31 October 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, chosen in honor of Reformation Day, is from "Reform," a sermon preached Sunday morning, 13 February 1859, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

e want such an one as Martin Luther to rise from his tomb. If Martin Luther, were now to visit our so-called reformed churches, he would say with all his holy boldness "I was not half a reformer when I was alive before, now I will make thorough work of it."

How he would adjure you to cast away your superstitions, to abolish all the rites and forms and ceremonies that are not of divine appointment, and once more in the integrity of simple faith, to worship the Lord God alone, in that way alone, which the Lord God himself has ordained. Let all these, like those altars of Judaism, be cast down to the ground and utterly put away. I desire not only to be a Christian, but to be fully a Christian, walking in all the ways of my blessed Master, with a perfect heart, and I desire for all my brethren and sisters in Christ here, not only that they may have grace enough to save their souls, but grace enough to purify them from all the devices of men, from every false doctrine, from every false practice, and every evil thing.

Speak you now of doctrine? Are there not two kinds of doctrines professed among Christians, the one Arminian, and the other Calvinistic? We cannot be both right; it is impossible.

The Arminian says, "God loves all men alike."

"Not so," says the Calvinist. "He has proved to many of us by his free and distinguishing grace that he has given us more than others, not for the merit of our deservings, but according to the riches of his mercy, and the counsel of his own will."

The Arminian supposes, that Christ hath bought all men with his blood, and yet that multitudes of these redeemed ones perish. The Calvinist holds, that none can perish for whom Jesus died—that his blood was never shed in vain and that of all those whom he hath redeemed, none shall ever perish.

The Arminian teaches that though a man should be regenerated and become a child of God to-day, he may to-morrow be cast out of the covenant, and be as much a child of the devil as if no spiritual change had been wrought in him. "Not so," says the Calvinist, "Salvation is of God alone, and where once he begins he never leaves off, until he has finished the good work."

How obvious it is that we cannot both be right in matters about which we so widely differ. I exhort you, therefore, my brothers and sisters, after you have broken your images and cut down your groves, go a step further, and break down the false altars.

I can only say for myself, "If I be wrong, I desire to be set right," and for you I am solemnly concerned, "If you be wrong, may God help you to a right judgment, and bring you to see the truth, embrace it, and earnestly and valiantly maintain it. I like you to be charitable to others; but do not be too charitable to yourselves. Let others follow out their own conscientious convictions, but do you recollect, it is not your conscience that is to be your guide, but God's Word; and if your conscience is wrong, you are to bring it to God's Word that it may be reproved and "transformed by the renewing of your mind." It is for you to do what God tells you, as God tells you, when God tells you, and how God tells you.

Pardon me for a moment, if I should risk the displeasure of some I love by referring to an ordinance of the church about which we are likely to disagree. The sacred rite of baptism is administered in a great number of churches to little infants upon the sponsorship of their guardians or friends, while many of us consider that Holy Scripture teaches that believers only (without respect to their age at all) are the proper subjects of baptism, and that upon a personal profession of their faith in Christ.

I see a man take up an unconscious infant in his arms, and he says he baptizes it. When I turn to my Bible, I can see nothing whatever of this sort there. It is true I find the Lord Jesus saying, "Suffer little children to come unto me," but that affords no precedent for carrying a little child to the minister, that could not come, that was too young to walk, much less to think and understand the meaning of these things. Yet more, when Jesus said "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven"—they did come to him; but I do not find that he baptized or sprinkled them at all, he gave them his blessing and they went away.

I am sure he did not baptize them, for it is expressly said, "Jesus Christ baptized not, but his disciples" [John 4:2].

So, then, that passage does not favor the Paedobaptist, it is quite clear. I am informed however, that the reason why children are baptized is, that we are told in the Bible that Abraham's children were circumcised. This puzzles me. I cannot see any likeness at all between the two things. But who were the persons circumcised? They were Israelites. Why were they circumcised? Because they were Israelites. That is the reason; and I say I would not hesitate to baptize any Christian, though he be a babe in Christ, as soon as he knows the Lord Jesus Christ, were he only eight days old in the faith, if he proves that he is an Israelite in the spirit himself, I will baptize him.

I have nothing to do with his father or his mother in religion. Religion is a personal act all the way through; another man cannot believe for me, cannot repent for me; and another person cannot give for me the answer of a good conscience toward God in baptism and have it done in my name. We must act on our own individual responsibility in religion by the grace of God, or else the thing is virtually not done at all.

Now I believe many godly people do sincerely worship God at this altar of infant baptism; but I am equally clear that it is my duty to do my utmost to break it down, for it is not God's altar; God's altar is believers' baptism. What said Philip to the Eunuch? "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest."

"Lo! here is water," said the Eunuch.

Yes, but that was not all; there must be faith, as well as water, before there could be legitimate baptism; and every baptism that is administered to any man, except he asketh it himself, on profession of his faith in Christ, is an altar at which I could not worship, for I do not believe it to be the altar of God, but an altar originally built at Rome, the pattern of which has been adopted here, to the marring of the union of the church, and to the great injury of souls.

Now, all I ask from those who differ from me in opinion is, simply to look at the matter honestly and calmly. If they can find infant baptism in the Bible, then let them practice it and worship there; if they cannot, let them be honest, and come and worship at the altar of Jerusalem, and there alone.

An old woman was once promised a Bible, if she could find a text that sanctioned infant baptism. She could only find one, and that was, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake." The minister gave her the Bible for her ingenuity, admitting, that it was an ordinance of man, and no mistake.

I quote this instance of infant baptism, as only one out of many corruptions that have crept into our churches. It is quite clear that all sects cannot be right. They may be right as to the main points essential to salvation, though in their discrepancies with one another they betray errors. I do not want you to believe that I am right. Rather turn to Scripture, and see what is right.

The day must come when Episcopacy, Independency, Wesleyanism, and every other system, must be read by the Word of God, and every form given up that is not approved before the Most High. I hope I shall always be able to lift up my voice against that charity growing up in our midst, which is not only a charity towards persons, but a charity towards doctrines. I have fervent charity towards every brother in Christ who differs from me. I love him for Christ's sake, and hold fellowship with him for the truth's sake: but I can have no charity for his errors, nor do I wish him to have any for mine. I tell him straight to his face, "If your sentiments contradict mine, either I am right and you are wrong, or you are right and I am wrong; and it is time we should meet together and search the Word of God, to see what is right."

Talk of your Evangelical Alliances, and such like: they will never endure; they may effect many blessed purposes, but they are not the remedy that is wanted for our divisions. What is wanted is, for all of us to come to the model of the Word of God, and when we have come to that, we must come together. Let us all come "to the law and to the testimony." Let the Baptist, let the Independent, let the Churchman, lay aside his old thoughts, his old prejudices, and his old traditions, and let each man search for himself, as in the sight of Almighty God, and some of the altars must go down, for they cannot all be after the divine type, when their dissimilarity is so palpable.

C. H. Spurgeon


by Dan Phillips

Every now and then I remind myself that all sorts of people happen by this blog. For the most part, we address ourselves to folks within certain niche that, while broad, is nonetheless defined. It has edges. Yet we know we have visitors and lurkers from all across the spectrum.

That's who I'm talking to, today. I am addressing a certain group not in our normal collection of readers. There may be 500 of you, or 5, or 1. If only one, that's fine: you are who I'm talking to.

I'm supposing that you're an outsider, and that you know it. You know something about Christianity; maybe a little, maybe a lot. But you know you're not a Christian, and you're honest enough to admit it. I appreciate that.

You hear all this talk of "evangelicalism" and "election" and "sovereignty" and all that, and you're not sure what it all means. It seems pretty hard and heady. Don't feel bad about that. It's hard and heady to us, too.

But here's what you really need to know. You need to know that you should come to Jesus, right now. That's the most important thing I have to say to you. It's the only thing I have to say to you: you should come to Jesus.

There are countless reasons why you — whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you've done — should come to Jesus. Let me give you five:
  1. You really need Jesus. You've already begun to suspect as much. Let me earnestly assure you, you need Him far more than you know. So did I, and so do I! You need Him because you are far from God. God is not the shapeless, cuddly, Grampa in the Sky that some think. He is absolutely free from all that is wrong and wicked and sinful; He is bursting with life and purity and goodness and holiness. What is more, He cannot abide the contrary — crimes against His laws or His nature. You and I have committed those crimes. We've done it since we were old enough to do anything. We have lied, stolen, wanted things that weren't ours to have. We have lived for things or personal goals, rather than for God above all. Even one such crime makes us a criminal, and God must punish such crimes. There is no appeal beyond His court. His verdict is final, and it will be terrible.
  2.  Only Jesus meets your deepest needs. You are a criminal in God's eyes, and forgiveness is found in Jesus alone. You are spiritually dead, and headed for eternal horrors; and Jesus is the resurrection and the life. You are far from God; in Jesus alone, you will find God and know Him as your Father. You are a slave of sin, of Satan, of the world; in Jesus alone, you will be delivered.
  3. Jesus Himself calls you to come. If He hadn't called you, I would have no right to do so now. But Jesus says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30). That is a wide-open door, big enough for you to squeeze through. He says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). What's more, He says "whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37). To me, that is one of the most precious promises in all of Scripture. I cling to that like a drowning man to a life raft. What could possibly keep you from leaping to come, as Jesus calls you? It is a call, it is an invitation — and it is a command.
  4. Jesus alone has the absolute right to call you and command you to come. Jesus was no mere sage nor philosopher. He was and is God in human nature, and He was and is Lord. He is not merely the king nor president of this nor that nation, of this nor that ethnicity — He is the head of the entire human race. He alone has the authority to call you and me, to command us, and He has the right to expect us to come — and to deal severely with us if we do not. That is, He has the right to make terrible and true threats to anyone who refuses to come. And He has the right to promise all the glorious, wonderful blessings which He gives as free gifts to all who do come.
  5. When you do come, you will see that it was all a free gift of God, and that you have God alone to thank and credit for what He will do for you. Had He not drawn me, I never would have come. But because He drew me, I came. Had He not given me life, I never would have come. But He gave me life — freely! by grace! — and I came. I owe every bit of it, I must give every last ounce of credit for it, to God and to God alone. I cannot begin to tell you how much I owe Him, how much love and honor and credit and praise He deserves. For now, let me just say "ALL," and add "to Him ALONE."
No church can do this for you. No ritual can do this for you. No philosophy can do this for you. No self-improvement program can do this for you. In fact, no thing can do any of this for you. Only a person can do this for you, and only one Person can do this for you: Jesus Christ.

So, come to Him! Come now! Why ever would you not come? Now is the only time you know you have; tomorrow never comes. Many have died since you began reading this. Your need to come is urgent, your opportunity to come is fleeting

Come to Jesus!

Of course, much more should be said, and could be said. For instance:
  • If you want to read more about why it makes sense to believe Jesus, read this.
  • If you want to read more about why you need Jesus, and what He has done to meet the needs of people just like you, and what it means to believe in Jesus, read this.
  • If you do come, and believe in Jesus, and want to know where to go from here, read this.
And to all our readers:

Happy Reformation Day!
To God alone be all the glory!

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30 October 2009

Programming notes: Paul Edwards, and the Conference + notes

by Dan Phillips

Two things, labeled "E" for Eminently Bumpable:
  1. Brother Paul Edwards, having already talked to my better-two-thirds here at Pyro, finally reached bottom of the barrel. That's right, you can hear me, DJP, on his show today, Lord willing, at about 5:20pm ET / 2:20pm PT. It should be available streaming at the site, and then should be up after 8pm ET under the Audio Archive/Podcast heading. We talk mainly about the subject of this post, and this one. I think Ligon Duncan may be on the same show, so that's not to be missed.
  2. All of the Sovereignty of God talks from the recent Bible Conference are now up on Sermon Audio, along with the detailed outlines I handed out.
That's all.

UPDATE: it isn't showing under Archives yet, but here is the show. (I geeked my way to it.)

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A PS from Phil Johnson:

(Rather than bump Dan's post, I'll embellish it.)

Actually, owing to scheduling conflicts I have never been able to be a guest on the Paul Edwards Program. So DJP is only the second member of TeamPyro to have that honor. The "bottom of the barrel" has yet to be scraped.

Paul Edwards did ask me to come on earlier this month to discuss a post I wrote about Rob Bell, titled "Performance Artist." I was traveling that day and couldn't do it, but just a few days later, Lane Chaplin scheduled an interview via Skype where we had a similar discussion. Here is the result:

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29 October 2009

Book review: Death by Love, by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears

by Dan Phillips

I already shared what it has been like reading the Olive Tree software version of this book on my iPhone. Now to the contents of the book — though first, I will remark that a disadvantage of reading an iPhone version is that I can't easily refer to page numbers.

My reaction to this book is very varied, as I've come to expect from Driscoll. And that isn't, in itself, a good thing.

First, I think the premise is absolutely brilliant (and was supported by a terrific ad-campaign). Driscoll takes a pastoral approach to number of real-life counseling encounters, describes them, and then writes "letters from the cross." That is to say, in each situation, Driscoll takes an aspect of Christ's atonement and applies it to each situation, each human need or brokenness or sin.

In this, the book reminds me of a book I read years ago named Search for Significance, by Robert McGee. Without rabbit-trailing on that particular book, what I liked about it was that McGee took fundamental soteriological truths and applied them to human need — as opposed to saying, "Everyone wants to feel loved and lacks confidence, God loves you, just keep repeating Philippians 4:13 to yourself," as many do.

So I love where Driscoll and Breshears start with this book. It's exactly the sort of thing we all need to do. We say, "Preach the Gospel — not just to the unsaved, but to the church, and to yourself," and we insist that the Gospel bears on all of life. But then do we do it, do we work it out, do we bring the Gospel? Or do we content ourselves with moralizing advice? Driscoll makes a manly effort to do what we all say we should do.

Does he succeed? Largely, I'd say yes. Driscoll gets into a wide range of aspects of the Gospel, not in the least shrinking from controversial facets such as penal, subsitutionary atonement and propitiation. In issue after issue, he comes down on the Biblical side. With solid Biblical support, some good documentation, and earnest applications of the many facets of the one brilliant gem (such as Christus Victor, Christus Exemplar, etc.)

All this Driscoll and Breshears do well, forcefully, persuasively, wholesomely, and articulately.

And boy oh boy, you're just waiting for that "but," aren't you?

I'm genuinely sorry to have to say that there's more than one "but." The first, elephant-in-the-room "but" is Driscoll's deliberately-crafted image. By his own insistent and repeated behavior, Driscoll has put a pall over his ministry through his readiness to do anything for a laugh, for a shock, for being seen as "Reformed Theology's Bad Boy!" The way Driscoll has dealt with brotherly and fatherly reproof just can't be shrugged off, and that's a pity. It's a pity because this book shows Driscoll is capable of some truly good, effective work.

But that same baneful taint spills over into the book as well. Really, Mark, does everyone you meet have primarily sexual problems? Chapter after chapter, we have to read about naked bodies, fondling, and sex of various kinds. The word "sex" occurs 27X, "sexual" another 26X, along with other related terms and uncomfortable modifiers. It's not always graphic, it's just there... and there, and there, and there, and....

True: the chains and harm of sexual sin are out there. True: we  must deal with it. True: the message of the Cross is needed and relevant. But really — is it that prevalent, requiring this degree of specificity? Two millennia of Christian pastoral writing, and only now it has to be gone into over and over?

Don't try putting the "prude" label on me. It won't fit. But I'm okay with the "not-everything-that-can-be-said-should-be-said," Ephesians 5:3-12 label.

Plus, there's Driscoll's obsession with being perceived as a big, tough, chest-thumping, manly-man. Why is it so important to Mark to convince everyone how tough and manly and rude and crude he is — so much tougher and manlier and ruder and cruder than all us pantywaists?

For instance, in chapter nine, Driscoll counsels a wicked, sinful old man who (Driscoll keeps impressing on us) really makes him angry. Driscoll hates this guy. He writes that "everything in me wanted to ...give him the beating of his life." Because, you know, beating up a dying old man is the manly thing to do.

Driscoll wants us to know that "I did my job and decided to assault the old man with my words instead of my fists." Driscoll metaphorically grabbed this old, dying man by the neck and rubbed his face in his own feces. (BTW, that isn't an exaggeration: Pastor Mark judged that the man "needed to sit in his own feces for a season until he smelled his filth.")

What's more, Driscoll wants us to know that he cussed at the old man and called him horrible names — employing, Driscoll adds coyly, "some other  words I won't write because some good church folks could not handle it."

Got that? Nothing wrong with the words. Driscoll isn't apologetic about them. See, they're not a problem. We're the problem. Because, don't you know, we're not real, and gritty, and tough, and manly-men — like Driscoll is! He's real. He's 100% first-class male. We're just "good church folks" — girly-men? — who can't "handle" those big, bad manly words.

Manly words, by the way, that The Man never found the need to use.

So this (wretched, sinful, wicked, repellant — it's all true) old man breaks down and weeps. Does Pastor Mark apologize or soften? No, it just makes him mad. Because he's so tough! And manly! In fact, when Driscoll finally gets around to granting that the old sinner might find forgiveness in Christ, it seems to be with palpable reluctance.

In chapter six, Driscoll criticizes church guys who don't teach what he does (about anger) as "flaccid." In fact, Driscoll uses that word again and again in that chapter: "flaccid... flaccid... flaccid...."  Huh, Mark; what are you trying to say about guys who don't teach what you teach? Maybe your point's just too subtle.

Also, Driscoll dabbles in trendy notions of doing battle with demons by seeing them behind some temptations, talking to demons, ordering them about and the like. His exegesis is weak, but he stays well-shy of obsession.

And hey, turns out Driscoll's an Amyraldian. His argument is made with great confidence, Driscoll calls it the "unlimited-limited-atonement" view, and he tries hard to distinguish it from your daddy's Amyraldianism — but his case falls far short of convincing. Driscoll provides no answer for the question of how people suffer eternally (as he affirms) because of sins for which Jesus already made full atonement. So for all his vaunted "Reformed" cred, Driscoll's yet another four-pointer.

Back to the positive. Driscoll goes toe to toe with universalism repeatedly. In his letter to his dearly-loved little son Gideon, Driscoll tells him that as much as he loves his son, he loves Jesus more. If his son grows and apostatizes, Driscoll pledges to oppose him. It's bracing and instructive, in this Franky-Schaeffer day, to see Driscoll's commitment to God's truth, to loving Jesus more than he clearly loves his son.

Driscoll also seriously smacks down nonsense such as finding self-esteem in the Gospel. This is also good.

So in sum: the book is like what I've heard of Driscoll's preaching. He communicates sharply and articulately. There's a lot of good, but it is marred by elements seemingly reflective of personal issues, and by the reputation Driscoll has crafted and earned and kept, and has chosen not to mortify.

The former simply renders the latter all the sadder.

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28 October 2009

Best of centuri0n: send out the weiner dogs

by Frank Turk

[This one is bound to make somebody mad. Glad I could help -- from the day after Christmas, 2006]

I just realized it was Wednesday, which is unofficially my day for occupying this space, and I realized I hadn't been preparing for it. I have been so engrossed by my Belkin TuneBase over the last two days, I'll be honest: I forgot about blogging. You can't imagine how entraced you can get listening to every frequency on the FM dial trying to find one with the appropriate level of stationlessness in order to broadcast a puny little peep from your iPod so you can listen to John Piper, Third Day and James White's rather hardscrabble free MP3s.

Anyway, as I found that 88.9 FM is the best for my little device, I was listening to Dr. Piper describe Christians as "task oriented" folk who frankly have let the arts slip through our fingers. There are a lot of reasons for that -- each could probably make a very keen blog post in and of itself -- but let me suggest one which Dr. Piper did not say in particular.

As a people, we Christians have adopted one of the worst attributes of the anabaptist tradition, and that is a rather sincere disdain for things which are true and beautiful. Here's what I mean by that: we have set up a false dichotomy between "true" and "beautiful" so that anything which is "true" must be plain or otherwise homely, and everything which is "beautiful" must be the work of the devil because it appeals to our eyes and ears. And we have also let the world dictate to us what is "beautiful" so that we don't even know it when we see it anymore.

So what we wind up with, for example, is the ocean of vacuous "worship" music in Christian bookstores which is neither true nor beautiful; we wind up with Christian "art" which is hardly suited for comic books let alone the walls of our homes; we wind up with t-shirts being the high fashion statement of our subculture; we wind up with literature-ignorant and theology-vacant "poetry" that neither moves emotionally or inspires intellectually.

And with these things, we want to have a culture war with New York, Los Angeles and Hollywood. Good grief, people: we might as well be sending weiner dogs out to defend us against an army of machette-weilding Haitian voodoo zombies. At least the weiner dogs would be able to smell the dead meat and run away from it, and we could follow them.

So what to do? I mean, isn't the right answer to study the culture and then try to co-opt its methods because obviously those methods are working on those people who we say we want to reach? It's that the missional thing to do -- especially in the arts?

Does that sound like a TeamPyro post to you?

Let me suggest something instead which I think many people probably have heard but no one has bothered to apply to this problem: all great art demonstrates the tension between love and death. That's not a Biblical proverb per se, but it is, in fact, true. All great poetry is about the tension between love and death -- even if it's not the love of another person or the death of a particular person. And one of the great failings of modern culture is its shallow vision of love (which is explicitly and almost exclusively sexual and sensual) and its obsession with death (either by avoidance in worshipping youth, or its glamorization of suicide).

Listen: if there's anything on Earth (or in the Heavens) which we Christians ought to know something about, it's Love and Death. In fact, we should be the ones who are exclaiming the fact of Love in Death. We shouldn't be establishing a suicide cult but extolling the fantastic fact that Christ died for our sins because God Loved, and Christ was resurrected in order that death would be destroyed.

There's more art to be made in that one sentence than all the movies Hollywod has ever turned out, and more than either NYC or LA could turn out in music and TV in 10,000 years. Why? Because there is Truth and Beauty in that statement, and it doesn't force us to make false moral choices or reduce our expressions to some gloomy, dismal, atonal text.

The great topic of art belongs to us. The great purpose of art is not, as someone once said, to frame a lie which seems pleasant, but to frame truth by analogy -- and the greatest truth-by-analogy of all time is the Bible.

So as we close out the season of meditation on that the incarnation of Christ means (or ought to mean) to us, the Christians, let us also think about how we tell others about this great gift. It's not enough to get it right in theory: we must also get it right in practice, which is to say, in the full-contact sport of real life.

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.
Let us find her, and let us tell everyone how precious and rich she is indeed.

27 October 2009

Open(ish) forum: Why are you where you are, churchwise?

by Dan Phillips

I'm trying to finish up my reading of Mark Driscoll's Death by Love, and hope to have a review up here Thursday. In the meanwhile....

We've had vigorous discussion about church ministry, church attendance, staying in churches, and leaving church. Now I want to ask our august readership this question:

Why do you attend the church you attend?

Before you launch, read these explanations and limitations:
  1. This is only for Christians whose church affiliation affirms the Biblical fundamentals of theology proper, Bibliology, and the Gospel. (That would exclude JWs, Roman Catholics, Hindus, Scientologists, Christian Scientists, Moslems, Mormons, Animists, Eastern/Greek Orthoborg, and anyone else I find I have to exclude as we go. But it would include pre/post/amill, pedos and credos, Arminians and Calvinists, dispies and CTers, charismatics and people who really do believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, and a thronging mass of others.)
  2. It is also only for Christians who are not sinning against God by refusing to be involved in a local church.
  3. [UPDATE] Please do not make disparaging remarks about identifiable ministries or pastors from your past.
  4. I want to know any or all of the following:
  • Why are you in the denomination you're in? or
  • Why are you in an independent (i.e. non-denominational) church?
  • How did you find the church you attend?
  • What specifically led you to attach yourself to the church you attend?
  • Why do you stay?
  • Under what circumstances would you leave?
Have at it.

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26 October 2009

The Problem of Evil (Yes, it IS a Problem)

by Phil Johnson

omeone somewhere recently must have broadcast one of my messages where I mentioned the problem of evil and the sovereignty of God. Because I have been besieged lately by e-mails, Facebook messages, and Tweets from a handful of gung-ho Calvinists (currently veering at breakneck speed into hyper-Calvinism) who want to take issue with something I said. What I said is that God is neither the author, the agent, nor the efficient cause of evil. Evil is not something He created; rather, when He finished creating, He pronounced everything good. Nor does evil in any way emanate from Him, because He is light in whom there is no darkness. The responsibility (as well as the blame) for evil belongs to fallen creatures, not the Creator.

Anyway, these young men (who have recently discovered the doctrines of grace and are evidently still in the cage stage) have been writing me to dispute that point. "There is no 'problem of evil,'" a typical correspondent wrote. "What's the problem? God, who is the Creator of all things and who uses all things in the outworking of His eternal plan, Created evil for His own purpose. That poses no problem because God is above His own law and outside of it. Because He is subject to no law Himself, whatever He does is good, period. He can do anything, and when He does it, it becomes good."

"Can God lie?" I asked?

"Of course," my correspondent replied, flatly contradicting Titus 1:2.

The view that fellow was espousing is the ex lex theodicy—the notion that God can actively and directly cause evil, and that He can violate the moral standards of His own law because he is outside the law (Latin: ex lex) and therefore subject to no law and no set of principles whatsoever.

Let's stipulate that God is subject to no law and is Himself the ultimate Lawgiver, responsible to no one but Himself. (That is, after all, what we mean when we affirm that God is absolutely sovereign.) Nevertheless, it is blasphemous folly to conclude that God can lie, or deny the truth, or otherwise be the agent and efficient cause of evil. He cannot (and will not) do those things because they are contrary to His character. The law forbids such things precisely because the moral standard of the law reflects His character. God may not be subject to the law, but He will not deny Himself or act in a way contrary to His character.

Here's an excerpt from something I wrote and posted on this subject at my original blog several years ago:

ordon Clark wrote a short but very thought-provoking work titled "God and Evil: The problem Solved" (originally a chapter in his book Religion, Reason and Revelation, now also published as a standalone work). The work itself is not on the Web, but a sympathetic review and summary by Gary Crampton may be found here. In some respects, Clark's work is helpful, explaining clearly (for example) the principle of secondary causation and how it relates to the issue of culpability. (This is an important point which, as noted below, Clark then unfortunately proceeds to make moot.)

Clark also gives several clear reasons why it's neither biblical nor rational to argue that God merely "permitted" evil without sovereignly decreeing it.

(Without getting sidetracked on a secondary issue, let me go on record as saying I believe there is a permissive element in God's decree with respect to evil. That is, His decree doesn't make him the author or efficient cause of evil. But, as Calvin said, God's role in the origin of evil is not bare permission. In other words, it's not permission against His will, but a positive decree. In that respect, I think Clark is absolutely right, and his arguments on this point are cogent and persuasive.)

But in the process, Clark makes much of the ex lex argument to absolve God from the charge that He is therefore culpable for the entry of evil into His creation. This, I believe, is not particularly helpful, and a lot of people who have been influenced by Clark and who think he has neatly and easily solved the problem of evil tend to fall into terribly sloppy thinking about divine holiness, God's instrumentality with respect to evil, and the relationship between causality and culpability.

Anyway, I think John Frame's assessment of Clark's famous theodicy is helpful. Here it is. Frame's own footnotes are included in braces {and faint type}:

[Clark's] argument is that God is ex lex, which means "outside of the law." The idea is that God is outside of or above the laws he prescribes for man. He tells us not to kill, yet he retains for himself the right to take human life. Thus, he is not himself bound to obey the Ten Commandments or any other law given to man in Scripture. Morally, he is on an entirely different level from us. Therefore, he has the right to do many things that seem evil to us, even things which contradict Scriptural norms. For a man to cause evil indirectly might very well be wrong, but it would not be wrong for God. {But on this basis, it would also not be wrong for God to cause evil directly. That is why I said this argument makes the indirect-cause argument beside the point.} Thus Clark neatly finesses any argument against God's justice or goodness.

There is some truth in this approach. As we shall see, Scripture does forbid human criticism of God's actions, and the reason is, as Clark implies, divine transcendence. It is also true that God has some prerogatives that he forbids to us, such as the freedom to take human life.

Clark forgets, however, or perhaps denies, the Reformed and biblical maxim that the law reflects God's own character. To obey the law is to imitate God, to be like him, to image him (Ex. 20:11; Lev. 11:44-45; Matt. 5:45; 1 Peter 1:15-16). There is in biblical ethics also an imitation of Christ, centered on the atonement (John 13:34-35; Eph. 4:32; 5:1; Phil. 2:3ff.; 1 John 3:16; 4:8-10). Obviously, there is much about God that we cannot imitate, including those prerogatives mentioned earlier. Satan tempted Eve into seeking to become "like God" in the sense of coveting His prerogatives (Gen. 3:5). {John Murray said that the difference between the two ways of seeking God's likeness appears to be a razor's edge, while there is actually a deep chasm between them.} But the overall holiness, justice, and goodness of God is something we can and must imitate on the human level.

So God does honor, in general, the same law that he gives to us. He rules out murder because he hates to see one human being murder another, and he intends to reserve for himself the right to control human death. He prohibits adultery because he hates adultery (which is a mirror of idolatry—see Hosea). We can be assured that God will behave according to the same standards of holiness that he prescribes for us, except insofar as Scripture declares a difference between his responsibilities and ours.

{Oddly, Clark, who is usually accused of being a Platonic realist, at this point veers into the opposite of realism, namely, nominalism. The extreme nominalists held that the biblical laws were not reflections of God's nature, but merely arbitrary requirements. God could have as easily commanded adultery as forbidden it. I mentioned this once in a letter to Clark, and he appreciated the irony, but did not provide an answer. Why, I wonder, didn't he deal with moral law the same way he dealt with reason and logic in, e.g., The Johannine Logos (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972)? There he argued that God's reason/logic was neither above God (Plato) nor below God (nominalism), but God's own rational nature. Why did he not take the same view of God's moral standards?}

[From: Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1994), 166-68.]

Frame concludes that Clark's ex lex defense "simply is not biblical." I think he's right.
I hope that helps.

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23 October 2009

Be Bold

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 "Christ’s People—Imitators of Him," a sermon delivered Sunday morning, 29 April 1855, at Exeter Hall, in the Strand.

Christian should be like Christ in his boldness. This is a virtue nowadays called impudence, but the grace is equally valuable by whatever name it may be called. I suppose if the Scribes had given a definition of Peter and John, they would have called them impudent fellows.

Jesus Christ and his disciples were noted for their courage. "When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." Jesus Christ never fawned upon the rich; he stooped not to the great and noble, he stood erect, a man before men,—the prophet of the people, speaking out boldly and freely what he thought.

Have you never admired that mighty deed of his, when going to the city where he had lived and been brought up; knowing that a prophet had no honor in his own country, the book was put into his hands; he had but then commenced his ministry; yet without tremor he unrolled the sacred volume and what did he take for his text?

Most men, coming to their own neighborhood would have chosen a subject adapted to the taste, in order to earn fame. But what doctrine did Jesus preach that morning? One which in our age is scorned and hated—the doctrine of election. He opened the Scriptures, and began to read thus: "Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land, but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none off them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian."

Then he began to tell, how God saveth whom he pleases, and rescues whom he chooses. Ah! how they gnashed their teeth upon him, dragged him out, and would have cast him from the brow of the hill.

Do you not admire his intrepidity? He saw their teeth gnashing; he knew their hearts were hot with enmity, while their mouths foamed with revenge and malice: still he stood like the angel who shut the lion's mouths; he feared them not; faithfully he proclaimed what he knew to be the truth of God, and still read on despite them all.

So in his discourses. If he saw a Scribe or a Pharisee in the congregation, he did not keep back part of the price, but pointing his finger, he said, "Woe Unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites;" and when a lawyer came, saying, "Master, in speaking thus, thou condemnest us also;" he turned round and said, "Woe unto you, lawyers, for ye bind heavy burdens upon men, while ye yourselves will not touch them with so much as one of your fingers."

He dealt out honest truth, he never knew the fear of man; he trembled at none; he stood as God's chosen, whom he had anointed above his fellows, careless of man's esteem. My friends, be like Christ in this. Have none of the time-serving religion of the present day, which is merely exhibited in evangelical drawing rooms—a religion which only flourishes in a hot-bed atmosphere, a religion which is only to be perceived in good company.

No, if ye are the servants of God, be like Jesus Christ, bold for your Master; never blush to own your religion; your profession will never disgrace you; take care you never disgrace that. Your love to Christ will never dishonor you, it may bring some temporary slight from your friends, or slanders from your enemies: but live on, and you shall; live down their calumnies; live on and ye shall stand amongst the glorified, honored even by those who hissed you when he shall come to be glorified by his angels, and admired by them that love him.

Be like Jesus, very valiant for your God; so that when they shall see your boldness, they may say, "He has been with Jesus."

C. H. Spurgeon

22 October 2009

25 things I've learned (un-requested classic re-post)

by Dan Phillips

[In this thread I solicited requests for re-posts. One of them wasn't this one — but it is one of the most deeply-felt posts I've done here, I  need a re-post today, and so... here it is, from over two years ago, very slightly edited.]

[(Original) Preface: for what it's worth, this is a compressed post. Its list-format may tempt readers to scan and be done with it — which, of course, is anyone's prerogative. However, it is meant to be read slowly, the verses looked up, and the thoughts reflected on. Kinda like Proverbs. Except without the deathless style and theopneustia.]

Here's how one grows:
  • acquired theory
  • encountered tests
  • enforced reflection
  • enlightened revision
Rinse, then repeat.

To elucidate: one is instructed in life-principles. At this point, they're just theories at best. Then one goes out "into the field," and tests them. Experience tempers, and sometimes the theories are revised or refitted. (This is one reason why God gave you parents, etc.)

That process of principle + trial + reflection is how the Sage did it (Proverbs 24:32—"Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction"), but we must do it without his inerrant inspiration.

Here, then, are some fruits of my own process and reflections. They cost you nothing. Some of them cost me a lot. Don't even bothering guessing a context. Having had experience as a 51-going-on-975-year-old Christian, a pastor, a husband, and a father, is context enough.

I hope you profit by them.
  1. Experience may be the best teacher—but the tuition is mighty high. (Source: pastor Reddit Andrews, quoting another pastor; it's the difference between the petî [simple] and the `ārûm [shrewd] in Proverbs [cf. 14:15].)
  2. Until they're tested, they're just opinions — not convictions (cf. John 13:17; James 1:22-25).
  3. No matter how hard you try, you'll mess up (James 3:1a). So try a little harder, and don't wait for the mess-up to embrace and acknowledge the fact that the results are ultimately in God's hands (cf. Proverbs 16:1, 9; Jeremiah 10:23).
  4. Sin only makes sense to itself (cf. Genesis 3), and to other apostates (Proverbs 28:4a).
  5. Sin makes you irrational, insane, crazy, nuts (cf. Genesis 3—Revelation 22; especially, for instance, Genesis 3:8; Numbers 13-14; Matthew 12:24; Ephesians 4:17-19).
  6. People locked into a sin are impervious to logic, facts and Scripture (cf. Genesis 3:9-10).
  7. People locked into a sin always say it's someone else's fault (cf. Genesis 3:12-13).
  8. People locked into a sin hate anyone who tries to tell them the truth, no matter how humbly nor lovingly (cf. 1 Kings 22:8; John 3:19-21; Proverbs 15:12).
  9. People in love with a sin will always find dire and horrendous fault with anyone who tries to part them from it (cf. Proverbs 9:7-8a).
  10. Sin destroys, ruins, kills. Its sales-line is a lie: it has nothing we really want (cp. Genesis 3:5 and 7; Romans 6:23).
  11. Sin doesn't care who it hurts, nor how much, nor how devastatingly, as long as it gets its way (cf. Matthew 10:34-36).
  12. There is no sin — no sin — that can't make an excuse for itself that makes sense to itself (cf. John 11:50; Philippians 3:19 ["they glory in their shame"]).
  13. Every unrepentant sinner sees himself as noble (cf. John 16:2).
  14. Every unrepentant sinner sees his sin as different (cf. Romans 2:3-5).
  15. Everything a sinner does to "fix" his situation apart from repentance only serves to make it much, much worse (cf. the sad story of Saul)
  16. You can't talk anyone out of sin (cf. 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
  17. The only and sovereign cure for sin, still, is the blood of Christ, applied through humbled repentance (cf. Matthew 3:8; Luke 5:32; 15:7; 24:47; Acts 11:18; 17:31; 20:21; 26:20). There is no "therapy" for sin (cf. 1 John 1:8-10).
  18. When Roman Catholics charge that Sola Scriptura makes everyone into a little pope, they're fundamentally wrong — yet they do point to a real and dire danger (cf. Proverbs 5:13; 13:1; 15:12; 19:20, etc.).
  19. If only perfect, "arrived" men and women can hold out the Word to other men and women, nobody will ever be able to do so (cf. James 3:1-2). That is because....
  20. What makes the Word of God the Word of God is that it is the Word of God, and not that it is perfectly handled by perfect people (cf. Numbers 24; 2 Peter 2:16; also Jeremiah 23:28-29).
  21. That fact excuses nobody for striving to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. It just puts first things first (cf. Matthew 5:48; 2 Timothy 4:1-4).
  22. No matter how much you've learned, you're still pretty dim. So get the heck over yourself, and stay (or get) humble. Don't be a sucker, but keep your ears and mind open (cf. Proverbs 1:5; 9:8b-9; 12:1; ).
  23. Complicating that last, everyone who disagrees with your Biblical stance will accuse you of arrogance (1 Kings 22:24). Assume they may be right, and do something about it (cf. Psalm 25:9; Proverbs 3:34; 11:2; 1 Peter 5:5).
  24. You think you've experienced all the pain a human being can take? Wrong (cf. Psalm 88:15-16; Lamentations 3:54-55).
  25. You'll never out-smart the Devil, you'll never wear him down, you'll never overpower him by your own strength, endurance, or smarts (cf. Ezekiel 28:12; 1 Peter 5:7; Revelation 12:10). Never. Only God can do all those things and more. Sticking to God's Word and looking to Him is not only the best thing you can do, it's the only thing you can do (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20; Revelation 12:11). Any suspicion to the contrary is stupid beyond the ability of mere words to express (cf. 1 Kings 20:11; Proverbs 11:2; 16:18).
Hear me now, and believe me later. Better still, believe it now, save yourself a lot of heartache later.

UPDATE: some of these were then woven into a sermon, to which I link in this post.

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21 October 2009

Best of centuri0n: Practical application

by Frank Turk

[This post when up 5 days before Christmas, 2006; it caused many people to be angered that I pointed out that living in a trailer park in Arkansas has a stigma attached to it. Listen: what I really mean was ... oh nevermind ...]

Let me tell you that you readers have greatly disappointed me this week – stats or not, I have to say that after last week's post and then Santa's stop by yesterday, I think we obviously still have some work to do on you via this blog.

The actual object of my disappointment is the trajectory we can plot between the points of two comments posted here – last week, in the demand for practical examples of loving your neighbor because that's what the Gospel yields, and this week the view rendered that somehow Dan and Santa wishing the members of TeamPyro a swell noel is somehow not substantive.

Listen: the latter is an example of the former. Yes: Dan and Santa do not usually have an open mutual admiration society here at the blog, but these are men with a Christian objective in mind – a Gospel objective. And in that, for them to offer encouragement to each other is an act of Godly and right-minded love. To overlook that is to demonstrate that it doesn't matter how often cent comes out and beats on the drum of “Christ died to make us new men right now”, and it doesn't matter if you read it: you have to “get it”, people.

You. Have to Get. It. You do. You.

If I was really in the right mood, we'd now tear into the parable of the good Samaritan. But I'm not in that mood. I'm in a Christmas mood even if Santa is not going to find that sweet, black Apple Intel for my stocking because he's got no sense of humor and this thing for Presbyterian baptism. So we're going to go instead to the book of Mark, and we're going to watch Jesus love somebody. Please forgive my vulgar use of the NIV here as I am composing off-line and the only Bible I have handy is my Zondervan Reformation Study Bible:

A man with leprosy came to [Jesus] and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.
Now, the more-blog-asphyxiated among you will expect that I will at this point expound on the healing of one man who asked for the help, and how God was expending His omnipotence in such a mundane way, and blah blah blah reformed wonkery blah blah blah.

Forget it. There's no way I'm going to make this that boring and not-about-you-and-me on the Wednesday before Christmas. Instead, I'm going to ask you to jump back with me for a second to Leviticus and read with me what it says about the person with leprosy. I'm going to switch over to the KJV because that's the language the Levitical law was written in, right?
Lev 13:44He is a leprous man, he is unclean: the priest shall pronounce him utterly unclean ...

45And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.46All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be.
Now, you see there? This person is not just in trouble ritually, but he's untouchable by other people – that is, for him to allow other people to touch him is a sin. There's no other thing a person can be where he or she is condemned to “dwell alone” and literally drive others away by crying out “UNCLEAN!” Literally, a leper was filthy by the practice of the Levitical law – unable to be clean. So the application of the Law for this person was, of course, that he was vile.

But Jesus touched this guy anyway – he touched him, and then he healed him. That is, he didn't just meet the ritual need. This Jesus – the one born in the stable, who slept in a feeding trough, but for whom the angels were singing, and whom the Angel said is the son of the most high God – touched a man who was ashamed to be touched. God came across the shame and the guilt to make this man whole.

Listen: if you want a lesson on how to love somebody, learn from this that the first boundary we have to cross to love other people is the boundary of how vile we think others are.This may shock many of you, but I live down the street from a trailer park. It doesn't have any vacancies as far as I can tell, so there's a problem over there: it's full of people. Now, regardless of where you live, that's not really a problem for them -- for many of them, owning a trailer is a step up from living in a rented quad-plex. Or an actual garbage dump. The trailer park is a problem for me.

Because people live there.

People who, btw, are not on any of the church rolls of the 60 churches in my backwater corner of the Earth. I know this because it's common knowledge in the local churches that “we” don't do evangelism there because “it doesn't make any difference”. And by we, folks, I mean “me”.

Somehow, I can write this giant pile of exhortation to you 5000 TeamPyro readers and my much more humble 500 Flame of Fire readers about the joy of the answer to God's wrath in Christmas, but I can't ride a bike over to the trailer park and find out if anyone there has ever heard of the man Christ Jesus.

Why? Because I am afraid to touch the lepers. That is, in my town, the people who live in the trailer park are the same socially as lepers, and to touch them is to touch something vile. It might get on me. I wish they'd say “UNCLEAN” as they shamble through WAL*MART because I'd cut them some space to avoid being mistaken as making eye contact with them. It would make me vile, and Leviticus notwithstanding, being socially vile will never do.

If you want an example of how to love, that's the example, folks: not filling a shoe box anonymously with some stuff for a kid who has a dad in prison (although, I admit, that's pretty good – it's a lot better than doing nothing), but finding that kid, or any of the people in your analogically-local trailer park, and doing something personally costly for them. Like being seen in public with them, and giving them a hug as if you mean it. You know: because you do it more than once to assuage your conscience at Christmas after charging up a bunch of junk that is bound for the next neighborhood garage sale, or after reading a crumby blog post – you love them into the Gospel and out of the leprosy of being a trailer park kid. To the Gospel, not warm fuzzies or some stupid therapudic transitional state, and out of leprosy, and not casually or inconsequentially, but at great cost.

If you want a practical example of how to love, find a person and do the thing for them which is Godly and right, which will shatter their view of how outcast and separated from others they are, and which you are most afraid to do. You do that, and keep doing it, and you are then a messenger for His name's sake.

Don't get snippy about substance if you can't do that. That's the meat and the bread and the glass of red wine of what the Gospel calls us to, and if you can't stomach it, be glad that Santa stops by to wish Dan and Phil and Pecadillo a happy Christmas. That's all you're ready for.

Happy Christmas and may God richly bless you so you can spend those blessing on others. Amen. You are dismissed.

20 October 2009

Sovereignty of God conference in Rio Rico, AZ

by Dan Phillips

I had the pleasure of being the speaker at the South Arizona Grace Bible Conference over the weekend. My host was Pastor Jim Kirby, of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Rio Rico, Arizona.

Every bit of it was a blessing of one kind or another. Being invited was a blessing, the hours of hard study and prep were a blessing, and the trials that constituted spiritual prep were a blessing.

I told Jim (not entirely joking) that I didn't think I wanted to do a conference on the sovereignty of God again. In addition to the reading and praying and thinking and writing, there was the suffering that God graciously saw fit to send as preparation. Some of it was in the form of heartaches on a personal level, some was in the form of a number of what a pagan would call "misfortunes" — things just going wrong for me and/or my family. The collateral damage even extended to poor Pastor Kirby, whose truck broke down as he came to pick me up at the airport.

It's the collateral damage that is the more painful, as any pastor who loves his family will attest. My dear wife sacrificially made sure I had time to study and prepare, but hardship came her way as well.

But seeing the good brothers and sisters again, and meeting new friends, was a joy; and bringing the messages was also a joy. As an added treat, pianist Sam Rotman gave his testimony, and a brief performance on the piano.

Old septic [sic] that I am, I greeted Sam's promise of a five-minute testimony with a raised eyebrow. But the man was every bit as good as his word, and it was a gripping testimony — as was his piano performance at the next session. (Further inevitable humbling came my way as I went 'way overtime in my own session; I knew I would on this one, though — it should have been two messages, but I felt compelled to give it all.)

The four messages I brought on Saturday had me so worn out that I asked the Kirbys if we were "still in California," as we drove to dinner. Oops. People who think preaching isn't hard work — well, I understand their thinking it, but I think they think it because they haven't done it.

Or if they've done it, and it wasn't hard work, they did it wrong.

My public thanks to Jim Kirby for inviting me yet again, to him and his wife Paulette (who the Lord has used to bring a number of sisters to Himself, though her personal Bible studies) for hosting me, and to the good folks of their church for making me feel welcome.

Jim is a fellow-Calvidispiebaptogelical, and so he also knows how it is sometimes to feel like a lonely sparrow on a rooftop.

In case anyone cares to hear them, the messages are online. Of course you're free to listen to none, any, or all, just as you wish. But there is a designed progression. Each is premised on what proceeds

Here you go:
The Sovereign God and Creation

The Sovereign God and Free Will
The Sovereign God and Evil

The Sovereign God and the Plan of Redemption

The Sovereign God and Salvation

The Sovereign God and Christian Prayer and Endeavor

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19 October 2009

Cussing Again

by Phil Johnson

ussing is back on the table for debate again, it seems. Last week I was twitted by Twitterers, poked by Facebookers, IMed by chatmongers, and berated by bloggers on this subject. (Apparently there's a gang of angry people prepped and ready to throw down any time I breathe a sigh of disapproval about cussing—especially if some Christian celebrity is the one doing the cussing.)

Anyway, although we've dealt with that subject several times in the past, every time it comes up, the same tired arguments get trotted out to defend the casual use of crude slang, profane language, or perverse speech by Christians. The most popular arguments in favor of cussing seem to be 1) that to cuss or not to cuss is purely a matter of Christian liberty, not a biblical issue; 2) that cussing is necessary these days in order to contextualize our message and to prove to the world that we're not "legalistic"; 3) that compared to being disagreeable, cussing is practically a virtue; and 4) that a more lenient attitude toward cussing would prove we really do care that AIDS and hunger are killing large numbers of people in Africa.

That fourth argument is the one that baffles me most. I'm not sure why anyone would think liberalizing our tolerance for vile language and recreational profanity among Christians might ease the AIDS crisis or do more to cure poverty than recruiting more people to serve alongside the thousands of non-cussing evangelical missionaries and relief organizations who are already providing medical services, food, and clothing for sick and impoverished people worldwide. But evidently some very vocal people are convinced that liberal use of scatology is the only valid badge of authenticity for one's social concerns. Bono was a pioneer in the use of such verbal emblems, of course, but Tony Campolo is the one who brought it into the evangelical mainstream and made a whole generation of students think of cussing as practically a sacrament. Now Derek Webb has canonized the idea in a song.

We often hear people suggest that because the apostle Paul used the word skubalon, (translated fittingly as "dung" in the KJV), scatology has thereby been sanctified. Have at it. If Paul could say that, nothing should be taboo. Christians nowadays likewise try to justify even worse kinds of crudeness on the grounds that Paul spoke harshly and indelicately about the Judaizers in Galatians 5:12. (He hinted that since they believed circumcision makes a person holier, they ought to take their doctrine to the next level and emasculate themselves.) I've responded to those argumentsrepeatedly.

But notice what Paul himself said about lewd and off-color language. He classifies it as impurity in Ephesians 5:3-6, where he treats indecent language as one of several worldly substitutes for love. The Greek term Paul uses is akatharsia, a word that refers to every kind of filth and pollution—"uncleanness" in the KJV. Paul is talking about real spiritual uncleanness, not ceremonial defilement, but moral filth.

And when he gives some specific examples of akatharsia in verse 4, all of them have to do with the misuse of language: "obscenity," "foolish talk," and "coarse jesting." He is talking about the words we use, the things we talk about, and the spirit of our conversation. He covers all the bases.

Now, you might well wonder, if the context is dealing with genuine love vs. counterfeit love, how do smutty words, base conversations, and vulgar jokes fit into any category of phony love?

Think about it; those are the peculiar characteristics of worldly companionship: "filthiness . . . foolish talking . . . coarse jesting." Those are the main emblems of membership in any carnal brotherhood. Look at any of Satan's strongholds; any place where wickedness operates unrestrained; wherever you find a band of thieves or a federation of scoundrels—from the juvenile gangs that roam our streets to the old-men's club that hangs out at the neighborhood tavern. "Filthiness . . . foolish talk [and] crude joking" are always their main stock in trade. That's what will consume the leisure time they spend together. Because those are the main badges of fleshly fellowship, and that is the glue that substitutes for authentic love virtually every worldly fraternity. That is exactly what Paul is describing, and he says, Don't let such things characterize your fellowship with one another.

In order to obey the principle Paul sets forth here, we need to be intentionally counter-cultural, because our culture values evil companionship much more than wholesome love. Have you ever considered the degree to which this is true? "Filthiness . . . silly talk, [and] coarse jesting" are virtually the trademarks of secular society. Vile language, crude subject matter, silly talk, and sheer folly are the main currency of the contemporary entertainment industry. The corrupt notion of brotherhood Paul is attacking here is exactly what most of our culture has substituted in the place of real love.

That's why movies are filled with dirty words and smutty themes. That's why contemporary comedy is so dependent on vile language and filthy subject matter to get a laugh. Situation comedies on television used to feature families and plot lines. Now they are shows about nothing dealing mainly with relationships between friends who are unmarried, unattached, and lacking any discernible direction in their lives. "Filthiness . . . foolish talk[, and] crude joking" describes about 99 percent of the content of programs like that.

Our culture insists those things are perfectly benign, but Paul says they are not. Carnal camaraderie is practically the antithesis of true, godly love. Crude language, filthy joking, and risque entertainment are "not fitting" for Christians. They have no place in the Christian's walk. Verse 12: "For it is a shame even to speak of those things which [they do in secret]." Keep those things out of your life. More than that, keep references to things like that out of your conversation, Paul says.

And notice this: he categorizes spicy talk about frivolous subject matter along with some of the most serious of all sins. Don't get addicted to that brand of language and humor, and especially don't allow that kind of companionship to characterize your own life.

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18 October 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes—not the Academic Elite

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following is an excerpt from the sermon "" God Glorified by Children’s Mouths," first preached Sunday morning, 27 June 1880, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

    have desired to be a little child again, and wished that I had never heard of the existence of a quibbler.

Those fine books of the broad school which came from Germany years ago, but which we now produce at home, it is a pity to have seen the binding of them. Even doctors of divinity favor us with denials of plenary inspiration, and aid in that form of undermining work: they may have all their books so long as we can keep our Bibles, and God gives us firm faith in himself.

Let us but know Jesus and lean our heads on his bosom, and the learned men may speculate as they please. Oh! when the church gets back to her simple faith in Jesus, she shall be qualified for victory; she shall vanquish the world when she has thrown away her wooden sword of carnal reason and has taken up the true Jerusalem blade of faith in God.

Then out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God will do what he never will do out of the months of Scribes and Pharisees and wise men. Out of the mouths of weak people, who believe what God tells them,—the mouths of weak people who have no capacity except the capacity of faith—out of these will God perfect praise and glorify himself.

C. H. Spurgeon

2 things briefly

by Frank Turk

[1] Apparently the on-line presence for First Things has gotten a little skiddish about its rep as being pro-Catholic, and they have started a new group blog called "Evangel".

[2] They are in fact so urgently-interested in loosening up their collar (so to speak) they will let almost anyone in.


16 October 2009

Our Passion for God's Glory

by Phil Johnson

On Monday I spoke at the West Coast Regional FIRE conference, where the theme was "Passion." I was asked to deal with God's glory. What follows is a transcript of some of my introductory remarks:

here's no shortage of passion in the world today—but for the most part it is utterly misplaced passion. Passion for all the wrong things. The wrong kind of passion.

The one pervasive passion that most seems to dominate the world today (especially in the realm of politics and power) is anger. It's a destructive anger, too, usually driven by greed, a lust for power, or some other self-interest. The postmodern world is full of "the wrath of man[, which] worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). That's why terrorism is one of the biggest threats in the world today.

The worldwide glut of anger also explains why (even in a democratic country like ours) the political process is so dysfunctional and divided. Despite all the talk we hear about peace and brotherhood, it often seems as if anger has become the main driving passion in the affairs of men and nations.

That's a disturbing example of the wrong kind of passion.

On the other hand, there's plenty of positive passion all around, but it seems like whatever good feelings there are in this world are mostly reserved for trivial things—sports, entertainment, recreation, and the pursuit of personal happiness.

It's one of the supreme ironies of our culture that we're expected to be deliriously excited about worldly trifles and passing fads, but we're generally discouraged from taking serious things seriously. Above all, serious devotion to God is generally seen as a sign of alarming imbalance. An earnest worshiper of God may even be regarded by society as a deranged person—especially if he declares his faith.

Yet you can be as fanatical as you like about your favorite sports team; you can be wholly obsessed with some celebrity or pop star you have never even met; or you can thoroughly immerse yourself in some mindless fantasy game—and no one bats an eye. Celebrity worship is the real religion of our culture. A handful of highly-revered dead celebrities have the very same status in our culture as the mythological Greek gods who filled the pantheon of Rome in the first century.

That's a sad example of passion for the wrong things.

If there's one thing we ought to be passionate about, it's the glory of God. There is no greater reality in all the universe. There is nothing more worthy of our deepest, most heartfelt emotion than God's glory. This is the very end for which we were created: to relish the glory of God, to reflect that glory, and to rejoice in the privilege of basking in and declaring that glory to the world.

God's glory is everything we ought to love. It summarizes and incorporates everything that really matters from eternity past to eternity future. It's the only thing that makes this world and all its evil worth enduring. It's the one thing that makes sense of everything else. It's what God created everything for in the first place, and its where all creatures find their true and ultimate purpose.

Why would we be more passionate about anything else?

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