30 January 2010

The Blind Leading the Blind Till They Both Fall in a Ditch

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from a sermon titled "The Choice of a Leader," preached Sunday morning, 1 August 1875 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. It sounds like Spurgeon is commenting on the meltdown of Emergent Village and the fumbling confusion that has seized some of the less radical participants in the Conversation who now want to shed their emergenting identity without shedding the postmodern bent that attracted them to the movement in the first place.

Perhaps Spurgeon was exercising the gift of prophecy. In any case, he gives good advice here: don't follow leaders who are constantly tinkering with gospel truth in an effort to keep in step with the times.

hen a man chooses a bad leader for his soul, at the end of all bad leadership there is a ditch.

A man teaches error which he declares he has drawn from Scripture, and he backs it up with texts perverted and abused. If you follow that error, and take its teacher for a leader, you may for a time be very pleased with yourself for knowing more than the poor plain people who keep to the good old way, but, mark my word, there is a ditch at the end of the error. You do not see it yet, but there it is, and into it you will fall if you continue to follow your leader.

At the end of error there is often a moral ditch, and men go down, down down, they scarce know why, till presently, having imbibed doctrinal error, their moral principles are poisoned, and like drunken men they find themselves rolling in the mire of sin.

At other times the ditch beyond a lesser error may be an altogether damnable doctrine. The first mistake was comparatively trifling, but, as it placed the mind on an inclined plane, the man descended almost as a matter of course, and almost before he knew it, found himself given over to a strong delusion to believe a lie. The blind man and his guide, whatever else they miss, will be sure to find the ditch, they need no sight to obtain an abundant entrance into that.

Alas! to fall into the ditch is easy, but how shall they be recovered? I would earnestly entreat especially professing Christians, when novelties of doctrine come up, to be very cautious how they give heed to them. I bid you remember the ditch. A small turn of the switch on the railway is the means of taking the train to the far east or to the far west: the first turn is very little indeed, but the points arrived at are remote.

There are new errors which have lately come up which your fathers knew not, with which some are mightily busy, and I have noticed when men have fallen into them their usefulness ceased. I have seen ministers go only a little way in speculative theories, and gradually glide from latitudinarianism into Socinianism or Atheism. Into these ditches thousands fall. Others are precipitated into an equally horrible pit, namely, the holding nominally of all the doctrines in theory and none of them in fact.

Men hold truths nowadays with the bowels taken out of then, and the very life and meaning torn away. There are members and ministers of evangelical denominations who do not believe evangelical doctrine, or if they do believe it they attach but little importance to it; their sermons are essays on philosophy, tinged with the gospel. They put a quarter of a grain of gospel into an Atlantic of talk, and poor souls are drenched with words to no profit. God save us from ever leaving the old gospel, or losing its spirit, and the solid comfort which it brings; yet into the ditch of lifeless profession and philosophic dreaming we may soon fall if we commit ourselves to wrong leadership.

All this should prevent us, as I think, from taking any man whatever as our leader, for if we trust to any mere man, though he may be right in ninety-nine of the hundred, he is wrong somewhere, and our tendency will be to be more influenced by his one wrong point than by any one of his right ones. Depend upon it in matters of religion that ancient malediction is abundantly verified, "Cursed is he that trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm."

C. H. Spurgeon

29 January 2010

New Spurgeon Sermons

by Phil Johnson

For friends of TeamPyro in the UK:
I'll be in London next week, preaching at Trinity Road Chapel, Wandsworth Common, Upper Tooting, both morning and evening services on February 7. I would love to meet some of you there.

ayOne publishers have released an excellent supplement to the New Park Street Pulpit and Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series. C H Spurgeon's Sermons Beyond Volume 63: An Authentic Supplement to the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit is a quality hardcover volume with 45 "forgotten" sermons—messages that weren't included in the major collections. If you own the Met Tab series, this book will fit nicely on the shelf with them.

This excellent collection was compiled by Dr. Terence Crosby (who attends and frequently teaches at Trinity Road Chapel—see above) and published by DayOne. They kindly asked me to write the foreword to the book. Here it is:

by Phil Johnson

Charles Spurgeon's published sermons undoubtedly constitute the largest body of significant literature from the mind of a single author in the history of publishing. It is a legacy that will almost surely never be surpassed. Comprising an estimated 25 million words, the 3,563 sermons of the New Park Street Pulpit and Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit volumes contain more content than the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The New Park Street and Met Tab collections were originally published between 1855 (when Spurgeon was just 20 years old) and 1917 (when paper shortages caused by World War I made printing sermons prohibitively expensive). Individual messages were produced and printed at the rate of one per week without fail for all those years. Known as "Penny Pulpit" sermons, they were collected each December 31 and bound into annual volumes. All but the final book contained at least fifty-two messages. Some years there were more, depending on the number of Sundays on the calendar, with bonus messages here and there for special occasions.

Spurgeon was such a prolific preacher that when he died in 1892, existing transcripts of his unpublished sermons roughly equaled the 2,241 sermons then in print. So Passmore & Alabaster (Spurgeon's primary publishers from the start of his ministry) announced their intention to continue the weekly production of his messages indefinitely-for as long as readers demanded them. The company stayed at that task until forced by difficult economic circumstances to interrupt the process some 25 years later.

The complete set (sixty-three volumes in all) has heretofore been the definitive collection of Spurgeon sermons. Every other significant compilation of Spurgeon's preaching was drawn and adapted from those Penny Pulpit sermons that were painstakingly prepared and produced each week for all those years. The full set is a vast treasure-more sermons than the average person could possibly read and digest thoughtfully in a lifetime. They are consistently meaty, eloquent, thought-provoking, heartfelt, evangelistic, and very convicting. The complete collection is also remarkable for its amazing breadth and depth-especially considering the busy schedule Charles Spurgeon kept. He rarely reused his outlines or preached the same sermon twice, even on those fairly rare occasions where he dealt with the same text more than once. It is simply amazing to realize that those sixty-three volumes have maintained readers' keen interest for all these years. Complete sets are still being produced in America, and they are selling steadily more than a century since Spurgeon's death. Most of Spurgeon's sermons are also available freely in various forms on the Internet, and online users are constantly demanding more.

All of that sets Spurgeon's importance as a preacher in perspective. By any measure, his published sermons stand virtually uncontested as not only one of the greatest achievements in the history of publishing, but also the most important and influential anthology of sermons in the history of preaching.

Nevertheless, those sixty-three thickset volumes are by no means an exhaustive record of Spurgeon's amazing preaching ministry. By most accounts, he delivered seven or eight sermons each week throughout most of his ministry. Only half to two thirds of those messages were even recorded with an eye toward publication.

Simply recording Spurgeon's messages was a labor-intensive process in those days before electronic sound-capture was commonplace. Spurgeon spoke extemporaneously, without the use of a manuscript. (He normally took only half a used envelope or a similar scrap of paper into the pulpit with him, containing just a handwritten, bare-bones outline.) Two or three stenographers would record his words as he spoke. Their transcriptions would be compared and combined, insuring that very few words were missed. Then either Spurgeon himself (usually), his trusted secretary (especially in later years), or another qualified editor (beginning around the turn of the century) would edit the transcript for publication. I own several pages of edited transcripts with emendations scrawled into the margins by Spurgeon's own distinctive hand, and he was a meticulous editor. (It is some consolation to me as a rather halting preacher to see that some of the stunning eloquence of the published sermons was added during the editorial process. All that genius wasn't straight off the top of Spurgeon's head when he preached-though much of it was.) The task of editing and proofreading sermons was a massive one, and the stress of so many relentless deadlines no doubt complicated Spurgeon's frequent health problems. It may well have hastened his death.

Yet he persevered, firmly believing that the sermons would live and bear fruit long after the preacher himself was gone. He was certainly right about that, but he most likely did not imagine the half of it. He could hardly have envisioned that the influence of his preaching would be as profound and as far-reaching as it still is today, so many years after his audible voice was silenced.

When the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series was abruptly halted by the Great War, supplies of unpublished sermons were diminishing but not yet completely depleted. That final volume was a short one, containing only 17 sermons, fewer than half the standard number. More than enough sermons to complete that volume were nearly ready for publication, and (I'm told) dozens of others exist which have still not yet seen the light of day. But after the war, publishers never seemed to regain the vision for such thick books of sermons. Twentieth-century preachers were already leaning toward a lighter preaching style, with more illustrations and less doctrinal content.

The fact that so many of Spurgeon's messages have remained unpublished long after any paper shortage hindered the work is a decades-long travesty, and I'm thrilled Terence Crosby and DayOne are beginning to remedy it. The volume you hold in your hands is the first full-length supplement to The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit since my great grandfather's era, and I am delighted to have it finally for my shelves.

I first met Terence Crosby years ago when he was Secretary of the Evangelical Library in London. I renewed my acquaintance with him about two years ago during some meetings at Trinity Road Chapel in Upper Tooting, within a short walk of where Spurgeon once lived. Dr. Crosby told me then that he was working on this volume, and I could not have been more elated at the news-especially when he described the nature of the task and the care with which he was handling it. He is a precise and conscientious scholar; he is a gifted writer and skilled editor; and I have little doubt that Spurgeon himself would be overjoyed with the way these sermons have been prepared for publication.

Years ago a student just entering seminary visited my office and noticed that two large shelves behind my desk are filled with the New Park Street Pulpit collection, which he had never before seen in its entirety. He was fascinated by the set. Thumbing through a random volume, he observed out loud what almost everyone nowadays would notice first of all: By today's standards the books are very thick, the type quite small, and the paragraphs surprisingly long. (Judging a book by its cover, a casual first-time observer frankly might not find Spurgeon very inviting.) The student looked up from the book he was holding and asked whether I had read every sermon in all sixty-three volumes. I told him I had not (still haven't) and that reading Spurgeon is pleasure I expect to savor with care and patience, sermon by sermon, for the rest of my life.

"Why do you have all the volumes, then?" he asked. "Why not read the chapters one at a time and wait to purchase a new book until you reach the end of the previous one?"

I explained that I don't read Spurgeon chronologically. I select sermons to read based on whatever passage of Scripture I am studying at any given time. (I wouldn't think of preaching on a passage until I've seen what Spurgeon had to say about it.) I find Spurgeon best feeds my soul that way; when I'm already immersed in a passage of Scripture, his messages on that particular text are most meaningful. He almost never fails to shine a bright light into some dark corner of the text, showing me things I would not have seen otherwise.

That's why I'm so thrilled to have this complete new volume of never-before published material from the Prince of Preachers, and I'm eagerly looking forward to future volumes, too.

These books will surely take their place right alongside the earlier works. The "definitive collection" is no longer complete or truly definitive without them. My prayer is that they'll help awaken new appetites for Spurgeon's preaching. May they influence the current generation of preachers to be more bold and more biblical in their content. May the next generation of preachers gain from them a better vision of what makes preaching truly "relevant." And may our grandchildren and all subsequent generations continue to benefit from them as so many of us have.

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28 January 2010

Having (and heeding) the Teacher's Guide

by Dan Phillips

Our family has homeschooled for many years. My dear wife and I both always have carried differing classes. At first, I did most of the teaching; for years now, that's been her ministry, with me picking up other classes such as English and Bible. But when I'm taking on a new course, I always ask that Valerie get the teacher's guide to the course. Primarily I need it because it's a big time-saver. They aren't inerrant, of course; sometimes I have to correct their answers. But on balance, having a Teacher's Guide is a huge help.

You know right where I'm going with this: in Bible, we have the Teacher's Guide. Literally. Is it not so?
Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes! (Psalm 119:12)

When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes! (
Psalm 119:26)

Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law! (
Psalm 119:29)

The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. (Psalm 119:160)

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

"Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
There are countless ramifications of this, literally countless. But I want to stay at the universal level, the level of principle.

We've been handed the Teacher's Guide, so to speak. What this means is that Christianity isn't the conclusion of a series of deductions leading to open conclusions, per se. It isn't the conclusion of a syllogism. It is revelation, and the Christian starts his thinking with that revelation. If it isn't covered by the revelation ("Wonder what the trout are biting on today?"), he works it out. But if it is ("Wonder if I should cheat on my wife today?"), then he knows what's in the Teacher's Guide.

That means that, if I'm working on a dandy, shiny, impressive, lovely theory or hypothesis, and then get T-boned by the clear teaching of Scripture, I bail on my theory. No matter how much I loved it, what admiration it would earn me, what applause and kudo's — I bail on it. No matter how much the world would prefer it to the old Christian answer — I bail on it. No matter how much better-feeling sense it made to me that the Biblical position — I bail on it.

What's so bemusing is when a man or woman professes to be a Christian — which is to say, someone who agrees with Jesus that the Bible is the Teacher's Guide — approaches issues like a non-Christian.

You have an idea or attitude about something, but you find the Bible doesn't reflect it. What you should do is say "Rats, I see the answer's different than mine. I must have worked it through wrong. Better start over."

All but two of you are nodding. You're thinking of safe things, and you're right. For instance, if a professed Christian says, "Because of X, Y and Z, I just don't see why women can't be pastors."

So here's where Christian thinking — the thinking of a disciple (= student), of a slave — would note the answer in the teacher's guide: they can't. And here is where Christian thinking would say, "Evidently not. I must have done the math wrong. Start over." And a Christian would work it through until his answer matched the answer in the Teacher's Guide, knowing that in this case the TG is in fact inerrant.

Ditto homosexuality. Ditto the moral imperative of wives to subordinate themselves to their husbands, of children to their parents; of parents to love, train, discipline their children. Ditto church-attendance. Ditto the Gospel. Ditto eschatology. Ditto ecclesiology, anthropology, geohistory, abortion, and on and on.

Before we close in prayer, though: don't feel too safe about this. Again and again on this blog we've had commenters, confronted with some Biblical teaching they don't like, say "Because of ABC, I think Blort." To which the Christian answer would be, "Evidently not." With such intelligent reasons, often it's "Because of ABCDEFGHIJ, I think Ba-zink." Still, the answer should be, "Evidently not."

Take the thread I linked above. I am absolutely positive that, reading this, many folks' reaction was, "Because of [my very complicated theories of Christian living], I think we shouldn't talk about slavery and obedience to commands and such." One fellow left a church I pastored for that very reason: his theory of Christian living did not allow for apostolic commands being apostolic commands which God expects us to obey.

So, rather than revising his position to match the one in the Teacher's Guide, he ran off to find another church.

Confronted with a Biblical phenomenon that doesn't match our theory, the Christian response should be, "Evidently not." That is, in this case — as I pointed out in that post and many other times — clearly God the Holy Spirit has no problem whatever moving apostles to issue commands to Christians, and calling Christians to obey. That's in the Teacher's Guide.

So if a Christian sees that phenomenon, and sees it clashes with his theories of Christian living or anything else, he should say, "Evidently I did the math wrong. Start over!" And he should re-work it until his answer matches the Teacher's Guide.

So in closing I say: do that.

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27 January 2010

The Concrete Way

by Frank Turk

God is glorified by a lot of things. For example, God is glorified in nature by the fact that He created it, and it speaks about Him. (Rom 1:19-20) God is glorified in the fact of man’s creation (Ps 139) – not just in an ontological sense either, but in the continuous sense that every one of a man’s days are written out by God’s plan. God is glorified by the fact of the Bible (Ps 119), and that God has bothered to speak to people for their own good.

But there’s a way in which God is glorified which, I think, we overlook pretty regularly. And I have a passage of Scripture about that which I’d like to present and discuss:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."
You all know that part, right? It’s a redaction of Deu 6 and Lev 19 – but not in such a way which harms Scripture. Jesus says so Himself – if the lawyer who was testing Him lived this way (loving God and loving men), he’d be all set.

Think about that: for Jesus, it was enough to say that loving God greatly (with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind) and loving men particularly (that is, the same way you love yourself) to warrant the inheritance of eternal life. There’s no mention there of resurrection or repentance, is there? Yet Christ says, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Was Jesus preaching “sloppy agape”? Where’s the Glory of God? Where’s the law, and man’s inability? Doesn't this conversation intimate a synergistic view? How could the lawyer who was testing Him be “correct” to say that the Law demands love -- in the right way, and two different kinds of love to be sure – and that this is enough to gain eternal life?

Here’s where that story goes, for those of you who haven’t read it lately:
But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?"

He said, "The one who showed him mercy."

And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise." [Luke 10, ESV]
Now, think on this: the matter of loving God as it is manifest in loving people is what is at stake here. The lawyer asked the question “who is my neighbor” to “justify” himself – that is, either to demonstrate that his first question was not a trap, or to demonstrate that he is not himself a fool for asking a ridiculously simple question.

So the matter of “who is my neighbor” is about how we keep the commandment to love God and love our neighbor. And in that, Christ [as Luke tells it] gives us 3 examples of men who have some relationship with God and with an actual person.

You’ve heard this sermon before, I am sure: the priest avoided the man; the Levite avoided the man. But the Samaritan did not avoid the man. It seems like a kindergarten Sunday school lesson, I am sure, but let’s think about this for a minute. In John 4, the woman [a Samaritan] at the well said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, John makes clear) That is, the Samaritans worship God apart from the Jews, and the Jews think that because of this, there is enmity between them – the Samaritans are rather less than lovers of God.

But it is the Samaritan who, as Jesus says, “proved to be a neighbor”.

Look: I haven’t jumped ship here. I’m not saying that Jesus endorses the idea that it doesn’t matter which god you worship as long as you do nice things for people. I think what Jesus is saying is that even a Samaritan who is not a Levite or a priest can prove to be a neighbor, and in that why can’t the priest and the Levite prove to be a neighbor? If they love God, they ought to be loving their neighbor.

Consider it: the Levite and the priest have the temple, and its sacrifices – but what do those things cause them to do? The Lawyer can cite the Sh’ma, and connect the admonition of the Sh’ma to obey God and His law to the broad command of Lev 19 which says, frankly, that you shall love your neighbor as yourself in a concrete way. Don’t lie; don’t steal; don’t cheat; care for the poor from your own portion; do not take vengeance, and do not do injustice in court. But Christ tells him that loving God requires you to love people. You can't be doing the former unless you are doing the latter.

So the matter of the temple is not at stake; the matter of Unitarian inclusivity is not at stake; the matter of Christology is not at stake; the matter of synergism vs. monergism is not at stake. What is at stake in this example is whether we can say we love God if we do not do what He has said to do – specifically, to love your neighbor. That is, the matter of rightly obeying all the Law as the Law presents itself is at stake.

See: God is glorified when we love. That may seem somewhat uncontroversial to some people, but there’s a reason God is glorified when we love: it is because God loves. The fact – the indisputable fact of the Bible – is that God loves men, and that love is glorifying to God.

So yes: God’s wrath is glorifying to Him. God’s Justice is glorifying to Him. God’s Holiness is glorifying to Him. But God’s Love is also glorifying to Him because it is as great as His Holiness. It is as great as His Justice. It is as great as His Wrath.

And it is glorifying to Him when we show it to others. We can show them His Wrath by walking them through the Law, and through Revelation, and by presenting the Cross as the object of His wrath. But if we do those things and omit the Love which is evident in those things – evident because it seeks to set aside wrath by mercy, and patience, and a public declaration – what have we done? What kind of God have we declared? Without calling anyone any names, does this put us in danger of making the same kind of mistake Jesus accuses the religious leaders in Mat 23 of making -- neglecting the more important matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness as things people do?

Brief Clarification

by Technorati

Challies is not hardly the most famous Christian blogger in the world. Click to read it and weep.

Just sayin'.

26 January 2010

Un-signing the Manhattan Declaration: a PSA from Pyro

by Dan Phillips

As you know, the "Manhattan Declaration" (hereafter MD) was a bad idea that became a bad document that undeservingly boasted some very good names.

In our various discussions, many regretted having signed the document. They had, at first, understandably seen wisdom in co-belligerency in opposing abortion, the loss of freedoms, and the forced normalization of perversion. However, they had missed the deliberate muddling of the vitally-important edges of the Gospel. Now they wanted to un-sign.

But how to do so?

In answer comes a reader, John Taylor, who emailed me to let me know that he had both asked that his name be removed, and had received a response. He said I could share the saga with you.

So, for you who've wondered how: go to this page, and request that your name be removed. [UPDATE: that is now a dead link. I'll update when someone gives me, or I find, a valid URL.]

It took a while for John. He submitted his first request to that link on November 23rd of last year. Receiving no response, twenty days later he wrote a follow-up email (December 12). It was not until January 19 that he received a response — some 58 days after his first request.

In this email, they write: "We will remove your name from the list of signers, but it may take a few days."  This makes us both wonder if they only removed his name after two requests.

Perhaps the "takeaway" there is that you should ask them to acknowledge your request; and then, if you've received none in a few weeks, ask again.

On January 20, I wrote the email address John gave me, asking (1) the best way to get one's name removed, and (2) how many have asked that their names be removed. No answer yet. If I receive a helpful response, I'll likely update this or post it.

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25 January 2010

A Thumbnail History of Theological Liberalism

The Lie of "Liberal" Theology, Part 2
by Phil Johnson

ersons beset with the spirit of liberal religion invariably try to present themselves as cutting-edge visionaries. But liberalism is neither fresh nor progressive. Look at almost any era of church history and you will find the liberal spirit alive and well in some form or another. Even during Jesus' earthly ministry, He had to contend with the Sadducees, who denied virtually everything in the supernatural realm, including the existence of angels, the immortality of the human soul, and (of course) the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:8). Some degree of Sadducean-style skepticism is a key element in all liberal religion.

Throughout the history of the church, practically every time there has been a major advance in clarity and understanding that brings some key gospel truth into clear focus, almost immediately some liberalizing tendency seeks to nullify the gain.

In the eleventh century, for example, Anselm of Canterbury untangled a millennium of confusion about the atonement in his landmark book Cur Deus Homo. Anselm demonstrated from Scripture that Christ's death was an offering to God—a full satisfaction rendered by Christ to God—rather than a payment to appease Satan or an act of martyrdom at the hands of wicked men. Anselm's work highlighted the simple but crucial truths that the atonement was the central reason God became a man, and that redemption is a gracious work of Christ to be received by faith alone. But no sooner had the truth of divine grace begun to regain its rightful place at the center of the gospel than Peter Abelard rose up and denied that Christ's death was any kind of payment or substitution at all. In Abelard's view, the cross was merely a radical example of self-sacrificial love, designed to win men's hearts and give them a pattern to follow. Abelard's explanation of the atonement (a classic expression of liberal thinking) thus made the work of redemption something the sinner must do for himself by mimicking Christ.

Nevertheless, Anselm's work paved the way for the Protestant Reformation 500 years later. But even the Reformation was immediately answered with a new liberalizing tendency, Socinianism. Named for Laelius Socinus (an inveterate skeptic who nevertheless retained a form of religion), Socinianism was a typically misguided liberal attempt to retain the moral essence of Christ's teaching while rejecting virtually every orthodox doctrine and supernatural element of the Christian faith, beginning with the authority of Scripture.

Socinianism was followed by a string of similar liberal movements. Most of them appeared in reaction to various revivals and expansions of gospel preaching. The Great Awakening in colonial America was followed by the rise of deism. The Second Great Awakening was severely marred by an upsurge of moralistic free-will theology and perfectionist dogmas. That in turn was exacerbated by a major movement toward Unitarianism in the early nineteenth century. Meanwhile, in Germany, Friedrich Schleiermacher was blending Enlightenment philosophies with Christian moral teachings, using higher criticism to justify skepticism about the Bible's supernatural claims. While evangelicalism was flourishing in churches and reaching out to homesteaders and pioneers on the American frontier, Schleiermacher was discovering ways to make liberal and Socinian concepts sound sophisticated for the academic community.

Sweeping grassroots evangelical revivals occurred in both England and America in the 1850s, and almost immediately a new backlash came: modernism began to invade churches.

Modernism managed to smuggle practically every classic expression of theological liberalism into evangelical circles under the guise of staying abreast of the times. A tsunami of ideas borrowed directly from Socinianism and its offspring overwhelmed the mainstream denominations and many schools of theology. Virtually every significant evangelical institution that embraced any degree of modernism soon abandoned evangelical principles. And practically all of them became empty shells of what they once were.

The legacy of such movements is clear—or it ought to be. No good has ever come from the liberalizing tendency. It is rooted in a way of thinking that is hostile to the authority of Scripture; it inevitably corrupts the simplicity of the gospel of grace; and it fosters skepticism and (in the worst cases) rank unbelief.

Don't forget to read this month's 9Marks eJournal

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24 January 2010

Christ and Him Crucified

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 Crucified," a sermon preached Sunday morning 11 February 1855 in Exeter Hall.

et me very briefly tell you what I believe preaching Christ and him crucified is.

My friends, I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to give people a batch of philosophy every Sunday morning and evening, and neglect the truths of this Holy Book. I do not believe it is preaching Christ and him crucified, to leave out the main cardinal doctrines of the Word of God, and preach a religion which is all a mist and a haze, without any definite truths whatever.

I take it that man does not preach Christ and him crucified, who can get through a sermon without mentioning Christ's name once; nor does that man preach Christ and him crucified, who leaves out the Holy Spirit's work, who never says a word about the Holy Ghost, so that indeed the hearers might say, "We do not so much as know whether there be a Holy Ghost."

And I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed.

Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that. We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, "We have not so learned Christ."

C. H. Spurgeon

22 January 2010

Early-Bird Special

by Phil Johnson

The Psalm 119 Conference

14-15 May 2010
Dallas / Ft. Worth

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The Lie of "Liberal" Theology

A Reading Assignment
by Phil Johnson

iberal is such a benign-sounding term. The word itself means generous, open-handed, large-hearted, charitable. The synonyms commonly used to describe radical ideologies reverberate with positive overtones: "latitudinarian," "progressive," "forward-looking," "free-thinking." And the antonyms are all Scrooge-like words—"miserly," "bigoted," "narrow-minded," "reactionary."

Those semantic connotations disguise the true nature of liberal theology. When Christian doctrine is subjected to liberalizing influences, the inevitable result is a profoundly destructive drift that weakens churches, breeds skepticism, and quickly trades away the gospel for a differently-nuanced message. The long view of church history provides ample proof of that.

Church history? But all the liberal-minded Christians I know insist their ideas are fresh and constructive.

Yes, of course they do. Reading their blogs and books, you might get the impression they have discovered a point of view no one ever thought of before. Liberal thinkers always make that claim. But in the world of ideas there truly is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9)—certainly not liberalism.

The mind-set of postmodern neo-liberalism is as old as Rehoboam, who "abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him" (2 Chronicles 10:8). Many of the core tenets of post-enlightenment liberal religion would be familiar to any first-century Sadducee (Acts 23:8). And the strategy by which today's neo-liberals have gained so much influence among evangelicals is straight from the same play-book every false teacher, sower of tares, and wolf in sheep's clothing has used since the apostolic era.

Quasi-christian heretics and skeptics claiming to be people of faith are relentless in their efforts to creep into the household of faith unnoticed (Jude 4). After all, the most effective way to inject heterodox teachings into the church is secretly (2 Peter 2:1).

That is a vitally important point to keep in mind. Rank unbelievers and open antagonists who assault the church head on have never managed to do much damage to the cause of truth. (On the contrary, the church usually gains purity and power under the pressure of open persecution.) But the worst blows to the advancement of the gospel always come from people within the visible church—usually leaders and influential teachers.

They'll insist they believe in evangelical principles, but they won't actually preach the gospel without abridging or modifying it somehow. They're just trying to keep up to date, they assure us—even as they undermine the very foundations of faith.

That, of course, is the whole gist of liberal religion, and it is a thousand times more dangerous than open opposition to Christianity.

That's awfully harsh language. Is it really fair to suggest that liberal-minded Christian leaders in these postmodern times are bent on theological mischief? Many of them say they are committed evangelicals.

Again: of course they do. But it's a serious mistake to imagine that false teachers of any stripe would lay out their real agenda in plain terms. Scripture expressly warns us not to entertain such naive expectations (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

The contemporary evangelical movement generally ignores (and in some cases openly spurns) such warnings. As a result the movement is in dire peril.

This month's 9Marks eJournal analyzes the subtleties and dangers of liberalism—especially the quasi-evangelical neo-liberalism currently vying for control of the evangelical movement. You must read this issue of the journal. Print it out, download it to your Kindle, or have someone read it to you.

Full disclosure: I wrote an article for the issue. Carl Trueman's article is short but potent. I also loved Jonathan Leeman's article. There are many such highlights—but the entire journal is must-read material. Take some time with it.

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Congrats to Mr. & Mrs. Pecadillo

posted by Phil Johnson

enelope Mae Johnson.
Born last night at 7:35 PST. She weighed 8 lbs., 8 oz., 21" long. And she's gorgeous.

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21 January 2010

Hello, Out There #3: What is the Big Deal about Sin?

by Dan Phillips

[This takes up a was-going-to-be series started (and explained) in July of 2007 — then dropped after September of 2007. Always meant to come back to it. And now... I am!]

Stuffy old killjoys
Non-Christians are baffled by what seems to be the Christian obsession with "sin." To the non-Christian, "sin" often means "unauthorized fun," or "fun that breaks some dumb rule," or "fun that I don't want to have," or "fun that I really do want to have, but my religion says I shouldn't, so I don't want anyone else to have it, either!"

But it is the conviction of most of the non-religious that sin is not that big of a deal. In fact, sin isn't really bad. I mean, think of our language: if something better than just good, we say that it is sinfully good.

Sin is just some stupid rule. Stupid rules should never stand in the way of fun, of happiness, of joy, of self-fulfillment, of a life of freedom and self-realization. A hundred movies, a thousand TV episodes, tell tale after tale of some poor noble soul oppressed by joyless, loveless, graceless, dour, dessicated, usually hypocritical religionists.

A lot of the time, it has something to do with sex. Kids wanting to have sex with other kids, lonely wives wanting to have sex with better men than their horrid husbands. Lately, it's guys wanting to have sex with guys, women with women.

And why not? If that's what they really want in their heart, why shouldn't they? Isn't our heart our best guide? Aren't rules just stuffy conventions that each generation outgrows, varying from culture to culture? Isn't the Bible full of rules we don't keep anymore, anyway — like about slavery, skin disease, and shellfish?

The critical miscalculation
The problem with this line of thought is that it starts off with a wrong step, and never corrects course.

The way the world thinks about sin starts with the assumption that man is the measure of all things. Whether the talk is of "enlightened self-interest," or the heart's best impulses, or the "angels of our better nature," or what-have-you, the assumption is that man is both alpha and omega. Maybe an individual man, or maybe the human consensus of an enlightened society — but the assumption is that morality bubbles up from within. It can be divined by a poll, which often turns out to be a poll of one.

The problem with that is that "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). You see, with its very first words, the Bible turns our thinking on its head. We don't define our universe. We don't create meaning. We come into a universe already created, already defined, with already-assigned values and borders and lines and definitions.

That reality is absolutely fundamental to all thought.  Undervalue it, and wisdom remains under lock and key.

Were that not true, then common thinking is correct: man is both alpha and omega. However, since it is not true, neither is man-centered thought true. Before the whirl of the first atom, God existed: self-sufficient, self-delighted, the font of all perfection. When He created, He created. All things are His things. All creatures are His creatures. He owns, possesses, has rights over all things.

Including you, whoever you are. 

The difference it makes
You may pound your chest and insist you're an atheist. God overrides your vote. God exists in defiance of your notions. God owns you. You will answer to Him one day, for every thought, action and word.

Or you may be a religionist, a relativist, a post-modernist, or a nothingist. No matter. Those are all labels applicable to you, and they are all irrelevant to reality.

In reality, God is the center of the universe. He is its source, its creator, its owner, and its definer.

And so I think you can see: if He says something is right, well then, it's right. If He says it's wrong, well then, it's wrong.

But think further. What is the worst of crimes? It can only be crimes against Him. These are acts of high treason, crimes of deepest dye. Remember, it doesn't matter that you don't feel them to be such, and it doesn't matter if the majority of society doesn't feel them to be such. God requires no one's permission to be God. He simply is.

And that is what sin is, at heart. Sin is my refusal to deal with reality — specifically, with the game-changing reality of God. Sin is my insistence on being self-defining (as if there were no God), self-ruling (as if there were no God), self-pleasing (as if there were no God). In fact, sin is living as if there were no God. It makes me the opposite of the real Jesus Christ; it makes me an anti-christ.

In fact, sin is the desire that there be no God. Sin sees God as the great obstacle. Sin wishes there to be no such obstacle. Therefore, sin wishes there to be no such God as the God of the Bible.

Therefore sin is, at heart, a desire to murder God; and all sin is attempted Deicide.

Feel, don't feel — but deal
Many will read all that and shrug. "I just don't feel that way about it," they may say.

And in so doing, prove themselves worthy of Hell.

"What?!" you say. "Did I miss a paragraph? How did you get from A to Z?"

Simple. The thinking is, "I just don't feel that way, so I won't do anything about it. Because what I feel is ultimate to me. My feelings matter most. If I don't feel the need to change, I won't change, and I won't feel bad about not changing. And this sin thing? This God-thing? I don't feel it. It's not moving me. So I'm not moving."

All of which is simply to say: to me, I am God.

Which is a very, very old lie. Because, you see, the thing is: you aren't. God is.

And that's what makes sin a big deal.

What to do?

What a mess we're in. It's most natural for us, from birth, to have ourselves at the center of our universe. We've racked up a lifetime of crimes against God because of it. But we only do what we do, because we are what we are. So, if we're ever going to deal with the world of trouble we're in with God, and ever to have the least hope of knowing God, something will have to be done both about what we've done, and who we are.

Which is where the Gospel comes in.

But that wasn't what this post was about. It was about why you and I need the Gospel.

Because sin is such a big deal.

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Hello, Out There #3: What is the Big Deal about Sin?

20 January 2010

Shining a Light before men

by Frank Turk

We get letters. I got a version of this one today, which I’d like to share with y’all because I think there’s some profit in it (there may also be some prophet in it, but I’ll leave that to the reader and the Holy Spirit to decide):
I'm a reader of your work over at TeamPyro (awesome stuff) and I'd like to ask for your help on an issue I'm currently facing.

It's about the book "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna. It was recommended to me by a friend for discussion. We're specifically talking about the gospel (what it really means) but the conversation is spilling over to the church, about which he has some very passionate, but not altogether great opinions on.

Anyway, while looking for reviews of Mr. Viola's book, I stumbled across a comment you made in a Pyromaniacs comment feed saying that basically Frank Viola is a "kook" and has got his church history all wrong. I'm wondering if you could kindly:

1. elaborate a little more on why that is so and
2. lend me your take on this whole "I'm too cool for church/church should be like it was in the NT/we should abandon institutionalized and flawed churches" attitude that is sweeping many young people, especially those infatuated with emergent thinking.

your encouragement and solid thinking on this issue would be very much appreciated.
Well, as “kindly” as possible, here’s what I have to say about that:

This (meaning #2, above) is not a particularly “emergent” stream of thinking

Truth be told, this goes back even to Anabaptist conceptions of what it means to be a “church”, and maybe back even to monastic views of piety – so this is not hardly a new way to see things. The problem is that it is a view of what God has done without a lot of reference to what God says about what God has done.

I’ll cover that more in #3, below.

This is not a particularly mature stream of thinking

I can be honest: while people have to take responsibility for this kind of thinking in themselves, they didn’t invent it: they were taught it, either by example or explicitly. But if they were mature in their approach to this topic, and were taught by others who were mature, they’d not atomize the faith the way this approach atomizes faith to a primarily-personal experience.

This is not a particularly biblical stream of thinking

The way this approach to “church” works is to see what God has done for “me” as the starting point of Christian life and then maybe one tries to extend what God has done for “me” to include what God has done for “you” on a provisional basis. When I think God hasn’t done it for you anymore, I can therefore not care about you anymore – at least in the church sense.

The Bible, for those of you who have read it (and specifically for those who have not), goes about the matter in a completely different way. For certain, the place where the rubber hits the road is where “I” do something. But the way we are taught to reason by the Bible about our faith is that Christ has died for us, and that Christ sees his bride as an assembly, and that God has a whole people who are purchased as his own possession.

Does Christ save each one? Sure: certainly. But the formula that you might hear popularly that Christ would have died if the only one he was going to save was me is absolutely not found in the Bible.

The Biblical approach to what it means to have church starts with the fact that Christ died for the elect, which is not a statement of individualistic grace but a statement of a singular act of grace for the sake of all who would be saved.

When Paul riffs on this in Eph 5, he makes it clear that Christ died for the church and gave himself up for her. This has to make us consider that Christ’s work somehow is for all of us on purpose.

Candles on a birthday cake vs. a city on a hill

When Christ talks about who we are in him, he doesn’t say, “you are the light of the world, like little birthday cake candles which people will encounter here and there and I hope that’s enough to get the message across.”

Christ says instead this: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” You know: You-Plural. Y’all. The city on the hill and the light on the lamp stand is the church and not the individual believer. So our light shines before men when we are together being the people Jesus died to make us.

Institutionalism vs. community

So how do we carry that over into the real world 2000 years later? Should we then embrace whatever institution has risen up – should we not have had a reformation? Should we never-ever leave the local church?

The truth is that the Bible gives us a lot of liberty for the local church – with some guidelines. We should have elders who teach us the faith, reprove us when we are wrong, guard the word of God, love people, and train up new elders; we should follow them. We should bear one another’s burdens. We should stand against error but seek to reconcile brothers who are turning away from the faith. We should love one another. We should worship in spirit and in truth (and in good order).

After that, it’s sort of open as to how we administrate that.

But factually the church has to be a local body – full of real people. It has to be visible and distinct from Kiwanis, the Lion’s Club, and the temple of Athena. It should be calling people into Christ and therefore into itself.

What it forms is a community which is (without going all eschatological on you) an expression of the coming kingdom under Jesus Christ, the King of kings. If we keep our eye on that objective, we avoid it becoming the kingdom which the brilliance of our pastor’s preaching, our elder’s leadership, and our own wonderful community outreach (which will create an institution) has formed. God forbid that our churches are “the church which we made for Jesus” rather than “the church which Jesus made us for”.

Anyone who would tell you otherwise is selling a book or a research project – and there’s no one saved by that.

Hope that helps.

19 January 2010

"And the second is" — not in competition with it, but rather... (Part Four)

by Dan Phillips

[Concluding the series started here.]

Once while the Dear Wife and I were on a date, driving through such countryside as the blighted wastelands of Sacramento have to offer, we were talking about the personality of Christ. "Personality" is not here a typo for "person"; I mean we were talking about what sort of man our Lord was, what kind of character and traits He displayed in His days on the earth. What was it like, to know Him?

It was a good talk for both of us. Valerie said I should write a book from it. Maybe someday, and after a whole lot more prayerful thought and study.

You have to start with Biblical systematics, because systematics necessarily frame the discussion. Systematics lay out the canvas on which the portrait must be painted. And so we know that, whatever sort of person Jesus was, He was the only truly, genuinely, honest-to-God healthy human being who ever lived. He was the only truly integrated human, the only unfractured, unwarped, quirk-free, undented, this-is-what-a-man-is-supposed-to-look-like human being ever to draw breath this side of the Garden (cf. Luke 1:35; John 8:46; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 2:1).

So this study of Jesus will be vital for the question of this series. Because systematics also informs us that no man ever has really gotten and embodied the right integration of the First and Second command, ever (Romans 3:23; 5:12ff.; 8:7, etc.). The best we rise to is flashes and runs here and there, solely by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit bearing the fruit of Christ's character in and through (and in spite of) us (Galatians 5:17, 22-25). But it is to Jesus we must look, to see a living image of a man who really loves God above all, and his neighbor secondarily — and who got it right all the time.

What do we see, when we look to Jesus?

Not what we expect. Certainly not the Jesus of modern Christian sentimentality.

The only way to avoid doubling the length of the series is to organize my observations under two points and make them far too brief. To wit:

Jesus was all about God — first, last and foremost. First recorded sermon in Matthew is "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:17). God would not adapt Himself and His will to "meet the needs of" the people; their greatest need was to adapt to Him and His will, which (given that they were sinners) meant starting with that roots-to-branches paradigm shift known as repentance.

We see this throughout Jesus' entire ministry. He was not about flattering the prejudices, ignorance, pride, and stubbornness of His hearers — ever. As His forerunner had affronted his hearers' pride (Matthew 3:2, 6-12), thus also the Lord Jesus' first audience in Nazareth were so enraged with His "insulting" message that they wanted to kill Him right then and there (Luke 4:29). So far from flattering and accommodating and contextualizing with the wolves in the Temple, He ruined their little shell-game and had them sputtering out demands to see His credentials (John 2:14-18). He called them insulting, belittling names that certainly wounded their pride and dignity, and He did it in public (Matthew 23; Luke 11:14-54).

Everything He did, whether teaching or healing or living, was part of accomplishing the work of God who had sent Him (John 17:4). For that reason, His very food was to do God's will (John 4:34). And if doing that will of God enraged His hearers, He could live with it (John 8:43).

All this was the behavior of Love Incarnate.

Jesus' display of love for neighbor was markedly un-sentimental. Some will splutter that Jesus was totally different with individuals than He was with religious leaders. But was He?

First, we must note that Jesus dealt with individuals throughout His ministry. He isn't like the leaders we spoke of earlier, who can talk to crowds, but can't deal with individuals. In fact, I can't offhand think of any time that His apostles tried to bar individuals, that Jesus didn't override them. However, His dealings with individuals was different than popularly depicted.

For instance, I'd say He was pretty rough with the Syrophoenecian woman who pled and pled for Him to help her daughter (Matthew 15:22; note the imperfect ἔκραζεν, "she kept crying and crying"). First Jesus ignored her altogether (v. 23), then He answered rather brusquely (vv. 24, 26). You and I know that love crafted His response, and served to draw out and focus her faith — but His means were light-years removed from the "My precious, precious child"-murmuring bobble-headed "Jesus" of popular sentiment.

Another woman who was amazed at Jesus — but not because of His gloppy agapē — is the woman at the well (John 4). She had a sharp tongue, but soon found that she was crossing swords with her better. And when she tried a hasty grab for a free gift (4:15), He replied, "Tell you what. Go get Me your husband, and we'll talk" (v. 16) — knowing perfectly well that He was jamming the probe right into her very sorest, most infected tissue. No Hallmark sentiments there, no kid-gloves.

Nor did Jesus use kid-gloves in responding to John the Baptist, when the latter was languishing in prison. His response to John seems quite brusque. And so He is with all doubt. While some today pride themselves on "lovingly" coddling doubt and its promoters, the genuinely loving Jesus finds unbelief unbelievable.

Jesus was no less brusque with the distraught father whose son Jesus' apostles could not heal. Jesus apparently addresses them all when He says "O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?", and then tells the father, "Bring your son here" (Luke 9:41). Here we find "coojie-coojie-coo" neither for failed, embarrassed apostles nor for anxious father. (But He does heal the lad.)

And of course to bring up the apostles is to be confronted by more of the same. Jesus was patient with them, He bore with them, He loved them — but He never flattered them, and He seldom coddled them. The narrative of His schooling is one of repeatedly throwing them into choppy water well over their heads, urging them to swim better, and frankly berating them when they don't. Jesus frequently rebukes them, frequently challenges them, frequently (we would say) insults them. Or do you think ὀλιγόπιστοι ("micro-faith"; Matthew 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; Luke 12:28) is a compliment?

In fact, I daresay that the very greatest display of Jesus' love for His own was, at the same time, coupled with the greatest smashing of their pride, the greatest crossing of their will, and the airiest dismissal of their felt-needs. I speak, of course, of the Cross.

Peter was still glowing with pleasure over Jesus' pronouncement of blessing (Matthew 16:17-19), when Jesus began openly predicting His coming rejection and death on the cross (v. 21). Peter took Jesus aside and began rebuking (!) Him (v. 22).

And how did Jesus respond? "My precious, precious child, blah blah blah"? Not so much. "I know you mean well, but listen"? Not really. "I feel touched that you..."? No.

How about, in front of everyone, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (v. 23). Yowch. Yet thus spake Love Incarnate.

In going to the Cross, Jesus was telling them they could do nothing for themselves. He was telling them all of their efforts amounted to zero. What's more, He was meeting none of their felt needs. They felt the need for Him to stay around, beat the Romans, and make everything peachy. He did none of that.

Yet He did do exactly what they needed Him to do, and did it at great cost to Himself.

This, by the way, is what many are itching the flood the meta with — how were any of these instances displays of love? That was my point: they weren't — as we measure love, as the RPB contingent and the cosmophiliites measure love. Love (we learn from Jesus) isn't primarily about protecting pride at all costs, shielding feelings, flattering, accommodating, avoiding perceived insult, nor meeting felt needs.

Love is primarily about pursuing what is for the highest and best good of the one loved. Love led Jesus to the Cross, when none of those He loved wanted Him to go there. Love led Jesus to tell the Pharisees what they hated to hear, and hated Him for saying, because (A) they needed to hear it, and (B) their victims needed to hear someone saying it.

That is why Jesus bore with those He treated (to our delicate sentiments) so harshly. It is why He called the apostles "micro-faith" — yet kept pushing them on in faith. Why He ignored the mother — yet, when the apostles told Him to send her away, did not do so, but prodded her again, until He brought her the rest of the way to faith. Why He rebuked Peter, but kept him, and kept with him, and kept working with him. Oh! the surgery would hurt, but oh! it was necessary.

There is so much more to be said, but I leave off here for now. It is critical for us to be challenged by these aspects of our Lord's character, as we learn to show love. But it is no less important for us in understanding His love for us. If our idea of Jesus' love for us is the amorphous steaming mass of goo fantasized by so many, we will be wholly blindsided by His rough, and yet loving, providences (cf. John 11:5-6 NAS).

Jesus' love is not like our "love."

That is why we must learn from Him, and not the reverse.

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18 January 2010

That Looks Really Easy; Why don't You Tell Me how to Do It?

by Phil Johnson

     get this kind of question all the time, so I figured if I blogged an answer, I could just post a link instead of writing a whole new answer every time this comes up:

Dear Phil,

I've heard that you turn transcripts of John MacArthur's sermons into book manuscripts. Can you summarize what is involved in the process and give me a few pointers on how to do it? I've never done anything like that, but it doesn't sound difficult, and I want to help my pastor in my spare time. His sermons are a real blessing to our congregation, very meaty. But he doesn't have anything in print yet and doesn't have time to write. I figure I can get his transcripts ready for printing in book form, and he can just keep preaching. Is there a book or course somewhere that explains how to do this? Or can you just outline what's involved for me? I'm a fast learner and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to do this, especially since he has already basically done all the creative work and compiled the content already. I figure the hardest part is transcribing the message accurately. Am I right?

I don't want to take a lot of your time, but if you could just spend 5 minutes and give me your best pointers, I would appreciate it. So would my pastor, I'm sure.

Thanks for your message. I don't think there's any way to explain in an e-mail message all that is involved in turning sermon transcripts into published prose. It's like playing the piano or being any other kind of artist: while you can teach almost anyone the bare-bones basics, a very large part of the skill set necessary for doing it superbly or professionally is inborn talent, not something that's teachable (or even explainable). All the best editors I know didn't go to school or take a course to learn what they know; they just have a natural gift for the work, and they intuitively know what to do. Even so, all of them would tell you it is grueling work, not for the fainthearted.

Furthermore, most pastors' sermons shouldn't be turned into print form. Sermons lose something important in the process, and even the greatest preaching in the world doesn't easily translate into great writing. (And unless you are already a superbly gifted writer, no matter how great the original material is, you'll never be able to translate it into writing in a way that equals its original greatness.) Preaching is very different from writing, and unless the sermon itself is very fertile with important thoughts and profound insights, it's probably not going to make a viable book anyway. Tell the average Christian publisher that you want to make a book out of a sermon series, and unless you are a preacher with worldwide fame and a following of untold thousands, the publisher isn't likely to be interested anyway, no matter how much the people in that pastor's flock appreciated the sermon series. Sermon series made into books don't generally do very well. There are exceptions, but few.

And even if you're working with some of the greatest sermons ever preached (something I have the wonderful privilege of doing) the labor involved in turning transcripts into prose for publication is quite literally a full-time job—and not a job I would recommend to anyone who can't devote everything to the task. Far more creative energy and ability is required than you could possibly imagine. It is literally harder and more time-consuming to translate someone else's sermons into written prose than it would be to write your own material from scratch. If you're dealing with John MacArthur's sermons, his material will certainly be better than if you wrote your own, but it's still no less work.

Moreover, if I were the world's greatest editor looking for freelance work, I would not propose to edit any preacher's material for publication unless some publisher is already demanding specific works from that preacher. If there's no up-front assurance that what you do will be published, I don't think it's a wise stewardship of your time and energies to do the massive amount of necessary work.

I'm sorry if that sounds discouraging, but I want to be totally candid with you. In short, my advice is this: I gather from what you say that you have no background or training for the work you are describing—and if that's true, my best advice is to look for a ministry that gives you an opportunity to do something you already know how to do well. But even if you are a highly skilled and experienced editor, you shouldn't do what you are proposing at all unless you have the opportunity to work on a project that has already been embraced and committed to by a legitimate publisher. There are many more profitable ways to invest your gifts and energies—and still be a support and encouragement to your pastor.

NOTE: I was called to task in the comment thread (below) for the sound-and-feel of my reply to this inquirer. On re-reading it, I do understand the critics' complaint. But let me explain.

COMPLAINT: "the inquirer knows no more about the work he thinks he would like to do than when he typed the e-mail."

Well, if he actually read my reply, he should know more. When he typed the e-mail, he wrote, "I've never done anything like that, but it doesn't sound difficult."

I told him it is difficult, and that if he has zero experience but thinks this will be a snap, it probably isn't going to be a good career choice for him.

(BTW, I didn't reveal details about who wrote that letter, and I didn't quote all of his letter, but he's not some 7-year-old kid looking for a mentor; he's a person on the precipice of mid-life crisis looking for a career change, hoping to get into something easier and more lucrative than he is currently doing. If you re-read the portion of his message I did quote, it contains several clues suggesting that book editing is not going to be a field in which he will excel.)

I stand by my advice to that fellow. I'm sorry if it sounded abrasive. (I confess that I do have that problem sometimes.) But I still think it was the right advice for this guy, and for the vast majority of people who are halfway to retirement age and have "never done anything like that, but [think] it doesn't sound very difficult."

I have mentored a number of people who became editors and/or writers, and several of them are still working either full time or free-lance in the publishing industry. All of them were college age or slightly older when they started, and they all clearly had an aptitude for the work before they learned anything from me.

As for publishing sermons in book form, it would be interesting to see a list of pastors who have been successful in getting material published in book form (not self-published) by having someone edit their sermons for them. I think the ratio of failures to attempts would more than vindicate my pessimism about such ventures.

Anyway, I'm amazed this e-mail stirred such passion, but I appreciate the feedback, and I'll try to do better.

Phil's signature

17 January 2010

Tongues of Flowers or Tongues of Fire?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Pentecostal Wind and Fire," a sermon preached on Sunday morning, 18 September 1881 at the Met Tab in London.

od meant to have a speaking church: not a church that would fight with the sword—with that weapon we have nought to do—but a church that should have a sword proceeding out of its mouth, whose one weapon should be the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I should think from what I know of some preachers that when they had their Pentecost the influence put upon them in the form of tongues of flowers; but the apostolic Pentecost knew not flowers, but flames.

What fine preaching we have nowadays! What new thoughts, and poetical turns! This is not the style of the Holy Ghost. Soft and gentle is the flow of smooth speech which tells of the dignity of man, the grandeur of the century, the toning down of all punishment for sin, and the probable restoration of all lost spirits, including the arch-fiend himself. This is the Satanic ministry, subtle as the serpent, bland as his seducing words to Eve.

The Holy Ghost calls us not to this mode of speech. Fire, intensity, zeal, passion as much as you will, but as for aiming at effect by polished phrases and brilliant periods—these are fitter for those who would deceive men than for those who would tell them the message of the Most High. The style of the Holy Ghost is one which conveys the truth to the mind in the most forcible manner,—it is plain but flaming, simple but consuming. The Holy Spirit has never written a cold period throughout the whole Bible, and never did he speak by a man a lifeless word, but evermore he gives and blesses the tongue of fire.

C. H. Spurgeon