05 October 2009

Clowns and Hypocrites; Serpents and Vipers

by Phil Johnson

In view of numerous Tweets and comments from several people who were outraged and angry about Friday's post, we take up the subject only obliquely today. Most of my critics since Friday have regarded it as a given that Jesus would never, ever—ever—be anything but friendly, deferential, polite, and sweet-tempered to men of stature who teach in religious settings. Here's a reminder that such a saccharine view of Christ by no means reflects who He really is. In fact, the opinions of today's evangelicals about what constitutes "civility" and authentic Christlikeness are sometimes about as far from reality as it is possible to get.

ear the conclusion of The Jesus You Can't Ignore, John MacArthur makes this observation about Matthew 23:
The other word that dominates this sermon besides "woe" is "hypocrites"—which likewise appears eight times. In the course of pronouncing those eight woes, Jesus was addressing many of the doctrinal and practical errors that illustrated what deplorable hypocrites [the Pharisees] were. These included their pretentious praying (v. 14); their misguided motives for "ministry" to others (v. 15); their tendency to swear casually by things that are holy, plus the corresponding habit of playing fast and loose with their vows (vv. 18-22); their upside-down approach to priorities, by which they had elevated obscure ceremonial precepts over the moral law (vv. 23-24); and above all, their blithe toleration of many gross, often ludicrous, manifestations of hypocrisy (vv. 27-31).

One other characteristic that makes this sermon stand out is Jesus' liberal use of derogatory epithets. Those who think name-calling is inherently unchristlike and always inappropriate will have a very hard time with this sermon. In addition to the eight times Jesus emphatically calls them "hypocrites!" He calls them "blind guides" (vv. 16, 24); "Fools and blind!" (v. 17, 19); "Blind Pharisee[s]" (v. 26); and "Serpents, brood of vipers!" (v. 33).

This was not an attempt to win esteem in their eyes. It was not an attempt to persuade them with smooth words a friendly overture. It was not the kind of soft word that turns away wrath.

But it was the truth, and it was what the Pharisees, as well as those potentially influenced by them, desperately needed to hear.

Just before closing that final chapter of the book, MacArthur writes,
In fact, the very last thing we can afford to do in these postmodern times, while the enemies of truth are devoted to making everything fuzzy, would be to pledge a moratorium on candor or agree to a cease-fire with people who delight in testing the limits of orthodoxy. Being friendly and affable is sometimes simply the wrong thing to do (see Nehemiah 6:2-4). We must remember that.

Punctuating the chapters in this book are call-out quotes from famous authors of the past who likewise pointed out that the popular conception of Jesus often fails to appreciate just how militant He was in defense of the truth. In one of them, for example, J. B. Phillips writes, "Why mild? Of all the epithets that could be applied to Christ this seems one of the least appropriate."

Here's another:
We have all heard people say a hundred times over, for they seem never to tire of saying it, that the Jesus of the New Testament is indeed a most merciful and humane lover of humanity, but that the Church has hidden this human character in repellent dogmas and stiffened it with ecclesiastical terrors till it has taken on an inhuman character. This is, I venture to repeat, very nearly the reverse of the truth. The truth is that it is the image of Christ in the churches that is almost entirely mild and merciful.
        G. K. Chesterton (The Everlasting Man)

You really ought to read The Jesus You Can't Ignore—especially if you are the type who thinks theological disagreements should never be brought out into the open until they have been delicately spun into pretty clouds of cotton-candy—and then handled only by people who have carefully painted phony clown-smiles on their own faces.

Phil's signature


Anonymous said...

And, don't forget "whitewashed tombs". Matthew 23:27

As a former cemetery and funeral director, I can tell you exactly what the inside of a tomb looks and smells like.

Craig and Heather said...

Matthew 23 absolutely chills my blood.

I can't afford to read another book about the Bible right now. But that on does look to be a worthwhile investment. Perhaps as a future venture...


CR said...

Heather: Matthew 23 absolutely chills my blood.

So is that spooking looking evil clown that Phil has put up for this thread. Yikes.

Many of MacArthur's books are worthwhile read, Heather. If money is an issue, maybe you contact Grace To You and see if they can send you a copy for free.

Brad said...

Hi Phil,

Per your note on the other thread, I’ve posted a response here.

The reasons I didn't answer yet is…

I don’t recall ever demanding or expecting an answer. My point to DJP is that, as usual, his hyperbole and insta-apologetics of your position wasn’t all that necessary – and as it turned out, useful. Furthermore, the fact that my comment was buried at comment 175+ pretty much led me to the expectation that I shouldn’t expect you to be waiting “breathlessly” for a once in six month comment from me.

I know you know me better than to make such a lame accusation, suggesting that I'm interested in "get[ting] on the cover of The Globe or Time,"...

Phil, a year ago or more, I would have laughed such comments off as being drawn out of “crackpot” territory. Now, I’m not so sure. While guys like Bell literally beg for ridicule, I’ve noticed the same headline grabbers seem to be in your cross-hairs with almost comedic regularity. Within Reformed circles Bell has been washed, pressed and dried, and from a Gospel perspective it should come as no surprise at all that there are Bells lurking to fleece the flock. In fact, I’m astonished really at how little the New Testament authors mentioned their first-century “Rob Bell” equivalents – and I think that their example is worthy of imitation, as is their incessant desire to be completely satisfied in Jesus.

Brad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
F Whittenburg said...

Jesus even got angry the with Pharisses other times than just the table of the money changers incidence.

And when he had looked round about on them with ANGER, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Strech forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. (Mark 3:5 KJV)

I think the "meek and mild" idea of Jesus comes from the manifestation of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in Jesus' life.....

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23 KJV)

Brad said...

Phil...part II...

My own vague recollection is that you have dusted off your feet at least twice...

Very true. Over three years ago I did say that I wouldn’t be back to which I remember you saying “Why? No need. Come on back.” I guess after three years, I took you up on that offer thinking you wouldn’t think anything of it. Though I don’t remember any ceremony or a second declaration that I’d never come back. I do remember saying back in April that I’d go back to lurking after Frank went ballistic.

You are certainly welcome to come back, and I'm happy to get your comments.

I do appreciate that, Phil. Though I wish Dan and Frank were ruled by the same spirit. It’s helpful being able to come to a blog where the authors and regular commenters are humble and gracious enough to “take a good punch” without perpetually resorting to demeaning ad homs...not always the case here.

But you have been making essentially the same basic complaint against me and our commenters several years.

True, again but that’s not an ipso facto counter-proof that my complaints are baseless. I know you’re a fan of Jeremiah, a broken record filled with Divine lament…yeah, I’m no Jeremiah, but the modus operandi is the same.

I understand your position, and I also get it that you don't like to be disagreed with unless the disagreement is de-fanged with qualifications and concessions to your point of view. I DO try to accommodate you as much as my conscience will allow.

Agreed (with that last bit) and frankly, though it has been appreciated, it’s not something I've demanded. Though I’ve given up on the notion that you see any problem with how you, Frank and Dan treat other people who disagree with you. By far, I consider you the more gracious and patient of the Pyros. In fact, it’s why most of my comments have come in your “metas.” That said, I no longer expect or demand a response, but it would be my hope that someday you’ll come to appreciate the lack of grace and kindness that Dan and Frank generally level at people who criticize them.

But between you and me, your comments might get more traction if you added some fresh criticisms and maybe an occasional biblical or theological argument to your repertoire.

Ouch. Well, given that you “understand my position” (which I’ve always understood, btw) I didn’t really think you needed me quote the same verses you’ve seen over and again from me. And seriously, do you really believe that a more nuanced, varied or eloquent argument would win you over? I’m not that naïve…as theological issues of this vein are heart issues and you simply can’t argue a heart into alteration – it’s a Spirit thing.

So back to lurking..but maybe not forever.

Craig and Heather said...

Thank you for the suggestion, CR. :o)

I think we're okay financially. I just meant that I have already recently read more "extracurricular" literature than I can absorb for now.

Honestly, I wish I had invested in something from John MacArthur, as the book I most recently read seems to be from a "Jesus saves you but you are required to thereafter perform at a certain level in order to maintain that salvation" perspective. I started having panic attacks that I'm not producing enough of the right kind of fruit.

Anyway, I recognized that I need to just go back to Scripture alone until God gets my head straightened back out.

Addressing topic at hand:

I believe it is essential for Christian leaders to be alert and diligently guarding the souls that God has entrusted to them. And, I know that it is often a thankless job. Especially these days, when everyone is supposed to have an equally valid opinion (unless, of course, that opinion happens to state that there is such a creature as absolute truth).

I know that Jesus spoke very harshly to/about false teachers, and I expect the aforementioned book could enlighten me in that area.

Personally, I wouldn't put a clown nose on someone to illustrate that he is what the Bible describes as "a fool". ...but if your conscience is okay with it, I'm happy to leave it between you and God.

But I'm wondering.

What if, as you are pointing out the deadly nature of soul-damning heretical teaching, your delivery style creates a distraction from the main purpose of your post?

And, as a result, the ensuing discussion takes a wrong turn and you find yourself explaining repeatedly that your focus was to point out the error of a particular teacher rather than simply post a photoshopped picture just for the sake of being "mean".

For the record--I'm not trying to say that I'm offended. I know it is impossible to please everyone. So, it's silly to suggest that you guys try to walk on eggshells.

I'm just curious about whether you might, in retrospect, have considered that perhaps your chosen "tone" was unnecessarily harsh/distracting when the subject matter was plenty offensive on it's own?

Oh, and the evil clown is pretty creepy.


Gilbert said...
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Gilbert said...


>What if, as you are pointing out
>the deadly nature of soul-damning
>heretical teaching, your delivery
>style creates a distraction from
>the main purpose of your post?

Is that the real issue here, though? Calling someone a snake, then a brood of snakes (vipers) in the next sentence as Jesus did, isn't in the same league as the language and tone nor context that Phil used when calling out the heretical teachings in his posts.

These days, the world is so self-centered that anything that remotely threatens to pop their secure-in-self and/or happy balloons that it immediately starts a thunderstorm of "hate speech", "mean-spirited", and other worthless drivel in response.

Let me say this: most of us---first and formost, me---need a "slap in the face" from Jesus, a wake-up call, from time to time. And not a "oh, you know, um...that's probably not the right thing to do, but let's talk about it." What we need is what the Pharisees needed, what the people who were changing currency in the temple: an in-your-face, blunt and strong statement of the wickedness you are doing.

Not only that, let me go further: I am acting most damnably against Jesus when I am "nice". And I am nice too often. Acting nice is evil; being HOLY is what I desire and want. I just did a Google definition of "nice" and it came up with "socially acceptable...agreeable in nature". I don't want to agree on sin; I want to hate every aspect of it. And being a socially acceptable person is fine, unless it means that it causes you to compromise the Gospel, or not share it because you'll offend someone. Which means, you'll be socially unacceptable. None of the apostles were social butterflies.

As far as I can discern, Phil was not acting or playing "nice" in his last two posts. He was, however, being "holy", and standing his ground and drawing a line in the sand against the attacks of the enemy. (Did I just call you an enemy of God? If you fall into the trap of these heretical teachings, absolutely yes).

So if I've offended anyone by saying that because I was intentionally trying to make you mad, I'm sorry, that was not my goal; but if I offended you because I am standing up to the proper teaching, correction and handling of God's Word, take it up with Him. I stand by and with what He says. Disagree? Too bad.

Furthermore, in every case, doesn't being "nice" distract from the point of view of those...who are perishing?

We'd have a lot less problems in our churches if we weren't afraid to offend people in them by correct teaching. A lot fewer members, perhaps, in the short run...but then the "hypocrite" arguments would certainly go away. We'd truly know the depths of our depravity that we have committed against our Lord with our sin, and in Godly sorrow, repent.

HSAT (tm DJP), being offensive for the sake of it, even unintentional, is just as bad. But, again, that measuring stick has been broken, and put through a wood chipper so much that not many these days can properly discern what is truly offensive. Godly offensiveness, when properly taken as such and applied to a sinner's heart, yields blessed repentance and stronger faith. Tragically for the Pharisees, they got a grade of "epic FAIL" on that.

Sir Brass said...

I say, speak the truth in love, out of a spirit of desiring to see God glorified and therefore ALSO out of a love of believers. This doesn't just apply to how we preach scripture, but in ALL matters.

That includes identifying error and those who unrepentantly proclaim such gross error, ESPECIALLY those who know better (like Bell).

If then, the message truthful, straightforward, and honest without excessive venom, yet it still offends, then fine. But let us use strong language as needed. That is NOT to say that we should not use it, but use it as needed and as much is as needed. And for the rest, be as much as it is within our ability, to be at peace with all men.

With that said, I think Phil, et al, have done a fine job doing so. That is because here, with this issue in particular, the glory of God is critically at stake. If Bell is to be listened to and believed, then God's Glory in redemption is turned into nothing. And Christ's death becomes meaningless, and just a sad result from an intolerant world, instead of being the sacrificial lamb who efficaciously paid for our sins by the voluntary shedding of His blood.

So, this issue is very much on par with the issues Jesus was addressing with Matthew 23, and what Paul was addressing in his letter to the Galatians. God's Glory is at stake, and the man of God should use such language as is necessary to call out and rebuke those men who repudiate the Gospel or preach one different than the one Jesus preached and died in accomplishing.

Andrew Faris said...

Heretic or not, Rob Bell is no good for the church. I'd rather not quibble over the term (one might be bring up specific denials and affirmations and say, "See, Bell believes in the Trinity and the two natures of Christ" and so on...).

Because the term really isn't the point. The point of Phil's post is simply this: Rob Bell is all kinds of bad for the church. So while I'm still working through what I think of the clown picture and the word heretic, I'm more than happy to say that anyone who makes so little of a sinner's personal offensiveness to God and utter need for redemption in favor of incessantly talking about the environment and poor people is really not even preaching a Christian message anymore.

Cause really, who cares if we talk about Triune concern for the poor if that's the Triune's only concern. I know lots of non-Christians who care about the environment and the poor.

But they sure don't care about reconciliation to God through Christ. And I sure don't get the impression that Rob Bell is all that concerned about that either...


P.S. Phil- shocked that I'm not coming down on you for tone on this one??? ;)

CR said...

Heather: Honestly, I wish I had invested in something from John MacArthur, as the book I most recently read seems to be from a "Jesus saves you but you are required to thereafter perform at a certain level in order to maintain that salvation" perspective. I started having panic attacks that I'm not producing enough of the right kind of fruit.

Yeah, that's the other major type of false teaching. I mentioned the first type in the last thread where people call themselves Christians but deny the fundamental tenets of the Christian.

The one you appeared to confront with this book you read is a much more dangerous false teaching. It says, "oh yes, we believe everything the Bible teaches and what Paul teaches, but the Bible didn't didn't go farther enough you have to do a, b, and c also. "

This is why false teaching is so terrible and damaging. But be strong, Heather. The Lord tests believers by allowing them to meet false teaching to test our loyalty for Him.

Since you are concerned with what Scriptures says, I want to comment on a few things. I understand your discomfort about putting a clown nose on stuff. So, I guess, the question we should ask is, does God ever laugh at the wicked. And the answer is, He does. Psalm 2:4; Psalm 37:13; Psalm 59:8

Lastly, if we think of the example that Paul used and his harsh language what he said about people who want to twist the gospel, well, like I said in a previous thread, even if I used the biological terms and not slang, I would probably get a reproof from the moderators.

So, I don't think the harsh humor or sarcasm is distracting because I didn't appear to be distracting to the Lord. You've tasted the consternation of what false teaching does and how it can rip you of your joy and what does God do? He laughs at the wicked. And you know what's amazing, not only does the Lord laugh at the wicked, He holds them in derision. Now, I don't know what translation you use for your Bible, but in Psalm 59:8, He not only laughs at the wicked but they are the object of His ridicule, contempt and scorn. That's what derision is. Now, does that mean we take pleasure in the destruction of the wicked? No, because God doesn't.

Now, I don't think Phil's posts have even reached to the level of the derision that the Lord shows for the wicked, so that means Phil is within the standard. Now, does that mean we always show harsh rebuke or sarcasm? No. Sometimes we grieve, sometimes we get angry. There is such a thing as righteous indignation - now we don't get angry when people offend us, but there is a place to be angry when God is offended. There's a right way to be angry. There's a right way to exhibit harsh rebuke and sarcasm.

I think so far it's been done okay and I don't think it's distracting.

CR said...

I want to say one more thing on this. And Heather this is not directed to you, but to a couple of these other jokers that I won't mention their names and they are the real distractors.

It's one thing if these people say, "you know what, you shouldn't say that or this or show that ridicule." Okay, fine, I could argue with these and they might say just because God does it, doesn't mean you should. Okay, okay. But see, they don't say that. They say, "God would never do something like and we need to show them love."

Well, the fact is, Heather, when you get to read those passages in Psalms you'll find in one or two of those contexts, that the Lord is exhorting the Psalmist to not fret. He says, I know your enemies are causing you trouble and tells us not to fret because it only leads to trouble. Plus you know what that these guys are doing to you, I'm LAUGHING at them right now says the Lord. I'm spitting in their face.

So, that's what really gets my goat. It's not enough you have these people who call themselves Christians yet deny the fundamentals and teach others to do also. It's not enough you have these jokesters add tothe faith. No, when they get criticized, they say, "oh, you shouldn't do that, that's not what God would do?" They've not only twisted the good news, they've twisted the attributes of God.

And I think that's what MacArthur is going to get into in his book. I don't know when I'll have the time to read it. But basically, you have these false teachers who want to twist the gospel which in turn makes believers miserable and unhappy and depressed, especially those that have embraced it and were it not for God's explicit teaching that this is how he tests our loyalty to Him, there would be much fret.

So, I understand you're not there yet Heather, but when you do, don't feel guilty in the slightest for ridiculing these jokesters because the Lord of the Universe (and I'm not talking about He-Man) is going to do a LOT more if these guys don't repent. And be careful because some of these guys say, well God is loving God. Well yes, God is love, but like my pastor always says, love is not God. Which means that the Lord has a whole range of attributes He's revealed in Scriptures. That's all I have to say. You all have a good week.

donsands said...

Good thoughts from John MacArthur.

The Lord's righteous anger is something we also need to have.

"Be angry, and sin not."

And John the Baptist, when baptizing the people and preaching repentance, said to the religious leaders when they came out to him: "Who told you snakes to come out here."

J♥Yce Burrows said...

One of the stark realities of being online for me has been that talk on the negative and positive sides of the fulcrum with sewing(homemaking in general) is acceptable. Welcomed when it comes to skill improvement. Tell some of those same ladies to stop following a dead god(i.e. Buddha for one) to rather: taste and see that the Lord is good, repent, believe ~ and well, screech. Conversation stops dead due to not playing nice in the sandbox of sugar daddy pie in the sky fuzzy wuzzy slipper land, i.e. all things lovely.

Some folks embrace the plumb line concerning the Word of God. Bring into the conversation that one is walking on a slippery slope if not embracing the fulcrum of God's attributes, grace doctrines, etc. ~ again screech. Easy believism okay...grace doctrines, not so lovely. Play nice in the sandbox.

When I spout that my life seems upside down ~ ask me if I'm reading my Bible ~ if I know God's face, hand, and heart ~ if I'm being a jughead with obedience etc. Why should we want for ourselves or offer others half-baked truth when the written Word cuts it straight to the heart: love?

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. Matthew 21:44

I'm grateful for your loving us with the hospitality of the feast rather than a la carte malnourishment.

FX Turk said...

Hasn't Brad been banned yet?

FX Turk said...


Let me go on-record to say three things which, ironically, Phil is too nice to say which will certainly ruin your day.

[1] Your reading of the NT, as demonstrated in this thread, is so categorically lacking in factual matters that it interferes with your credibility. "I’m astonished really at how little the New Testament authors mentioned their first-century “Rob Bell” equivalents"? So you haven't read any of Paul's letters then, or John? (and John's broad assortment from his Gospel to Revelation really paints a picture you couldn't possibly live with, I am sure)

[2] Have you ever considered that the reason Phil thinks you are a broken record is because you don't actually interact with people who respond to you? Your "theology" is in a state of constant flux, but it can't find a place to settle down because rather than take it to heart that your view of anything in particular is not very well considered, you run it around on your interior hamster wheel and come back a little more dizzy -- and believe that the euphoria of it is revelation rather than confusion. Suit yourself, of course, but don't live in the illusion that you're taken as credible by anyone.

[3] I'm proud of your opinion of me, and there's not one single commentary transaction we have taken which I regret. You're a fragile little snit who wants to dish it out without any responsibility or recourse for his objects of scorn, and you run away when someone proves you are not only wrong factually but frankly rude. You deserve worse than I've given you in the past, but I am sure that can be rememdied -- even if you change your internet handle (again).

Rick Frueh said...

The clown nose is distracting and unnecessaary, and probably generates carnal attitudes. However, considering the absolute seriousness of the subject it becomes a fringe issue.

We are not dealing with women preachers, or Arminian vs. Calvinism, or eschatological views. With Bell and his teachings we are dealing with another religion that has labeled itself "Christian" and continues to surreptitiously use some Biblical terms arrayed in a doctrinal kaleidoscope.

It is another gospel and Paul clearly tells us to consider one who brings such as "anathama maranatha". (worse than a clown nose)

So be it.

David Rudd said...

well, i for one, think Brad's day is ruined.

well done, Frank.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

(Speculative) How would Jesus treat Rob Bell?

That is, the Jesus of the Bible as John MacArthur points out.

Anonymous said...

I'm not in the least troubled by the use of satire (i.e. clown photo) to illustrate the foolhardy teachings of Mr. Bell.

It's a Sword folks...not a spoon.

Craig and Heather said...

Gilbert:Is that the real issue here, though?

Actually, clown noses on pictures of false teachers ISN'T the issue at stake. That was why I was wondering if it might be considered a disposable aspect of the post.

Please understand, I am not suggesting the blog authors change anything...I was just curious about their mindset concerning the tendency for the discussion to be hijacked over such comparably minor concerns.

And, I do agree with you on the aspect of the thin skinned tendency of many of those who follow such people. But, often, they are unfortunate products of an overall society that teaches "playing nice means you have to not only allow for my errant belief but also endorse it or I'm gonna make a stink about how mean and hateful you are".

Quite frankly, I believe that "being nice" is a satanic deception which is often used to cow down Christians who are unprepared for rejection by worldly people. I don't think that switching to the "butterflies and rainbows" tactics such as those of Bell and company is an option.

It is amazing to me that those who are adamantly opposed to what is said on this blog will repeatedly return to raze the authors. I don't understand that mentality at all. No one is forcing said people to read on this site and we all have the option to go elsewhere. I have no problem with a blog author telling an emotionally reactive disruptor to go wipe his nose, buy a spine and come back when he wants to discuss the issue at hand.

In case my statements are found to be overly confusing, I will point to Sir Brass' comment, as I agree with much of what he says.


~Mark said...


thank you for standing firm. It encourages me to continue doing the same in face of a number of threats.

olan strickland said...

Frank, did you go ballistic in April? What did you do man, delete a comment or something? I must have missed it.

Phil, great post and I for one appreciate MacArthur's grasp of Scripture and bold stance against apostates and heretics - even by calling names.

Poison should never be left unlabeled - it isn't loving!

Craig and Heather said...

CR I appreciate your thoughts--Thank you.

You've tasted the consternation of what false teaching does and how it can rip you of your joy and what does God do? He laughs at the wicked.

Yes. And God has used this site and it's authors/posters to direct me back to His truth. I am grateful for that.

I also am thankful that God has gifted my husband with wisdom and he usually helps me sort through stuff. I probably would avoid a lot of mental anguish if I'd run the stuff through him before reading it myself. Perhaps I've finally learned my lesson.

I do understand what you are saying about God's laugh of derision. I was recently contemplating Psalm 2...will have to look up your other references. I expect someday I will be laughing with Him.

At this time, I'm a SAH mom who spends a lot of time working with children on "lets treat each other with respect and kindness so that God will be honored through our family". But, my kids don't qualify as false teachers, so my mindset is a bit different than those who are standing guard over the flock.


Nash Equilibrium said...

One-question QUIZ related to this post:

Q: Jesus said which of the following about why he came?

1)"In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to show the world how to be civil and not criticize others."

2)"In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth."

Anonymous said...

Wow, all this talk about a clown nose...what's the problem?

Surely a visual aid to help drive home the point of the post is a helpful thing. What it does (and seems to have done rather well I think) is drive home the point that careless readers would like to avoid, either to try and be too charitable to Rob Bell, or to be "charitable" to Phil and miss his hard-nosed point altogether.

Is heresy a serious issue?
Is false teaching a big problem?
Have many been deceived by Bell and his fellow liberals?

Of course. And Thank God for men who will stand up and say so.

And please, to the "Phil is so nice and Dan and Frank are just jerks" crowd. Think a little. Can you think of any 3 other people who have different personalities? Do you really read Phil so badly that you miss his point because of his gentle personality, or do you read Dan and Frank so badly that you miss their points because of their less-gentle personalities?

Surely anyone who can read a Bible and read or listen to Rob Bell can see the problem without being told. But if you need to be told, don't complain about the messenger, that's just too obvious a dodge from the isse that is false teaching.
At least have the nerve to say that you think Bell is right and the Bible is wrong. It's plain that you think that, so out with it and be done.


Anonymous said...


Love that.

Rich LaPierre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

At bat for Dan & Frank:

Allow me to say that both Dan and Frank have always been kind, sincere and thoughtful Christian gentlemen in every communication I've had with them.

I'd take one man like them over a dozen Brads any day.

JG said...

Also, I think part of the issue is that we see Jesus as the little felt board character we have every since 2nd grade Sunday School - someone whose emotional level and facial expression never changes, because that what "perfect" means to our flawed human minds. It's important, however, to remember that Jesus did not speak to the Pharisees the same way he spoke to the woman at the well.

Unknown said...

Not sure if this has been mentioned or not. (Some posts were far too long for me to read. Sorry)

MacArthur is pretty clear in the book that he's not suggesting every disagreement should be treated the same way. But when the Gospel is being perverted, there is no room for discussion.

Jon said...

Is it just me or is Brad a tad hypocritical in his posts?



JSA said...

Hopefully Christians wait until they have some experience healing the sick and discipling others before embarking on tirades of "Christlike acrimony". I note that the disciples around Jesus didn't launch into their own tirades and temple vandalism at that point in the story.

DJP said...

If that's true, shouldn't someone have to raise a few corpses to life before criticizing genuine Christians for criticizing false teachers?

Phil Johnson said...

Cameron Buettel's blogpost title says everything I have been trying to say about the contemporary obsession with "tone."

FX Turk said...

Phil --

You have a "gentle personalaity".

I'm calling Mars Hill in Seattle and telling them. They didn;t get the memo.

Sir Brass said...

The clown nose seems quite innocent compared to some other illustrative descriptions that God gave the prophets.

The biggest example that comes to mind right now is when God, giving His Word through Jeremiah, uses the following descriptions for His people who are following after Idols:

*Harlot spreading her legs beneath the oak
*Wild donkey in heat

Or in Hosea, when God tells Hosea to name one of his children, "Not my children."

Compared to THAT, the clown nose is nothing to get twisted up over. And, are these same detractors going to object to God over His use of language that He told the prophets to write down? Are these same detractors going to object to God the same way the Israelites did to the prophets? Are they going to be so arrogant?

I don't think I can laugh at such men, though the Lord Almighty does. Why? Because their folly is so tragic. The Lord may laugh, but I will not, but instead say, "You are right, O Lord, both in judgement and in mercy!"

FX Turk said...

Olan --

Large caliber ordinance usually leaves ears ringing.

Strong Tower said...

"to remember that Jesus did not speak to the Pharisees the same way he spoke to the woman at the well."

That really is the epitome of the problem. He didn't talk to her so kindly.

It would be considered rude to bring up the private life of the individual in conversion conversation, now wouldn't it? If we were to give a word to Jesus' definition of the woman at the well, what do you suppose that might be (keeping it above the profane)?

The point is Jesus has been felt-boarded, as you rightly say. And so much so that it has become a reproach to approach anyone as he did- even with the "gentleness" with which he approached this "the kind you wouldn't bring home to meet mom," type.

Fact is we should not be afraid to call a spade a spade, sin sin, and demonstrate all people in need of a Savior from sin because all are like the woman at the well. Balance calls for Law and Gospel. Or as someone said, "Saved from what?"

Such is the case with the woman caught in adultery, too. She was not excused, rather, her sin was condemned: "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more."

The whitewashed view of Christ places the emphasis on the first clause and ignores the second, unbalancing the message. Jesus condemned her sin unashamedly.

Still your stating that Christ has become a caricature is appropriate. He has become the Sunday School pinup for the Adult class. Instead of treating Christ as a real person he is turned into genteel lore. That does real damage beyond a simple mistaken view that he would always speak kindly and not be abrasively contradictory of others' actions or beliefs. Our doctrine of the incarnation is of Jesus as a real person, with real emotions, balanced though they are because he is free of sin. Yet we are commanded to be like him.

As donsands said, "Be angry and do not sin."

That phrase is more often than not taken to mean do not be angry. But the context is directed toward right expressions of anger, the right adjudication of wrath, and the reconcilliation between brothers. The popular view disallows the balance and by doing so denies the rest of the verse that by right doing we are being gentle. That fact is captured poetically by Christ's entering the Temple as the King who shows up upon on a colt, meek and mild, a skilled whip maker. Now that is balance.

Strong Tower said...

"temple vandalism"

I thought Blasphemy Day was over?

Or is calling Jesus a vandal now considered kinder and gentler?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that a few readers should apply some (spiritual) benadryl to their ears. If they did so, perhaps they would no longer need to accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions (2 Timothy 4:3).

Bill Honsberger said...

My problem is that the clown nose is way too genteel and complimentary. I have fond memories of clowns as a youth and best as I can remember, none of them tried to lead people to hell.
Bell deserves the full blown wolf treatment (say like the old Far Side cartoon with a flock full of fake sheep with one pulling his mask and asking "aren't there any real sheep here?).
I have no sympathy with those who purposefully undermine the Faith once delivered. I do reserve some for those who get confused by the whispering and mutterings and need to hear the voice of the Savior instead.

Tom Austin said...

"It's a Sword folks...not a spoon."

Everyday Mommy, I plan to steal that!

Jay said...

Better to hurt their feelings and save their souls than the other way around.

Keep it up, Phil. More of this iron spined Christianity is needed.

David Sheldon said...

Here is an interesting thought for our day.

Geneva Confession of 1536, by the original "happy go lucky" calvinist.

Article XX. Ministers of the Word

"We recognize no other pastors in the Church than faithful pastors of the Word of God, feeding the sheep of Jesus Christ on the one hand with instruction, admonition, consolation, exhortation, deprecation; and on the other resisting all false doctrines and deceptions of the devil, without mixing with the pure doctrines of the Scriptures their dreams or their foolish imaginings. To these we accord no other power or authority but to conduct, rule, and govern the people of God committed to them by the same Word, in which they have the power to command, defend, promise, and warn, and without which they neither can nor ought to attempt anything. As we receive the true ministers of the Word of God as messengers and ambassadors of God, it is necessary to listen to them as to him himself, and we hold their ministry to be a commission from God necessary in the Church. On the other hand we hold that all seductive and false prophets, who abandon the purity of the Gospel and deviate to their own inventions, ought not at all to be suffered or maintained, who are not the pastors they pretend, but rather, like ravening wolves, ought to be hunted and ejected from the people of God."

P.S. First priority: faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His Gospel and Scripture no matter what price to be paid - somewhere down the list for our daily priorities is whatever you and I think the Bible means by "happy" - which may or may not actually be found in the full document mentioned above.

Please note that this document, birthed in the Reformation, instructs all true shepherds to both proclaim and defend. And, not only that, it expects all true shepherds to hold all other true shepherds to that ideal. We have fallen a very very very long way!

Keep at it Pyro - people who have made their peace with fake Christianity either hate you as pretenders or just haven't "felt" the call yet! PLEASE JOIN TEAM PYRO and actually obey Hebrews 13:11-13
(Meditation on the 8th happy-attitude in Matthew 5:10-12 might be appropriate at this point.)

Rick Frueh said...

"It's a Sword folks...not a spoon."

Let us be open to the times when that sword is facing us as well.

Aric said...

Since Phil only reads the first 50 comments, I thought I better jump in and say "Great post."

PS - my apology for taking up one of the cherished "first 50" comments with my uninsightful blurb. Please be charitable when delivering the mercifuless beating I deserve for such thoughtlessness.

John said...

One point, one question.

The point: Phil's use of the clown motif was more than just funny (and it was), it made a very serious point. Bell calls himself a performance artist, and performance artists (like clowns) embrace an artifical persona in order to make people feel good about themselves. The clown picture was very poignant. And, FYI, so is the new one.

The question: what about this unspoken assumption that we have to seperate the man from the teaching - that somehow we have to condemn Bell's heresy while loving Bell the man and praying for him and speaking nice about him and avoiding "ad hominem" attacks on him? Can we seperate the two, and where is the line drawn? Does it really matter, or is it a poorly disguised ego-massage? I wouldn't mind reading Frank post about this idea...

LOL, my word verification is "likings".

donsands said...

"I have fond memories of clowns as a youth and best as I can remember, none of them tried to lead people to hell."

Yep. I remember Jimmy Stewart, and the other 50 clowns in Cecil B. DeMille's "The Greatest Show on Earth" were the real deal.


philness said...

OBE- Outcome based education. The dumbing down of truth for the global good of tolerance and control.

Is this not the same spirit that possesses Rob Bell and all the other post modern churches?

I think perhaps the Lord means it for good in that its such a large and easily identifiable field to evangelize from which the fullness of the gentiles may come.

And while I highly suspect that the clown leaders are probably all marked for destruction their deceived flocks are ripe for evangelizing.

Come soon Lord Jesus!

John Haller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJP said...

John Haller... are you the guy who played "Napoleon Dynamite"?

JSA said...

@Strong Tower - I was thinking of the clown who went to China and vandalized a bunch of hotel rooms in the name of Christ, posted the videos on YouTube, then defended himself by using the same arguments in this post. "Christ was *radical*, dude!"

Phil isn't wrong, of course. But the point is that being a jerk doesn't make someone Christlike, anymore than being civil does.

The number of pusillanimous mice crying for "civility" in the name of Christ is almost equaled by the number of prideful hotheads defending their poor manners in the name of Christ. IMO, both are focusing on the wrong thing. To even respond to such accusations is to fall into a trap.

The issue of "civility" is mostly orthogonal, and the fact that it becomes such a central issue with us Calvinists should be a warning.

Paula said...

You can find this in Finney's teaching (man, did this guy ever steer evangelicalism down a bad road). In fact, when Oberlin College was founded, the founders, who later hired Finney as a professor

Wow! I had no idea of the connection between Finney and Oberlin, which is practically in my backyard!

I don't think you could find a more liberal school than Oberlin. A peek at their Student Organizations page is sobering. It's a warning to the church of the fruit of bad theology.

Note to TMC folks: Can you PLEASE plant a TMC branch school in Ohio - or at least the Midwest? DS needs a good education if he's going to be president by the time he's 35 and we are severely lacking in good theology around here. Alternately, I'm starting a collection to send him to TMC at www.sendryantotmc.....

Craig and Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sir Brass said...

"MacArthur came up because we thought his message last year about Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Should Be Premillennial was right on target because he recognized the core issue. At least we think so."

Using one blatant error to right another is a big mistake.

The reformed amillenials and reformed postmillenials were RIGHT to rebuke MacArthur for his presentation.

Post-millenialism is NOT what MacArthur and other dispy pre-mils make it out to be. They take an extreme, unbiblical form and point to that. That's akin to pointing to taking hyper-calvinists and saying, "See! This is where calvinism takes you!"

Craig and Heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paula said...

Post-millenialism is NOT what MacArthur and other dispy pre-mils make it out to be. They take an extreme, unbiblical form and point to that.

Launch sequence activated....

DJP said...


Get off eschatology and relateds, gang. Totally off-topic, plus if I don't get to talk about it, NOBODY does.

Phil Johnson said...

John: "Phil's use of the clown motif was more than just funny (and it was), it made a very serious point. Bell calls himself a performance artist, and performance artists (like clowns) embrace an artifical persona in order to make people feel good about themselves. The clown picture was very poignant."

Bingo. I'm so glad at least one person got it. The clown paint was not a random gimmick designed to insult; it is a pictorial paean to Bell's own self-characterization.

Notice the link I pointed out late in the comments under Friday's post. It seems available tickets for this Saturday's Rob Bell "performance" in D.C. START at $184. If you want better seats, you can buy the $285 tickets.

I wonder how gentle the Apostle Paul would be in analyzing a minister whose preaching is being peddled as "performance art" with a price tag like that.

. . . especially given the fact that the gospel is either totally absent or else horrifically twisted in every published source this particular Performer has ever unleashed on the public.

Seriously. Words fail to describe how utterly abominable Bell's influence looks in light of many clear statements of Scripture that Bell basically thumbs his nose at. Evangelicals who think they can find "good" in Bell's doctrines and who spend more time scolding Bell's critics than they do protecting fellow evangelicals from Bell's influence ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Craig and Heather said...

The clown paint was not a random gimmick designed to insult; it is a pictorial paean to Bell's own self-characterization.

That makes sense.

I wonder what he does with all the proceeds from ticket sales?


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

PJ: "Evangelicals who think they can find "good" in Bell's doctrines and who spend more time scolding Bell's critics than they do protecting fellow evangelicals from Bell's influence ought to be ashamed of themselves."


Paula said...

I wonder what he does with all the proceeds from ticket sales?

I'm certain it goes to support missionaries who are risking their lives spreading the gospel in the 1040 window. Cuz that's his gig. Right?

The website for the tour doesn't mention anything about the proceeds.

puritanicoal said...

Phil, we're past the 50 comment mark, but you may still find this interesting. :-) I know you were just in the Houston area, and stayed down near NASA. I had to venture down that way today for work, and stopped by a Mardel bookstore. I don't know how popular these are nationwide - they just started popping up in the Houston area. They are huge "Christian" book/homeschool supply stores, with tons of "Footprints of Jesus" memorabilia-type stuff to boot. I think they are owned by the Hobby Lobby folks.

Anyway, I am browsing the bookstore area and I could hear a video playing. I found a TV set up near the theology section. They were playing one of Rob Bell's "Nooma" DVDs, and it looks like they were also playing his "The gods (sic) aren't angry" presentation.

I honestly thought, and it was more than a passing consideration -but the thought crossed my mind to simply flip the whole display over, then wait for the authorities.

I guess my point is, especially to all of you be-"kinder and gentler"-to-Rob Bell proponents - this is a very real, very current issue. This is infecting the "church" now, even as this is written. This is not just some academic "What Would Jesus Do" ethics exam hypothetical. And you are whining about the tone of someone willing to publically take on a modern day false teacher?

Anonymous said...

I live in the Houston area, and I go to that Mardel quite often. Today in fact, and yes, they are constantly playing NOOMA videos. As near as I can tell it's on a non-stop loop.

Craig and Heather said...

So, I've been trying to figure out what NOOMA means. Is it an acronym for something?


bp said...

I wonder what he does with all the proceeds from ticket sales?

It would be interesting to know, but even if he gives 100% away to a great cause doesn't change the fact that he's promoting a false, non-saving gospel.

bp said...

The name NOOMA comes from a phonetic spelling of the Greek word pneuma (πνευμα) meaning 'wind,' 'spirit,' or 'breath.'- wikepedia

bp said...

very New Agey. Does anyone else think it's possible that the we are moving toward a New Agey type of one world religion?

Craig and Heather said...

Okay. I came across "pneuma" the other day and noticed that the pronunciation would be similar. That would definitely explain the one Bell video clip I saw where he was saying that "everything is spiritual".

very New Agey. Does anyone else think it's possible that the we are moving toward a New Agey type of one world religion?

Definitely a possibility as New Age/Eastern religious concepts tend to be able, to a certain extent, absorb most beliefs (except biblical Christianity and possibly Islam)


tobekiwi said...

from Wikipedia-
"The name NOOMA comes from a phonetic spelling of the Greek word pneuma (πνευμα) meaning 'wind,' 'spirit,' or 'breath.'"

Yesterday, I happened to glance into one of our Sunday School classes which is led by one of our Deacons and "Whirlwind" was paused to start playing. Red flag, so when I got home, g--gled "Nooma" and found out more. Needless to say, I felt sick. Now today, after reading all this I understand why.....and feel worse.
Thank you Team Pyro for looking after the flock.

bp said...

I agree Heather. And what is New Age at it's root anyway?

I am god

Satan knows how humans think, doesn't he?

Craig and Heather said...

I am god

Satan knows how humans think, doesn't he?

Humans are still falling for the oldest lie in the Book :(


Craig and Heather said...

Oops, didn't mean to imply that the Bible is the book of lies.

Rick Frueh said...

At Bell's latest conference he had Peter Rollins as the main speaker. I implore you to read this short post by a man Bell openly endorses.


Jay T said...

"At Bell's latest conference he had Peter Rollins as the main speaker. I implore you to read this short post by a man Bell openly endorses."

Rick -

Yikes. I think I'm dumber for having read that.

donsands said...

Seems that Rollins may want to know the truth, with his very last sentence.

I pray he will be granted salvation by God's great grace, and that he will come to Jesus, and find rest for his soul, and an easy yoke, and light burden to bear.
For he seems to be very burdened indeed.

Anonymous said...

Rick, Peter Rollins and his contemporaries do not seem to take offense that their views are heretical. How would it be possible to reason with such?

Craig and Heather said...

I need to quit stomping through this comment section--

Until a few days ago, Rob Bell was just another generic "Christian book store" personality to me. (I live under a rock). Aside from noting that he appears to appeal to younger, socially concerned folks, I was relatively unconcerned.

Along with suffering from information overload, I now know better.

Thank you, Pyromaniacs and friends for being concerned enough to do the unpopular thing and bring to light the truth.


Anonymous said...

Yes, thank you Pyromaniacs for your diligence. We are in your debt.

Rick Frueh said...

I am not sure the Scriptures direct us to interact with heretics, especially those who deny the gospel. It cannot be overstated how deep thses heresies are. The momentum we have seen in the last 20 years has been breathtaking.

The comment by tobekiwi is a narrative that is duplicated by the thousands every Sunday, and the number of evangelical churches that use Bell's material grows daily. The entire emergent phenomenon is both colossal as well as clandestine.

James Joyce said...

"...tickets for this Saturday's Rob Bell "performance" in D.C. START at $184. If you want better seats, you can buy the $285 tickets."

What?! You can get U2 tickets for less than that!

RichardS said...

After all the comments on this, perhaps one more will not hurt too much. I also did not find the clown face on Bell descriptive enough. If we follow the NT pattern of taking the word "hypocrite" from the theater which pointed to how they would use a mask to make their point, then perhaps Bell could be pictured holding a mask of a clown trying to cover up his real features which would be better pictured as a devil or a serpent.

In terms of the comments about a couple who could use a less acidic tongue, I agree with that. The difference between them and Jesus is that He knew the motives and really understood the intents of what others said infallibly. He could take others to task because He knew the absolute truth of the whole situation. Fallible humans do not always understand what another means and intends. It would certainly appear to be on the side of wisdom which which is peaceful when it comes from heaven to tone down the attack language.

Solameanie said...

Everyday Mommy etc...

Somehow, I can't help thinking of Alan Rickman's portrayal of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood film a few years back. After shouting that he'd cut Robin's heart out with a spoon, his dim-witted sidekick asked, "Why a spoon?" To which Nottingham shot back, "Because, you twit, it will hurt more."

Aside from that little funny, I wonder that the biblical warning about teachers incurring a stricter judgment is so easily forgotten or ignored. If people like Rob Bell get verbally whacked in the skull with an apologetic lead pipe, they bring it on themselves. Not only for their heretical teaching, but also because of their lack of repentance and unteachability.

I think the fact that so many are squalling about "tone" is a good indication we're hitting close to home.

Bill Honsberger said...

IF you want proof of Bell's interest in New age thinking, go no further than his endorsement and encouragement of his audience to read Ken WIlbur. Wilbur is by far the most articulate of all the new age writers, but at the end of the day he isn't really any different than Shirley Maclaine, Baba Ram Dass, and the rest.
For Wilbur ultimately we are all one and we are all God. How can any so called Christian pastor, for any possible reason, endorse this stuff??? I wondered about that when I read Velvet Elvis. Now many years later, when I see all the Emergents endorse TM, do yoga, talk about Namaste (the divine within me recognizes the divine within you) etc, etc - then it is very clear that there is nothing Christian in any meaningful way left in that crowd. The irony of course is that classic Hindu Advaita Vedanta and classic Buddhism eschewed social involvement as a mistake - the world is an illusion (maya) so don't get attached in doing good or bad. Now the emergents go all social reform yet at the same time attach themselves to ideas that are historically antagonistic to social concerns.
Start with a contradiction - it won't get better the farther you run with it.

Daniel C said...





Rom 16:17 And I call upon you, brethren, to mark those who the divisions and the stumbling-blocks, contrary to the teaching that ye did learn, are causing, and turn ye away from them
2Cr 11:12 And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.

CGrim said...

Here's what I don't get: When people sing the praises of a nonjudgmental Christ, aren't they unwittingly idealizing a world where sin is never confronted and injustice is never corrected?

And so often, these are the same people who question why God allows evil.

You can't have it both ways, people.

Logan Paschke said...

With regard to the discussion happening on the Nooma videos, I know what they are really used for.

They (the pastors) will say it is a tool to help teach the message.

No, Nooma is THE message.

That's what you guys don't yet get.

Maybe you didn't sit under the teaching of a joke-Evangelical youth pastor.

I did.

And I have no problem saying that; he was a good friend and a horrible youth pastor.

Here's the normal schedule for the normal evangelical youth night and I'll add the modified schedule when you include the Nooma video.

10 minutes - Songs
5 minutes - Gross out game
10 minutes - "Message"
5 minutes - Songs
Conclusion: Break for small group

10 minutes - Songs
5 minutes - Gross out game
10 minutes - Nooma video
2 minutes - "mini sermon"
5 minutes - Songs
Conclusion: Break for small group

Nooma is the message.


Your pastors (shepherds) give your children (your and their lambs) crap to eat instead of wheat.

(rhyme not intended)

Think about that.

You still we should be treading lightly with a man who is starving the littlest lambs from the littlest specks of the gospel that the most foolish youth pastors give each week?

Shame on you.

Logan Paschke said...

I should add - that MORE often than not there was NO message, NO sermon, just go right on to praise music after the Nooma video.

The man starves little lambs and people are angry that someone put a red nose on his face.


James Scott Bell said...

"Christians have fallen into the habit of accepting the noisiest and most notorious among them as the best and the greatest. They too have learned to equate popularity with excellence, and in open defiance of the Sermon on the Mount they have given their approval not to the meek but to the self-assertive; not to the mourner but to the self-assured; not to the pure in heart who see God but to the publicity hunter who seeks headlines." A. W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God, 96-97

Scott said...

@ Puritanicoal

Mardel is quite popular in Oklahoma City. (That may be where they are HQ'd) I got the same feeling when I about tripped over the display of "The Shack" books on the way in the store.

I wanted to find a manager and ask why they sold that garbage, including all the popular emergent books of the day. Probably should have.