31 May 2010

Legalism and Christian Liberty Again

by Phil Johnson

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1)

hat one verse captures the essence of Paul's whole appeal to the Galatians. It could be called the key verse of the book of Galatians. It distills Paul's whole answer to the Judaizers in a single statement.

Note: it is an imperative. It gives us an order to obey. It is a strong and unequivocal command to stand fast in the liberty Christ has given us. It powerfully reminds us that our freedom in Christ is a sacred trust to be carefully guarded. Liberty is not just one optional benefit of our salvation; Paul says it lies at the very heart of God's saving purpose.

In other words—contrary to those who like to define Christianity with a list of rules that govern our public behavior—Scripture defines the Christian life as a life of complete and total liberty. It's the purest kind of heavenly freedom. It's the only true freedom.

That's about as foreign to most people's thinking as it can be. The world tends to think religion should be a confining, constraining thing. But Scripture portrays Christianity as just the opposite: a liberating, emancipating, bondage-breaking freedom. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). And, "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (v. 36).

At the very outset of Jesus' ministry, when He read the Scriptures in the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from Isaiah 61:1, that prophetic passage that says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 41:8). So the idea of setting people free was very much at the heart of Christ's redemptive work, and it is therefore the very heart of Christianity.

Of course, when Jesus spoke of freedom for captives and liberty to the oppressed, he was not describing something as mundane as political liberty for people under earthly tyranny. He was not planning the overthrow of the Roman government, as despotic as that system was. He was not trying to foment political revolution. He was not employing those terms the way modern political radicals employ them.

Instead, He was speaking of a spiritual liberty—the birthright of every believer. It is a vast freedom from the yoke of any earthly, sinful, or Satanic bondage. It is the greatest liberty imaginable. It includes both freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom from the yoke of the law. There's a built-in equilibrium to the whole principle.

And the principle itself is the very antithesis of the Pharisees' idea of holiness. Their answer to sin was a list of rules and a catalogue of rituals. They tied up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laid them on people's shoulders" (Matthew 23:4). But Jesus wonderfully set sinners free—free from sin, and free from the burden and the condemnation of the law.

There's an inexorable tendency toward legalism in every fallen human heart. We're all more or less naturally inclined to try to deal with sin the way the Pharisees tried to—by compensating for our sinfulness and trying to constrain the flesh through manmade rules and rituals. It doesn't work; in fact, it is sinful in and of itself. It compounds guilt and weighs the sinner down with false duties and false hope.

Last Thursday's post made that point, and the long comment-thread following the post illustrates how difficult it is to shed legalistic ways of thinking.

Today is a holiday (in America, anyway), so I'm not going to write any more on this subject this morning. (I slept in and am late with this post already as it is.) But in the days and weeks to come, we'll be looking in closer detail at this subject of Christian liberty and it's twin foes: legalism and libertinism.

As we discuss these subjects from Scripture, I hope we can set aside the vitriol and snarkiness that surfaced a few times in last Thursday's comments.

In fact, let's make a rule for today's comment-thread: no arguing, from either side. Instead, use the meta of this post to pose some of the questions you'd like to see us address as we delve into this surprisingly difficult subject.

Phil's signature

30 May 2010

Regeneration and True Free Will

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 "God's Law in Man's Heart," a sermon preached Sunday evening, 28 June 1885, at the Met Tab in London.

an has become so fallen that he cannot keep the law. Sooner might the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots, than he that is accustomed to do evil learn to do well (Jeremiah 13:23); but what man cannot do, by reason of the perversity of the flesh, God performs within him, working in him to will and to do of his good pleasure. Oh, what amazing grace is this, which while it forgives our want of will, also removes our want of power!

And, dear friends, is it not a wonderful proof of grace that God does this without destroying man in any degree whatever? Man is a creature with a will,—a "free will" as they sometimes call it,—a creature who is responsible for his actions; so God does not come and change our hearts by a physical process, as some seem to dream, but by a spiritual process in which he never mars our nature, but sets our nature right.

If a man becomes a child of God, he still has a will. God does not destroy the delicate machinery of our nature, but he puts it into proper gear. We become Christians with our own full assent and consent; and we keep the law of God not by any compulsion except the sweet compulsion of love. We do not keep it because we cannot do otherwise, but we keep it because we would not do otherwise, because we have come to delight therein, and this seems to me the greatest wonder of divine grace.

See, dear friends, how different is the Lord's way of working and ours. If you knock down a man who is living an evil life, and put him in chains, you can make him honest by force; or if you set him free, and hem him round with Acts of Parliament, you may make him sober if he cannot get anything to drink, you may make him wonderfully quiet if you put a gag in his mouth; but that is not God's way of acting.

He who put man in the Garden of Eden, and never put any palisades around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but left man a free agent, does just the same in the operations of his grace. He leaves his people to the influences that are within them, and yet they go right, because they are so changed and renewed by his grace that they delight to do that which once they loathed to do.

I admire the grace of God in acting thus. We should have taken the watch to pieces, and broken half the wheels, and made new ones, or something of the kind. But God knows how to leave the man just as much a man as he was before his conversion, and yet to make him so entirely a new man that old things have passed away, and all things have become new.

And this is very beautiful, too, that when God writes his law in his people's hearts, He makes this the way of their preservation. When God's law is written in a man's heart, that heart becomes divinely royal property, for the King's name is there, and the heart in which God has written his name can never perish.

C. H. Spurgeon

28 May 2010

From the brainium of....

by Dan Phillips

Warning: a lot of this is going to be an uncharacteristically stream-of-consciousness post. It's a post about posting. Kind like The Garr... er, this TV show from the '80s. Hate that kind of post? Don't read! Insist on reading anyway so you can complain? Embrace the concept having your name displayed with "removed by administrator" under it { echo } for all eternity { /echo }. Or for awhile, anyway.

So I have several post-ideas in my head, but nothing fully-formed enough for the demanding standards of Pyro readers... or anyway, for the demanding standards I have for posts I'll offer to Pyro readers. This one being an exception. Instead, you get a peek into my processes, if you want one. If you don't, then... hey, why are you still here?

Before I'll post something at Pyro, it has to be bullet-proof. I know it will be read by all sorts of folks, friendly and un-, mature and im-, Christian and non-, far-better-educated and not, with shoulders both bechipped and chipless. So I do the very best God enables me to do to tailor it to help, serve, and/or withstand the scrutiny of each.

As part of that discipline, I do my best proactively to anticipate and head off misunderstandings and silly dodges or shallow counters or kneejerk reactions. Still, I've never found a way to counter the wisdom of Proverbs 27:22. If a category-5 reader is dead-set on misunderstanding or not "seeing," no effort suffices.

HSAT, I have two posts that aren't There yet. They're ideas for the next two posts in the sufficiency of Scripture series. But the combination of work, family, and a project I hope to tell you about next week have kept me from sitting down and doing the necessary prep for those particular posts.

Other posts on The Intrawebs caught my eye, but aren't really quite up to a full post. The one on types of commenters (linked above) is interesting... but I don't think I could make a whole Pyro-worthy post.

Christianity Astray Today caught my eye twice. Once for an essay on "Lost" that I think might actually deserve some of the opprobrium one or two people flinged flang cast at mine.

The other is an irritating little article, ostensibly about Profs. Waltke, Longman, Walton and other OT scholars who have gotten into some degree of agua caliente for things they've said about Genesis. But it is an article that seems to have no purpose for being. It's titled Adamant on Adam, but there is no pay-off to the title whatever. It's just there to be cute, as far as I can tell.

The piece narrates what happened after Waltke basically likened anyone who doesn't kowtow before evolutionists to cultists; or after Longman made some ridiculous comments about the historicity of Adam. But reading the article, it looks like everyone's still friends, it was no big deal... and you really don't get why (for instance) RTS let Waltke go. Not a good reason, anyway. The profs are unrepentant, their reputations intact... you get the impression that the institutions are just reluctantly doing what they do out of concern to keep donors happy, and nothing else. No big issues here.

Ah, but this is probably the money-quote for CT's perspective:
Tensions continue between Christian scholars and their institutions over how to present the findings of science while upholding theological convictions
Well, there it is, isn't it? On the one hand we have "Christian scholars" (presumably every last one of them, in monolithic lockstep; anyone who differs can't really be a scholar) and "the findings of science" (again, a monolith — the findings are sure, and all of Science is agreed on interpretation). On the other hand we have "their institutions."

CT evidently is not able to find any dissenters. It can find Howard Van Till, who sneers that "The general constituency of the evangelical community is lagging way behind the teachers at its own colleges and universities." Perhaps; but lags behind in what regard?

You know, I expect that sort of thing from CNN, Reuters, AP.

But from Christianity Today?


Well, okay, now that I mention it, yes, I do expect it from them, anymore.

It's sad when you're old enough to remember CT as a great, cutting-edge Christian magazine. You probably weren't born yet. Those days are long, long gone.

One last thing in the works: I have something of an announcement to make, but am not quite ready. A less compulsive person would just go for it, but I'm waiting to have something in hand. Then I'll spill.

So now you know all that. A post made up of things not ready for a post.

Dan Phillips's signature

27 May 2010

That Massive, Deadly Ditch on the Opposite Side of the Road from Libertinism

by Phil Johnson

Note: I didn't participate in the comment-section of Tuesday's post, so I have no axe to grind there. I didn't watch Lost, so I don't care about the program or its much-debated ending. In fact, I'm so apathetic about it that I would not have even read Dan's Tuesday post if I hadn't noticed (fairly late Wednesday) that the comment-count had gone over a hundred. What was all the fuss about? I wondered. After reading, I decided to post my comment here.
    I should point out first of all that we rarely do movie reviews or cultural commentary on this blog, and there are two reasons for that. One is that we're much more concerned with important things that are happening in the church than we are with the trivial things that already get too much of the world's attention. (Please understand: we're neither hermits nor pietists, but what I'm saying is that the blog has a fairly specific focus, and that's on purpose.)
    The second reason is more complex. Let's face it: we usually aim our critiques at those who are having the most influence among evangelicals these days—those who are so concerned with being cool and gaining the world's approval that they show little concern about holiness. Because that has been our emphasis, we have attracted more than our fair share of very vocal legalists who are convinced that the person with the weakest conscience (or the Bible college with the strictest rules) should get to define holiness for everyone—rather than letting Scripture define it for us. They believe it is their prerogative to dictate to everyone else what's acceptable and what's not, rather than following the principles of Romans 14 with regard to matters that aren't altogether clear. Those people surface at every opportunity, and they seem to love making a fuss. Sometimes it's fairly humorous (as in the "Chiquita" kerfuffle a few years ago). Other times (like this week) the debate quickly becomes highly emotional and unduly personal.
    I don't like that. Yet I'm convinced that legalism in the name of Christ is far more spiritually destructive than the libertinism that dominates secular society.
    So here's my entry into this week's discussion. And I'm officially closing Monday's comment-thread.

egalists sometimes defend themselves by claiming that legalism, properly understood, is just what Paul condemned in Galatians 1: the sin of making justification conditional on some work or ceremony performed by the sinner. In other words, legalism is works-salvation. So, they say, if you formally affirm the principle of sola fide and preach that people can be saved without any prerequisite work, you can't possibly be a legalist, no matter how many rules you make and impose on the consciences of people who are already converted.

No. Legalism is the error of abandoning our liberty in Christ in order to take on a yoke of legal bondage (Galatians 5:1). There are actually two kinds of legalism.

First is the one recognized and despised even by the fundamentalist with his thick rule-book. It's the legalism of the Judaizers. The Judaizers wanted to make circumcision a requirement for salvation. They had fatally corrupted the gospel by adding a human work as a requirement for salvation. That is certainly the worst variety of legalism, because it destroys the doctrine of justification by faith and thereby sets up "a gospel contrary to the one you received" (Galatians 1:8-9).

But another kind of legalism is the legalism of the Pharisees. It's the tendency to reduce every believer's duty to a list of rules. This is the kind of legalism that often seems to surface in our comment-threads. At its root is a belief that holiness is achieved by legal means—by following a list of "standards." This type of legalism doesn't necessarily destroy the doctrine of justification like the legalism of the Judaizers. But it does destroy the doctrine of sanctification, and it is certainly appropriate to call it what it is: legalism—i.e., a sinful misapplication of law; an attempt to make law do work that only grace can do. Like the Judaizers' brand of legalism, it brings people under a yoke of bondage Scripture has not placed on them.

As a matter of fact, that is exactly what Jesus said about the legalism of the Pharisees: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders" (Matthew 23:4).

Pharisaical legalists are not content to live life in the power of the Spirit, cultivate discernment, and avoid things that are clearly profane or immoral; they make lists of rules that prohibit Christians from practically everything but church activities. It's not enough to avoid gambling; they insist that good Christians will avoid card-playing altogether. They're not content with doing things in moderation and with self-control, they make rules that call for strict abstinence from everything doubtful—and they try to impose those rules on other Christians—saddling people with a yoke that they imagine exists somewhere in the white spaces of Scripture.

You want rules? Here's a good one to start with: When it comes to the question of spiritual duties, where Scripture stops speaking, we should, too.

The Pharisees' sin was making rules that went beyond what Scripture actually said. For example, they read in the law that it is a sin to take God's name in vain (Exodus 20:7), so they expanded the rule to forbid the use of God's name at all. They invented euphemisms to be used in place of God's name (Matthew 23:22).

The Pharisees saw the stress that was laid on ceremonial cleanness in the Old Testament, so they invented all kinds of extra washings and required people to observe those as well. In fact, Matthew 15 tells how the Scribes and Pharisees tried to condemn Jesus for not making his disciples observe their extrabiblical traditions: "Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat'" (Matthew 15:1-2).

There was no biblical commandment requiring people to do any ceremonial washing before they ate. The priests were supposed to wash their hands before offering sacrifices to God, but no law required everyone to wash up before every meal.

Jesus' response to the Pharisees was a stern rebuke: "He answered them, 'And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?'" (Matthew 15:3). In other words, He rejected their tradition because it was not what the Word of God taught. Even though we all know that washing before meals is good hygiene, and a good idea, He flatly rejected their notion that it is "sinful" not to do it.

He said their legalism transgressed the Scriptures. Legalism always has an anti-biblical tendency. You cannot go beyond Scripture without ultimately setting yourself at odds with Scripture.

That is precisely what happened in the fundamentalist movement, and one of the major reasons that movement has failed so notoriously. Legalism diverts people's attention from sound doctrine, so that the typical fighting-fundie legalist is doctrinally ignorant, reserving his or her "convictions" for a silly manmade system of rules. Ask the typical self-styled fundamentalist to define the difference between imputed and imparted righteousness, and he will not be able to do so. Suggest that it's OK for women to wear pants, or for people to use another version besides the KJV for Bible study, and the same fundy will lock and load his angry dogmatism, ready to do battle or even die for some ridiculous manmade "standard." Thus, as Jesus said, they have nullified the Word of God for the sake of their manmade traditions.

Let me say this plainly: It is a sin to impose on others any "spiritual" standard that has no biblical basis. When God gave the law to Israel, He told them, "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you" (Deuteronomy 4:2). And, "Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32).

The same principle is repeated in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul was rebuking the Corinthians for their sectarianism, saying "I am of Paul"; "I am of Apollos," and so on. His rebuke to them includes these words in 1 Corinthians 4:6: "I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written."

That is a good guideline for how we should exercise our Christian liberty: Don't go beyond what is written in Scripture. Don't make rules to impose on others; don't devise rituals and forms of worship that are not authorized; and don't speak on such matters where God has been silent. That's the whole principle of Sola Scriptura applied to Christian living. If we really believe Scripture is a sufficient rule for the Christian life, then we don't have to add anything to it.

Nor is there virtue in applying every principle of Scripture in the strictest possible way. "Put[ting away] obscene talk from your mouth" (Colossians 3:8) doesn't mean you are guilty of sin every time you hear someone else use an obscenity or take the Lord's name in vain. "Keep[ing] oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27) doesn't mean you have to avoid contact with the world or hole up in a nunnery (1 Corinthians 5:9-12).

If we add rules that Scripture doesn't make—especially if we try to impose our manmade rules on other people's consciences as a standard of spirituality—we are guilty of the same sin as the Pharisees and worthy of the same harsh rebukes Christ leveled at them.

Phil's signature

26 May 2010

Theologically rich

by Frank Turk

I just wanted to mention that it bothers me when people read theologically-rich blogging and thereafter expose their own theologically-impoverished state by attempting to reproach great practical theological thinking. Especially when the core evidence necessary for their complaint cannot be found in the afore-mentioned theologically-rich blogging.

Just sayin'.

25 May 2010

"Lost," and endings

by Dan Phillips

NOTE: in case you've not finished off "Lost," I'm going to make the post spoiler-free. But stay away from the meta if you want to avoid spoilers; I'm not going to require that anyone stay  away from spoilers.

UPDATE: you can see a few spoilery unanswered Lost questions at my site.

My dear wife and I have been longtime "Lost" fans. We started a year or two in, caught up, stayed hooked.

I have really enjoyed the writing, the acting, the scenery. One of the most remarkable aspects of "Lost" is how the writers would pose questions, then actually answer them satisfactorily — but raise still more questions, at the same time. It wasn't a frustrating experience, as if one were simply compiling and endless list of conundrums. Sentences did end, with satisfying periods and exclamation points. But none was the final sentence. That was supposed to come last Sunday night.

I grew to respect the writers a lot. Again and again, an apparently random event or character in one episode would be caught up and featured front and center, weeks, months, or even years later. One had the feel of a very deliberate, purposeful venture being unfolded.

So we stayed up (far too) late watching Sunday's grand finale — and came away puzzled and disappointed.

Obviously, many found the ending perfectly clear and delightful. That's great. I guess I must be dim, because I don't see it yet. I was disappointed. We'll probably watch it again, give it another go, see if we can make better sense of it. But for now... the last episode was the first "Lost" episode that ever really let me down.

I've grown accustomed, though, to human writers setting up conundrums they can't solve fully or satisfactorily, so I tempered my expectations... to some degree.  Whether Stephen King, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tad Williams, Joss Whedon, Stephen Donaldson, or on and on, I think humans create better dilemmas than they do solutions. In at least some cases, the authors themselves did now know how their stories were going to end when they started them rolling. Sometimes that shows.

But whether carefully planned, or made up on the wing, I can't offhand recall any really ambitious saga whose dénouement left me fully satisfied.

With one exception, of course. That would be actual history itself.

Take prophecy seriously and one sees a very complex weave from start to finish. Take the Bible seriously, and you realize that the Author of  both history and prophecy knew the whole from the very start. Human writers may make it up as they go along, but God is the one who declares "the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'" (Isaiah 46:10).

I am thinking of this now particularly with reference to the "problem" of evil. In history, the villains are monstrous, powerful, dreadful. They fill us with loathing, with horror, with disgust.

Yet we read that God "laughs" at them (Psalm 2:4). Why? Nothing about it looks funny to us, down here on the battlefield.

But God can laugh "at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming" (Psalm 37:13). That is, He knows exactly how the story will turn out. He never sees a wrong, without at the same instant seeing its rectification. He knows that every crime, every sin, will be fully judged and punished. Every wrong will be righted, every injustice made right. He will see to it personally. He knew the last lines when He began penning the first.

And I can know it too, to some measure. How? Because I've read the end of the story. And it is completely satisfying, beyond the ability of any human author ever to dream.

No longer will there be anything accursed,
but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, 
and his servants will worship him. 
They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, 
for the Lord God will be their light, 
and they will reign forever and ever.
(Revelation 22:3-5)

He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." 
Come, Lord Jesus!
(Revelation 22:20)

Dan Phillips's signature

23 May 2010

Let God Be Magnified

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 "Our Watchword," a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, 1 October 1871, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

he world is dull and sleepy, and utterly indifferent to the glory of God in the work of redemption. We need to tell it over and over and over again, that God is great in the salvation of his people.

There are many who will rise up and deny God's Glory; revilers of all sorts abound in rage; but over and above their clamor, let the voice of truth be heard, "Let God be magnified."

They cry, "the Bible is worn out." They doubt its inspiration, they question the deity of Christ, they set up new gods that have lately come up, that our fathers knew not.

Let us confront them with the truth, let us oppose them with the gospel, let us overcome them through the blood of the Lamb, using this one only war-cry, "Let God be magnified." Everywhere in answer to all blasphemy, in direct conflict with profanity, let us lift up this voice with heart and soul. "Let God be magnified."

C. H. Spurgeon

21 May 2010

Not yet. We're getting there.

by Phil Johnson

've had a few things to say in recent years about preachers who translate the gospel into profanity in the name of "contextualization." If you're one of those who think I have exaggerated the problem or been too shrill in pointing it out, have a look here.

That's Sam D. Kim, founding and senior pastor of 180 Church, a Manhattan-based missional community. His specialty, and the trademark of 180 Church, is (in Sam Kim's own words) "effed-up theology." Watch his sermon, and pay close attention around the 8-minute mark, where he says he got a nod of approval for this type of "contextualization" from an elite group of "theologians and professors" at a Lausanne meeting in Dallas.

"Do you actually use the [f-]word?" they asked.

"Not yet. We're getting there," he told them.

Tragically, it looks like some of our Young, Restless brethren are moving that direction at breakneck speed. Here's what 180 Church's current ad campaign looks like:

Now, here's the thing: Sam Kim apparently understands the gospel. He has a Bible and refers to it now and again. So why does he think it necessary to exegete pop culture and translate the gospel message into gratuitous profanity? Why doesn't he preach the Word of God undiluted and on its own terms?

See, I think this whole approach to ministry reflects a fatal lack of confidence in the power of the gospel itself. If we really believed the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, why would we think it necessary to dress the message in such shabby rags?

Phil's signature

20 May 2010

What to do with a mass of credible critics?

by Dan Phillips

Honestly, it seems as if one of Mark Driscoll's favorite things is painting himself as a brave, noble, but beleaguered victim of mean old bullies. I that same theme here and there.

Well, Driscoll's at it again. Or should I say he never stopped? Frankly, I don't read him enough to know. But he's striking the pose of the weathered, grizzled, seasoned old veteran of countless conflicts, putting down his tankard for a moment to spare some advice with a green, fresh-faced young'un.

"Sorry, man. I get it," Driscoll rasps; you can almost see him fingering the long virtual scars criss-crossing his neck.

The title is "What To Do With Internutters." It's a pinch north of 630 words, but I can summarize it in two: ignore them. Don't listen to a word. Don't respond, don't make eye-contact. Hire a lawyer to write mean, threatening lawyer-letters, or get a court-order, if you want. (Seriously; Driscoll says that a couple of times.)

Now, I think my main problem with the article is that Driscoll is not very specific about who he's calling "internutters." About as close as he gets to a description is that his young protégé was subjected to "someone who had become quite a vocal critic all over the Internet and in relationships with church members, making wildly unfounded accusations and creating a lot of additional work."

We'll all agree that "wildly unfounded accusations" are bad things. No one should make them. We here at Pyro totally believe that. And I'll say (no snark) that I don't have Driscoll's experience dealing with... well, actually I have dealt with a number of nutters. But I'm sure not as many as he, nor as publicly. I'm an immensely smaller fish.

However, I'm not sure it's wise not to answer even "nutters" at least once, if you can. Of course, some accusations are pretty tough to answer. As I mention in a very different connection over at my place, it's awfully hard to prove a negative, for instance. "You constantly beat your wife in a way that leaves neither bruises nor witnesses" would be a difficult charge to refute. Or a post hoc charge with a deft propter hoc (e.g. "Pastor X counseled Y, who then did Z — because of the pastor's counsel!").

Phil Johnson, on the other hand, has dealt with many, many gen-u-ine nutters over the years. I'd be interested to hear his thoughts on that subject.

But let's say the "nutters" are saying truthful, Scriptural, sober things, well-founded in both reality and evidence.Well then, they're not actually "nutters," are they? For instance, I hear and read "bloggers" used in the same tone as "nutters," as if they're interchangeables. They're not. Ironically, most of the people who speak dismissively of "bloggers" and dismiss the whole lot of them tend to be ones who have received valid reproof they haven't liked.

Further complicating my exegesis of Driscoll is the fact that I have seen him speak exactly as dismissively of men who tried hard to bring sound, sober, fact-based/Scripture-based concerns to his attention.

So those who offer such criticism and rebuke cannot so easily be brushed off as "nutters." I mean, say — just to pluck an example out of the ether — you are a well-known pastor who has a pronounced tendency to say disgraceful things from pulpits over and over and over again, over a period of years. And say serious believers try again and again to call you to repent and forsake such abuse of the pulpit.

See now, that's a different situation, isn't it? To call such folks "nutters," dismiss their reproof as "wildly unfounded," declare that you won't dignify them with a response, and try to strike a noble pose... well, that wouldn't be very adorning to the Gospel, I would think. You know, I've heard what is allegedly an Irish proverb to this effect: "When everyone says you're drunk, sit down."

It's not always simple, though, and I don't mean imply that it is. The majority can be dead-wrong. Solid-gold Christian leaders, whose ESV Study Bibles you're genuinely not worthy to ferry about, can make mistakes. There's still constant need to judicious discernment, to focus on facts and Scripture.

But to Driscoll's opinions, I'd offer these cautionary Scriptural counterpoints:
  1. Never forget: if it's a sin, you're capable of it (Romans 7:13-23).
  2. If you have sinned, you do not want to be the last to know it (Proverbs 29:1).
  3. Denial is not a remedy for sin or folly (Proverbs 28:13). In fact...
  4. Denial is the way to destruction (Proverbs 29:1).
  5. Hating critics is the mark of a fool (Proverbs 9:8a; 17:12).
  6. It is the characteristic of the wise man to welcome and heed wise, godly correction (Psalm 141:5; Proverbs 9:9b-10).
  7. The way to mercy lies through self-humbling, accepting rebuke, repenting and forsaking (Proverbs 10:17; 11:2; 12:1; 14:33; 18:12; 28:13).
God grant us ears to hear, wisdom to discern, and humility to apply. Because it isn't easy nor simple.

Dan Phillips's signature

19 May 2010

Shameless promotion of Dan

by Frank Turk

I have some things I'm working on this week that are restricting my blogging, so I'm going to use Dan (in a nice way, nothing untoward) to maintain the fill here.

He's got a deceptively-simple yet brilliant post over at his blog from yesterday regarding matters which are "settled" fact -- in spite of the rude evidence that, for so many rudimentary things, "Scientists are baffled!"

Here's the only thing I have to add to that discussion:

The biggest pitfall of the entire discussion is the answer to the question "how do we know" from one epistemology to another.

See: Dan says (rightly) that there's a problem when "Materialists" say that repeatability is a validator of hypotheses -- that being the premise that the universe is consistent in all times and places and circumstances. This is a statement which cannot be validated or (pay attention) invalidated. It's an epistemological hunch.

Or is it? It seems to me that the father of "Materialism" is actually "Theism" -- particularly theistic cosmosology (and in the west where science really took off, Christian theistic cosmology) which says that you can rely on the consistency of the universe because God made it that way, and because God's not a trickster who is trying to fake your test tubes and oscilloscopes out. In that way, "Materialism" has imported a premise it can never prove and never substantiate from a radically different epistemology in order to tell us, among other things, "U R doin it wrong".

That seems all well and good for us theists, yes? We're done here we seem to think when we take off our smart glasses after proving the "Materialist" is just an ungrateful stepchild. But we have the same problem in our own house, if you will excuse me for saying so.

It seems to me that there's a rampant strain of importing materialistic epistemology into our own thinking about, for example, the Bible when such a thing is utterly uncalled for. The first place it shows up is when we start trying to establish "science" to explain how things work in the Bible -- like how you fit all the animals in creation, 2 by 2, in a wooden box. I'm sure that statement alone is enough to derail all blogospheric meta for a week, but I have something else in mind by saying that.

What I have in mind is that we do even worse damage to our faith and our ability to receive what the Bible actually says when we import the other key premise of "materialism" -- which is that all ideas and all human understanding improves over time. So when folks who hold to this premise come to the Bible, what has been believed about the text -- demonstrably believed since Paul or Matthew or Micah or Moses wrote it down -- is simply irrelevant, or worse: counterproductive. Today we have to think about these texts in a different way because we are much smarter and, um, evolved than Paul or Matthew or Micah or Moses, if indeed those were their names.

It's completely phony for scientists to purloin the gravitas of their work from the creator and sustainer God by assuming without cause that all things are created and thereafter sustained -- but it's equally phony for those of us who say we believe in the creator and sustainer to believe that somehow what He has already said is subject to the same skepticism we should hold toward the discoveries of those who, on a regular basis, are baffled by what they uncover.

UPDATED: The nearly-peerless Al Mohler tweeted a link to an ardent atheist who, I think, agrees with me -- and reaches the wrong conclusion.

18 May 2010

Terminal thinking: to leave a lasting testimony etched in stone

by Dan Phillips

Naturally, you are likely to take the headline metaphorically. My intent, however, is literal. Our topic is a sad one but, I think, a good one.

We all know that, barring the Lord's return for us, we shall die. It is wise to live in this awareness. "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart," Solomon writes (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Christians are concerned not only about our coming date with the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), but also about the testimony we will leave. If we can leave a lasting testimony to the Gospel, so much the better.

Reader Mike Dickey, who comments under the screen name vcdechagn, emailed me last week. He shared the sad news that his mother has terminal cancer. (Perhaps you know my thoughts about cancer.) The doctors think she will be with Jesus within the next month or so. I'm sure you'll want to join me in praying for Mike's mother, his father, and Mike himself.

But Mike's reason for writing was to pass along a request of hers. I was touched to learn that she is a reader. She wanted Mike to ask me whether I had any suggestions for the inscription on the headstone.

Mike's mom and dad will be using the same headstone. The tombstone can have four lines, and approximately 25 words per line. That is a 100-word total. [Update: that could be in error; perhaps 25 characters per line, 100 characters total.]

So I will open it to you. But first, here are our controls:
  • We are assuming a headstone, and that's all that is relevant.
  • Therefore this thread will not be the place for debating the relative merits/demerits of burial vs. cremation, or costs of burial and/or headstones.
  • This thread also will not be the place for debating the morality of cremation.
  • And of course, this thread WILL NOT be the place for humorous anecdotes — unless and only unless you've seen a tombstone that utilizes appropriate humor to communicate the Gospel effectively.
I mean to be very strict on those controls. It always seems like someone doesn't believe me when I say that. "Someone" always encounters an unyielding surprise.

So here are the questions to you. Please, respond to any or all:
  1. Have you thought this out for yourself?
  2. Have you seen tombstones with effective testimonies to Christ, to the Gospel, to the sure and certain hope of resurrection?
  3. What would you want on your tombstone?
  4. What would you recommend for Mike's parents as an inscription?
Thanks. I know you'll have some great input, and it will mean a lot to Mike and his folks, as will our prayers.

Dan Phillips's signature

16 May 2010

Confident Believers vs. the Chameleons

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 "Hold Fast Your Shield," a sermon published in 1875.

ome persons appear to think that a state of doubt is the very best which we can possibly reach. They are very wise and highly cultured individuals, and they imagine that by their advanced judgments nothing in the world can be regarded as assuredly true.

Some of the broad church school would seem to believe that no doctrine in the Bible is worth dying for, or worth anybody's losing over and above a halfpenny for. They do not feel sure of any doctrine: it may be true, and there is a good deal to be said for it, but then a good deal may be said on the other side, and you must hold your mind "receptive," and be ready to accept "new truth."

Some Robinson or other said something about new truth, as if there ever could be such a thing, and, under cover of his probably misinterpreted speech, like chameleons, they are always taking their clue from the particular light that falls upon them. They have no light in themselves and no truth which they hold to be vital.

Such people cannot understand this confidence, but the veriest babes in the family of faith know what it means. Here are certain things which God has taught me; I believe them and am sure about them.

"Dogmatical," says one.

Exactly so; call it what you like, but we are bold to confess that there remains no doubt to us after God has spoken. The question is solved by God's word; the doubt is laid to sleep for ever by the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Oh, to know the grand truths of the gospel, and to know them infallibly. For instance, the grand doctrine of the substitutionary sacrifice of the Son of God—to know it and hold it and say, "Let others question and quibble, but I must believe it; it is my only hope, it is all my salvation. I stake my soul upon it: if that be not true then am I lost." And so with regard to all the other grand truths of revelation, the thing is to know them and grasp them firmly. There must be leverage if we would move men, and to have a leverage you must have a fixed point.

There must be certain undoubted truths about which you can sing, "O God, my heart is fixed; my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise "—things which you perceive to be plainly taught in the Scriptures—things brought home by the power of the Holy Spirit.

C. H. Spurgeon

13 May 2010

Is this the central issue in Christian thought, life and ministry? — 3

by Dan Phillips

From my own statement of faith, the first point: on Scripture.

Scripture. The sixty-six books of the Protestant canon, in their original writings, comprise the verbally inspired, inerrant Word of God.
The thirty-nine books known as the Hebrew Old Testament are God-breathed, products of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, and thus free from error in all that they affirm (cf. Deuteronomy 18:18, 19; Psalms 19:7, 8; 119:89, 142, 151, 160; Matthew 5:17-19; John 10:35; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

Similarly, the twenty-seven books known as the Greek New Testament are the eternally abiding words of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:35), and are thus the words of God (John 7:16; 12:49). The Holy Spirit enabled the writers both to recall what the Lord said (John 14:26), and to continue to receive His revelation (John 16: 12-15). As a result, the writings of the New Testament are the commandment of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37), are Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16), and are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).

For this reason, the sinner finds the way of salvation through Scripture (Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 2:1-3). The believer is made fruitful (Psalm 1:2, 3) and successful in the will of God (Joshua 1:8), warned and kept from sin (Psalms 19:11; 119:9,11), made holy (John 17:17), given wisdom (Psalm 9:7) and freeing knowledge of the truth (John 8: 31, 32), taught the fear of God (Psalm 119:38), counseled (Psalm 119:24), taught, reproved, corrected, and disciplined in the way righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) by Scripture. Scripture is, in short, the fully adequate revelation of the person, ways, and will of God.

We're going somewhere with this. For some, their Admiral Ackbar moment may be approaching.


Dan Phillips's signature

12 May 2010

Enough to Get a Feel

by Frank Turk

There's an interesting post about a "long slog through the fifty chapters of Genesis," and it was about what I'd expect from the writer of that blog.

Coupla-three notes on that blog post for you to masticate on today:
  • It's ironic that the writer finds Genesis 22 "rich and controversial" and then finds Genesis 45 "one of the most mundane". You would think that the controversy in Gen 22 would spill over a little so that the deliverance there can be seen again in the deliverance evident in Gen 45.
  • Why does the writer of Genesis switch between "Jacob" to "Israel" in Gen 45 & 46? Is it really "random" and the linked blogger suggests?
  • What convinced Israel that his beloved son Joseph was alive after all the years of mourning, do you think? Does gen 45 tell us at all?
I'm pinched today for time, but I'll be back later to see what you-all think of this stuff.

It will be an interesting community-wide discussion, I am sure. Perhaps we can all get a feel for the meaning of Genesis by the time we're done.

11 May 2010

"Baby Man" — a sad sermon illustration come to life, then death

by Dan Phillips

[Here's an edited reprint from my blog, June of 2005. I spent all I could of the weekend trying to finish the last fine-tooth-comb editing of my Proverbs manuscript before zapping it off to the publisher. FAIL. Unexpected interruptions. Worked almost without a break from like 4am to night-time yesterday... still, fail. Snif. About 80 pages or so to go. I'm really excited about the book, really invested in what's in it. Want it to be just right, as perfect as I can make it. So... you get this! I actually use this story in the book, so it's fresh in my mind.]

When I would preach on Christian growth, and particularly Hebrews 5:11-14, I'd often use an illustration. (Yes, the same one; yes, all preachers do it; yes, even the Lord re-used parables.) Here is the passage:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull [Greek says lazy] of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
In my sermon, I would say that one expects a baby to do — well, not much. Hard job, really: all he has to do is sit there and be cute! Now he giggles and coos, now he cries. He's either taking in food, processing it, or disposing of it. Sometimes all those things in combination.

Expectations are low, delivery is high.

It's absolutely adorable — in a tiny little tot of 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months.

And we love our little toddlers, wobbling around in their huge diapers, everything new and interesting to them, emotions on their sleeves. They're really actually learning at an astonishing rate, but it doesn't look like it: they just teeter and totter, explore, make demands, and bless the house simply by being there.

Now, I say in my sermons, picture a twelve-year-old, still in the same state. Or an eighteen, twenty, thirty year old: still in diapers, still helpless and dependent, still in infancy.

Well, of course (I preach) we'd all immediately know something was severely, seriously, terribly wrong. But then (I go on to say) suppose you were to find out that, no, there was nothing wrong with that man's brain. Perfectly healthy. No injuries, no diseases; nothing physically wrong whatever.

He'd just decided not to grow up.

And then I point out that what would alarm us horribly in a marketplace apparently doesn't cause the slightest stir in church.

How so? How many people think they've been Christians for five, ten, twenty, thirty years, and yet have not managed to read the whole Bible through even once? They're perfectly literate, they read novels and magazines and web sites... but not the Bible. How many could not name the books of the New Testament in order, let alone the whole Bible? In fact, how many could not even name the four Gospels in order?

(Aside: a fellow in the last church I pastored informally surveyed several dozens of professed Christians. He asked them just to name the four Gospels. Just that. Either none could, or only one could. And these were long-time Christians, including leaders within their churches. As an added bonus, how do you think they responded, when they found they could not even name the first four books of the New Testament? Were they embarrassed at their own astonishing ignorance? Humbled? Not at all. Instead, they were offended at him for asking.)

Poll after poll reveals those who claim to be born-again Christians to be stunningly ignorant of the Bible, or rebellious against its contents. On Biblical teachings as basic as the deity and bodily resurrection of Christ, the reality of the Devil, salvation by grace alone through Christ alone, low numbers recur over and over again, consistently.

And even among those checking the right doctrinal boxes, if you ask them to demonstrate their faith (on which they claim to base their lives) from the Bible, even if only by one or two apposite verses, you're likelier to be disappointed than not.

Churches aim to palliate, entertain, mollify, tranquilize. I feel the pain of folks searching earnestly for a church home. You feel like you aren't asking too much: just a sound church that believes the Word, preaches it emphatically and passionately, sings some decent songs, and tries to practice it. Yet you just can't find it. Everybody's stuck in past fads, or chasing after current ones, or hearing voices. Or all three by turns.

How can this be? No age, and no country, has had more abundant access to the Bible than ours. No age, and no country, has had available the helps for Bible study that ours has. None has had greater freedom to use and exploit that access.

Yet I daresay that, for all the impact the Bible has on the average professor, the Bible might as well still be in Latin and chained to the pulpit at the local Roman Catholic Church.

We have churches filled with folks who, if their spiritual condition could be seen, are fully grown adults lolling about in diapers, trading off one "binky" for another. It's a horror, but it's a horror we live with without being horrified.

I tell this as an illustration.

Enter "baby man."

"Baby man" is the flesh-and-blood embodiment of my illustration. He is a 54-year-old man who "sleeps in a crib, eats in a high chair and does it in his diaper — by choice." Click on the link, look at the pictures, let your jaw drop in revulsion...

...and next time you excuse yourself for not reading your Bible, not studying, not memorizing, not going to rigorously Bible-preaching churches, not knowing what the Bible teaches as well as you know your favorite hobby, not growing, not bearing fruit, not being one who could teach others instead of standing in daily need of having the basics repeated to you, demanding that God give you whispers and feelings and experiences rather than contenting yourself with His finished, completed, inerrant, sufficient Word, in spite of your decades of professed Christian faith — next time you find yourself doing that, I say, think of Hebrews 5:11-14.

And think of William Windsor. Think of "baby man."

Because that's you.

UPDATE: since I wrote that article, "Baby Man" died. Sad life, sad death. I could not find it on a more mainstream news site, only on a cynical alternative-type site. It does link to more information about this wrecked soul and his sad, wasted life. Inherited a truckload of money, had been married, devoted himself to living like a baby. Sad, sad sad. There are other images of him... but I don't think they'd be uplifting.

Dan Phillips's signature

10 May 2010

Spiritual Equilibrium

by Phil Johnson

I Walk the Line
A Balanced Plea for Balance

(First posted 3 January 2007)

cripture says, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There's an equilibrium to be maintained in true spirituality, and it's only our sinfulness that makes us become unbalanced in one direction or the other.

The obedience God demands requires our implicit compliance to all of His revealed Word, and He expressly commands us "not [to] turn aside to the right hand or to the left." (Deuteronomy 5:24). The way of truth is well worn (Jeremiah 6:16) but narrow (Matthew 7:14). There are dangerous ditches on both sides of it, and we are so prone to waywardness that we need constant checks to keep from veering off track to one side or the other (Isaiah 30:21). We sometimes have to fight to keep our balance. In the words of Hebrews 4:11, we have to labor to enter into rest.

But balance is a tricky word. Mention it in connection with truth or spirituality, and people tend to think of a board balanced on a fulcrum, like a seesaw on the playground. If you move to one side, that end goes down, and if you move to the other end, that end goes down. We all learned as children that the only way for just one person to play on a teeter-totter is to get in the middle and stand with one foot on one side and one on the other and balance the board that way.

I'm afraid too many people take that approach with the problem of discerning truth. They take a dialectical approach, where you resolve every issue by seeking the middle ground between two opposing extremes—as if you could combine an erroneous thesis and its equally erroneous antithesis and come up with a synthesis that is somehow true.

It's not particularly helpful to think in such terms. While it's true that errors often exist at opposite extremes on both sides of any given truth, you can't necessarily find the truth by starting with opposite errors and searching for the via media between them.

I'm always a bit wary of people who seek the middle of the road on every issue. Have you noticed, for example, that whenever the doctrine of election or the question of human "free will" comes up, someone will invariably declare that he (or she) holds a position that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian but is squarely in the middle of those two "extremes"? A lot of people seem to imagine that there is some safe, logically-coherent, middle-road position where divine sovereignty and human responsibility essentially cancel one another out.

Let's be honest: That claim is often employed in an effort to stop meaningful discussion rather than advance it. Many people who take that approach simply don't want to work through the difficulties posed by the tension between the gospel call and the sinner's inability, or between God's absolute sovereignty and His wrath against sin. They imagine that if they take a position in the middle of the road and cover their eyes, they can simply avoid all such problems altogether.

That's not a biblical way of thinking. Scripture (as well as true Calvinism) stresses both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The truth is not a midway point where neither emphasis is taught at all, but a balanced doctrine where both sides of the truth are fully stressed.

The balance between Christian liberty and godly living is also like that. Don't look for a comfortable midway point between legalism and license. There is no safe "middle road" between legalism and license. In fact, legalism and license often go hand in hand and are found together, because they stem from the same wrong view of sanctification. Legalism is often a smoke screen for carnal living.

But New Testament sanctification properly stresses both liberty and love for Christ; both freedom from the law and freedom from sin; both emancipation from the bondage of our sinful flesh and slavery to righteousness as the only way to enjoy our new life in the Spirit.

Most Christian doctrines achieve balance in a similar way. Forget the midway point on a continuum, the fulcrum on a teeter-totter, and the yellow stripe in the middle of the road. When we speak of balancing these two truths, the idea is more like two oars on a rowboat. Try to paddle a typical boat with the paddle on one side only, and you will just go around in circles without making any progress. The harder you row with one oar, the faster and tighter your circles will be.

You'll never get anywhere spiritually unless you put both oars in the water.

Phil's signature