darkness, and heard thy heart in all its evil speeches against the Most High—I, the all-knowing one, "I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions."

Oh, this unrivalled pardon, how full of consolation it is! Every attribute of God adds to its splendor; every beam of the divine glory heightens its grandeur.
C. H. Spurgeon

24 September 2009

Books and Stuff

by Frank Turk

I have a Facebook friend named Jim Belcher, and let me be honest: I have no idea how Jim became a Facebook friend to me. Yet, to my utter astonishment, there he is.

Jim has written a book, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, which he was kind enough to send me for the sake of promotion and review.

I haven't finished reading Jim's book yet, but I linked it, above, because you ought to read it. Particularly, you need to spend a lot of time in Chapter 4, which is titled "Deep Truth", and Chapter 8, "Deep Preaching".

I have taken copious notes in this book. It makes me angry about every third page, but angry in the right way. Angry enough to do something about what he's saying.

This is not a review of Jim's book: this is a recommendation for you to get it and read it before I review it -- because unless you read that book, any comments you will make about this book will, frankly, be pretty useless. I don't agree with everything he says (he's a presbyterian, after all); most of you won't agree with most of what he says. But his book is an insightful look into the question of whether there ought to be a church which emerges from what exists today, and what that church ought to look like.

While I'm recommending books here, it's with a very heavy heart that I find myself about to take a vacation from being a Southern Baptist. I'm not going to walk you through the ecclesiologically-sordid details, but suffice it to say that I love the convention, I honor the men who have taught me to love Christ and his Gospel who were, all in all, products of the SBC, and I am proud of the direction that body is taking to yet again reform itself. In spite of some of the hyjinx you will find in local SBC churches, the future is bright in the SBC because it takes the charge to be renewed and not conformed to the world seriously and sets an example for other associations and denominations to follow.

And I say that to recommend another book which anyone who wants to figure out something about the best tendencies of the SBC and the men who defend that place: Southern Baptist Identity, By David S. Dockery. It's an anthology of essays from what amounts to the elder statesmen of the convention talking about what unites the churches of the SBC, and what ought to guide the SBC into the future. A great book from Crossway for people who read Jim Belcher's book and would frame his critiques of traditionalism toward the SBC -- and which would stand, I think, as a counter-apologetic to their high-sounding criticisms of "traditional" churches as products of "foundationalism".

I'd like to conduct a blog seminar on Jim's book in two weeks, so go ahead and buy one or rent it from the library or download it to your Kindle, and take good notes. I expect that you'll have plenty to say when you're done, and I know I will have plenty to say to incentivize your comments.

Carry on.

23 September 2009

They say it's my birthday, and...

by Dan Phillips

...I wanted to share some good news with you. Good enough that I'll bump myself to do so.

Just yesterday I signed and mailed off a contract for a second book — and this one is on Proverbs!

Tentatively titled Wisdom for Godly Living, it is to be put out by Kress Christian Publications. Next item on my list is the joy of the upcoming Bible Conference; after that, I plan to go at this project hammer and tongs.

I have an existing manuscript, but I'll be giving it a thorough going-over.

This is a long-cherished dream, and nice to be able to share it with you today.

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A few pithy thoughts on doubt

by Dan Phillips and homeboys

[Note: I am using "doubt" as a kind word. There are others that would fit.]

The meta of the post I discuss here led me to a few thoughts about doubt. I shared those thoughts with my betters here, and Phil and Frank added some of their own. It's collaborative, it's an ensemble! Like Seinfeld... only with a point.

Have you ever noticed...
  1. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as heroic?
  2. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as tragic?
  3. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints his doubt as different doubt from every other doubter who has ever doubted and come to a bad end from it?
  4. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine insists that his path won't end up where every other doubter's path ended? Which is to say...
  5. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine hates it when the historical and logical progression of doubt is pointed out?
  6. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as smarter, deeper, less lazy, and more honest than people who don't share his doubt?
  7. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as humble, while those who point him back to the Word are arrogant?
  8. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as nice, while those who point him back to the Word are mean?
  9. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as academically sophisticated, carefully nuanced, and wonderfully insightful, while those who point him back to the Word are unenlightened hacks and drooling theological troglodytes?
  10. ...everyone who tries to back away from an unpopular Biblical doctrine paints himself as courageous, while those who point him back to the Word are bullies and ruffians?

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22 September 2009

The particular-redemption-believers-can't-know-Christ-died-for-them dodge (NEXT! #18)

by Dan Phillips

Challenge: If you don't believe that Jesus atoned equally for all the sins of every individual without exception, you can't call anyone to Christ for salvation, or even know that He died for you.

Response A: Hunh. Well, I guess that's true... in a way. I mean, apart from Jesus calling all men to come to Him, saying that none can come except the Father should draw Him, promising that He would never cast out the one who did come to Him, identifying these ones as the ones the Father gave Him to save, assuring that they would never perish nor be snatched from His hand and that the Father loves them just as He loves Christ — apart from that, I guess we really don't have anything solid to stand on. You know, beyond Christ's specific, conditional promises.

Response B: Hm. But if you do believe He equally atoned for the sins of Judas, the Beast, Peter and you, you don't have any assurance that your sins won't send you to Hell. Poor trade-off, that.

(Proverbs 21:22)
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21 September 2009

Rocket Man

Someone you ought to meet...
Today we reach far back into the archives of my original blog to introduce you to a longtime Pyro-reader. The info below was current in 2005. See below my signature for some more current information and an important update.

(First posted 8 August 2005)

Jeff Williams
Jeff Williams
Yesterday [7 August 2005] after church I had lunch with a friend whom I want to introduce to you: Jeff Williams. Jeff is a graduate of West Point. He competed on the sport parachute team there. He is also an expert scuba diver and had a distinguished career as a test pilot and helicopter pilot. He has multiple degrees in aeronautical engineering and a master of arts degree in—get this—"national security and strategic studies" from the US Naval War College. He also reads PyroManiacs.

So, obviously, Jeff is a bright and highly motivated guy.

Jeff and his wife Anna-Marie live in the Houston area. But they were in California yesterday to visit Jason, the younger of their two adult sons. Jason is spending the summer as an intern on a tall ship, currently sailing south along the west coast. It's the schooner "Bill of Rights," currently docked in Oxnard, about 50 miles from here.

Now, you might think sport parachuting, scuba diving, and test piloting is pretty exciting stuff. And a summer on a tall ship is cooler yet.

But I haven't even told you the most interesting thing about Jeff: He's probably the only PyroManiacs reader who has ever done this:

Jeff Williams at the helm
Jeff in the cockpit of the Space Shuttle Atlantis
Yes, that's the real Space Shuttle, and Jeff is really performing a maneuver with it. And it's really in orbit.

Jeff's a NASA astronaut. He was a mission specialist on STS-101, the third US Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS). While Shuttle Atlantis was docked with the ISS, Jeff and fellow-astronaut Jim Voss completed a 6-hour, 44-minute space walk that spanned parts of May 21 and May 22, 2000.

The space walk
The space walk
In NASA parlance, a space walk is called EVA, for extra-vehicular activity. (In our house, "extra-vehicular activity" is just something you do with the spare car.) During Jeff's long EVA, he and Voss installed a Russian crane, repaired and re-seated an American crane, put handrails on the outside of the ISS, and installed an external camera cable and an antenna.

In all, Jeff was in space for nearly ten days. More than half that time, the Shuttle Atlantis was docked with the ISS. While docked, the Shuttle thrusters were fired three times, pushing the Space Station to an orbit some 27 miles further from earth than previously. Atlantis returned after ten days in space, landing in Florida.

Before going into space, Jeff had obtained a copy of The MacArthur Study Bible on CD-ROM, and he loaded it on a laptop for use while he was in orbit. He brought the CD-ROM back from space, and we have it framed and hanging in a place of honor in the Grace to You office. It has traveled further than any other copy of the MacArthur Study Bible in history.

I met Jeff not long afterward, when he came to Grace to You to give John MacArthur the CD-ROM. Jeff loves Christ and has a wonderful testimony.

Darlene and I got to know both Jeff and Anna-Marie a year or so later on a ministry-sponsored trip to New England. At the time, Jeff was on vacation between training sessions for a future space mission.

He is still in training for a six-month stint at the ISS. Much of his training has been in Russia, because the plan is for him to travel to the Space Station with a Russian crew in a three-man Soyuz vessel that will launch from Kazakhstan next year. He's also on the backup crew for a mission scheduled to launch in October (less than two months from now), so there's a small chance he'll go up then.

In any case, he'll spend half a year in weightlessness and near isolation at the Space Station. How cool is that? He's promised to send me an e-mail from space. And since he'll be up there for six months, he'll surely need a Pyro-fix or two also.

To my surprise, Jeff tells me the Space Station doesn't have an Internet connection that allows astronauts to surf the Web. (He says they have more important business to do than read blogs.) But since he will have e-mail access, I suggested he start a blog of his own and keep an on-line journal while he's out there. I hope he does.

Anyway, now that you know Jeff, keep him and Anna-Marie in your prayers. Even if he doesn't blog while in orbit, I'll try to blog a few updates on him during his six months at the Space Station next year. Watch this space.

A footnote: Last year I was preaching on Psalm 19 ("The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork") and Jeff, who was in town for the Shepherds' Conference, came to my class. In that message, I described a photo of Jeff, hanging in space with the earth under him, which I was using for Windows Wallpaper. Several people who have downloaded that message have e-mailed me to ask how to get a copy of that photo. I'll do better than that. I'll give you the URL to the mother lode.

NASA has several brilliant online photo galleries, where you can download spectacular digital space photos for free. (Actually, your tax money has already bought the photos, so enjoy them.)

If you want some stunning photos of Jeff Williams in space, click here, and do a search for photos from STS-101. The pictures below are small samples of what you'll find there. These thumbnails (some of which are just small, cropped and downsized fractional images of the real pictures) don't really do justice to the actual photos. The high-resolution versions of these photos that you can download are fantastic. (Click on the small versions below for direct links to the NASA URLS where you can download the high-res versions.) Costco, Wal-Mart, or Kinko's [now Fedex Office] can print these for you in large format, or resize them to make great Windows Desktop wallpaper.

Jeff Williamsn (foreground) and Jim Voss walked in space for nearly seven hours
Jeff Williams (foreground) and Jim Voss walked in space for nearly seven hours
Jeff flashes the One-Way sign
Jeff flashes the One-Way sign
Jeff peers into the window of Atlantis's cabin while walking in space
Jeff peers into the window of Atlantis's cabin while walking in space
One of my favorite photos from Jeff's mission.
This is one of my favorite photos from Jeff's mission. They shot a lot of photos of volcanoes from space. This is Mt. Etna. (You can download a copy from NASA without my labels by clicking on the picture.) Notice the plume of smoke drifting east from the volcano. Darlene and I went to Sicily that year to do a conference in the picturesque town of Giardini-Naxos, right on the coast, at the very base of the volcano. The mountain was erupting off and on that year, and we saw this same scene from ground level.
     If you have Google Earth, click here to see the same view in a mosaic of satellite pictures.
     If you don't have Google Earth, click here to get it.
Phil's signature

2009 Update:

In late September 2006 (almost exactly 3 years ago) Jeff successfully completed Expedition 13, and while that mission was underway, I blogged about it several times—especially my efforts to track and watch the Space Station from several places all over the world. Jeff did not blog from the Space Station, but he did take more photographs of earth than any other astronaut in history, and you'll find abundant examples of his handiwork here. He also called to wish me happy birthday from the Space Station—the longest long-distance birthday greeting I have ever received.

After 3 years on earth, Jeff is about to launch again for what I suppose will be his last long-duration space mission. He'll be serving as flight engineer for Expedition 21; then staying on to serve as Commander on Expedition 22. And this time, he is going to be Twittering as well as blogging. Click here to follow him on Twitter. (His Tweets so far have been fascinating.) Jeff tells me he'll be reading our blog from orbit again on this mission, so please be on your best behavior.

The launch is set for next week in Kazakhstan. Darlene and I are planning to go to Houston to watch the launch on the big screen at NASA's Mission Control. I'll blog about it more, Lord willing, this Friday, and then we'll be blogging some occasional updates on the mission from time to time, just like last time. Meanwhile, keep Jeff in your prayers. These days prior to launch are stress-filled and tiring.

Sovereignty of God conference in southern Arizona

by Dan Phillips

In case anyone cares to join, Pastor Jim Kirby and the gracious folks at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church of Rio Rico have invited me to participate in another Bible Conference.

I'm to give a series of six talks centering around the Sovereignty of God. The conference is scheduled for October 17-18, and you can read all about it HERE.

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20 September 2009

Doubt Is a Deadly Poison

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 First Appearance of the Risen Lord to the Eleven," a sermon preached Sunday morning, 10 april 1887.

ind if you can, beloved, one occasion in which Jesus inculcated doubt, or bade men dwell in uncertainty.

The apostles of unbelief are everywhere to day, and they imagine that they are doing God service by spreading what they call "honest doubt." This is death to all joy! Poison to all peace! The Savior did not so. He would have them take extraordinary measures to get rid of their doubt. . . .

O beloved, you that are troubled and vexed with thoughts, and therefore get no comfort out of your religion because of your mistrust, your Lord would have you come very near to him, and put his gospel to any test which will satisfy you. He cannot bear you to doubt. He appeals tenderly, saying, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" He would at this moment still encourage you to taste and see that the Lord is good. He would have you believe in the substantial reality of his religion, and handle him and see: trust him largely and simply, as a child trusts its mother and knows no fear.

C. H. Spurgeon

18 September 2009


by Phil Johnson

f you have been reading the blog very long, this shouldn't come as any surprise:

I'm not impressed with the postmodern notion of transparency as a substitute for the old-fashioned (and biblical) virtue of humility.

Dan Phillips shares my point of view. Last year he posted a three-part series on the subject.

The type of transparency I'm speaking of is that faux-honesty so often used as an excuse for voicing various kinds of complaints, doubts, accusations, fleshly desires, and other kinds of evil thoughts. This exhibitionistic "virtue" is often paired with a smug self-congratulatory sneer or a condescending dismissal of anyone who dares to suggest that propriety and spiritual maturity may sometimes require us not to give voice to every carnal thought or emotion—i.e., that sometimes discretion is better than transparency.

Here's a biblical case-study that goes against conventional postmodern "wisdom": In Psalm 73, Asaph is rehearsing the confusion he felt over the reality that wicked people sometimes prosper while righteous people suffer. He says:
I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. (Psalm 73:3-12)

A note of resentment against God? A model of the very kind of transparency I decry? Sure sounds like it, huh? He continues:

All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

Self-pity, too. Wow! Is that not a classic example of brilliant, transparent, postmodern confessional writing? The psalmist is venting his spleen, giving voice to his doubts, teaching us that it's OK to broadcast whatever doubts and resentments we maybe harboring against God. Right?

Well, not exactly. In fact, the point Asaph is making is precisely the opposite: "If I had said, 'I will speak thus,' I would have betrayed the generation of your children" (v. 15).

In other words, Asaph confesses that if he had broadcast his doubts before resolving them, it would have been a sinful act of betrayal against God and against the children of God.

Asaph is actually testifying about how he resolved those doubts and resentments: "But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end" (vv. 16-17).

He has acquired a decidedly un-postmodern kind of confident faith. He reaches a settled certainty about the very things he was tempted to doubt. Then he goes on to explain to his readers that the state of the wicked is not as comfortable as it appears to carnal eyes. He's spreading his new-found faith; not soliciting companions who share his doubts.

So this psalm is not an apologia for the sort of "transparency" whose only aim is to vent in a way that aims to legitimize skepticism; it's a condemnation of precisely that sort of intemperance.

There's nothing vague or confusing about the point Asaph is really making. As a matter of fact, the whole psalm starts with an explicit statement of his main thesis: "Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart."


Phil's signature

PS: Some random notes in passing: Longtime Pyro reader David Kjos thinks my Tweets are boring, and another blogger lists PyroManiacs in some rarefied company. Meanwhile, we came up tenth in a category we didn't even know we belonged to—"Church blogs." And did anyone notice our hit counter went over 3 million this week? Keep your feedback coming. It motivates us to do better.

17 September 2009

THE least-heard marriage truth (classic post re-posted)

by Dan Phillips

[Today's classic re-post doesn't come from PyroManiacs. It actually is the first post I ever put up at my own blog, back in November of 2004. Real PyroManiacs historians (?) may recognize that the central idea later became this Pyro post.]

I've read a number of books, Christian and non-, on marriage. I've heard a number of the radio "experts," real and supposed. I've heard a sermon or two on marriage. But there's one truth I think I've only seen alluded to in one place, and that was in C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. (Even that was in a connection other than the one I'm about to develop.)

But this truth leaps out at one from Bible verse after Bible verse. You'd think it'd be the first thing Christian marriage counselors would talk about. Yet, as far as I know, it never even comes up. I certainly never recall reading it in Christian counseling manuals.

What is it? I'll give you a few hints:
If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. (Numbers 30:2)

"If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. 22But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. 23You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth." (Deuteronomy 23:21-23)
I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. (Psalm 56:12)

For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. (Psalm 61:4)

So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day (Psalm 61:8)

Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them; let all around him bring gifts to him who is to be feared (Psalm 76:11)
It is a snare to say rashly, "It is holy," and to reflect only after making vows. (Proverbs 20:25)

It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay (Ecclesiastes 5:5)
To that large (but not exhaustive) list, we could add our Lord's words that our "yes" should mean "yes" (Matthew 5:33-37), as well as his half-brother's echoing of that same thought (James 5:12) -- plus all the verses about not lying. For what is it to swear and not fulfill, but to lie?

What does this have to do with marriage?

Well, marriage is by its nature a vow, an oath, a covenant (Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14). But in addition to that, at least in our culture, we usually take on ourselves oaths, vows, as part of the marriage ceremony. Remember the traditional ones:

Ths husband is asked, "WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?" He promises, before God and everyone, that he will.

The wife is asked, "WILT thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?"

The husband promises his wife, before God and everyone, "I N. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth."

The wife promises her husband, before God and everyone, "I N. take thee N. to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth."

(Some might observe that many write their own vows today, rather than using these ones. In that case, if anything, the vows are all the more binding, unless they violate the Word of God.)

Note this about all those vows: not one of them is premised on the other's keeping his vows. In other words, it is not, "If you keep your promise, then I promise that I will...." The promises are unilateral, unconditional, and therefore binding as long as the marriage lasts.

All that to this simple observation: keep your vows. If you are not doing so, you are sinning, and must repent, find God's forgiveness -- and start keeping them.

Let me add this. Many are "counseling-happy" today. I'd suggest that anyone wanting marital counseling first take out his/her wedding vows, and ask himself before God, with brutal honesty, whether he/she has provided any legitimate basis for charging that he/she is failing to keep those vows. If the honest answer is "No," then counseling may be an option. If the answer is "Yes," then the only counseling he/she should seek is from his/her pastor, as to how to remedy this sin-pattern in his/her life.

And to Christian counselors, I would suggest this: what if you started with this? Start by meeting with each individual. Tell each to bring the wedding vows, for review. Go over them closely and Biblically. Deal with sin honestly and brutally.

Then see if there is still really any need for counseling.

UPDATE: I just read of a couple who is about to celebrate eighty years of married life. They don't claim to have a "secret" for a successful marriage. But the husband does offer this thought: "Just remember the promise you made when you got married," he says. Amen!

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16 September 2009

He saved us

by Frank Turk

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Last week as we were at the advent of a new generation of Johnsons, we were talking about the fact that the goodness and lovingkindness of God was that he didn't do anything to us which we earned, or that we deserved, but that God showed extraordinary mercy toward us, which should make us grateful.

Today I want to engage at the other end of that astonishing historical fact: that God saved us. Turns out that God didn't need us to do anything for him -- he wasn't in any danger. God wasn't waiting like a withered old regent for the apostle Paul to save him from the Old Testament and the ungrateful and hard-hearted Israel. God saved us with the Gospel, and now that we have it, maybe we should remember that it is the power to save rather than acting like it requires us to save it from all manner of enemies.

This is going to be one of those "drunken master" posts, and I am sure many of you are going to be put off by it, so before I get going here full-steam let me say this: I honor the work of thoughtful, erudite apologists who spend their lives effectually dismantling the ideologies which oppose the Gospel, and the church benefits from the work of those men. It does: it must. It is one of the duties of the elder, as I see it, to be able to rebuke those who are, frankly, wrong.

It's the rest of you I am worried about. Let's face it: everyone is not an apologist, and not everyone ought to be an apologist. It takes an interesting and spiritually-mature mix of mental acuity and personal charisma to be an effective and winning apologist. It is not just an exercise in dogmatics or legal or philosophical wrangling.

For the rest of us, the job is to proclaim the Gospel and live like it is true, not to protect the Gospel as if it was in danger of extinction. You know: God saved us -- and for most of us, we should see that God saved us not because of works done by us in righteousness. We got saved when our plight was hopeless -- by the Gospel. By this God according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, we were saved.

He doesn't need saving; he's not in trouble. We're the ones in trouble -- us, and all men like us. And that would be "all men ever born" for those of you who aren't clear about that.

He saved us, and he doesn't need us to return the favor. What he requires is that we behave like people who know what we have, and how we got it, and to treat it like it's the solution to the problem and not like it has problems that we need to provide solutions for.

We are the ones who get saved. We are not the ones who ought to be coming to the rescue of the Gospel. If we get this right, the rest of the book of Titus makes sense, and we know what to do with it.

I have two book reviews coming here, and I think I'll have a link to a podcast from an interesting fellow, so we're going to take a break from Titus for a bit. However, dear pastor reader, I am certain that you have plenty to do with what we have covered so far anyway. Consider this a working vacation.

15 September 2009

Why do fools fall (and stay) in love?

by Dan Phillips
Longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul,
thus it is an abomination to fools to give up evil.
Proverbs 13:19 (Modern Language Bible)
My mother-in-law remarked what a smart little baby Josiah was, some 12+ years ago. Like all babies, he would want something he shouldn't have (let's say, her purse). She would do what works with all babies: present him with a distraction (let's say, her keys, jangle-jangle).

Josiah would play with the keys happily enough... for a moment. Then he'd go right back to looking for the purse. Not to be distracted, that one. 'Siah knew what he wanted.

That smart baby displayed a quality that isn't so smart in grownups.

Why do fools do what fools do? You've seen what I'm about to describe. If you're honest with and about yourself, you've probably done it.

Every pastor and probably every Christian has known a fool who is on a sinful, idiotic, destructive course. (Which is to say: being a fool.) From where you're standing, it doesn't even make sinful sense. Every sane person you know looks at it with slack jaw. The Bible is crystal-clear — which, if the person professes faith in Christ, is supposed to mean something. Any flow-chart starting where that person is ends in disaster, barring a sharp 180 sometime soon.

Yet on he or she goes, grimly determined and undeterred, stubbornly resisting every Biblical plea and warning, long after he can rub even two rational defenses together. The flight from God persists.

Why?, you wonder until your brain itches and throbs, and the tears flow.

The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfying: he does it because he's convinced it will bring him delight.

And that explains every sin, from Satan's rebellion to Adam's burbling idiocy to Judas' treachery to Right Honorable Reverend A. Postate's latest "discovery" to your and my "li'l peccadillo." Every sin. The sinner does what he does because he is convinced that it will bring him happiness, delight, joy. It seems right. He doesn't care where it ends.

That is why he persists, long after his life falls to shambles and he sees his own character collapse like the two towers in New York. That is why all the pleas and warnings and tears of his Biblically-faithful friends fall on deaf ears. He is like the ruined gambler, absolutely convinced that the next dollar will bring untold riches... or the next dollar... or the next dollar....

As with most (all?) such things, it reveals defective faith. If the person claims to be a Christian, he either does not heartily believe what he says he believes, or he doesn't really believe it at all. He calls Jesus Lord, but does not do as He says (Luke 6:46). He calls God his fountain of joy and life, but seeks joy and life away from Him and in defiance of Him.

What to do?

For ourselves: pray, watch, stay humble and rebukable.

For others: the same. Point to Christ. Point to Scripture. They may flee to a thousand evasions (check out this post for reminders and specifics). Don't weary, don't lose heart — you wouldn't want someone to lose heart with you if you strayed, would you?

But over all and above all and through all: pray. It takes the Spirit of God to transform our desires. By definition, we can't do it ourselves. Our wills are free to choose according to our nature, but our wills are not uncaused causes. We need the Spirit of God to transform us, so that we begin to desire what we do not now desire, and no longer desire what we once did.

Or even more to the point, we need Him to transform our desires and convictions. The desire to be happy is not an evil desire. Nothing wrong with it. A man's desire for respect and significance, a woman's desire for love and security... these are not evil desires. God built them into us.

Our problem is that we seek out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:12-13). We look for love —and delight — in all the wrong places. We see it in being-as-God, not in taking delight in God (Psalm 16:11; 37:4).

What we need is the from-the-heart conviction that all we desire and need is to be found in Christ Himself and in walking His way in faith.

God grant us such ears and eyes.

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