31 October 2010

Don't Bow to Worldly Wisdom

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 Key-Note of a Choice Sonnet," a sermon preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle sometime after 1861, first published in early 1880.

f all the philosophers in the world should contradict the Scriptures, so much the worse for the philosophers; their contradiction makes no difference to our faith. Half a grain of God’s word weighs more with us than a thousand tons of words or thoughts of all the modern theologians, philosophers, and scientists that exist on the face of the earth; for God knows more about his own works than they do. They do but think, but the Lord knows.

With regard to truths which philosophers ought not to meddle with, because they have not specially turned their thoughts that way, they are not more qualified to judge than the poorest man in the church of God, nay, nor one-half so much. Inasmuch as the most learned unregenerate men are dead in sin, what do they know about the living things of the children of God? Instead of setting them to judge we will sooner trust our boys and girls that are just converted, for they do know something of divine things, but carnal philosophers know nothing of them.

Do not be staggered, brothers and sisters, but honor God, glorify God, and magnify him by believing great things and unsearchable—past your finding out—which you know to be true because he declares them to be so. Let the ipse dixit of God stand to you in the place of all reason, being indeed the highest and purest reason, for God, the Infallible, speaks what must be true.

C. H. Spurgeon

29 October 2010

Logos: two neat things — one new (new Greek NT!), one not

by Dan Phillips

While we're all waiting and hoping to hear from Phil... you get to hear from me, about Logos.

First: you all know how much I love me some BibleWorks 8. Mine is a love that cannot be denied.

However, I've been looking  for an opportunity to share one feature Logos has over BW8:
Layout of the Biblical texts.

That is, in BW8, the font is simply there. It's beautiful, it's clear, it's all the wonderful things that BW is — but it's all block-set. No paragraphs, and no broken margins for poetry. So recently when I wanted to do a read-through of the ESV of Amos, I simply used my Logos.

That would be a nice BW upgrade for BW9.

Second: Logos has just released a new critical edition of the Greek New Testament, for free. The edition was done by Michael W. Holmes and sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature.

I just read about it at the BibleWorks forums, and added it to my Logos yesterday, with no time for more than a hasty glance. You can read more about it here and here.

Logos is providing it to users free here. (You can also get a hard-copy next month.)

Holmes has taught in evangelical institutions, as you'll see in his bio. This may jar your impression of the SBL, as it does mine. However, lately, the SBL has apparently been letting (gasp!) evangelicals move up the bus a bit — a fact which has caused some panic and hysteria.

Good times.

UPDATE: now the multitalented Mike Hanel has made the SBLGNT available for BibleWorks 8 as well.
UPDATE II: and, thanks to Jim Darlack, the apparatus as well.

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28 October 2010

This is important

by Frank Turk

OK, we don't usually do this, but this is important. A real scholarship is on the line here.

Look at this:

The blogger is yellow is our friend Mark Lamprecht, the blogger also known as "HereIBlog", at http://www.hereiblog.com/. He was in second place until a secular blog plugged the current first-place blogger.

He needs to be in first place to win the scholarship, and you people have to vote. This doesn't even cost you money -- it will take 60 seconds to click here and vote for Mark Lamprecht.

Right now. This thing has a shelf life.

Sorry Dan -- they can get angry about their closet Charismaticism after they vote for Mark.

Trusting: what it is and isn't

by Dan Phillips

After Tuesday's post, it occurred to me that perhaps I should try to do for the notion of trusting God the same sort of thing I did for (or, some would say, to) Christianoid notions of prayer. So here we go.

My wife and I both work, and even so California severely taxes our resources (pun noted in passing, not intended). But suppose I were suddenly to make this announcement:
For years I have been burdened by the paucity of emphatically Biblical teaching in the Eastern Sierra. The Word burns in my bosom, and I can't hold it in any longer. I'm weary of telling people to reboot their computers all day, when I could be teaching and preaching the Word. So as of this week, my wife and I are going to quit our jobs, put our house on the market, pack up the kids and everything, and drive to Bishop, California, to begin a new faith-based ministry. How we'll manage, what we'll do, where we'll live — we have no idea. We are stepping out on faith. We'll just be trusting God.

If I made that announcement, at least two things would happen:
  1. Scores of folks would burst out, "Who are you, and what have you done with Dan Phillips?" (My dear wife would lead that chorus.)
  2. Scads and scads and scads of Christians, if they heard of it, would glow, nod piously, and say "Ahh, 'tis so sweet to trust in Jesus!"
But it's good to trust, isn't it? Aren't trust and faith and believing God all Biblely pictures? So what is wrong with that picture? Anything? Anyone? Bueller?

It is a pretty good hermeneutical principle that the first occurrence of a major concept controls and informs subsequent Biblical occurrences. I think that holds in this case, where faith makes its first appearance in Genesis 15:6. Let's set it in context.
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)
What are the essential elements? There are only two:
  1. An explicit word from God
  2. Believing embrace of that word
So that is what faith is: it is trusting an explicit word from God. We could say a lot more about it, but we must say at least that much, and shouldn't let ourselves stray far from it.

Fast-forward a couple of millennia, and we see Jesus saying to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Nothing has changed. Jesus makes an explicit statement, fastens Martha's attention on it, asks if she embraces it, if she believes it to be true.

The related word trust is not fundamentally different, except that it emphasizes the element of dependence on the truth, leaning and relying on it. But it still is directed towards the Word (Psalm 119:42), and the truth it reveals.

Other similar statements are simply shorthand for the same idea. For instance, when David sings, "O my God, in you I trust" (Psalm 25:2), we must understand this in the background. David isn't saying, "God, I have great self-esteem, and I've plunged myself into the Cloud of Unknowing, listening in the mystic stillness for that still small voice." Such thought would have been foreign to him, repellant. Rather, he is saying in effect "I know what Scripture says about You to be true, and I rest my full weight on it."

So let's move to the bottom-line. This whole area of faith and trust provides yet more rich and verdant pastureland for Christianoid nonsense. Like other pious nonsense phrases ("The Lord told me...."), we're supposed to just grunt and nod piously. We certainly shouldn't ask questions.

But — as with Schuller, as with Chan, as with random anonymous Charismatic-types, as with the Blackabys — I think we should ask questions. I think we must.

In this case, it really isn't rocket-science. I just don't (and never have) seen Biblical Christianity as a "Get-out-of-thinking" ticket. Quite the reverse; I think Christians who practice their professed faith are hard, rigorous thinkers. Have to be.

So in this particular, two questions. Just two simple, straightforward, perfectly-Biblely questions. To wit:
  1. For what?
  2. On what specific Biblical basis?
Let's apply.

Brother Arni M. Pulsive announces he's quitting his job, packing his family up, and hitting the road with the Gospel. How will he feed, clothe, and care for his wife and children?

"We're just trusting God," Arni grins.

And so you cock an eyebrow and ask: "For what?"

Is Arni "trusting God" to drop food into their mouths, clothes onto their backs, and medicine into their glove compartments? Or is he "trusting God" to move people with real jobs to foot his bills? Well then, let's have him say so. Let's press him to be specific, shall we? Why not?

And then, if that's what Arni answers, we follow up: "On what specific Biblical basis?" Because "God" is not another name for "My Good Luck," or "Omnipotent Rubber Stamp of Me." I mean, it simply does not make sense to "trust" a person to do what that person has never promised to do, does it?

Suppose you seminarians "trust" me to write your theses for you. Or you husbands "trust" me to teach your sons for you. Or you pastors "trust" me to compose your sermons for you. I suppose that I could do those things, you know. I have the ability.

So what's missing?

Well, what's missing of course is that I have neither offered nor promised to do any of those things for you. You have no grounds, no basis for that "trust." So the concept of "trusting" me to do something I never said I'd do — well, it's just absurd and silly. You would end up looking ridiculous.

Or not? Suppose a nightmare Bizarro world, where everyone imagined that I was obliged to come through for everyone who concocted some scheme, and then committed me to it in absentia. Why, in that case, I would just look more and more pathetic as people across the globe announced things they were "trusting" me for, and I kept failing to deliver, over and over again.

It could ruin my good name, my reputation, if people were lazy and sloshy-minded enough not to think through what "trust" implies and assumes.

Hold that thought.

So we have asked Arni to identify where God promised to foot the bill for any scheme Arni "imagineered." That's where Arni's going to be in trouble. See, he's going to be confronted with a Bible that puts a grand premium on people making careful and responsible plans (Proverbs 16:1, 3, 9), and commends hard and skilled labor, while warning of idle dreaming (Proverbs 12:24; 14:23; 28:19). He'll have to answer to texts that say that men who don't provide for their family are worse than infidels (in the KJV of 1 Timothy 5:8; or, as a lady I once knew appropriately had it, "imbecile"). Arni will have to imagine explaining how he is "trusting" the Lord who urged people to count the cost (Luke 14:28ff.) for his refusal to do that very thing.

Examples could be multiplied until this column would be measured by the foot rather than the inch, but I trust (hope?) that you take my point. Think about it, take it, keep it.

For yourself, don't shame the name of God by broadcasting that you are "trusting" him for things He has not specifically promised (the in-this-life healing of an ill loved one, the numeric growth of a church, the salvation of a friend or child). Do glorify Him for trusting Him in those areas where he has left us precious promises — such as trusting the utter sufficiency of His word for all of Christian life (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

For others, when you hear someone say that (s)he is "trusting God" for X, just nicely ask two questions.

You know which two.

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27 October 2010

Only your weaker eye

by Frank Turk

Those of you not following me on Twitter may have seen my link to "I AM" in the sidebar sometime in the last two days, with the threat that I'm going to blog it. The blog entry follows here, but some preface is necessary.

The first part of the preface has to be this: I think the church, overall, is in trouble. The church is not actually very careful these days about being the church or even knowing what it means to be "the church." I think it's generous to call what passes for Christianity these days "moralistic, therapeutic deism" because "moralistic, therapeutic deism" indicates that the people who practice this stuff think there is actually a moral standard, there is actually a difference between being well and being unwell, and that there is actually a Deity rather than just an invisible rabbit we can talk to or just a vague sense that duckies and puppies are nice. The church is in trouble because its ability to define itself is really as bad as its ever been, but probably not any worse than the worst it has ever been.

So in that sense, with the church in trouble, the second part of my preface here is this: somebody ought to do something about it. Many people look like they are trying, but let's be honest: with all the trying, it's not getting any better. The church is not actually any better off because of the Gospel Coalition; it's not any better off because of Together for the Gospel. The church is not any better off, btw, because of Crossway Publishing or Harvest House or Zondervan; it's not any better off for TBN, CBN, or even our beloved friends at Wretched. So let me suggest something in that vein: continuing to do what we're doing when it's yielding the same ineffectual results is, as it says on the coffee cup, the definition of insanity. We ought to do something, but how about we try something that isn't what is already not working.

So the end of my preface is actually the beginning of my post, which is this video excerpt from an interview with the creators of the movie "I AM".

Now look: the place where that blonde guy loses me entirely is when he starts talking about "the faith world". Personally, I have no interest in "the faith world," as that's perhaps the most nondescript way of saying anything about anything that I can imagine. What is "the faith world"? Is it all religious belief? Is it all merely-optimistic belief? If this fellow, John Ward, wanted to suck all the substance out of the possibility of "conversation" -- conversation being his primary motivator -- from his movie, I think he couldn't have done better than to make this movie for "the faith world".

See: I think the irony is that this video, which claims to be the mission statement behind this movie, has a lot of things right.

That trailer actually gets the plight of the unbeliever exactly right, psychologically if not spiritually. But the problem is that the movie itself doesn't have a different view of God than the unbelievers in that clip.

Look: this movie is a symptom of what's wrong with the church. The problem is not that people think little of church -- that's a symptom, and it's a symptom that the church itself doesn't do anything to overcome. The Problem is that the church is going to wrap itself around this thing which has nothing to do with the church (take notice Lifeway and SBC) and then hope that this vacant, contextless, undeclarative 86 minutes of inconclusive sentimentality will bring people to some closer idea of who and what God is.

And then after that, the people whose hobby it is to care about the church are going to complain that this is not the church, and this is not the Gospel, and this is not Christ -- and nothing will change.

But why? Why, do you think, nothing will change even though some people will engage the subject with theology and apologetics?

This is what I'm thinking: arguments are not going to change the mind of people like the ones who made this movie, and they are also not going to change the minds of those who are in the clip about the empty chair. I know: it's a disaster and it must be a sign of the times that even if van Til and Machen were here to tell these people off, they wouldn't change their minds.

But here's the thing -- it seems to me that if Christ died for our sins in accordance with Scripture, and was buried, and then raised on the third day in accordance with Scripture, our primary job is not to argue with people who think that the primary objective of church is to make it go poorly for those who are gay; our job, if Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, is not to convince others that we don't have defective and submissive genes which force us to seek out a reward for doing good things; our job, if Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end, is not to start a conversation.

Our job is to tell them that Christ is Real, and show them that Christ is Real.

It's stunning to me that we can show everyone we think the politics of our nation is real by always and in every way being on about it -- the debt is too high, our freedom is in jeopardy, the Constitution is violated, and so on. We can make much out of making sure Harry Reid doesn't get re-elected.

But how, exactly, do we make much out of Christ? By making the service on Sunday longer or shorter, more or less boring or more or less emotive? Or showing a movie? Or by starting arguments with nitwits who don't really understand that their creative efforts are filthy rags?

Really -- that's how we demonstrate that Christ is the most precious thing in all creation?

Listen: I know you want TeamPyro to blog this movie and tell you that your version of Christianity is better than this version of "the faith world", but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the script-writers and Producers, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven -- and that goes for all manner of Script-writers, and all manner of Producers, including the ones you think you like and are like.

You are not more faithful because you can see the flaws in this movie from a mile away using only your weaker eye. You are more faithful when you bring the actual Gospel to actual people who are actually dying because it's real, and because they need it as much as you do.

If you will do that rather than sort of huffily object to this movie, you will suddenly be doing something more important than apologetics: you will be preaching the Gospel to all living things, and making disciples of them.

That would be something new to try for all of us. I wonder if you're up to it?

26 October 2010

The Robert Schuller saga, and questions it provokes

by Dan Phillips

I'm sure you've all heard this: Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral declared bankruptcy last week. The church is seeking protection regarding $7.5 MILLION that it owes creditors who, according to Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman (!), have filed lawsuits. In all, the Cathedral is apparently $55 MILLION in debt. The Wall Street Journal speaks of "a trail of hundreds of [i.e. 550] unpaid creditors from California to Washington, D.C." (Here is a partial list of top creditors.)

The CC had apologized to creditors, but you can't live on apologies.

In a notable paragraph from the WSJ article, we read:
The church's style may seem extravagant, but it brought worship to life, said Brett Judson, a member who is listed as a creditor for pipe-organ performances. Pageantry, he said, "is something the congregation wants. All the musical and dramatic outlets are a way to open people up to a positive Christian message." (Emphases added.)
Right; because it takes expensive music and entertainment to bring worship to life (pace Colossians 3:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:1-4), and that's what non-Christians really need (pace Romans 10:17).

There will now be abundant material for tracing the CC's financial downfall — but that isn't my main focus. My interest turns to Schuller himself, in two particulars, from the second of which I'll launch a bit more broadly.

First — huh? Schuller's daughter is pastor of the church? How did that happen? Her only degree that I know of is a doctorate in business administration... and there's that whole she's a woman thing.

Happily, we need not speculate, because the senior Schuller explains to us exactly how this happened: God told him to have his daughter replace him. Oh, don't take my word for it. Here we go:
The Rev. Schuller shared in yesterday's ministry announcement that, after he told God he was too old to lead, God told him, "Give me two more years - 24 more months. . . . Don't worry. I have called your daughter Sheila, too. She is equipped and she will be your legs."
So there you go. It's all Charismaticky. Schuller had a word from "God," which he quotes verbatim, in which "God" says a doctorate in BA is jake with Him, and that whole ban on female pastors thingie can be waived. ("God" didn't explain when He'd changed His mind on 1 Timothy 2:8-15 [I speak as a leaky-Canoneer].)

If Scripture isn't enough, something else will take its place. No large surprise that the "something" came from within Schuller's mind.

Second, Schuller has himself now spoken publicly about the bankruptcy.

And what did Schuller say? Dare we hope? Did he express broken repentance for years of preaching false doctrine, lifting up man, twisting or altogether ignoring Scripture, effectively denying the Gospel? Did he lament such opulent waste, such fleecing of sheep, such wasted years? Did he beg his listeners to forgive him, warn them of the wrath to come, and plead with them to flee to Christ alone for salvation by His blood?

Well, Schuller did plead, all right — but what he pled for was more money and more support. Because, by yiminy, he's earned it! Again, don't take my word for it, hear Schuller himself:
"I need more help from you," Schuller said, according to the Orange County Register. "If you are a tither, become a double-tither. If you are not a tither, become a tither. This ministry has earned your trust. This ministry has earned your help."
Yes, well... my, my — "broken" and "repentant" aren't the words that leap to one's mind, are they?

Which brings me to my launching-off point. Surely someone has asked, but I can't find any article (except Al Mohler's post, to a degree) posing what is to me the biggest and most obvious, pressing question that should come from this.

The question is: how could this happen?

I don't mean, "What bad business-decisions and financial practices led to this?" I mean, if what Schuller has preached for decades is true, how could this happen?

For decades and decades Schuller has urged vast audiences of complete strangers, about whom he knew absolutely nothing and for whom he takes absolutely no responsibility, to become "possibility thinkers." He has unconditionally and unqualifiedly exhorted each and every last one of them to adore themselves, believe in themselves, embrace themselves, dream really really big, and launch — assuring them that God will foot the bill.

Now, I don't recall Schuller ever saying, "Dream big, launch — and if you don't get there just go beg for money from working people." Maybe he did. I don't think so.

Here's what I wonder, though. How many poor folks took Schuller at his word, adored themselves, embraced their drives, "trusted" God (to rubber-stamp their plans), launched — and ruined themselves, their families, their reputations, their health, their lives?

I imagine that I'm pretty safe so far, with this readership. And if I throw in Joel Osteen's name, again I'll get nothing but nods.

But what if I then toss in Rick Warren? What if I specifically refer to his talk at the 2010 Desiring God conference, at John Piper's invitation, followed by Piper's admiration for what a wonderful communicator Warren was?

What are the total strangers who heard Warren's plea for "imagineers" — an ironic borrowing of the term from Disney — going to do with his exhortation, delivered as it was under the auspices of Piper and all? What reporter is going to trace out downloads of that message, and see what the fruits are in the hearers? No doubt, some will filter the charge through a Biblical grid, and accomplish great things. But who will find the family, for instance, where the frantic wife wonders how she'll feed and clothe the children while her husband is off "imagineering" himself (and themselves) into financial and social ruin?

I know one isn't supposed to ask these questions, but my mind just runs that way. I asked questions like these when Francis Chan released his (to my mind) bizarre and troubling letter about walking away from his ministry. Some cheered, some movingly bore confirming witness, others roared in outrage, others ignored. But I can't help wondering, and marvel when others don't. It isn't rocket science.

Every time I hear a story of someone who faced the odds, held on in the face of ruin and pulled it off, I wonder how many will be emboldened by that story to follow that example — and will themselves fall into shameful, miserable ruin, instead of the bright happy ending they (ahem) imagined?

You're bright folks, you don't need me to go on and on about this.

Contrast all this with being a minister of the Gospel. I remember some really terrific counsel I received from one of my first pastors, back in the seventies. He said something like this: if you can't preach the same Gospel in the mansions of Beverly Hills or the trenches of Vietnam, you aren't preaching the real Gospel. The Gospel is trans-cultural, trans-temporal, and trans-situational.

So what should we do? Oh, golly (he said innocently), I don't know. Just off the top of my head?
  1. Believe, study and live God's Word, the Bible.
  2. Preach the Gospel; in fact
  3. Preach the whole Word as absolutely vital, essential, sufficient.
  4. Use the brains God gave us (as His word orders us to do) to fill in the gaps, taking responsiblity for the decisions you make.
Do that in trusting, prayerful, Christ-centered faith, and you're far likelier to reach the end of your life with God glorified, rather than needing to apologize and beg.

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25 October 2010

"Tolerance" vs. Truthfulness

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 an article titled "Ministers Sailing under False Colours," originally published the February 1870 Sword and Trowel:

ur forefathers were far less tolerant than we are, and it is to be feared that they were also more honest. It will be a sad discount upon our gain in the matter of charity if it turn out that we have been losers in the department of truthfulness.

There is no necessary connection between the two facts of growth in tolerance and decline in sincerity, but we are suspicious that they have occurred and are occurring at the same moment.

We freely accord to theological teachers a freedom of thought and utterance which in other ages could only be obtained by the more daring at serious risks, but we also allow an amount of untruthfulness in ministers, which former ages would have utterly abhorred. . . .

Our love to the most unlimited religious liberty incites us to all the sterner abhorrence of the license which like a parasite feeds thereon.

the plea of spiritual liberty, of late years certain teachers who have abjured the faith of the churches which employ them, have nevertheless endeavored, with more or less success, to retain their offices and their emoluments. . . .

Our complaint is . . . not that the men changed their views, and threw up their former creeds, but that having done so they did not at once quit the office of minister to the community whose faith they could no longer uphold; their fault is not that they differed, but that, differing, they sought an office of which the prime necessity is agreement.

All the elements of the lowest kind of knavery meet in the evil which we now denounce. Treachery is never more treacherous than when it leads a man to stab at a doctrine which he has solemnly engaged to uphold, and for the maintenance of which he receives a livelihood. . . .

It is frequently bewailed as a mournful circumstance that creeds were ever written; it is said, "Let the Bible alone be the creed of every church, and let preachers explain the Scriptures as they conscientiously think best." Here again we enter into no debate, but simply beg the objector to remember that there are creeds, that the churches have not given them up, that persons are not forced to be ministers of these churches, and therefore if they object to creeds they should not offer to become teachers of them; above all, they should not agree to teach what they do not believe.

C. H. Spurgeon

22 October 2010

What Does Worldliness Look Like?

by Phil Johnson

What is worldliness, and when is it sinful?
A reminder about a forgotten sin.

(First posted 1 December 2005)

hristians in earlier generations were a lot more concerned about worldliness than we typically are. Many evangelicals these days don't even seem to be aware that worldliness is still a sin.

A major shift seems to have occurred in less than three decades' time. I have vivid recollections of the two semesters in I spent in fundamentalist purgatory in the mid-1970s. Worldliness was one of the most oft-mentioned sins by chapel speakers at the Baptist college where I was enrolled.

To hear them describe it, worldliness was essentially the sin of being too cool. An acquaintance of mine—a rigidly old-fashioned middle-aged woman—once scolded me as a worldling for wearing contact lenses. She was certain my motives for wearing them were driven only by carnal vanity. She pleaded with me to opt for thick bifocals instead. "I like you the way God made you," she protested.

"He didn't make me with eyeglasses," I reminded her.

"You know what I mean," she said, waving her hand, as if the point should be obvious.

Sure. Makes perfect sense.

Our Amish friends take it even further. Their strategy for avoiding worldliness involves eschewing all modern conveniences.

The same sort of thinking culminates in austere forms of monasticism, where poverty, celibacy, and ascetic solitude are seen as sure means of avoiding worldly influences.

The truth is, you can live a totally cloistered life or be as unhip as a Stephen Foster song and still be worldly.

That's not to deny that worldliness poses a particular threat to those who are obsessed with being fashionable. There's no question that a fixation with being hip and trendy has made the evangelical movement itself worldly. If you need evidence of that, find the posts on "The Fad-Driven Church" in the archives of PyroManiac, or search the archives there for "Biblezines®."

Worldly simply means "pertaining to this earth." On the one hand, Hebrews 9:1 speaks of "a worldly sanctuary"—i.e., an earthly and material one, contrasted with the "True tabernacle"—the heavenly temple, "which the Lord pitched, and not man" (8:2). So something can be "worldly" (like the Tabernacle) without being sinful.

On the other hand, Titus 2:12 speaks of "worldly lusts," meaning passions that are set on earthly and temporal things. Love for earthly things is inconsistent with true love for God, because the passions that drive this world's philosophies and value-systems are all characterized by pride and sinful lust (1 John 2:15-17).

The sin of "worldliness" is the tendency to set one's affections on things of the earth rather than on heavenly things (cf. Colossians 3:2). "Friendship with the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). It is positively sinful to love this present world and imbibe its values more than we love heaven and order our lives according to heavenly values (cf. Philippians 1:23; Romans 8:5-6; Matthew 6:19-21; 16:23).

In other words, worldliness is a sin of the heart.

Conversely, worldliness isn't necessarily related to movies, music styles, the latest fashions, or other typical fundamentalist taboos. Those things certainly can be worldly and obviously do have a tendency to provoke sinful worldliness insofar as they naturally appeal to our passions and tempt us to become obsessed with earthly things.

But there's an even worse kind of worldliness than that. Religion—even conservative, doctrinally-sound religion—can be worldly too.

Think about it: if a person cares less for heaven and heaven's values than for the trappings of "a worldly sanctuary"—be it an ornate cathedral, a megachurch with a Starbucks kiosk in the foyer, or a lowbrow church where snake-handling provides the entertainment—that person is worldly and living in disobedience to God.

As a matter of fact, I know some hard-core fundamentalists who are the rankest kind of worldlings, because they imagine that holiness consists only in external and cultural things, and they have not cultivated a genuine love in their hearts for that which is spiritual.

So you cannot discover whether you are worldly merely by seeing how you look or what kind of lifestyle you live. If you want to recognize true worldliness, you have to assess your desires and passions. What do you truly love? Since worldliness is inherent in the bent of the old man, when you examine your heart honestly, you're virtually certain to discover a degree of worldliness there.

The biblical instructions for how to deal with worldliness are surprisingly simple:

"Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and . . . put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

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21 October 2010

Repentance: the vital element

by Dan Phillips

Preface: I know, this is longer than my usual. But I think that I'd have a mass uprising on my hands if I extended it to a third. So make yourselves comfortable and, without further eloquence....

We began looking at the subject of repentance here on Tuesday. Then over at my place, on Wednesday, we took a little side-trip into the topic of apologies. Now we return to identify what I think is a vital, often missing element in how many Christians think of and deal with their sin(s).

First, though, let me just briefly (and probably unnecessarily) note that both of those posts, as well as this one, could easily be multiplied by a dozen or two. I almost have to force myself to write this, because I am so conscious of the many implications and related issues that beg for development here. Alas, those pleas must go denied.

Let's suppose that at least some Biblical reality has come to bear. Perhaps we fled for a time, jumping at shadows,  knowing no real peace of mind (Proverbs 28:1a). Perhaps we tried blame-shifting (1 Kings 18:17), or lashing out (1 Samuel 20:30) or vain, nauseating shows of religion (Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:12-20). But now the Holy Spirit has arrested us. The Holy Spirit has brought days and nights of misery (Psalm 32:3-4). He has used the word, spoken His "Thou art the man" (2 Samuel 12:7), and His word struck home to our heart.

But what now? We begin to see the sin as God sees it. We admit to God that it is sin, agreeing with Him.


The element I have in mind is mortification. It is dealing absolute, final, howling death to that specific sin, from its root to its branches. It is seeing it dead, dealing death to it, killing it, depriving it of all means of life and burying it.

Here I think of Luther and Paul.

It was Luther who said, in Thesis #1 (timely, eh? I'm here all week! Try the veal!), "When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." And it was Paul who wrote,
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14)
Get that: if (A) by the Spirit, (B) you (C) put to death the deeds of the body, (D) you will live. There's a whole theology of Christian living in that verse, but let's keep it simple. Paul is saying:
  1. That our objective must not be to wound sin, nor to weaken sin, nor to hamper nor cripple sin — but to kill it, to put it to death.
  2. It is we who are commanded to do it, and so we who must do it. To give it no thought, or to shrug it off on God, is to thumb our nose in God's face. Yet...
  3. We cannot do it unaided, but can only do it by the Holy Spirit's aid.
This is the Christian life.  It is characteristic of being a Christian. The many, many folks who isolate verse 14 and try to fabricate some mythology of living by semi-revelation does great violence to the context. Let me set it out like this:
  1. To be a son of God is, definitionally, to be led by the Spirit. Being Spirit-led is not a subset among Christians. The two sets (sons-of-God and Spirit-led) are co-extensive.
  2. To be led by the Spirit is to put to death the deeds of the body.
  3. To put to death the deeds of the body is to live according to the Spirit, rather than the flesh.
At least a few of you are shouting "Owen! Owen!" at your monitors. So here indeed is the great man, on this passage, in words of gold that might well be written on the front-page of anyone's Bible:
Do you mortify;
do you make it your daily work;
be always at it while you live;
cease not a day from this work;
be killing sin or it will be killing you (p. 47, Overcoming Sin and Temptation; Crossway Books: 2006, Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor [emphases added])
But so often we do everything but kill our sin. We grant it was sin, perhaps, yes; we feel bad about it, we do a bit of this and that about it, plucking at its edges... yet we keep sneaking it crumbs and morsels, a bit of water here and a bit of wine there. We seem bound and determined to keep it alive — maybe just a little, maybe on the sly; but alive nonetheless.

How so? Well, positively, we find some way to cushion our darling sin, to protect it, to provision it. We focus on others' contributions ("If my wife hadn't...."; "If my pastor would only...."), or others' behavior ("What _____ did is a lot worse"). Or we find some obscure author or big-name apostate who says our sin isn't really sin — and maybe we don't go that far, but we use that to attach an IV to keep our sin hydrated enough to stay alive.

Work at it hard enough, and we can see ourselves as noble heroes or tragic martyrs. I fear I've seen that in folks struggling with temptations to sexual sin, for instance — in theory, they grant the sinfulness of the sin... yet they expend an awful lot of effort to protecting its tragic dignity.

Or, negatively, we refuse to deal death to it. We refuse to tear down our connections to that sin, the monuments we've raised to it, the apparatuses for indulging in it. We hide the magazines, rather than burn them. We don't go into that place... though we drive by it. We maintain those corrupting friendships, relationships, subscriptions, memberships, associations. We are private and soft-spoken in our expressions of repentance. Our disownings are carefully-worded and pride-sparing.

What we need to do, of course, is see the sin the way God sees it. God doesn't understand it. God doesn't think it's technically wrong, but kinda wistfully cute in a way. No, God hates it (Hebrews 1:9), He loathes it, He abominates it.

How much does God hate my sin, your sin? With such a molten hatred that nothing but the death of His dear Son could make it possible for Him to look on us with other than a white-hot fury (cf. Matthew 26:36-46). See Him hanging yonder, on the Cross. Why? For that sin, because nothing but the Lord Christ's death and His blood could atone for that sin, and bring you and me to God as other than damned, doomed, hopeless criminals.

So dash all rationalizations and equivocations and evasions and minimalizations. Burn all bridges. Disown! Flee! Kill! Ask God to help you to hate that sin as He hates sin. Would you be content to share your bed with just a few potato-bugs, or have just a little dog-dung on your ice cream? Ask God to help you see what you did to your spouse, your friend, your parents, your children, your neighbor — ask Him to help you see it as He sees it. Find the root of it in your heart. Pour spiritual Round-up on it, kill it dead, all of it, roots to branches. Don't rest, don't think it's done, until it's gone, and all traces renounced, disowned, dead by your own hand.

This is part of what it means to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:14).

I'll close with words far better than mine; I recommend that you read them aloud:
The Christian is to proclaim and prosecute an irreconcilable war against his bosom sins; those sins which have lain nearest his heart, must now be trampled under his feet. ...Soul, take thy lust, thy only lust, which is the child of thy dearest love, thy Isaac, the sin which has caused most joy and laughter, from which thou has promised thyself the greatest return of pleasure or profit; as ever thou lookest to see my face with comfort, lay hands on it and offer it up: pour out the blood of it before me; run the sacrificing knife of mortification into the very heart of it; and this freely, joyfully, for it is no pleasing sacrifice that is offered with a countenance cast down — and all this now, before thou hast one embrace more from it.

...Who is able to express the conflicts, the wrestlings, the convulsions of spirit the Christian feels, before he can bring his heart to this work? Or who can fully set forth the art, the rhetorical insinuations, with which such a lust will plead for itself? One while Satan will extenuate and mince the matter: It is but a little one, O spare it, and thy soul shall live for all that. Another while he flatters the soul with the secrecy of it: Thou mayest keep me and thy credit also; I will not be seen abroad in thy company to shame thee among thy neighbors; shut me up in the most retired room thou hast in thy heart, from the hearing of others, if thou wilt only let me now and then have the wanton embraces of thy thoughts and affections in secret. ...Now what resolution doth it require to break through such violence and importunity, and notwithstanding all this to do present execution? Here the valiant swordsmen of the world have showed themselves mere cowards who have come out of the field with victorious banners, and then lived, yea, died slaves to a base lust at home. As one could say of a great Roman captain who, as he rode in his triumphant chariot through Rome, had his eye never off a courtezan that walked along the street: Behold, how this goodly captain, that had conquered such potent armies, is himself conquered by one silly woman. (The Christian in Complete Armour, William Gurnall (Banner of Truth: 1995 [reprint of 17th century work]), p. 13)
"Be killing sin, or it will be killing you." Amen.

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20 October 2010

Should every Church have a Bookstore?

by Frank Turk

A gem from 2005 since I am someplace over the Atlantic Ocean as you read this. Enjoy.

Should every church have a bookstore? Should every church be supporting a bookstore run by its members?

Before I answer that, I am about to use a lot of retail words -- like "overhead" and "transactions" and "wholesale buys". I use those words rather than fluffy spiritual words because we are talking about practical matters and not matters of doctrine. So forgive me for being a crass retail wonk.

Having said that, you ask an interesting question. I think the simple answer is "no", but is that answer really very simple? For example, how can a small church of 50 people support an actual "bookstore"? Frankly, it can't. It can't generate enough transactions to make wholesale buys. You need a base of about 2500 bodies to generate enough transactions to cover your costs -- even if your costs are part of the church's overhead. But what about a church of 3000 – should it open up a bookstore? Would it be “books” or “books and CDs” or “l’il Barnes & Noble complete with café pomo outreach”? The simple “no” covers a lot of cases that really have different reasons behind “no”.

But the problem -- which I see as a very real need and a very real problem for the contemporary church -- is that most little churches deperately need a local bookstore to assist in discipleship. A bi-vocational pastor desperately needs a place where he can have a partner in ministry which is bigger than his flock of 10 who are meeting in his dining room in order to give people what they need to grow up as ministers of the Gospel.

In that, we have the problem I mentioned in my intro to this little jam session: the CBA/ECPA channel takes itself too seriously and also to lightly. It is too serious when it tries to make every activity a spiritually-enriching activity. For example, loss prevention and inventory accounting are, in the best case, good for one's retail practice. However, anyone who can do either one of those without feeling the need to employ vicious idioms of frustration and rage is qualified for canonization. Everything one does is not necessarily a step toward sanctification®, or an act of worship™. But at the same time, one of the things that ECPA/CBA refuses to do (and therefore takes itself too lightly) is establish a working confession of faith which defines what the "C" is in their funky names. You know: we shouldn't accept false prophets, deniers of the Trinity, or blasphemers as viable authors in "Christian" bookstores. But there are whole publishing houses (and TV channels) devoted to this sort of thing, and their goods are right on the shelf today at Family, and LifeWay (sorry SBC), and Berean, and Mardels. And, to be totally transparent, my store, too. We bat about 95%, but I admit we aren’t perfect.

So CBA/ECPA ought to be more concerned with what it is doing to and for the local church. Instead, it is worried that it isn't pan-denominationally friendly and it isn't selling enough neo-Marcionist literature to baptists and presbyterians.

If the world was a perfect place, my opinion is that Christian bookstores would be run by people who are under the accountability of their own elders with a somewhat-ecumenical ideal in mind. That word “ecumenical” is going to come up a few more times in this exchange, so I’m going to flesh it out here.

“Ecumenical”, as I am using it, does not mean “blindly taking everyone’s word for it that they are Christians”. For example, wherever you come down on the AA/FV issue, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the baptism of the author of a given book. Since she comes up later in this list of questions, for example, Joyce Meyer may actually be a Christian. I say good on her for following Jesus. That doesn’t mean that all her books – or any of her books – are worth reading from the perspective of spreading faith in Jesus Christ or maturing one’s faith in Jesus Christ. She’s a Christian? Fine. Is she growing up disciples in Christ? The answer to that question is what’s at stake in the CBA/ECPA industry.

“Ecumenical”, then, actually does mean “unity in TRUTH”. That means first we seek TRUTH, and in our admiration of the Gospel and its truth we find unity in those things indicative of that truth. Like grace -- when was the last time you read a book or heard a sermon about grace in which you found out that it is through grace one becomes a fantastic husband? That is, not only by giving grace, but by experiencing the grace of God and living inside the gratitude of a sinner who not only got off light, but got love in place of justice? Do you have to be a Methodist to read that – or a Lutheran? How about a Baptist – can a Baptist read that and not call out the hounds? Could it be that we have this truth in common with Presbyterians as well?

See: the upside of “church” bookstores is that they almost certainly (and there are exceptions) are being timoneered by pastors and elders. But the downside is that these bookstores tend to be denominationally narrow – about 5 microns more narrow than the most conservative overseer of the assembly. So in that, questions like, “why do Presbyterians baptize babies” or “why do Baptists use grape juice” or “what should I think of the Koran” or “I’ve always been taught that I got saved when I made a decision and walked down the aisle, but I accidentally read Romans 9 and it says that God wants to save, and in fact decides to save, without any regard for who I am or what I have done; what’s up with that”, or “I’m 13 and I really like my youth pastor; should I dedicate my life to ‘the ministry’ before I even know anything about girls” never get asked or never get answered in most church bookstores.

Being under submission but being free to demonstrate the discussion about very hard subjects like these is one of the benefits of being a bookstore outside of the 4 walls or polity of a church. Think about it: what if, rather than mutter in darkness about “those crazy Baptists” or “those liberal Methodists” or “those muttering continualists” there was a place where these questions of denominational abstraction could be learned about with a stern eye focused on the Gospel. Personally, I think it would lead more people to being Baptist, but of course I am well known for having a disastrous hermeneutic. My point is that while a church bookstore can serve a particular purpose well, it is not (in my view) the best possible purpose for Christian retail and publishing.

You know, I have tossed around a good bit of tough talk about this industry as I have blogged lo these 6 years, and through these questions at my blog, but let me say something: I see Christian retail as a very God-honoring thing and a very spiritually-beautiful thing – when it has all its ducks in a row. But that is so rare, so obscure today that it’s like finding a Hershey’s Kiss made of gold in a urinal in Grand Central Station in NYC. At a glance, you’re sure it’s prank meant to get you to put your hand into something vile; if you stare at it long enough and you realize that it’s real, you can’t figure out how to touch it without looking giddy or disturbed; and if you don’t grab it, somebody else with less sanctification than you is bound to grab it and waste it on sterno and summer sausage. This thing we are talking about is one of the great lay ministerial opportunities in the history of the church, but so many people have no idea how to get the kiss without touching the porceline that we just wind up with a lot of people trying to wash their hands quickly and forget that they ever saw the confounded thing to begin with.

So, no, I don’t think that every church should have a bookstore in a one-to-one kind of correspondence, but yes: I think every church should “have” a bookstore that they can rely on and do turn to in order to be more than a bunker full of people who never experience or fellowship with the rest of God’s people, intellectually or spiritually.

19 October 2010

Repentance: fake and real

by Dan Phillips

False repentance is worse than no repentance.

Scenario: a professed believer sins. (It happens, sadly.) Or he finds himself beset with strong temptation to sin (which also happens). Now what?

Problems. The course forward is dangerous, and riddled with booby-traps.

The big problem, of course, is the human heart. It's a slimy, "tricksy" con-artist (Jeremiah 17:9). It will fool us, in whichever of a dozen ways proves effective. There are enough traps and snares in our own hearts that we hardly need a crafty devil on the outside to be in peril — yet there is one, and he has designs on us.

What happens. Often the devil and our heart collude to convince us that, ahem, our sewage doesn't smell. That is, sin isn't so "sinny" when it's sinned by us. Sin out-there is a nasty, vicious, repugnant thing. Nobody should indulge in it. But sin in-here is noble, romantic, tragic, perhaps even heroic. (See this post, especially numbers 4-6, 12-14.)

It is okay with the world, the flesh, and the devil if you do anything about sin — except one thing.

What we will see, accordingly, is people who grant they "did wrong," in general and non-specific terms. They made a mistake. They erred. They did bad things... of some sort.

Or they will focus on the periphera of their sin, the leaves instead of the root.

Or they will make little of their responsibility, and much of others' contribution.

I saw this sort of thing once, many years ago. A married Christian friend committed adultery. His wife put him out, and he spent the night at my house.

He seemed chastened... but then he talked. How was he processing what he'd done, in his heart?

Wellsir, he told me that he thought maybe this whole thing was the Lord's will, because the other woman's marriage wasn't good, and his marriage wasn't great, and....

Just pause right there for a moment. This was a Baptist, evangelical Christian, going to a good, Bible-teaching church. He had committed adultery, a pretty unambiguous act, pretty unambiguously sinful. Yet he not only had a rationalization for it, but he ended up making it something that was pleasing to God, something that was of the Lord! Not only did the sewage not stink... it actually had a rather pleasant fragrance.

How could that happen?

But this poor soul is hardly singular. I have heard all sorts of folks talk about all sorts of plain, straightforward, primary-colored sins in wistful, longing tones, or in terms that end up making their bad not so bad after all. Some sins are bad, yes; but surely this sin is different. Surely my sin is different. It is a noble, brave, manly/assertive act. It is necessary, wise, even pleasing to God.

And even if we abstain from the act, we still cherish and protect the temptation. I've seen that as well. A man or woman is not (pursuing sexual immorality or perversion, sinning against their parents or spouse, etc.), true; but hear how (s)he talks about it. You get the impression that it isn't really that vile, after all. Let someone rip the mask off of marital treachery or sexual immorality or perversion, and watch how the "but-but-but" beast shows its head, how crucial it becomes to hear "the other side." We mustn't make (homosexuality, adultery, false doctrine, abusing one's spouse) look that bad.

What must happen: repentance. I said that sin's allies are fine with our doing anything about sin except one thing. What is that one thing?

Well, of course, in general terms, it's repentance.

Now that's a good Bible word. Most OT occurrence translate a term that actually means to turn around, to turn back. It depicts turning away from evil (cf. Ezekiel 14:6; 18:30), and turning back, returning to Yahweh (Zechariah 1:3).

Usually the NT word is a form of metanoeō. Though the definition has been abused, it does mean fundamentally to change one's mind. Our problem with that gloss, I think, is that we confuse changing one's mind with merely changing one's opinion about something, as if one were going to order a burger and instead goes for a club sandwich. We hear it as a light, shallow pivot — which repentance certainly is not.

Perhaps it would be better to explain metanoein as to transform one's mind. It envisions a root-to-branches paradigm-shift which always and necessarily issues in a change of behavior (Acts 26:20). If there is fruit that is appropriate to repentance (Matthew 3:8), then equally there must be fruit that is inappropriate to genuine repentance — such fruit as I briefly alluded to, above.

One would hope we would be in fundamental agreement thus far.

But there is a crucial element to repentance that I find missing in the thinking of many. And that element is...

...the topic of Thursday's post, Lord willing.

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17 October 2010

Another Word About Doubt

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 Three Witnesses," a sermon originally preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Sunday morning, 9 August 1874.

   feel sick to death of the common talk about the healthiness of doubting and the beauty of "modern thought." This talk is only the self-praise of a set of concealed infidels treacherously lurking in God’s church.

C. H. Spurgeon

14 October 2010

BibleWorks followup: resources

by Dan Phillips

I mentioned in my love note for BibleWorks 8 Tuesday that
[n]obody should think, "Yeah, sure, but you have to be a total brainiac to use it." Not at all. I'm pretty much a BW8 idiot, compared to the guys who post at the forum. I would really profit from a seminar; I'm only using [BibleWorks] for maybe 5-10% of what it can do — but that 5-10% is what I care most about right now.
Wellsir, Jim Barr of BibleWorks kindly emailed me, pointing out that a seminar he just recently gave at Luther Seminary is available online.

The seminar is about two hours long, and starts from the very basic basics, and goes on to demonstrate more advanced uses and complex searches, and the use of various tools, such as maps. If you're already a BW8 user, Jim's seminar will be helpful. But if you're considering buying and would like to see a demo — there y'go!

You can also find some user-created files and resources at the BibleWorks Blog, "run by Michael Hanel, a Ph.D. student in the Classics Department at the University of Cincinnati, and Jim Darlack, a librarian at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary." (Those guys are the brainiacs.)

Here I'll just pause and marvel at three things:
  1. If you have any sense of history, isn't it simply amazing how many really powerful resources we have readily available to us today?
  2. With that same sense, look back and marvel at the achievements of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Spurgeon — who had few or none of those resources.
  3. Finally and shamefacedly, I think how relatively little we (by which I mean I) have to show for the possession of all these fine, gleaming tools.
Want an interesting imagination-exercise? What would a Spurgeon or an Alford or an Edwards or a Westcott or a Calvin have done with the resources we have?

It is true that "If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength" (Ecclesiastes 10:10a). However, it's a poor craftsman who blames his tool... perhaps even a poorer one who expects the tool to do the work and show the skill and heart for him. The giants of yesterday, looming over our paltry accomplishments, bear eloquent witness: a heart that is ablaze with passionate, all-encompassing love for God will scoff at the paucity of tools, and forge ahead regardless.

Single-minded love and consecrated devotion matter far more than the fineness of one's tools.

But why pose an either/or? Why not put first things first, then bring in the second things in their service? Why not both?

God grant that it be so with us.

(By which I mean me.)

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