28 February 2010

How Firm Was Spurgeon's View of the Atonement?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

No punishment required?
Spurgeon and penal substitution revisited

(First posted 26 October 2005)

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. This week, I'm rerunning an old post I encountered while researching my seminar for next week's Shepherds' Conference. (I'll be doing a seminar on the life and controversies of Spurgeon during the conference.) This post explored the question of whether Spurgeon would truly fight for penal substitution against the likes of Steve Chalke, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell, or was he just a quaint old fogey whose understanding of atonement was naive, and hung somewhere between Anselm and Calvin? Read the sermon referred to and linked below if you want Spurgeon's own answer to that question.

   couple of Brit-bloggers, Steve and Sven, both noticed Monday's Spurgeon quote and voiced doubts about whether Spurgeon really believed in the penal-substitution view of the atonement.

Steve writes,

"Pyromaniac digs up this quote by spurgeon, which he belives [sic] is talking about Penal Substitution. Aside from some amusement at the Victor Meldrewness of it, it's an excellent, and typical spurgeon quote, talking about Jesus atoning (at-one-ment—reconciliation) death on the cross."

(For Yank readers who wonder what Steve means, Victor Meldrew was an elderly character in the Britcom One Foot in the Grave, known for his ill-tempered grousing.)

Steve then opines:

"Interestingly while he talks about a recompence [sic] and substititution [sic], he makes no mention of punishment or anything penal. In fact he seems to be fairly clearly talking about the satisfaction model of Atonement (Substitutionary Atonement) which Anselm devloped [sic], before it was developed further by Luther and Calvin into the currently popular penal model."

Actually, in such a context, the recompense Spurgeon spoke of (the payment of which he "fairly clearly" says was "render[ed] to God's justice") is nothing if not punitive. I suppose if you don't understand Spurgeon and aren't familiar with Victorianisms, you might not catch that idea on your initial reading of this particular quote, but for the record, Steve has badly misread what Spurgeon is saying.

Anyway, in a note added after posting, Steve refers his readers to The World of Sven, promising, "Sven says this better."

Sven actually says it much worse: "Spurgeon himself seems to have gotten stuck halfway between Anselm and the classic Reformed position." Sven quotes a sentence from Spurgeon, ("My conscience tells me that I must render to God's justice a recompense for the dishonor that I have done to His law, and I cannot find anything which bears the semblance of such a recompense till I look to Christ Jesus.") and asks:

Doesn't this sound rather more like satisfaction theory rather than the popular version of penal substitution? This is of course slightly problematic, because Anselm (satisfaction theory) and the magisterial Reformers view Christ's death in two very different ways, because of course if Christ makes recompense to God's honour, no punishment is required.(Emphasis added.)
I admit to some amusement at the Arnold Rimmeresque hubris contained in such pronouncements; but Steve and Sven really ought to investigate what Spurgeon actually believed about the atonement before lecturing their readers on the nuances of his view. Spurgeon's view on the atonement was no secret. His outspoken defense of penal substitution was a consistent theme—and not a subtle one—from the beginning of his ministry to his dying gasps at the height of the Downgrade Controversy (in which this very issue of penal substitution was one of the main doctrines in dispute).

Nor would Spurgeon ever have approved of paring back the definition of "at-one-ment" to reconciliation only.

It's extremely irritating that after more than two years of controversy, Steve Chalke and his aficionados still seem blithely ignorant about the historical debate among British Baptists over the doctrine of penal substitution. It's always annoyed me that Chalke, who ministered at Haddon Hall—a chapel founded by Spurgeon's own congregation and named for him—decided to champion this issue, and then has handled the ensuing controversy in such a clumsy and perfunctory way.

Here's a message where Spurgeon explains himself with absolute clarity and without the Victorian euphemisms. Whenever Spurgeon spoke of "substitutionary atonement," here, in his own words, is what he had in mind:

"The doctrine of Holy Scripture is this, that inasmuch as man could not keep God's law, having fallen in Adam, Christ came and fulfilled the law on the behalf of his people; and that inasmuch as man had already broken the divine law and incurred the penalty of the wrath of God, Christ came and suffered in the room, place, and stead of his elect ones, that so by his enduring the full vials of wrath, they might be emptied out and not a drop might ever fall upon the heads of his blood-bought people."

"Christ—Our Substitute" is one of my all-time favorite Spurgeon sermons, because Spurgeon's passion is conveyed in the words. You don't have to know what he actually sounded like to sense the fervor with which he defended the atonement against the Steve Chalkes of his day:

SpurgeonThese are the new men whom God has sent down from heaven, to tell us that the apostle Paul was all wrong, that our faith is vain, that we have been quite mistaken, that there was no need for propitiating blood to wash away our sins; that the fact was, our sins needed discipline, but penal vengeance and righteous wrath are quite out of the question. When I thus speak, I am free to confess that such ideas are not boldly taught by a certain individual whose volume excites these remarks, but as he puffs the books of gross perverters of the truth, I am compelled to believe that he endorses such theology.

Well, brethren, I am happy to say that sort of stuff has not gained entrance into this pulpit. I dare say the worms will eat the wood before there will be anything of that sort sounded in his place; and may these bones be picked by vultures, and this flesh be rent in sunder by lions, and may every nerve in this body suffer pangs and tortures, ere these lips shall give utterance to any such doctrines or sentiments.

There's lots of picturesque and painfully blunt language in this sermon, but if I get started quoting it, I won't know where to stop. It reads like it was aimed at Steve Chalke himself. Read the sermon for yourself. It's a good one.

And, by the way, there are many more where this one came from. Fans of Steve Chalke need to face up to the reality that Spurgeon is no friend of anything Chalke stands for.

Phil's signature

27 February 2010

Weekend Bonus Material

by Frank Turk

I was catching up on podcasts last night and I heard the Southern Seminary video podcast of Al Mohler's round-table discussion about the movie Avatar, which I found a little confusing but pretty thought-provoking. Because it's Dr. Mohler I'm completely willing to concede that the things about the discussion which confused me were because Al Mohler has a brain the size of Jupiter and I have, well, salted peanuts.

Anyway, somehow I received a link to the "Big" Blog at SeattlePI.com which was also about a discussion of Avatar -- by Mark Driscoll.

Quoth the patriarch of Mars Hill:
The world tempts you to sin, to use people, to disobey God, to live for your own glory instead of his own, to be a consumer instead of generous, that's the world system.

And if you don't believe me, go see Avatar, the most demonic, satanic film I've ever seen. That any Christian could watch that without seeing the overt demonism is beyond me. I logged on to christianitytoday.com and the review was reflective of Christianity today, very disappointing. See, in that movie, it is a completely false ideology, it's a sermon preached. It's the most popular movie ever made, and it tells you that the creation mandate, the cultural mandate is bad, that we shouldn't, we shouldn't develop culture, that's a bad thing.
I mention it only because it's the weekend and it's not likely, therefore, to turn into a big thing.

You can watch/listen to the Southern Seminary discussion here. I think that Avatar presents a false worldview is an unquestionable truth. The rest is open for discussion, and that's why we leave the comments open.

UPDATED: I forgot to mention that DJP has an extremely-intersting review of Avatar which you ought to consider as well.

26 February 2010

"Unquestioning Christians" and Atheistic Bluster

by Phil Johnson

   don't encourage anyone to hang around the infidel sectors of the Internet or interact on a large scale with the many missionaries of skepticism who inhabit those districts. They love to vent their hatred of God along with copious amounts of profanity, smutty language, lewd innuendo, blind rage, and pathologically pugnacious attitudes wherever they can find an unmoderated forum. Face it: a sewage-flow like that is not a healthy thing to expose oneself to.

That's not to suggest I think Christians should be unaware of or unprepared to meet atheists' pet arguments against Christianity. In fact, it is every believer's duty not only to sanctify the Lord Jesus (i.e., honor Him as holy) in your heart; but also to be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). (The how is crucial, too: "do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame"—vv. 15-16).

Well, the atheists of cyberspace have had this little meme going for months called "Signs That You Are An Unquestioning Christian." Actually, the 10-list has been around for at least five years, but someone made it into a really badly-formatted motivational-style poster and the jpeg has recently been cropping up all over the place. Here's the bad graphic, followed by the list in a more readable format:

Ten Signs You Are an Unquestioning Christian
  1. You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of your God.
  2. You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
  3. You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Trinity God.
  4. Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and animals.
  5. You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
  6. You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (4.55 billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by prehistoric tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
  7. You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs - though excluding those in all rival sects - will spend eternity in an infinite hell of suffering. Yet, you consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
  8. While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
  9. You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% failure was simply the will of God.
  10. You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.

Now, let's be clear: no sound Christian suggests that blind, "unquestioning" credulity is a good thing. A puerile kind of fideism—faith in faith itself—often masquerades as Christianity, but it's not. There are a lot of false Christians out there, and some shallow self-styled "evangelicals" who absolutely fit the descriptions of nos. 8 and 10. Shame on them. But for the record, those aren't characteristics of true, historic Christianity.

Apparently, this list is also supposed to represent some of atheism's most iron-clad nuclear arguments against Christianity per se. (At least that's the way the atheistic consensus on the Web seems to regard the meme.) I find it totally unimpressive as an apologetic for atheism, but I do occasionally hear from Christians who have been confronted with one or more of these arguments (or others like them) who want help giving an answer.

So that's what I propose to do here at TeamPyro over the next couple of weeks. We'll take these ten arguments two or three at a time and examine them. What are the claims and presuppositions these ten arguments make? Are they really accurate? Is there a biblical answer to each of these challenges, and is it a reasonable answer?

If you are stumped by any of these ten arguments, you certainly don't need to be. Let's talk about them together. We'll start today with a preliminary question: Which of the ten arguments (if any) troubles you the most?

Bonus: Be sure to see this comment from the February 2005 post linked above, where the agnostic woman who made the post emphatically proclaims her own superior open-mindedness, then immediately declares the conversation over with this curt dictum: "I don't want to talk about this anymore. We will never agree, and I have better things to do."

Phil's signature

25 February 2010

Colossians studies 3: the false teachers (?)

by Dan Phillips

As I mentioned last time, the little church in Colosse was being threatened by false teaching.  In time, I hope to show you that understanding as much as we can about the false teaching — and, particularly, observing how Paul responded to it — is extremely helpful and instructive to us in our current situation.

I also mentioned that it is common to identify the opposition in Colosse as (A) a group of (B) Gnostic false teachers. I have seen studies debating just how Gnostic they were (and more studies and sermons simply and flatly asserting that they were Gnostics), but I've never seen the number of false teachers debated, nor even discussed.

For instance, the recent, excellent NT introduction by D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo (Zondervan: 20052) discusses whether the false teaching can be called Gnostic in any sense, what its elements seem to be, and even whether there was any specific identifiable heresy in Colosse (526-529). But in describing the opposition, they simply write, "The apostle had heard that some false teachers had come to Colosse, so he wrote to refute their errors..." (523, emphases added).

Similarly, in N. T. Wright's earlier TNTC commentary on Colossians (IVP: 1986) he spoke only of "false teachers," plural. Even on 2:18, where Paul uses the singular, Wright wrote that "Paul describes these people as ‘entering into—their own visions!’ All they have discovered in their vaunted mystical experiences is a set of imaginary fantasies" (128).

In spite of this unargued consensus, I noticed something consistently in the text of Colossians sent my thinking in a fresh direction. As I said, given that far better men that I evidently have seen no such thing, I may well be wrong. However, given that greater understanding and greater attention to details is always helpful, I think it's at least worth a thought.

Let's start by isolating every verse that directly mentions the opposition in Colosse. Here you go (all are my ad hoc translations, bolding added):
  • 2:4 — "I say this that no one should delude you with persuasive arguments."
  • 2:8 — "Keep looking out lest there shall be someone who takes you hostage through empty, deceptive philosophy, in accord with the tradition of men, in accord with the rudiments of the world, and not in accord with Christ:"
  • 2:16 — "Therefore, stop letting someone judge you in eating and in drinking, and in respect to a festival or new moon or sabbath day,...."
  • 2:18-19a — "Stop letting anyone rule you out, delighting in humiliation and worship of the angels, going into detail about things he has experienced, being inflated without cause by the mind of his flesh, and not holding fast to the Head...."
With those in mind, note these mentions of opponents in other epistles:
  • "Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. ... 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.  13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:5, 12-15)
  • "...there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ." (Galatians 1:7)
  • "They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them." (Galatians 4:17)
  • "I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!" (Galatians 5:12)
  • "For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh." (Galatians 6:13)
  • "Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh." (Philippians 3:2)
  • "As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,  4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. ...6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions" (1 Timothy 1:3-4, 6-7)
  • "For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.  11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach" (Titus 1:10-11)
What do you notice? Every one of the mentions in Colossians is in the singular, both pronouns and verbs. The other epistles regularly speak of the opposition in the plural.

Now, this isn't an exhaustive study of every mention of false teachers in every other letter. But I do note that even when Paul uses a singular (i.e. 2 Corinthians 11:4), he'll shift right back into plural (11:5, 12ff.).

So I surmise that there was one charismatic and potentially influential false teacher in Colosse, who was threatening to exert a dangerous influence among believers. I don't think we should speak of the false teachers in Colosse, but the false teacher. At any rate, that's all we have direct authority to identify.

Some might quite appositely point to Colossians 2:8 and 22, where Paul mentions the traditions, commandments and teachings "of men." But 2:8 says to beware of someone, some individual, who teaches these things. Besides, in every other occurrence of τῶν ἀνθρώπων ("of men"), Paul is speaking of mankind, not of specific men (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 1:25; 13:1; Ephesians 3:5; 4:14). Indeed, the ESV translates both occurrences in Colossians as "human."

If I'm reading it right, then, while the other epistles help us see how Paul responded to movements and teachings, Colossians will specifically show how the apostle goes up against one big name, one heretical proto-televangelist, who perhaps could fill the auditoriums of his day and rivet crowds with his personal teachings and experiences and revelations.

What will Paul do? Find dirt on the man's private life? Focus on the way he dresses or lives, or how much money he gets or spends, or what rumors are told of him? How will the apostle respond to this one charismatic false teacher who is threatening to unravel this young church?

First, Lord willing, let us identify what we can of the man's doctrines.  (Was he a Gnostic, like everyone says?  What did he teach?) Next time. Then we can see how Paul responded.

Dan Phillips's signature

24 February 2010

Ordinary Means

by Frank Turk

God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure. (WCF, V.3)

I dropped the ball last week on Wednesday, forgetting to post something even though I had a couple of decent things in the hopper.

The one I want to post today is about the singular problem with Calvinism – which is, Calvinists.

Imagine you were talking with two friends: one’s a fellow reformed “Ø” and the other is a marginal believer or an unbeliever. As the conversation turns to something that happens in the real world – something like success at work, or your marriage (which can be good or bad), or how your church runs, or any number of things we live with all the time.

Your unbelieving friend is eventually going to say something like this:

“I really don’t know how to cope with this. I have no idea what I can do to make it right.”

Now, listen: if your Calvinists friend says, “well, it’s all up to a sovereign God anyway, so what ‘you do’ isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be – in fact it may not matter at all. It’s all in God’s hands,” immediately do something to shut his mouth.

Now: why shut his mouth? I mean – God is sovereign, right? God is in charge of the things going on in the universe. God is the creator and sustainer of all things. So when this fellow says, “well, SDG, whatever – it rains on the just and the unjust,” in response to some person’s plea for help, this person’s plea that he cannot control the universe and feels helpless because things are going poorly, it’s sort of “right” to say, “well, God is in control.”

Yes, BUT –

Part of the way God is in control of things is by His revelation of decrees (like the Law) and "good advice" (like the Proverbs). That is: part of the way God is in control of the Cosmos is that there are ordinary means for achieving ordinary parts of His sovereign will for all things.

For example: your marriage. There’s no question that it’s really impossible for two people to have a wholly-holy marriage apart from the sanctifying grace of God. Cannot happen.

BUT many people who are not even believers have a marriage that works insofar as it actually follows the purpose and guidance God has given for such a thing. That is, even if it is not spiritually profitable, it turns out to be materially profitable and emotionally profitable and relationally profitable.

This is because after the primary purpose of Scripture (that is: being about Christ; revealing him to us), there is another purpose of Scripture, that being as our tutor. It teaches us how people who believe this stuff live as if it is true. There are ordinary means, ordained by God – that is, the normal way things work. So, for example, if you train up a child in the way he should go, ordinarily when he grows old, he will not depart from them. Ordinarily, when you teach your children diligently what the law of the LORD is, it will go well for you. Ordinarily, If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.

And in all of this, we take refuge in a few things:

[1] That we obey not for the sake of what it ordinarily accomplishes, but because we believe that God is wiser than we are. We shouldn’t have to invent what it means to believe him over and over when he has already spelled it out. His sovereignty actually starts in the means and doesn’t just reside in the ends. He’s not God just because what he wanted to happen was finally accomplished: he’s God and sets forth for us all the works, too.

[2] That we obey knowing this is actually how God ordinarily accomplished his plan, trusting and actually placing our hope in him and not in the work. Sometimes the work looks completely foolish. Since we are fools anyway, we should be glad that God can use even that for His ends – and they are His means after all.

[3] The sovereignty of God gives us hope and does not put us in a place where we are humiliated or over-awed into inaction or despair. In fact: we need to see all the means God uses to instruct as the way He reveals that there is hope for those who believe Him.

It is utterly true that God may do as he pleases: God is free to work without, above, and against normal means, at his pleasure. But He is also not a capricious being. He is a savior to the weak, and a God who loves those who have hated him and even still today do hate him.

This is why He is great and we are not. And this is why it’s critical to believe in his sovereignty – not to believe that we are somehow merely pawns, but to know that in doing what the maker and sustainer of all things has prescribed, we demonstrate our love and trust in him.

23 February 2010

Colossians studies 2: the church's founding, and its foundering

by Dan Phillips

From the opening words of the epistle, we learn that the church in Colosse had its inception in sound doctrine.

This is a necessity for any Christian church. The church at large is built on good doctrine. When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus said He would build His (yet-future) church on that foundation: on the confessed truth of His deity (Matthew 16:13-18). As He predicted, so it happened. The inaugural sermon of the Christian church was the preaching of Christ, leading to a mass confession of Christ as Lord (Acts 2).

As it is with the universal church, so it is with any local church. A church of Christ must be build on the foundation of the preached truth of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). Paul says categorically that no other foundation can be laid than Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to lay a foundation of Jesus Christ? Clearly Paul does not mean that he is pulling Jesus down from the Father's right hand, and constructing an edifice on Him. Obviously what Paul must mean in-context is Jesus Christ as preached and believed. It is the true doctrine of Jesus Christ that is laid as a foundation by preaching; it is the confession of Christ as preached by the apostles that is the foundation of the church, of any Christian church. Without that, there can be no church of Christ.

The church of Christ, then, is founded on doctrine, on theology, specifically on Christology.

This was the start that the Colossians got. See 1:4-7, where Paul speaks of
having heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and the love which you have for all the holy ones, 5on account of the hope which is laid away for you in the heavens, of which you heard before in the word of the truth, the good news, 6which has come to you, just as also in all the world it is bearing fruit of itself and growing just as also among you, from the day in which you heard it and came to know fully the grace of God in truth; 7just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-slave, who is a faithful servant of Christ for your sake... (DPUV)
So far, so good.

However, the little church had run into a problem. As it had begun by sound doctrine, so now it was being threatened by sick doctrine.

Who or what was behind it? It is difficult to say, impossible to be absolutely certain. Paul doesn't name some aberrant cult or sect. He doesn't talk about Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Roman Catholics, Christian Scientists, Gnostics, or any other identifiable false sect. We are left to piece things together from the indications within the letter, both the subtle and the obvious.

Commentators tend to assume that a group of false teachers were exerting a baleful influence. It is common to read of “the false teachers” in Colosse, and of "the Colossean heresy." Even more, it is very common for writers and preachers to identify them positively as Gnostics, a movement visible in the second century and beyond.

Here's where I strike out on my own, with a position I haven't seen anyone else take. This probably means I'm wrong. But I'll tell you what I think, and why I think it, leaving you to make your own judgment.

Next time, Lord willing.

Dan Phillips's signature

21 February 2010

A Plea for Courage in the Defense of the Truth

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 Church of God and the Truth of God," a sermon preached at the New Park Street Chapel on Sunday morning 14 September 1856, when Spurgeon was barely 23 years old.

emember how your fathers, in times gone by, defended God's truth, and blush, ye cowards, who are afraid to maintain it!

Remember that our Bible is a blood-stained book; the blood of martyrs is on the Bible, the blood of translators and confessors. The pool of holy baptism, in which many of you have been baptized, is a blood-stained pool: full many have had to die for the vindication of that baptism which is "the answer of a good conscience toward God."

The doctrines which we preach to you are doctrines that have been baptized in blood,—swords have been drawn to slay the confessors of them; and there is not a truth which has not been sealed by them at the stake, or the block, or far away on the lofty mountains, where they have been slain by hundreds. It is but a little duty we have to discharge compared with theirs. They were called to maintain the truth when they had to die for it; you only have to maintain the truth when taunt and jeer, ignominious names and contemptuous epithets are all you have to endure for it.

What! do you expect easy lives? While some have led through seas of blood, and have fought to win the prize, are you wearied with a slight skirmish on dry land? What would you do if God should suffer persecuting days to overtake you? O craven spirits, ye would flee away, and disown your profession!

Be ye the pillar and ground of the truth. Let the blood of martyrs, let the voices of confessors, speak to you. Remember how they held fast the truth, how they preserved it, and handed it down to us from generation to generation; and by their noble example, I beseech you, be steadfast and faithful, tread valiantly and firmly in their steps, acquit yourselves like men,—like men of God, I implore you!

Shall we not have some champions, in these times, who will deal sternly with heresies for the love of the truth,—men who will stand like rocks in the center of the sea, so that, when all others shake, they stand invulnerable and invincible? Thou who art tossed about by every wind of doctrine, farewell; I own thee not till God shall give thee grace to stand firm for his truth, and not to be ashamed of him nor of his words in this evil generation.

C. H. Spurgeon

19 February 2010

Jingoistic "Contextualization"

by John MacArthur

The excerpt below is from John MacArthur's preface to his recently-released third edition of Ashamed of the Gospel. Pastors who attend the Shepherds' Conference this year will receive a free copy of the book. People already on the Grace to You mailing list will be offered a free copy by mail. Everyone else should buy the book. It's a profound critique of market-driven church leadership and the decline of the evangelical movement.

y the early '90s American evangelicalism was shamelessly imitating virtually every worldly fad. Church leaders and church-growth strategists openly described the gospel as a commodity to be sold at market, and the predictable result was a frantic attempt to make the gospel into the kind of product most buyers wanted. The conventional wisdom was that sophisticated marketing strategies were far more effective than gospel proclamation for reaching the "unchurched" multitudes. No one, it seemed, wanted to challenge that notion, which was buttressed with countless opinion polls. And who could argue with the obvious "success" of several entertainment-oriented megachurches?

Western evangelicals had been gradually losing interest in biblical preaching and doctrinal instruction for decades. The church in America had become weak, worldly, and man-centered. Evangelical ears were itching for something more hip and entertaining than biblical preaching (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3), and business-savvy evangelical pundits declareed that it was foolish not to give people what they demanded. Without pragmatic methodologies numerical growth would be virtually impossible, they insisted—even though such pragmatism was manifestly detrimental to spiritual growth.

Churches were starving spiritually while overdosing on entertainment. A few prosperous megachurches masked the tragedy with incredibly large attendance figures, but anyone who took time to examine the trajectory could see that Western evangelicalism was in serious trouble.

By contrast, the beleagured Iron-Curtain churches were hungry for biblical teaching, steadily gaining spiritual strength, and growing numerically on the strength of bold gospel ministry. After years of communist oppression, they were finally free to preach Christ openly, and that is precisely what they did. They were flourishing as a result.

Most Russian pastors had no formal training, so they sought help from the West in the areas of hermeneutics and doctrine. (That's how I got involved with them.) The most mature and discerning leaders in the Iron-Curtain churches were wary of influences from the West. Frankly, I shared their concern and appreciated their caution. I was convinced that even the weakest of their churches could teach evangelicals in America a lot about the biblical approach to church growth. They understood that no legitimate church-growth strategy should ever fail to recognize the truth of John 15:19-20: "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also."

When the Iron Curtain fell, however, "missionaries" from the West flooded the former Soviet Union, not so much with gospel-oriented resources and Bible-study tools, but with highly questionable evangelistic strategies—and with the same poisonous philosophy of church growth that had made Western evangelicalism so superficial and worldly. Russian church leaders were appalled that so many tawdry trends came into their culture from the West under the pretense of evangelism. I was offended, too—and embarrassed.

I remember watching glitzy American televangelists with comically big hair peddling their health-and-wealth message and other false gospels on Russian television during my earliest trips to Moscow. They probably had little effect on healthy Russian churches, but they injected a seriously false gospel into the public perception, totally confusing millions. Soviet people had been indoctrinated with atheism and shielded from the truth of Scripture. They therefore had no means of distinguishing truth from falsehood in religion. So much false Christianity on television no doubt innoculated multitudes against the real gospel.

I also remember seeing a parade of "student missionaries" from America putting on a variety show in a public square in Kiev, using every circus trick from jugglers to clowns, and every wordless type of entertainment from mimes to interpretive dance, all claiming to communicate "the gospel"—or something spiritual-sounding—across the language barrier. I frankly could not be certain what the actual message was supposed to be. I have a fairly good grasp of the gospel as Scripture presents it, and that was not the message being pantomimed in Independence Square. Again, I was embarrassed for the church in the West.

Back in America, these performances were being reported as serious evangelistic work. Judging from the numbers of supposed converts claimed, we might have expected churches in the Iron-Curtain countries to be doubling and quadrupling on a monthly basis.

Russian and Ukranian Churches were indeed growing, but the evangelistic buskers and street artists from the West had nothing to do with that. Those churches grew because Russian Christians, now free to proclaim the gospel openly, preached repentance from sin and faith in Christ to their neighbors. The response was remarkable. I sat in many Russian worship services for hours at a time, hearing convert after convert publicly repent—renouncing former sins and declaring faith in Christ to the gathered church, always in standing-room-only crowds. It was the polar opposite of what American church-growth gurus insisted was absolutely necessary. But it was just like watching the book of Acts unfold in real life.

As a matter of fact, most of the Westerners who rushed to the former Soviet Union when communism collapsed missed the real signs of church growth in those years because they completely ignored the churches that were already there. They started parachurch organizations, opted for pure media ministry, sponsored Punch-and-Judy shows in the public square, or tried to start new churches modeled on Western worldly styles. Most of the visible results of that sort of "evangelistic" and church-planting activity proved to be blessedly short-lived.

What did last was by no means all good. Americans injected into that culture a style of worldly evangelicalism that is now gaining traction and causing confusion within the Russian-speaking churches. Those churches that had weathered decades of government harassment and public ridicule now have to contend with something much subtler but a thousand times worse: trendy methods from American evangelicals—gimmicks and novelties that diminish practically everything truly important in favor of things that appeal to people's baser instincts.

By far the most subtle and dangerous Western influences came in through church-growth experts, missiologists, and professional pollsters. Unlike the televangelists and street performers, these academicians managed to gain a platform within Russian-speaking churches. They were trusted because they were writers, career missionaries, seminary professors with credentials, and even pastors. They brought loads of books and ideas, virtually all of them advocating a highly pragmatic approach to ministry that was foreign in every sense to a church that had lived under communist persecution for the better part of a century.

One struggles to imagine anything more grossly inappropriate than the fad-chasing pragmatism that was deliberately injected into Russian and eastern European churches by Westerners tinkering with theories about contextualization. But the influx of shallow evangelicalism into Russia in the early '90s was barely the tip of the iceberg. Thanks to various means of instant, inexpensive mass communications, the stultifying influence of dysfunctional American religion soon inundated the entire world. The Internet in particular suddenly opened the floodgates so that it became impossible to contain and control such nonsense. Within just a few years, evangelical gimmickery became the most visible and influential expression of Western "spirituality" worldwide.

The poison of religious pragmatism is now an enormous global problem.

I've often marveled at how much American evangelicals talk about the importance of "contextualization" compared to how little care they take when real cross-cultural communication is necessary. Head scarves (babushkas) and modest clothing were emblems of submission for Christian women in the persecuted church (as was the case in Corinthian culture—cf. 1 Cor. 11:5-6). Blitzing post-communist Russia with western pop culture and televangelist hairdos was probably the most culturally-insensitive thing Western Christians could have done to their poor and oppressed brethren just emerging from behind the Iron Curtain.

John MacArthur's signature

18 February 2010

Colossians: the city, its inhabitants, its church

by Dan Phillips

I enjoyed sharing with you some reflections from one of my favorite books — Colossians — and decided I'd follow in Frank's footsteps, and start a series of occasional posts, drawing from the notes of my detailed study in the letter.

What Was Colosse? Colosse was located in the Roman province of Asia, built on the southern bank of the Lycus River, which is a tributary of the Maeander River (Hiebert's Introduction).The Greek historian Herodotus called it a “great city” in the fifth century, and Xenophon called it a “populous city, wealthy and large” a century later (O’Brien). By Paul’s time, however, it had been surpassed by neigh¬boring Laodicea (10 mi. W, founded and named in wife’s honor by Antiochus II [261-246 BC]) and Hierapolis (12 mi. NW); still had a thriving wool industry, however, and a color of wool named after it.

Importance of location. At this point the Lycus Valley is 10 mi. X 2 mi., “walled in by great precipices (Hiebert). It is “a strategic spot on the important highway from Ephesus to” the Euphrates Valley (ibid.) For this reason, it would host travellers going back and forth from the distant spots of Rome and the Euphrates Valley. I'll refer back to this when I talk about the "Colossian heresy," DV, as I will also refer to...

Populus. Colosse would have had plenty of native Phrygians and Greek settlers (O’Brien). Josephus said that Antiochus III (“the Great”; 223-187 BC [new ISBE]) moved 2000 Jewish families into Lydia and Phrygia. Note: these Jews were not brought in from Palestine, but from Babylonia and Mesopotamia (O’Brien, p. xxvii). In ca. 62 BC it is calculated that there were about 11,000 free Jew¬ish males in nearby Laodicea (O’Brien, p. xxvii). So the populus was a mixture of
  • Native Phrygians
  • Greek settlers
  • Jews via Babylon and Mesopotamia
The church in Colosse. Who founded it? It was not Paul (cf. 2:1); rather, Epaphras, himself a native Colossian (cf. 4:12), was the founder (cf. 1:5-7).

What was Paul's involvement, then? See the account of his ministry in Acts 19:8-10. During this extended ministry, the word of the Lord spread abroad, drawing many to saving faith. I would surmise that Epaphras was one of Paul’s converts during this time. The apostle instructed Epaphras of Christ and the Good News, then Epaphras returned to his hometown area, evangelized, and started at least one church in Colosse. Ephaphras still carried the apostle's commendation as a faithful preacher of the Gospel (1:7), and a servant of Christ Jesus (4:12)

But then after the planting of the church, Epaphras ran into some trouble, which I plan to study with you in a future post. He went to Paul in Rome for some help — which he got, in the form of this power-packed little jewel of a letter.

To be continued, Lord willing....

SERIES NOTE: unless specified, all translations from Colossians are my own ad hoc renderings of the Greek text, as are translations from other books when designated DPUV [Dan Phillips' Unauthorized Version]. Unspecified translations from other books are ESV.

Dan Phillips's signature

16 February 2010

Steve Brown's "Grace in the Church" course at RTS: impressions and analysis

by Dan Phillips

Between this blog and my own, I've reviewed books, movies, software and music. To that, a couple of years ago on my blog, I added a review of a seminary course offered at Reformed Theological Seminary in Florida, taught by Steve Brown. This is an edited consolidation of two posts from there. The course I'm reviewing is available via their virtual campus presence on iTunes. Brown is a Presbyterian (PCA) pastor who's an author, pastor, seminary prof, and radio host. Brown is Professor of Preaching at RTS. I'm no Brown-specialist; this review is of one specific course. I have heard Key Life a few times, and saw a snippet of a cable-type TV show Brown did in which he had friendly arguments with the execrable Tony Campolo (I think this is the series). Now, to the course.

Among a number of courses I listened to from Reformed Theological Seminary was thirty-seven lectures on grace by Steve Brown.

In style, they're winsome, occasionally thought-provoking, and really irritating — not in a good way. Brown dispenses counsel and makes statements that I think are flat-out irresponsible. But because he's PCA, he's teaching at RTS, and he disagrees with Tony Campolo, I listened to the entire series in an effort to get his point.

Here's what I came away with.

First, my Summary Statement: Brown says a number of valuable, useful and true things in a winsome, easy-listening manner — however, he encrusts all that in so much that is irresponsible, reckless, harmful and/or garbage that I could never recommend him without a list of warnings and qualifications so long it would look like what you get with a new prescription ("Here are the ways this medicine could kill or horribly disfigure you for life:....").

Here are my main thoughts and observations:
  1. I want to trade my whiny, nasal voice for Brown's basement-deep, resonant voice.
  2. Brown comes across as an eminently likable fellow.
  3. Brown says a number of thought-provoking things. Though he doesn't develop it Biblically at any length, he says "God isn't mad at you anymore." For the Christian, true (Romans 8:1) — and praise God for it. Brown says God never disciplines Christians because He's mad at them. Brown says "nothing is perfect, nothing is forever, and you aren't home yet." Mostly true. Brown says, When a dog plays checkers, you don't criticize his game; you're just pleased and surprised that he's playing at all. (The point being, I think, that we wouldn't be so shocked at our failures if we didn't have such a high opinion of ourselves.) True. Brown says that when pain exceeds payback, real change becomes possible. Good point. Brown criticizes phony airs Christians feel they have to put on in front of other Christians, our failure to extend anything like grace and compassion towards one another. Too true.
  4. The man has more stories and illustrations than Methuselah. The whole course is heavy on stories and anecdotes but offers next to nothing in terms of Scripture
  5. This is a big weakness. In theory, Brown constantly claims that everything he says is Reformed and Biblical and sound and true. In practice, he doesn't seem to feel the need to root much of it in Scripture. The entire course featured only a relatively few allusions-to/citations-of Scripture, and no extensive exegesis or exposition. He keeps asserting that his students can look it up, or that he's got a ton of Biblical backup, or that he'd normally give Bible but since they're seminary students he won't (?!). Brown rests it all on a case he never makes Biblically.
  6. More than anything, Brown comes off like a guy who's latched on to a true and Biblical concept (grace), detached it from the Bible, loaded it with his own ideas and concepts and implications, and made a career of it. (We warned against that danger back in 2006, and again in 2008... and probably several other times.)
  7. To his credit, Brown constantly urged his two classes to feel free to challenge him Biblically. To their discredit (in my I-wasn't-there opinion), they never did. Perhaps they started out convinced.
  8. All of the alarms I have begun to sound and will develop in a moment are borne out in this comment thread. In that thread, one Christian brother attempts to bring the Bible to bear on some of what Brown says and does. Granted, he doesn't do it in the nicest way, but he does it faithfully. By and large, the host of respondents do not even attempt to engage the Bible. They respond in
    Brownisms. This is a huge red light. Much as Brown denies that he wants to make Brownite disciples, that is exactly what he is doing. Since they can't see it in Scripture, they must depend on Steve Brown's thoughts, his ideas, his cute sayings, his insights, his experiences, his stories. That is a necessary and unavoidable consequence of giving endless podium-time to stories, illustrations, and cute sayings instead of exposition of the text of Scripture, and then development of a system from that text. People come away knowing Brown, not Scripture, and therefore — I fear — not necessarily knowing God.
  9. Brown says some things that are absolutely, barkingly, wildly irresponsible; and if his students take any of them seriously, they will ruin their ministries, themselves, and other people. For instance:
    (A) Brown says that, when one is preparing a sermon, and he thinks of saying something but his conscience or judgment tells him he shouldn'the should anyway! Because that's probably God talking to him. (I can imagine the jaws of dozens of readers who are pastors, hitting the floor.) So, in the Brown universe, verses like Proverbs 10:19; 12:18; 15:28; 17:27; 21:23; and 29:20 are not nearly so important as expressing oneself in a personal pursuit of "grace."
    (B) Brown also tells Christians they should disagree with their pastor once a month, period, just because it's healthy for their assertiveness. The spirit of 1 Corinthians 16:15-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; and Hebrews 13:7 and 17, not so much.
    (C) Brown speaks of a Christian leader who fell morally, badly, and says in effect that he's glad he did, because it was good for him. Too bad about the guy's family and church and witness and ministry and all, and God's reputation, I guess.
    (D) Brown urges all of them to cuss. Just to do it. I don't recall an exposition of Ephesians 4:29. I guess he already did all that, somewhere, or it was in his notes.
    Brown keeps talking about dialogues he has with God, and quoting (usually without qualification) things God supposedly says to him, Steve Brown, that are not in Scripture. But it's okay, remember, don't be alarmed — because he says believes in the Reformed position on the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible, and he isn't a charismatic, and maybe he's hearing God wrong. (Those are his "covers.") Yet Brown natters on about things God says to him, about God laughing, and a bunch of dribble attributed to God — and Brown isn't talking about the Bible. Which, as you know...yikes. Fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul.
  10. Brown says weird things about repentance. I listened twice, and still can't quite explain his position. Brown denies the Biblical teaching that repentance means a change of mind which necessarily issues in adorning fruitful actions... though those elements come back into his teaching at other points. Brown says that he used to teach something like that forgiveness was apologizing for spilling the milk, repentance was cleaning it up. He now regards that as a terrible error and false teaching, for which he apologized everywhere he had preached it. Repentance is not change, Brown insists emphatically. It is understanding who God is and what He did and who I am (?!!). This takes me right back to my pre-Christ days in the cult of Religious Science. It turns the crisp Biblical call to action into a New Agey realization. No longer is repentance a decisive change of mind that issues in a change of behavior, because we can't change (Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:20; Romans 12:1-2 and etc. to the contrary notwithstanding).
  11. Don't really love the plethora pop-psychology and faddish phrases, like "giving [this and that person — including God] permission" to do or be something.
  12. Brown says people should burn Dave Hunt's book that criticizes Richard Foster (because Foster is a hero of Brown's); and he told a whole audience to burn John MacArthur's The Gospel According to Jesuswhen he hadn't even read it! So Hunt's bad, MacArthur's bad, yet....
  13. Again and again Brown trots out his creds: I am a Christian, I am orthodox, I am Reformed, I am a five-pointer, I am conservative, I believe in literal 6-day creation, and on and on. But then Brown says...
    (A) ...that if this unsaved Jewish rabbi he personally likes doesn't go to Heaven, Brown doesn't want to go, either. Now, what is that supposed to mean? The words mean that the Christ-rejecting rabbi's presence is more important to Brown than Jesus' presence. Surely Brown doesn't mean that. But he said it.
    (B) Brown says that there are no "super-Christians," except maybe (Mary-worshiping proponent of a Gospel-perverting sect) "Mother" Theresa, and (longtime doctrinal compromiser) Billy Graham. In other words, these two may well be above every other living Christian, including John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, and everyone else.
    (C) Brown frequently speaks of how much insight he's gotten from this or that Roman Catholic or otherwise heretical writer, on various aspects of Christian living.
    (D) Brown enthuses about what a great and real relationship with God unbelieving, apostate Jews have.
    (E) Brown mentions how he wears a New Age bracelet for some physical ailment, quipping that he "tried Jesus" and it didn't work, so he is trying this ("and I thought I heard the angels laugh," he adds — I didn't).
    (F) Brown frequently says in passing how well this and that apostate heretic "understands grace."
    (G) Brown says in particular that (unrepentant antinomian murderess) Annie Lamott is a wonderful Christian person who he thinks is so great and loves to provide a soapbox on his radio show.
    (H) Brown says that Harry Emerson Fosdick was a Christian, and probably would be "on our side" (or some equivalent) if he were alive today
  14. From all that, my impression is that Brown can't think the Biblical Gospel is very important, in spite of what he says about the Biblical positions he formally holds.
  15. And that would mean Brown's not very Reformed — since if being Reformed means anything historically, it must mean seeing the Gospel as a decisive, divisive, watershed issue. Which makes me wonder what he's doing, teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, host to many wonderful classes by men like John Frame and others.
I left the course disappointed. I went in genuinely open-minded. Whatever I gained was so buried under endless stories and bizarre beep-beeps-from-outer-space, and so devoid of Biblical exposition, that I was left un-profited, and very concerned about Brown's disciples.

On "grace": for what I hope is a Scriptural corrective, review Grace: eighteen affirmations and denials.

Take this lesson, at the very least. You can insist that you believe in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, and that your positions are Biblical, until your blue head caves in — but if you don't specifically and continually ground every major point and application in the Word, you're just preaching yourself. People will walk away quoting you, not the Word. That means they're leaning on you, trusting you, depending on you and your insights. You've become their priest, their Pope, their magisterium.

You're making disciples of yourself, not of Christ.

You think about that. Amen.

UPDATE: since these articles The World-Tilting Gospel was published. If you read it, you will find that it thoroughly responds to Brown's muzziness, and anticipates the current (2014) arguments about sanctification and grace.

Dan Phillips's signature

14 February 2010

Friendship with the World Is Enmity against God

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "I and the Children," a sermon preached Sunday Morning 20 September 1874 at the Met Tab.

o not believe that the common Christianity of the present age will carry anybody to heaven. It is a counterfeit and a sham. It does not make men to differ from their fellows, it pretends to faith and has none, talks about love and does not show it, brags of truth and evaporates it into thin air in its latitudinarian charity.

God give us back the real thing—stimuli, strong belief in the gospel, real faith in Jesus, real prayer to him, real spiritual power.

Then again there will be persecution, but it will only blow away the chaff and leave the pure wheat!

The world likes us better because we like the world better; it calls us friends because we doff our colors and sheathe our swords and play the craven; but if we preach and live the gospel in the old apostolic way, we shall soon have the devil roaring round the camp and the seed of the serpent hissing on all sides, but we fear not, for "the Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."

Phil's signature

11 February 2010

A bit more thinking on Colossians 3:12-14

by Dan Phillips

Tuesday I mused on the formal clash between a sermon introduction (can't change a drunk by dressing him up) and part of the text it introduced (Colossians 3:12-14 — which tells us to dress up!).

Let's take up with my ad hoc translation of the text itself:
Put on, therefore, as people selected by God, holy and abidingly loved, compassionate affections, kindness, humble-mindedness, gentleness, long-suffering, 13bearing with one another and freely forgiving one another if one should have a complaint against someone; just as also the Lord freely forgave you, thus also you should do. 14And on top of all these things put on love, which is the unifying bond that leads to maturity. (DPUV)
"Put on" these eight virtues / attitudes / graces / practices, the apostle says. But he does not merely say that. He says to put them on:

First, as those "selected by God." This translates ἐκλεκτοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ (eklektoi tou theou), identifying them as those who in eternity past had been singled out by God from the mass of humanity, and thus made objects of His saving grace, and bequeathed to Christ for salvation (cf. John 17:2, 6; Ephesians 1:3-14). This massive exertion of divine power brought life to the dead and light to the darkened, through sovereign, creative, powerful grace (2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 2:4-10; 5:8).

The next two descriptives may modify this alone, but each will be taken in turn.

Second, they are "holy," which is to say that they are set apart for God's ownership and service. This is accomplished once for all by the offering of the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:10), is also a work of sovereign grace (1 Corinthians 1:30), and is why all Christians without exception are dubbed "saints" — holy ones (ἅγιοι, hagioi). We are not what we were — or, put another way, in Christ  we are what we were not.

Third, they are "abidingly loved," which is my way of trying to catch the perfect passive participle ἠγαπημένοι (ēgapēmenoi). They became objects of God's free love, were objects of God's free love, would remain objects of God's free love. This is not a weak, wimpy love of good intentions, but a mighty powerful love that sees to it that the deepest needs of its objects are met (cf. John 13:1; Romans 8:28-39).

So this is the frame, the setting for the call to "put on" the graces Paul then enumerates.

To go back to the pastor's illustrations, they are not still unreformed drunks, plucked from the street for a merely external makeover. They have been transformed by God's mighty, redeeming love. They are not what they were, could not ever again return to what they were.

So now that they are new, what of their lives? What should characterize their lives? The same smelly, rancid, repellent garments that once suited them perfectly? Never! That was then, this is now (cf. 1 Peter 4:3).

What's the deal here, then? The deal is that we have been fundamentally changed, true. But note how Paul cuts the heart out of all quietism. There is no suggestion that I am to "wait on the Lord" to add these graces to me, or put them on me, or even to work them into me.

The idea is I am different, I have a different wardrobe — and I am both spiritually able and morally obliged to put it on.

This is a command.  It is not a statement of fact or a prediction. It gives me something to do, and tells me to do it.

This command is addressed to me. It is not addressed to the Holy Spirit, it is not addressed to the Lord Jesus. It gives me something to do, and tells me to do it.

So it is not inward transformation from without, it is outward transformation from within. If I were to massage the "drunk" illustration, then, I would say it is taking the drunk out of the gutter and transforming him — then saying, "Look, those clothes don't suit you anymore. These do. Here, put these on."

And so we should, and so we must.

Dan Phillips's signature

10 February 2010

The Golden Age

by Frank Turk

I dunno about you, but I have had a Hard. Week.

And that, for about three weeks now. God bless us to be busy rather than not (because I have also been unemployed for 18 months, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody), but "busy" will wear you out -- especially when it takes you off your spiritual gain.

It's weeks like this which make me think about the Golden Age of the church -- because, as many of you will testify, the local church is not in a golden age. It's probably not even in a plastic disposable age at this point. And as such, it often falls short of meeting our spiritual needs -- unlike the church of the Golden Age.

The church of the Golden Age would be full of the love of Christ, right? And full of people who have overcome sin. It would be lead by Christ and by men just like Him. And when I have a lousy day that lasts for weeks (or months), that church would be there for me all the time.

And wow: would the church of the Golden Age have good doctrine. The teaching there would be from like one who has authority -- not just lip service, not just translations from the Greek and Hebrew, not just lessons about how to live our lives. The doctrine of the church of the Golden Age would both humble us and lift us up so that we could be both servants of Christ and also his brothers and sisters all gaining the inheritance of the Father in eternal life.

It's weeks like this which I really long for the church of the Golden Age. But this week I wanted to remind all of you -- because I myself needed reminding -- that the church of the Golden Age is not past.

The church of the Golden Age is still coming. It has never yet been here, but in it our hope lies.

It's on days like today, in weeks like my last three weeks, that I look to that church, and all I can say is, "Please, Lord Jesus: come quickly."

09 February 2010

Spiritual transformation: half a thought on Colossians 3:12-14

by Dan Phillips

This is a maybe-slightly-more-than-half-formed thought based on Colossians 3:12-14. You may want to hang on to your receipt, in case it's not fully-baked enough for you.

The pastor of the church we attend is doing a (to me) whirlwind series on Colossians — I say "whirlwind" because I really love Colossians, and when I preached it I'd sometimes just take a verse, or a phrase, and camp out on it. Families started, kids went off to college, married, raised children of their own; empires rose and fell...

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate.

At any rate, I openly doff my hat to a man with a more disciplined mind.

The pastor's opening illustration was very effective. He told of a drunkard who was adopted by a group, for a convention of (I think) barbers and the like. These men gave the drunk a haircut, a shave, a manicure, a change of wardrobe — it was a major makeover. He was displayed to the group as a rousing success, an amazing transformation.

A few days pass, and here's the same man, the grand sartorial success story. But in what condition? Very different... and yet not different. He's back in the gutter, drunk, of course.

Changing the outside does not change the inside.

At this point I depart somewhat from Pastor Finch's sermon to pursue my own thoughts with you. First, here's the translation I made when I preached through Colossians:
Put on, therefore, as people selected by God, holy and abidingly loved, compassionate affections, kindness, humble-mindedness, gentleness, long-suffering, 13bearing with one another and freely forgiving one another if one should have a complaint against someone; just as also the Lord freely forgave you, thus also you should do. 14And on top of all these things put on love, which is the unifying bond that leads to maturity. (DPUV)
Point of departure: Pastor Finch's illustration was absolutely right: you can't change a heart by changing clothes. What is interesting, though, and what got me thinking, is that the word translated "Put on" in v. 12 is Ἐνδύσασθε (endusasthe) — which means to put on clothes!

I started musing. Odd, isn't it, that Paul spoke of spiritual transformation, using a word that seemingly suggests the very thing Pastor Finch had just negated in his introduction. The good pastor said putting on clothes won't change a man... and here Paul uses a word meaning to put on clothes.

Was the pastor wrong? Do we transform ourselves from the outside in?

But no, of course Pastor Finch was exactly right. For one thing, Paul's language is clearly metaphorical. You may have noticed over the years that I am no fan of the NIV (nor of the NET), but both hit the idea very well with their "clothe yourselves with." We could equally render it "wear," or "dress yourselves with." But what follows is not a list of accessories, but a catalog of Christian graces. So Paul was not speaking of putting on clothes.

But was the apostle speaking of taking something that isn't ours, though we're Christians, and putting it on from the outside so that we can be transformed on the inside?

The major interpretive key here, I think, is in verse 12 — "as people selected by God, holy and abidingly loved." There is the font of the transformation: election by sovereign grace, whence springs our effectual call, our regeneration, our conversion. That is where I am really changed, when God by sheer grace brings life from death, light from darkness, a child from an enemy (Ephesians 2:1ff; Colossians 1:13; 2:11-14; 3:1, 3; etc.).

But then what is the point of Paul telling me to "put on" these virtues, these graces, these little fragrant whiffs of the character of Christ? Are they mine by regeneration, or not? If mine, why "put them on"? They're already there. If not mine, how can I make them mine?

Hm, this is already longish. Let's take this back up Thursday, Lord willing.

UPDATE: next post.

Dan Phillips's signature