31 July 2010

Weekend Extra: Our enemies can be reconciled

by Frank Turk

Dr. Russell Moore is my fellow blogger at firstthings.com's Evangel blog, and a well-respected speaker, pastor, and professor at SBTS. He is, in every way, my better, and an example of Christian virtue which I could never be. He is to be widely-admired by the church as a teacher and as a man with a gigantic heart for the lost. His blogging and other writing on the subject of reaching the lost, and on adoption, has been instructive to me, especially when it comes to the matter of dealing with the messy work of pastoring people through their broken lives in the lifelong task of sanctification.

Yesterday, he posted a brief blog entry regarding his thoughts on Anne Rice's recent rejection of Christianity "in the name of Christ". That is, she declared her allegiance to Christ and therefore denounced all Christianity as her best thought on how to deal with the other Christians she witnessed.

Here's the crux of Dr. Moore's 2-page essay:
Anne Rice hasn’t rejected you. Anne Rice hasn’t betrayed you. Would you pray for her, and for the other smoldering wicks and about-to-bolt potential prodigals in your church (and maybe in your home)? It could be Anne has been deeply hurt by what she has seen in Christianity. Or it could be that, like Jesus’ disciples, the closer she’s drawing to Christ, the more she is made uncomfortable by it. Let’s love her.
The sentiment here is well-meant, and pastorally-intentioned. Of course let's please pray for Anne Rice -- at the very least for the same reason we pray without ceasing for all people, but specifically because her experience is an interesting one which, it seems to me, is not very well understood.

Back in 2005 when she went public with her return to Catholicism, I blogged a bit about her confession of faith and her book Out of Egypt. That book in particular seems to me to be extremely instructive as to what Mrs. Rice experienced -- which was more a bout with intellectual honesty than a turn of faith and repentance.

Because the diversion is brief, I'd encourage you to read those three posts as background to this subject.

However, in doing that, I think that background causes me to wonder whether Dr. Moore is giving truly-pastoral advice, or has merely sentimentalized an approach to this sort of behavior.

It seems to me that Mrs. Rice was very able and willing, in 2005, to turn a thoughtful and critical eye to the common objections to the actual story of the Gospel. She was able to make the critical case against liberal readings of the Gospels because let's face it: she's a literate woman. She read the stories as they were told, and found the case against them to be entirely shallow from a literary, hostorical and academic standpoint.

I choose the word "critical" here specifically because I do not think her effort was "apologetic" in the least -- she was not seeking to give an answer for the hope that lies within her, but was in fact narrating the story of her own coming to terms with the story of Jesus. She was giving an academic assessment of non-christian readings of the Gospels, and found them wanting.

This caused her, in her own words, to return to Catholicism -- the religion of her childhood. And in that, she has also stood up for her own belief in the resurrection of Jesus -- which ought to be no surprise. One of her tour guides through the NT literature is N.T. Wright who, in spite of everything else you might say about him, probably writes most vivaciously about the fact of the bodily resurrection of Christ among everyone in the last 200 years. I mean: he's the guy who coined the term, "the life after life-after-death" to make clear what it is the Christian hope truly is.

So yes: she's all about some reverence for the Gospels as compelling stories about Jesus. And yes: she's all about a resurrection. But let's face it: this week, she made it clear she is also, before all that, about these things:
For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else. [28 July 2010, 12:36 PM]
It's curious that this is a matter of conscience for her. What does that mean, I wonder? It seems to me that this is entirely a moral issue for her -- to be apart from the group "Christianity" because that group is "quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous." I think the primary question to ask, though, is if this is actually true of Christianity -- is it "deservedly-infamous"? Would Dr. Moore own that statement?

I think probably not -- and he would point out that Mrs. Rice's indictment here is primarily emotive. Her accusations aren't primarily rational but visceral for the sake of another agenda -- so taking this statement to task is not actually very wise because it sets the emotive nature of the statement up for defensive behavior, and for taking reproaches as hostility rather than good advice.

To that I say: fair enough. Maybe it was essentially a "bad day" for Mrs. Rice -- or a "bad 10 years", since that's the scope of her complaint. But hard upon that compaint is this one:
As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen. [28 July 2010, 12:41 PM]
This is her list of moral objections -- and as such they are accusations against Christianity, specifically Catholicism (a conflation I'll get to in a minute): it is anti-gay (meaning, I suppose, that it forbids gay marriage and at least formally sets sanctions against homosexual behavior and lifestyles); it is anti-feminist (which, I think, is a radicalization of the term as there is no institution in the history of the world which has done more for women socially than the Christian church -- however, I think she probably means that it forbids women as spiritual leaders, and that she also means something relating to "legal, safe and rare" abortions); anti-birth control (again, I think this is about abortion, but it's also a feminist tent pole that women are oppressed if they must have all the children the sex they participate in conceives); anti-Democrat (I sense a pattern …); anti-secular humanism (a phrase which fits into the flow of the complaints in that it ostensibly points to the greatest common good for mankind through human achievement); anti-science (I infer her to mean anti-stem-cell research, which again is in a specific pattern); and of all things after this list, "anti-life".

It's this list which makes Dr. Moore's comments puzzling. Martin Luther, of course, wrote, "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam gait, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance." That is, our life is not the life of kicking at the goads against the God who is Love: it is knowing His will for us and then dying to sin in order to live in His new life. Yet there's not a drop of repentance in Mrs. Rice's statement -- it is in fact the antithesis of repentance because it frames the problem of the speaker in terms which rather impugn others for holding strong convictions which have been, historically, in the necessary middle of the faith and the church. Some might say this is transference by Mrs. Rice. I would say rather that it is a refusal to accept guidance in the practical matter of spiritual formation. She does in fact make "Christians" her enemies by framing them as immoral and irredeemable.

But there is more:
My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become. [29 July 2010, 4:06 PM][via Facebook]
I find it difficult not to say, "aha!" here. I can't really find a euphemism for the kind of pride it takes to say, "My faith in Christ is central to my life," when one has frankly already made it clear that keeping his commands is simply right out.

It is this analysis of what Mrs. Rice has posted via Facebook that Dr. Moore's advice lacks. Should Mrs. Rice be heckled and run around like Servetus in 16th century Europe? Wow -- of course not. But this is not the only option when she has already drawn up the rules of engagement.

The first measure of one's approach has to go back to the problem of Catholicism -- a problem I suspect Dr. Moore would minimize. Could it be that Mrs. Rice was an honest-to-God Christian inside Catholicism? Of course -- I think I am famous for saying that there are many lousy Catholics who have great faith in Christ. But it seems to me that her faith is fully informed by Catholic dogma, and that the flaws in her acting out in faith are frankly the flaws of all thoughtful people inside Catholicism: because you have to disassociate so many unbiblical teachings from your core faith, you wind up dismantling your ability to respect right-minded religious authority. Because the only authority she has says it is infallible but in truth it is riddled with falsehood, she applies her skepticism of claims to infallibility to the Bible and makes it her own buffet of truths. What Mrs. Rice first needs is to be disabused of Catholicism to recover her faith in the church and in God's authority over her moral and intellectual life.

The second measure of approach has to be challenging her deeply regarding moral standards -- as in, if they exist and what they are. Her view of what is moral is a consequential view formed after many other a priori commitments have ben made. For example, how deeply flawed is the view that it's anti-life to be anti-abortion? Is treating this like it is not open antagonism to God's view of murder actually pastorally-, evangelically- or apologetically-useful?

And the third measure is that Mrs. Rice has to meet some people someplace who are actually Christians -- and not just moralists or political activists or attenders at a pep rally every Sunday. She needs to meet some people who are like the people at the end of Acts 2 -- devoted to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, together with all things in common, selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need, and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, receiving their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. This would be an indictment which should stick to us because it is the one which, all told, we wear daily in spite of knowing better.

If she met people like that, I suspect that she would at least have the integrity to take back the ugly things she said. But Dr. Moore's approach to this seems to me to ensure that nobody would treat her as if she said anything wrong. She has said something wrong, and someone needs to be a true friend to her and tell her the depths of her mistakes here -- which do put her at enmity with God and His people.

But, to close up here, this is where Christianity is above all false religions: those who are our enemies can be reconciled -- in fact, this is the purpose of our faith. Christ died that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Be reconciled to God, Mrs. Rice. And in that, come prepared to repent for the sake of whom you have believed.

29 July 2010

Vern Poythress and the modern sorta-gifts (Part Three)

by Dan Phillips

This is the conclusion of a three-part post, which starts here, continues here, and concludes... well, here. I'm mulling an afterword, but this is the main argument.

So how does Poythress get from Scriptural sufficiency to (what I argue is) Scriptural insufficiency? The way most good men and women go off-course: by inches. Something like this (again, I urge you to read Poythress):
  1. Biblically-described gifts/activities may be thought of as discursive and non-discursive
  2. Prophecy, with its visions and heard-voices, is an example of a non-discursive activity
  3. Modern "prophecy," with its feelings and leadings, is also non-discursive
  4. Modern "prophecy" is therefore analogous to Biblically-described prophecy
  5. It is a kind of the same activity, must be treated as a spiritual gift, and may bear the same name
But where is the direct Biblical warrant for basing anything significant on that inferred division? Do not Biblical prophecies include quotations from previous texts? (Hint: they do.) Where is the direct Biblical warrant for extracting the essential identifying characteristics of a gift, and dignifying the resultant activity with the name God gave the genuine gift? It is as if one were to discard the weiner and still insist that what was left was a "hot dog."

Where is the crying need to invent errant gifts? Remember, in the apostolic church, inerrant gifts were already joined by fallible gifts. It isn't as if all the gifts back then involved prophetic inerrancy and apostolic authority, and now we have to explain how we can do anything in our day, because Scripture doesn't countenance it.

To be specific, the Bible already names pastors and teachers, exhorters, helpers and leaders, without any suggestion that their activities were inerrant products of binding, divine revelation. What is the argument demanding the insufficiency of the revealed lists? Are we really incapable of either describing what Christians legitimately do by using revealed categories? Why do we need to invent new gifts, new versions of the gifts that did involve binding, inerrant divine revelation? Where is the direct Biblical warrant for such proliferation of gifts?

And if there is no direct Biblical warrant, where is the necessity?

This progression makes for a cautionary lesson. Let me illustrate:

Gradualistic reasoning. One of my finest memories is of the day my dear (then-future) wife and I shopped for wedding rings together. We were in the Redondo Beach area, going through the jewelry stores. Later there was dinner overlooking the ocean, and a sweet nice time by the crashing waves. Terrific day, terrific evening.

I'd never thought ring-shopping could be fun, but this really was. We were pretty money-poor, so we began by looking at plain gold bands, which cost $X. But those $X rings were in a case right next to other rings. It was impossible not to see them. Looking from the bands to the other rings we saw that, for just $X+10 more per ring, we could have this attractive design on them. Cool! But, wait, just another $X+15, and we could have this beautiful touch... and then, at $X+25, this... and then at $X+75, this.... Before long, we were financially miles and miles away from our starting-point.

Finally my intended said, "You know, would we rather spend all our money on nice rings now and have nothing for our honeymoon? Or get basic rings now, have a nice honeymoon, and then upgrade in ten years? After all, the rings won't make the marriage."

The problem with inching away from Scripture. Poythress' article is an example of just that kind of creeping gradualistic thinking. Poythress thinks that, if we're going to buy the $X+1 ring, we might as well go ahead and get the $X+1000 ring.

In effect, Poythress starts out with A: the apostolic gifts were revelatory, inerrant, binding; the Canon is closed and sufficient; such gifts are no longer in operation. Then he says, "From that explicit teaching of Scripture, it is only a short step to inference A, which is not explicitly Scriptural, but which sees that one might argue that there are different mutations of the same gift, starting off at near-identity, but soon ranging far afield. Once we grant A, it will become easier to step to A+1, then A+25 and A+95, further and further away from explicit Biblical teaching; at which point just another few leaps, and we end up here, at A=Ω. This all leads us to see that it's okay to call non-A 'A,' and obligatory to respect it equally with A."

Nice trick. Color me unconvinced.

Arguing that an inuitive hunch verbalized by a good Christian brother or sister is analogous to inerrant, binding, direct revelation from God to the extent that the latter may bear the name of the former, simply does not follow. A Frisbee may bear similarities to a pizza, but please don't try to serve it to me for dinner, with or without anchovies.

So in sum, I am tempted to refute Poythress' entire argument simply by saying "Yes, well, I don't think contemporary gifts are significantly analogous to apostolic gifts," and leave it at that.

Though Poythress' article is over 15,000 words long, this would actually be an adequate refutation, if not a very satisfying one.

How so? Read Poythress, and you will see that his entire case breaks down thus:
  1. Scripture defines certain revelatory gifts.
  2. I, Vern Poythress, think some modern activities are kind of like those gifts, though not the same.
  3. "Kind of like" is close enough that we can call them by the same names, and are obliged to regard them as spiritual gifts.
See? So if one can say (as I do say) "I don't think it's valid to take that step; instead, I think we should let Scripture name what it names, and be both content with that and bound by that naming," then he's done.

Think of it in any other sphere. A flashlight is like a sun, no? Both give light in dark places. There you go. So, let's call a flashlight a "sun."

But no, we can't do that. A sun has defining features which set it apart from flashlights. There is a reason why we have two words, and don't trade them back and forth willy-nilly.

As I see it, this is just another good brother's goodhearted but mistaken attempt to "Clinton down" the real gifts, to spray-paint a false veneer of respectability to modern counterfeits so as to save them from embarrassment.

At some point, I think sober heads are going to have to wake up and ask themselves why they keep trying to do this, why they keep making excuses for goofy ol' Uncle Joe. Is it because we like the faux-gift practitioners? Well, I like them too, a lot. But is that a good motivation for playing loose with Scripture, bending it to accommodate our friends' errors? Does such a thing serve God well? Does it adorn the Scripture? For that matter, does it serve the uninstructed, the gullible... or the ensnared?

I think not.

Conclusion: case closed!

Now let's see who's been paying attention.

At this point you, Dear Readers, will divide generally into two main categories.

First category will be those persuaded by my argument, and unconvinced by Dr. Poythress. To many folks in that group, I will have at least sketched the outline of a withering, devastating critique of Poythress' position, and you basically agree with me. Case closed.

Second category would be comprised of those who still feel that Dr. Poythress is right. Perhaps you'd argue, as many do, that the Bible does not claim to give an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts. You see analogies between modern, more-intuitive phenomena (if orthodox) and Biblical apostolic, revelatory, inspired, binding gifts. You think it's valid, for that reason, to apply the same names to the modern activities.

Well then, my argument still must prevail.

How so?

You do not feel I have mounted a withering, devastating critique of Poythress' position. I understand that.

But does not my case contain many of the characteristics of a withering, devastating critique? Wouldn't honesty force you to admit that my argument is... hm, what's the word?... analogous to a withering, devastating critique of Poythress' position?


Well then, if you think Poythress is right, then I demand that you apply his reasoning and call my argument a withering, devastating critique of Poythress' position. And I demand that it be worked into any theology of the gifts.

If he's right... then I'm right. Or analogous to being right. Which, since Dr. Poythress does not want to "get bogged down in disputes about terminology," amounts to the same thing.

There y'go.

Case closed.

Part One
Part Two

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28 July 2010

Not Just the Minimum

by Frank Turk

Well, this is what we have come to. Dan tweeted this cartoon in the last 7 days, and I RT’d it:

And in fact one of our friends at Triablogue linked to it because let’s face it: it is both funny and theologically-astute. When Jesus told (for example) Peter to follow him, straight up: he didn’t mean “watch” him, or “keep tabs” on him. Jesus meant “get off your fishing boat, Simon son of Jonah, and go where I am going.”

The point is, of course, that Jesus wants more, not just the minimum. Being a disciple is not the same as being a fan.

But the line drawing here elicited what I would call the classic tempest in a tea pot when one particular tea pot with more than one crack (the infamous Coram Deo) began accusing all involved of blasphemy because – now get this – it’s a cartoon of Jesus.

You see: this cartoon is a violation of the second commandment. The same sin which Israel committed when it raised up the Ashtoreth’s and Baals? That’s this cartoon – because it seems that all pictures are in some way graven images, and a picture of Jesus specifically is a graven image because, well, it’s Jesus. Apparently when you draw Jesus, you are doing the same thing as saying that the bread and the wine are actually God, and therefore you must worship them.

And of course we can’t have that. I mean that seriously: we can’t be worshipping things which are not God – everyone should agree to this as a premise for this discussion, and not merely in theory but also in fact. We shouldn’t pray to statues. We shouldn’t make a bull and offer gifts to it which we might otherwise give to God. We shouldn’t murder our children for any reason, but certainly not to somehow offer their lives to something which is allegedly going to give us health and wealth and (ironically) fertility.

We can’t be making graven images for the sake of worship, now can we? That’s flat out.

But can we in some way make a sermon? I mean this: given that no one as far as I know has started worshipping the cartoon of Jesus slamming twitter-sized “faith”, and no one has offered prayers to it or has otherwise genuflected or splashed one’s self with water to do whatever the water is supposed to do because of this cartoon, what if this is a 30-second sermon?

Do you see what I’m saying here? DJP and Josh Harris and Patrick Chan and myself all used Twitter to send a message in a Twitter-sides data stream that Jesus doesn’t want you personally to be a tweet-sized follower of Jesus. You should put down the proverbial net – or in this case, the actual mouse and KB, or your laptop, or your phone or iPhone – and follow Jesus.

That is: the real Jesus and not the cartoon Jesus, right? The one who actually was a person for reals and who died on a cross so that we can have forgiveness of sin and actual joy.

Not so that we can be just like the Muslims and start intellectual riots over cartoons – especially cartoons which frankly are more edifying than whole segments of the blogosphere which have never made one affirmative statement about faith or how it is lived in the real world.

You personally: I’m not talking about Twitter. I literally want you yourself to follow Jesus.

Right now.

27 July 2010

Vern Poythress and the modern sorta-gifts (Part Two)

by Dan Phillips

SORRY. Really, I am. I was afraid this would happen, which is why I built in some wiggle-words to Part One ("unless...should be...."). This post is too long, so I'm breaking it into two. Comments still closed, for the same reasons I explained previously, until the conclusion — which is already pretty much written, so don't fear. Much.

In the first word, O Pyrophilus, we set out a sketchy view of the view of sorta-cessationist Vern Poythress, who tries very hard to achieve real respectability for the sorta-gifts that mesmerize not-really "continuationists" today and set them off from plain-ol' really-Sola-Scriptura Christians. I briefly summarized Poythress' position, and urged you to read Poythress.

Many folks, including the estimable Justin Taylor, are quite smitten with Poythress' argument. As you have surmised, I am not among that number. This puts me in an uncomfortable  position, because while I doubt I'm alone in my view, I have not found anyone else on whose shoulders I can stand (or behind whom I can hide). Neither Googling the intrawebs nor Logos-ing scores of academic journals turned up critical responses. Dissents to Poythress, if they exist, eluded me. This is disappointing, since (A) Poythress' argument has been influential enough to warrant a sound takedown, and (B) far better men than I could surely disassemble it like a Lego toy with unchanged pulse rate.

So I'm stuck giving my own evaluation, which, recalling the adage about pioneers, is a daunting prospect.

Too bad, too, because I think Poythress' article is easily deconstructed. Everything depends on two factors:
  1. How desperate the reader is to invent a way to achieve respectability for "continuationism"/Charismaticism.
  2. Whether the reader is willing to make a specific leap with Poythress.
The second depends on the first. Without that urge, there is no motivation to take the leap.

The leap is everything. There is a point early-on in the jaw-dropper movie The Sixth Sense (NOTE: I will delete spoilers, period), where everything depends on the viewer making a particular assumption. Make that assumption — which I did — and what follows becomes an amazing experience. Otherwise, it simply does not work.

Poythress' assumption is that we are warranted in calling things what they aren't. (In fact, he actually tries to argue that we are obliged to do so.) More specifically, Poythress assumes we have the right to (A) take revealed gift-name labels, (B) affix those labels to non-identical activities, then (C) demand that those non-identical activities [1] be accepted as legitimate, under the revealed gift-names, and [2] be worked into actual theologies. I could make a syllogism:
  • A has something like (analogous to) characteristic 14
  • ξ has something like (analogous to)  characteristic 14
  • Therefore, ξ can be called "A"
It is as if I were to take a Maine Coon cat, argue that it is analogous to a dog, then demand that Maine Coons be included in textbooks on dogs as kinds of dogs. To do that, I could make a much better case than Poythress does. After all, cats and dogs both walk on four legs, have tails, have sharp teeth, are usually covered with fur, are mammals, have sensitive noses, and are founds in hundreds of thousands of homes. So there y'go: cats are analogous to dogs, therefore cats are (in a Poythressian sense) dogs. People who argue that cats and dogs are different really "need to cool down," as Poythress scolds us.

Prophecy, for instance, is one thing only in the Bible: it is morally-binding direct revelation, inerrant in both bestowal and communication (Exodus 4:15-16; 7:1-2). Preaching, teaching, other forms of communication are in no way prophecy, unless they are instances of the reception and communication of inerrant, direct, morally-binding revelation.

Now, it is legitimate to try to argue (A) that modern "prophecy" is legitimate because it is the same as NT prophecy, since NT prophecy actually was weak, erring, trivial and pathetic — as modern "prophecy" is. Or it is legitimate to argue (B) that modern "prophecy" is nothing like NT prophecy, because it is not the reception and communication of inerrant, direct, morally-binding revelation. Wayne Grudem and others desperately try (and fail) to make the former argument; others (your humble correspondent among them), the latter.

But what is not legitimate is to say yes, the modern activity lacks the defining characteristic of the Biblical activity, but we can just go ahead and call it the same thing because it is analogous to the Biblical activity.

Yet Poythress does insist in calling modern imitations "spiritual gifts." What is his direct authority? He argues that they're "gifts" because all knowledge is a gift. He insists that they are nonauthoritative — yet Poythress grants legitimacy to giving them name of gifts that are definitionally authoritative.

I think this is illegitimate. We cannot apply the same name without applying the same authority. The name "prophecy" is an authority-name. It is as if we were to begin calling deaconesses "pastors" because they are in some ways analogous to pastors, while trying to argue that we do not thereby mean to attribute any authority to the office. The title is a designation of authority within a church, and one cannot grant the title without granting the authority.

Poythress tries to say "piffle" to all this fuss (as he seems to see it) about labels, naming Gaffin and Grudem as proponents of competing positions. No need to quibble, just do the Poythress-thing and get along.

Poythress insists most emphatically on the sufficiency of Scripture, and argues that his position is no challenge to that truth. "Not so fast," say I. If these are spiritual gifts, then are they the ones described in Scripture, or are they not? If they are not, if Scripture does not describe them as gifts, yet if we must accept them as spiritual gifts, and must (as Poythress insists) "take the additional step of integrating the modern phenomena into a theology of spiritual gifts," then it is clear that Scripture is not actually sufficient, since God left this crucial bit of information out. Shouldn't a "theology" be restricted to what Scripture actually teaches, if Scripture is in fact sufficient? Yet if I must do as Poythress argues, is that not premised on the de facto insufficiency of Scripture?

Put another way: Poythress argues on the basis of 1 Corinthians 12 that non-charismatics must accept charismatics' pale imitations of the Biblical gifts. Yet this begs two questions:

First, can we just make up a gift, or its meaning?

Second, if these activies are not the gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12, then how does that passage compel the mislabeling of activities it does not affirm?

If what charismatics call "prophecy" is in fact prophecy, then it must be inerrant and binding, as Poythress affirms. However, if the activity is not in fact what the Bible calls prophecy — and it is not — then is it not critical that they stop calling it such?

If these are what Scripture describes, all agree that we must accept them.

But if they are not, does it not best serve God and man for us plainly to say "Knock it off, grow up, and get back to focusing on what God does say to do in His sufficient Word"?

(To be concluded)

Part One
Part Three

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26 July 2010

A Primer on Antinomianism

by Phil Johnson

ntinomianism is one of those theological terms that is notoriously hard to pin down. It has an admittedly sinister sound, and when many people hear the term, they think it speaks of wantonly advocating sin ("Why not do evil that good may come?"—Romans 3:8). Indeed that kind of extreme antinomianism exists. It was the doctrine of Rasputin, for example.

But in normal theological discourse the term antinomianism usually refers to theoretical antinomianism. Theoretical antinomians don't necessarily advocate extreme libertinism (or practical antinomianism). In fact, a great many theoretical antinomians are known for their advocacy of holiness. (And conversely, many who adhere to "Holiness doctrine" and various other perfectionist schemes are also theoretical antinomians.)

In totally non-technical terms, antinomianism is simply the view that Christians are not bound by any of the precepts of Moses' law—moral, civil, ceremonial, or otherwise.

The Reformers saw three proper uses of the moral precepts of Moses' law. Here's a summary from Article VI of the Lutheran Formula of Concord (the "Epitome," or short form):

"The Law has been given to men for three reasons: 1) to maintain external discipline against unruly and disobedient men, 2) to lead men to a knowledge of their sin, 3) after they are reborn, and although the flesh still inheres in them, to give them on that account a definite rule according to which they should pattern and regulate their entire life."

In other words, the "third use of the law" makes the law's moral standards the rule by which the faithful must order their conduct. In this sense, the moral strictures of the law remain binding on Christians, even though we are "not under the law" in the Pauline sense—i.e., not dependent on our own obedience for any part of our justification. (By the way, the entire Formula of Concord's Article VI is a brilliant refutation of antinomianism, and well worth reading.)

Calvin said the third use of the law is "the principle use." He wrote,

The third use of the Law (being also the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end) has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. For although the Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, although they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God, there are two ways in which they still profit in the Law. For it is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge; just as a servant who desires with all his soul to approve himself to his master, must still observe, and be careful to ascertain his master's dispositions, that he may comport himself in accommodation to them. Let none of us deem ourselves exempt from this necessity, for none have as yet attained to such a degree of wisdom, as that they may not, by the daily instruction of the Law, advance to a purer knowledge of the Divine will. Then, because we need not doctrine merely, but exhortation also, the servant of God will derive this further advantage from the Law: by frequently meditating upon it, he will be excited to obedience, and confirmed in it, and so drawn away from the slippery paths of sin. In this way must the saints press onward . . .

Antinomianism, in essence, is a denial of the third use of the law, claiming that the moral law is not binding on Christians.

There are at least three major strains of theoretical antinomianism:

1. Hyper-Calvinistic antinomianism: Advocates of this view and variations thereof include Tobias Crisp and William Huntington, both 18th-century English preachers. (Some would dispute whether Crisp really fits in this category; I think he does.) They insisted that grace eliminates the moral law as a rule of life.

Hyper-Calvinism places emphasis on God's decretive will at the expense of His preceptive will. Hyper-Calvinists suggest that God's real character is to be discerned from His secret decrees, rather than from actual His commandments and precepts. If God really wanted people to obey this or that commandment, He is sovereign and could have brought it about by His sovereign decree. Since He didn't, it cannot be what He really desires. So the seriousness of the law as an expression of God's will is naturally downplayed by hyper-Calvinism, making most hyper-Calvinists susceptible to antinomianism.

Thus hyper-Calvinistic antinomians deny that the moral law applies in any way to believers, because grace (in their view) is totally incompatible with any law. Furthermore, they deny that the moral law applies to unregenerate people, too—because the unregenerate are not able to obey it.

Nineteenth-century British hypers were notoriously prone to theoretical antinomianism (see Iain Murray, Spurgeon & Hyper-Calvinism, p. 68, n. 1). They concluded that since sinners are unable to obey the moral law, it is wrong to preach that they are obligated to do so. Obviously, if moral inability excuses a sinner from the duty to believe, then on the same grounds he or she can be under no obligation to obey the Ten Commandments, either.

(Iain Murray's excellent book includes an appendix titled "The Injury Done by Hyper-Calvinism and Antinomianism—Words of Witness from Spurgeon"—taken from one of Spurgeon's New Park Street sermons. I happen to have that very sermon on line as part of The Spurgeon Archive. It's "The Minister's Farewell," and to read the bit Murray quotes, do a search for the words "the true minister of Christ"—and start reading at that point.)

This hyper-Calvinistic brand of antinomianism is far more common in England than in the US, but it is not unknown among the "Gospel Standard" people on this side of the Atlantic.

2. Dispensationalist Antinomianism: The idea here is that the relevance of the law was confined entirely to the Mosaic dispensation. The whole law has been abrogated in this dispensation of grace. All passages with a legal emphasis, such as the Sermon on the Mount, are assigned to other dispensations.

This type of antinomianism is found in differing degrees. Lewis Sperry Chafer's book Grace is the classic statement of the view. Charles Ryrie advocates a modified (softened) version of Chafer's view, but he still would fall in the dispensational antinomian category. Zane Hodges, on the other hand, went miles further than Chafer, and he devised a novel, radical antinomianism that deserves a category of its own:

3. No-lordship antinomianism: Those who hold this view make sanctification an optional aspect of the believer's experience. This view (like the other two) makes a hard-line dichotomy between law and grace, treating the two as utterly incompatible. (It is closely related to dispensationalist antinomianism, using the same fundamental rationale—but pushing antinomianism to much further extremes.)

This version of antinomianism suggests that if salvation is by grace through faith, then nothing can possibly be viewed as essential to salvation if it involves the believer's obedience, or surrender, or submission to Christ's lordship—or anything more than a notional "assent." In this view, sanctification itself is seen as legal in character and is therefore regarded as an optional, purely elective, aspect of the Christian experience.

This is what the "lordship salvation" controversy was about a few years ago. Zane Hodges would be the most extreme advocate of this brand of antinomianism. Jody Dillow has tried (in vain, I think) to give this view some academic respectability with his book Reign of the Servant Kings.

Here's a classic sample of modern antinomianism from Bob George's booklet "A Closer Look at Law & Grace." Bob George has combined dispensationalist antinomianism and deeper-life passivity into his own designer variety of antinomianism. But note how plainly he states the antinomian agenda:
The purpose of the law is to show us our need for salvation and then point us to Christ. Once it has done this, the law serves no other purpose.

That's about as blatant a statement of antinomianism as you'll find anywhere. It is a straightforward denial of the third use of the law. It is also a significant departure from the historic evangelical perspective.

Someone will no doubt ask, "Doesn't Scripture itself set grace and law against one another? Doesn't the biblical idea of grace eliminate law?"

While it is true that Scripture never mingles grace and works as grounds for justification, it is not the case that grace rules out law altogether, or vice versa. Paul's whole point in Galatians is that the proper uses of the Law are all compatible with grace. In fact, the true purposes of the law are all gracious. Law only impinges on grace when the sinners own legal works are seen as means of salvation or as instruments of justification.

And when Paul says we are "not under law," he's speaking about our relationship to the law with regard to our justification (cf. Galatians 5:4).

Finally, here are some definitions of antinomianism from some standard theological dictionaries:

1. From Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), p. 57:

[Antinomianism] refers to the doctrine that it is not necessary for Christians to preach and/or obey the moral law of the OT.

2. From Baker's Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), 48:

ANTINOMIANISM. The word comes from the Greek anti, against, and nomos, law, and signifies opposition to law. It refers to the doctrine that the moral law is not binding upon Christians as a rule of life.

And here's a bonus, from John MacArthur's Faith Works (p. 95):

In short, antinomianism is the belief that allows for justification without sanctification.
    Antinomianism makes obedience [to the moral law] elective. While most antinomians strongly counsel Christians to obey (and even urge them to obey), they do not believe obedience is a necessary consequence of true faith . . .. And that is what makes no-lordship theology antinomian.

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25 July 2010

Against Popish Ritual

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 Axe at the Root—A Testimony Against Puseyite Idolatry," a sermon preached Sunday Morning, 17 June 1866 at the Met Tab in London. I chose this excerpt because it goes with what I'll be preaching tonight at Grace Church.

hy did not God ordain worship by windmills as in Thibet? Why has he not chosen to be worshipped by particular men in purple and fine linen, acting gracefully as in Roman and Anglican churches? Why not?

He gives two reasons which ought to suffice. The first is, he himself seeks spiritual worship. It is his own wish that the worship should be spiritual, And in the second place, he is himself a spirit, and is to be spiritually worshipped.

Whatever kind of worship the great Ruler desires he ought to receive, and it is impertinence on my part if I say to him, "No, not that, but this." It is true I may say, "I am very sincere in all this, very earnest in it. It suits my taste. There is a beauty about it; it excites certain emotions which I think to be devotional."

What is all that but saying, "Great God, thou hast chosen such-and-such a way of being worshipped, but I will not render it to thee?" Is not that in effect saying, "I will not worship thee at all;" for must not worship, to be worship, be such as the person worshipped himself will accept?

To invent our own forms of worship is to insult God; and every mass that is ever offered upon the Romish altar is an insult to heaven, and a blasphemy to God who is a Spirit. Every time any form of worship by procession, celebration, or ceremonial of man's invention is offered to God, it is offered in defiance of this word of Christ, and cannot and will not be received; however earnest people may be they have violated the imperative canon of God's Word; and in fighting for rubrics they have gone against the eternal rubric that God as a Spirit must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

The second reason given is, that God is a Spirit. If God were material, it might be right to worship him with material substances; if God were like to ourselves, it might be well for us to give a sacrifice congenial to humanity; but being as he is, pure spirit, he must be worshipped in spirit.

I like the remark made by Trapp in his commentary on this passage, when he says that perhaps the Savior is even here bringing down God to our comprehension; "for," saith he, "God is above all notion, all name." Certainly, this we know, that anything which associates him with the grossness of materialism is infinitely removed from the truth.

Said Augustine, "When I am not asked what God is, I think I know, but when I try to answer that question, I find I know nothing."

If the Eternal were such an one as thou art, O man, he might be pleased with thy painted windows. But what a child's toy must coloured glass be to God! I can sit and gaze upon a cathedral with all its magnificence of architecture, and think what a wonderful exhibition of human skill; but what must that be to God, who piles the heavens, who digs the foundation of the deep, who leads Arcturus with his sons? Why, it must be to him the veriest trifle, a mere heap of stones.

I delight to hear the swell of organs, the harmony of sweet voices, the Gregorian chant, but what is this artistic sound to him more than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal? As a sight, I admire the choristers and priests, and the whole show of a grand ceremonial; but do you believe that God is imposed upon by those frocks and gowns of white, and blue, and scarlet, and fine linen? It seems to me as if such a notion brings down God to the level of a silly woman who is fond of finery.

The infinite God, who spreads out the heavens and scatters stars with both his hands, whom heaven and earth cannot contain, to whom space is but a speck, and time is as nothing, do you think that he dwelleth in temples made with hands, that is to say, of man's building? And is he to be worshipped with your organs, and your roodscreens, and your gaudy millinery? He laugheth at them, he treadeth on them as being less than nothing and vanity. Spiritual worship is what he regardeth, because he is a Spirit.

My brethren, if you could get together a procession of worlds, if you could make the stars walk along the streets of some great new Jerusalem, dressed in their brightest array; if instead of the songs of a few boys or men you could catch the sonnets of eternal ages; if instead of a few men to officiate as priests you could enlist time, eternity, heaven and earth to be the priesthood, yet all this would be to him but as a company of grasshoppers, and he would take up the whole as a very little thing.

But let me tell you that even God himself, great as he is, does not despise the tear that drops from a repentant eye, nor does he neglect the sigh that comes from a sinner's soul. He thinks more of your repentance than of your incense, and more of your prayers than of your priesthoods. He views with pleasure your love and your faith, for these are spiritual things in which he can take delight; but your architecture, your music and your fine arts, though they lavish their treasures at his feet, are less than nothing and vanity.

Ye know not what spirit ye are of. If ye think to worship my God with all these inventions of man, ye dream like fools. I feel glowing within me the old iconoclastic spirit. Would God we had men now like Knox or Luther, who with holy indignation would pull in pieces those wicked mockeries of the Most High, against which our soul feels a hallowed indignation as we think of his loftiness, and of that poor paltry stuff with which men degrade his name.

C. H. Spurgeon

23 July 2010

DIY Christology

by Phil Johnson

This is kind of a follow-up to Monday's post.

ack in the 1990s, I was an active participant in several e-mail forums devoted to theological discussion. I especially loved a couple of open forums where lay people, pastors, and seminary professors mingled—much like the combox of our blog. It was a helpful exercise in learning how to frame difficult concepts in simple terms. I loved the rookie participants, because they were full of good questions, eager to learn, and not afraid to challenge anything that seemed unclear or unbiblical.

But there were always a few lay participants who seemed to come to every discussion with the attitude that theology is (or ought to be) a dialectical exercise done mostly for recreation. They evidently thought the tools of the sport are nothing more than one's personal feelings, speculations, and inventiveness. Discussing doctrine was purely a diversion for them; nothing serious. But it seemed the more serious the topic under discussion, the more eagerly they jumped into the fray with their frivolous and half-baked ideas.

This was especially irritating when some difficult question about Christology, the Incarnation, or the two natures of Christ would come up. You could always count on several of the forum's theological tyros to crawl out of the woodwork and start shooting from the hip. "The hypostitic union? Get real. That doesn't mean anything. I think Jesus simply set aside His deity. How could he be human just like you and me if he retained the attributes of deity?" Or, "Well, I think He kept His deity and took on a human body. 'Two natures' is nonsense. He had a divine nature in a human body. And so on.

The Incarnation, of course, is one area of Christian theology where orthodoxy is meticulously defined and has been accepted by all major traditions without serious challenge since the fourth century. Why anyone (much less a total novice) would want to enter the fray now with a "Well, I think this: [your novel idea here]" kind of argument is mystifying.

The reason these issues were hashed out so carefully in the early church is that they are absolutely foundational. And on such matters it behooves us all to study not only Scripture, but also historical theology and the major creeds before launching into homebrew hypotheses or stupid speculations.

Here's a simplified synopsis of how the church grappled with and finally settled the major questions about Christ's two natures:

Several early heresies arose in the early centuries of the church. Among them all, they pretty much covered every possible heresy regarding the Person of Christ. You think you have a new way to explain the incarnation? It's no doubt already been done.

For example, the Ebionites insisted that Jesus was a mere man—the holiest of all men, but no more than that. The Apollinarians acknowledged His deity but denied that He had a human soul. The Nestorians made Him both God and man, but in doing so made Him two persons in one body—a man in whom the divine Logos dwelt rather than a single person who was both human and divine. The Eutichians, the monophysites, and the monothelites went to the opposite extreme, fusing the divine and human natures of Christ into one new nature. The Arians claimed He was not God, but the highest of all created beings. (That, of course is precisely what modern Jehovah's Witnesses believe.) And the Docetists denied that Christ was really human. Most docetists taught that Jesus' human body was only an illusion.

Several Church councils convened to examine Scripture and decide between these differing views. As soon as one issue was settled, however, another would surface and need to be dealt with. In 325, the council of Nicea condemned Arianism and proclaimed that Jesus is fully divine. But within 60 years, the Council of Constantinople had to deal with Apollinarianism, which went overboard on the side of Christ's deity and was not doing full justice to His humanity. In 381 the council of Constantinople condemned Apollinarianism as heresy.

This war against Christological heresies continued until the council of Chalcedon in 451 issued a statement about the Person of Christ that has stood as the definitive test of orthodoxy from that time until now. The statement is brief. It is all one very long sentence:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; very God and very man, of a rational soul and body; coessential [homousios, identical in nature] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial [homousios, identical in nature] with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the God-bearer [Theotokos], according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, as the prophets from the beginning have spoken of him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

The genius of that statement—the element that put an end to incessant heresies on the nature of Christ—is found in the phrase "two natures without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation." Those four negative statements forever defined and delimited how the person of Christ is to be understood. G. C. Berkhouwer called those four negatives "a double row of light-beacons which mark off the navigable water in between and warn against the dangers which threaten to the left and to the right."

Virtually every heresy that has ever surfaced with regard to the person of Christ either fuses or separates the deity and the humanity of Christ. Chalcedon declared that the two natures can be neither merged nor disconnected. Christ is both God and man. Truly God and truly man.

There is no terminology outside the Council of Chalcedon's statement that has ever been accepted as orthodox by any major branch of Christianity. So anyone who denies any element of that formula—whether it's the two natures, the union of the two natures, or whatever—is unorthodox on the doctrine of the incarnation. It's as simple as that. And this is not something to treat lightly. The doctrine of Christ is not a theological sandbox for children to play in.

Incidentally, the technical term for the distinctive relationship between Christ's two natures is the hypostatic union. It's a doctine anyone who wants to discuss theology intelligently ought to be familiar with.

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22 July 2010

Vern Poythress and the modern sorta-gifts (Part One)

by Dan Phillips

Preface:  Justin Taylor titled an article The Best Essay Ever Written on Spiritual Gifts Today. Eye-catching, eh? Rare, too, to see Justin so giddy; so of course I looked closer.

Have to admit I was a bit disappointed to find that the title referred to a fourteen-year-old article by Vern Poythress, published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society in 1996 (and now happily available online). I say I was "disappointed," because I was aware of Poythress' argument and (frankly) had thought it very low on merit.

But I like Justin, think very well of him, and decided that if he found it so epochal, I should give it another, closer look.

So let's do.

I'll do this in two parts... unless I end up doing it in three. The first part will summarize Poythress' argument, and the second will evaluate it. My summary will be inadequate; I encourage you to wade through his entire article.

Comments will be closed on part one, because (A) I don't see any way comments won't jump the gun on the second half; and (B) this topic always attracts USers (Unreflecting Spewers). This is my way to make them marinate, at least a little, at least briefly. Think of it as a ministry. Comments should be opened up on the second post.

Poythress' position. Poythress says, in the opening Abstract (bolding added):
The Book of Revelation is inspired. Modern visions, auditions, and “prophecies” are not inspired, because the canon of the Bible is complete. However, these modern visions and auditions may be analogous to the Book of Revelation, just as modern preaching is analogous to apostolic preaching. Like modern preaching, modern intuitive speech has authority only insofar as it bases itself on the final infallible divine authority of Scripture.

A key distinction here is the distinction between rationally explicit processes, such as those involved when Luke wrote his Gospel, and intuitive processes, such as those involved with the Book of Revelation. One type of process is not inherently more “spiritual” than the other. Both the Gospel of Luke and Revelation were inspired.

Modern preaching is analogous to Luke: in composing a sermon rationally explicit processes dominate. Modern “prophecy” or intuitive speech is analogous to Revelation. Intuitive processes dominate. The general analogy between apostolic gifts and lesser gifts of the present day suggests that rationally explicit processes and intuitive processes can both be used by the Spirit today.

Cessationists argue that New Testament prophecy was inspired and has therefore ceased with the completion of the canon. But there are still noninspired intuitive gifts analogous to prophecy. Therefore, in order not to despise the gifts of the Spirit, cessationists must allow for a place for intuitive gifts in their ecclesiology.

The fact that we have analogy rather than identity means that we must respect certain restraints. Modern intuitive phenomena must be subject to the same restraints that are placed on preaching. Everything must be checked for conformity to Scripture.
I maintain that modern charismatic gifts are analogous to inspired apostolic gifts. Hence it may or may not be appropriate to call them by the same terms as those used in the NT. Rather than get bogged down in disputes about terminology, I move directly to a consideration of what the modern gifts actually do.....
What Poythress does. I urge you to read Poythress' article. If in my summary I don't reproduce every tiny step, Poythress' devotees will dismiss my argument as oversimplifying and un-nuanced. However, if I do interact with every step, thousands of sets of eyes will glaze over. And well they should: Pyromaniacs is not an academic journal. But if that happens, my Mission will be Unaccomplished.

So I give a very sketchy summary.

Poythress divides all Biblical spiritual gifts into those that operate with God's own authority (i.e. apostolic and Messianic gifts), and those that are under authority (i.e. pastors and teachers, etc.). Poythress says that the revelatory, fully-binding gifts ceased to function as such with the completion and dissemination of Scripture, while other non-revlatory gifts continue their function as-is... or as-was. In this way, Poythress distinguishes "gifts with full divine authority and subordinate (uninspired) gifts" (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 39, 1, 74).

Then Poythress invents a division between "discursive" and "non-discursive" gifts. The former are those in which the gifted person bases what he does on Scripture — as a pastor preparing a Biblical sermon, or a counselor using Scripture to help or warn someone. The "non-discursive" are more intuitive processes, arising directly rather than as a result of analysis or reflection. Prophecy was an example (I'd cite 2 Peter 1:21 to make Poythress' point, though he doesn't), particularly seeing visions and hearing voices.

Then Poythress notes that certain modern activities are (to him) like those revelatory activities. They are reminiscent of them, they are (he argues) in the same general category as they, though without the inerrantly-revelatory and morally-binding nature of those prophetic/apostolic gifts.

Again and again, Poythress insists on the sufficiency of Scripture, and the non-continuation of the apostolic gifts. But he wants to grant status to hunches, intuitions and notions as being — not merely hunches, intuitions and notions, but — spiritual gifts analogous to the Biblical gifts of prophecy and words of knowledge and wisdom. They may be situational applications of Scripture, prompted by the Spirit but errant and non-binding except insofar as they echo Scripture itself.

Poythress tells cessationists that "some noncharismatics need to learn to value nondiscursive gifts. Instead, they have subtly [seemed?] to say, 'I don’t need you.' Their basis, supposedly, is that nondiscursive gifts ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture. What they have actually shown is merely that inspired nondiscursive gifts ceased with the completion of the canon."

So, they're the same gifts (prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge), but not inspired? Poythress mentions the controversy between those (like Richard Gaffin) who think NT prophecy was inerrant, and those (like Wayne Grudem) who think it was not — but he shrugs it off as inconsequential.
Suppose Gaffin is right. Then “prophecy” ceased with the completion of the apostolic era and the completion of the canon of Scripture. Modern phenomena are fallible and hence are not identical with New Testament prophecy. But modern nondiscursive processes with teaching content is analogous to prophecy, just as modern preaching is analogous to apostolic preaching. Hence the general principles concerning spiritual gifts, as articulated in 1 Cor 12-14 and elsewhere, are still applicable. What charismatics call “prophecy” is not really the “prophecy” mentioned in the New Testament. Rather, it is a fallible analogue. It is really a spiritual gift for speaking fallibly through nondiscursive processes.
But is this different modern activity "prophecy," still? Poythress doesn't seem to care. He says both agree that it is fallible; Gaffin "needs only to take the additional step of integrating the modern phenomena into a theology of spiritual gifts." Remember, Poythress had earlier said that "it may or may not be appropriate to call them by the same terms as those used in the NT," but we should not "get bogged down in disputes about terminology."

Poythress closes with a bunch of stories which, if that's how you do exegesis, well, there y'go.

In sum: modern activities that Charismatics call "prophecy" and such are not the same as the inspired NT gifts, but they are analogous, are gifts, are manifestations of the Spirit (albeit flawed and errant), could be given the same names, and should be "integrat[ed]... into a theology of spiritual gifts."

Thus far Poythress.

Next time, Lord willing, my thoughts.

In the meanwhile: if you'd like to beef up on your Biblical thinking regarding this area, read posts tagged Charismaticismda Gifts, and sola Scriptura.

Part Two
Part Three

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21 July 2010

Filthy Calvinists, and the people who love to hate them

by Frank Turk

Before the real antics begin today, our friends at Triablogue have digitally-published a book called The Infidel Delusion to respond to John Loftus' cadre of sad-faced clowns' most recent book, the Christian Delusion -- because it's the Christians, you see, who slavishly follow the thoughts and edicts of their mentors and heroes.

Anyway, Peter Pike's announcement for the book is worth the read as well, and there you can download the PDF for your reading pleasure. Bring a Lunch.

The best way to ensure, by the providence of God, that I will have a full week at work is to promise to post something controversial which will require significant moderation and a lot of time disambiguating people regarding their own bum preconceptions.

So on Monday, I promised to write a blog post where hating on Calvinism would be on-topic. And here we are.

Back in February 2009, Challies made a post called A Portrayal of Calvinism in which he was reviewing two different books entitled Finding God in The Shack (ugh -- and he survived) where the authors of these books were taking pot-shots at Calvinism.

Before we get to the meat there, I just want to point something out: the real barking dogs of horrible theologically who want to still call themselves Christians always always always find it necessary to beat down on Calvinism in order to say, "see how much better my system of thinking about the Bible and Jesus and God and people is?" Why is that I wonder? Why is Calvinism the whipping boy for people who want to find God in the Shack, and the people who want to say God doesn't know the future, and the people who want to say all roads lead to the same God Almighty, and the ecumenicists, and the social gospelists, and so on?

Why is it that all these people hate Calvinism -- if it's such an obvious falsehood?

That's a thought to ponder if you want to fire up your vitriol in the comments -- in fact I insist: why do all the nut-jobs hate Calvinism most of all rather than, for example, the idea that God is the Eucharist, or that your soul will suffer in purgatory for your sin before you get to spend eternity with God and the Virgin Mary? Why is Calvinism the one they know they have to overcome?

OK -- back to Challies. In what may be the most strongly-worded statement Tim has ever made publicly, he had this to say about the way these books treated Calvinism:
My reaction when reading all of this was, if not anger, real frustration. I hate to think that thousands of people will read such an inaccurate, uninformed, fictitious view of Calvinism (and this by an author who has some credibility by virtue of his position as a Professor of Theology). Even where Rauser is correct, his words often lack the charitable nuance we might well hope for. But in so many ways he is really, really wrong. Not surprisingly, he does not quote any sources; I know of none that would support his statements.
You know: Challies was almost angry. That's saying a lot.

But people hate calvinists, right? I mean, let's do some benchmarking here. I dropped this into Google, and look at the results I got:

About 557,000 sites which are decidedly not Arminian, yes? But when we put the competition into Google, check it out:

Wow! Like DOUBLE the number of sites! Seriously -- if the problem is that there's quite a lot of venom going around, check the internet, because clearly someone out there is wrong.

So what's your beef? You hate Calvinism? Really? Let's hear your beef - in comments which are neither vulgar nor insulting, si vous plait - with only one limiting factor: one comment of complaint per customer, limited by Blogger's new-found character limit of about 4,000 characters.

Have at it. You loyal Calvinists need to buck up for this because it's going to be instructive one way or the other. Stay away from brawling and responding to taunts. You have heard this all before, and all I'm asking is that you spend you time today thinking about why people will be glad to dump on Calvinists in the first place.

I'll moderate at will. Enjoy.

20 July 2010

Evil pragmatism vs. the Christian's right focus

by Dan Phillips

There's a world of difference between practicality, and pragmatism.

One of my least-favorite classes in seminary gave me an excellent mental image which I may have shared before. The prof asked us preachers to envision a really extraordinary individual in our audience. He said we should make him unmissable — huge, orange-skinned, green suit, hat with a flower in it.

He sits in the front row, squarely in front of us. He only knows three words in English. He repeats them over and over again.

The words?
"Tell me how."

I happen to think that, taken in the right measure, this was an excellent piece of counsel. It could be over-pressed, with the result that pastors would never preach on passages or Biblical themes they judge "not practical," such as the doctrine of God, election, atonement, and on and on. That would be a great betrayal, and a great failure as a pastor.

At the same time, it serves as a bracing caution against those of us who live too much in the ivory tower, too enamored with abstract theology or philosophy. It tells against ivory-tower thinking divorced from the dailiness of life. It wouldn't hurt one bit if we looked over the first draft of our sermon manuscript and envisioned someone asking, "So... what am I supposed to do with that?"

Certainly Jesus and the apostles could never be accused of such baffling, misty abstraction. If Paul gave three chapters of rich doctrine in Ephesians, he follows it up with four three chapters of wrapping the truth in shoe-leather. The Gospels and Epistles deal with money, marriage, parenting, childing, morality, relationships, church polity, and a host of other specific issues.

If I dare whisper the thought, I think this was a shortcoming of Spurgeon's — at least in all the sermons I know of. He preached glorious, timeless sermons on the person and work of Christ, the covenants, and the authority of Scripture. But I don't think I've yet come across a "Tell Me How" sermon opening Scripture on marriage, work, or the like. Those topics must feature in preaching the whole counsel of God.

Practicality, then, is (A) Biblical, and (B) light-years removed from....

"If it works, it's good" is not a Biblical notion. We can see the inherent, fatal flaw if we bring to light the generally-unstated definition of "works": "achieves our desired results." We identify goals and imbue them with a self-justifying quality. That is, if we achieve the desired result, whatever we did to get there is eo ipso good.

Self-justifying goals Christians have set include:
  • Increased "giving" (invariably financial) among churchgoers
  • Increased attendance
  • Increased professions of faith
  • Increased actual (i.e. conversion) baptisms
  • Happier people
  • People who report feeling closer to God
  • Greater book sales
  • Compliant children
  • Better reputation among the lost
I envision two sorts reading that list:
  1. Those who don't see a thing wrong with these as self-justifying goals.
  2. Those who have actually read their Bibles.
Speaking of which....
The Bible
I may exaggerate, but not by much. The Bible is absolutely crystal-clear on at least three things, if you'll forgive one last enumeration:
  1. The Christian's goal must be to please God (Deuteronomy 6:5f.; Matthew 6:1-6, 33; 1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Peter 1:13-17, etc.).
  2. Doing what pleases God may be the direct cause of temporal disaster.
  3. Doing what pleases God will be the direct cause of eternal delight.
Be perfectly clear: doing what pleases God, in the right way and from the right heart, may result in —
Of course, that's just a sampling. But it is enough to condemn pragmatism once and for all.

So here's the bottom-line: Christian living is a lot like flying a jet in a deep fog at night. The instruments are your only friend.

Except in our case, the "instruments" are the Word, alone.

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