31 January 2011

Carnality and Contextualization in Corinth

Why Fornication Is Peculiarly Evil
by Phil Johnson

t the heart of all the problems in the church at Corinth was a tendency to let the values of that debauched culture seep into the church. That's something for missional Christians to consider today: cultural assimilation as a strategy for church growth in a pagan culture is fraught with serious dangers. Especially in a city filled with both temples and brothels—where fornication was literally deemed a religious rite—the worst thing the church could do would be to take a lax attitude toward sexual sin.

The vast majority of the Jewish community in Corinth had rejected the gospel (Acts 18:6). So the church was made up of mostly Gentiles who, of course, came from a culture that was not inclined to see sexual sin as unspiritual. Just the opposite. Most of the "religion" in Corinth involved temple prostitution and debauched sexual behavior.

That may explain somewhat why the Corinthian church would receive into their membership a man who was fornicating with his father's wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). Perhaps they thought they could connect with their culture better if they casually accepted the man's sin without flinching. In fact, it seems clear that some of the people in the Corinthian church did indeed wear extreme tolerance like a badge of honor. First Corinthians 5:2 says people in the Corinthian assembly were puffed up. They actually took some sort of perverse pride in their liberality towards such a grossly immoral act.

Not only was this guy's incest a supremely immoral and deeply shameful sin; it wasn't really impressing even the most immoral people in the Corinthian culture. Incest was a sin that even shocked the grossest pagans of Corinth (v. 1).

Paul wasn't gentle in his rebuke. He ordered the Corinthians to excommunicate the man (vv. 7, 13).

Notice: Paul wasn't impressed with how sophisticated and missional the Corinthians were. In fact (this can hardly be stressed enough) Paul never encouraged the Corinthians to blend into their culture by adopting an easygoing familiarity with or an extra-tolerant attitude toward the distinctive sins of that culture. On the contrary, he stressed the importance of avoiding the sins associated with Corinthian paganism.

No, I take it back. "Avoiding" is too mild in light of what Paul actually told them: "Flee from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18).

But first he hammers them with several these reasons why fornication is such an unholy, degrading, defiling sin. He gives several reasons:

First Corinthians 6:13: It dishonors the purpose for which God made our bodies. "The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord." Fornication takes that which ought to be holy—that which was made uniquely in the image of God (with the express purpose of honoring Him)—and puts it to an unholy use instead. That's wrong because (he says) "the body is . . . for the Lord." That is the main thought and the central thread of 1 Corinthians 613-20. But there's more.

In verses 15-17, he gives a second reason why fornication is such a serious sin: it defiles our spiritual union with Christ. "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two will become one flesh." But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him."

Do the math, he says. If you are one with Christ in an intimate spiritual union, and then through an act of fornication you become one flesh with a harlot in an intimate fleshly union, you have in effect defiled the body of Christ.

A couple of things to notice about this: First, our union with Christ is so perfect and so complete that it encompasses our whole person. It's not limited to our spirit only apart from our flesh. The whole person, both body and spirit, are Christ's by virtue of our spiritual union with Him.

Paul here stands in contrast to certain pseudo-Christian proto-Gnostics who taught that spirit is good and matter is evil. They taught that our spirit is redeemed, and made holy, and united with Christ, but the body is unredeemed and completely unholy and fit only for ultimate destruction. They said you could sin in the body without defiling your spirit.

Here Paul teaches otherwise. Notice that he doesn't say the body is evil. Just the opposite. His whole point is that the body is made for a holy purpose: to glorify God. Verse 14: "God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power." Christ rose bodily, and our bodies will also be raised and glorified in physical form. So there's nothing inherently unholy about the body.

On the contrary, "the body is . . . for the Lord; and the Lord for the body." God is not against the body; he is for it. He created it; and He is the one who made our bodies so that they are capable of enjoying pleasure. There's nothing wrong with that pleasure. It's a holy pleasure—as long as it is a fulfillment of, and not a corruption of, God's purposes.

In fact, in verse 16, Paul is alluding to Genesis 2:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." That is God's purpose for men and women. Sex in the context of lifelong marriage—the union of two partners devoted to one another above all others—is a holy pleasure. God designed it for our pleasure. It's holy and honorable within the marriage relationship, and according to Hebrews 13:4, "the marriage bed [is] undefiled."

But that same verse in Hebrews 13 says, "God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous." Paul says the same thing in verses 9-10 of 1 Corinthians 6. Neither "fornicators . . . nor adulterers . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God." And those who defile their union with Christ by committing sins of sexual immorality are guilty of an abominable offense against Christ and (v. 18) "against his own body." In other words, fornication is a unique and especially unholy sin, because it defiles our union with Christ.

But Paul is not finished. In verse 19 (this is where our passage starts) he says such sins of the body also desecrate the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Your body is the dwelling-place of the Spirit of God, and therefore for a Christian to debase the body is to profane a holy temple.

Now, put all this together. You want to know why fornication has always been regarded as a particularly heinous sin? Because it involves personal and direct transgressions against each Member of the Trinity. It debases and dishonors the body, which (v. 13) is "for the Lord." God created it for His purposes. To use it for any other purpose—especially a purpose as evil as an act of fornication—is a sin against God the Father. It's a sin against Christ as well (v. 15), because it takes our members, which are Christ's by union with Him, and joins them to a harlot, defiling our holy union with Christ. And it's a sin against the Holy Spirit (v. 19), because it desecrates the temple in which He dwells.

And notice Paul's counsel to the Corinthians. He doesn't urge them to get into a recovery program for sexual addicts. He doesn't suggest that they get therapy. He just tells them to stop it.

No, again. It's more urgent than that (v. 18): "Flee fornication." Run from it. Avoid any and all temptations to it. Direct your feet, and your eyes, and your ears, and your thoughts to other things. This is a sin to flee. "Other vices may be conquered in fight; this one can be conquered only by flight."

In Solomon's words (Proverbs 5:8), "Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house." Scripture says we should flee even the thought of adultery. Second Timothy 2:22: "Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart." First Peter 2:11 says "fleshly lusts . . . [wage] war against the soul." Flee them. Abstain from them completely.

And notice: Paul finds the highest reason to avoid fornication in the atonement: "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (v. 20).

Phil's signature

30 January 2011

A Simple Test for Distinguishing Heresy from Sound Doctrine

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 "Self-Sufficiency Slain," a sermon preached on Sunday morning, 11 November 1860 at Exeter Hall.

t is a remarkable fact that all the heresies which have arisen in the Christian Church have had a decided tendency to dishonor God and to flatter man. They have always had for their covert, if not for their open aim, the exaltation of human nature, and the casting down of the sovereignty of divine grace.

Robbing God of the glory which is due unto his name, these false prophets would shed a counterfeit lustre upon the head of the rebellious and depraved creature. On the other hand, the doctrines of the gospel, commonly known as the doctrines of grace, are distinguished for this peculiarity above every other, namely, that they sink the creature very low, and present the Lord Jehovah before us as sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.

So true is this, that the most uneducated Christian may, even if he is incapable of refuting an erroneous discourse, always be able to discover its untruthfulness, if it glorifies man at the expense of God. The merest babe in grace may carry this test with him: in the midst of the diversities of opinion with which he is surrounded, he may always judge, and judge infallibly too, of the truth or falsehood of a doctrine by testing it thus—

"Does it glorify God?" If it be so it is true.

"Does it exalt man?" Then it must be false.

On the other hand, does it lay man very low, and speak of him in terms which tend to make him feel his degradation? Then doubtless it is full of truth. And does it put the crown upon the head of God, and not upon the head of man's free-will, or free-agency, or good works? Then assuredly it is a doctrine according to godliness for it is the very truth of the Lord our God.

C. H. Spurgeon

29 January 2011

Weekend Extra: Book Review

by Frank Turk

Back when I was in college, I almost got roped into applying to an MFA program for creative writing. I bring it up because it was my first exposure to what was then an odd phenomenon. To get into the program, you had to have a published book of writing, and some works published in literary journals. I knew I could probably get something published in a journal of poetry if I worked a full year on the objective, but a real book? How was I supposed to get a book of anything published?

Turns out it was actually quite easy -- there were publishers all over the country who would make a short run of your work if you would pay the set-up costs and materials, so for about $1200 you could have your book of poems or short fiction bound nicely, and you would have a box of books to sell when it was all done.

There's only one reason I mention it: that business model blew up when the world went digital, and the birth of on-demand publishing radically changed the practice of custom binding and circulation.

Reformed blogging hero Tim Challies has seen the value of this business model, especially for "simple, clear, well-written, well-edited and accessible" books by establishing Cruciform Press -- along with editor Kevin Meath and entrepreneur Bob Bevington. To date they have produced 7 titles, including the well-known pamphlet Sexual Detox. It's a brave new world for on-demand books, and I credit Tim and his partners for going to it with gusto.

Just to be clear, Cruciform is not a vanity publisher. Xulon Press is a vanity publisher where, just like when I was in college, you could buy the press time and publish anything yourself -- there's no editorial control over content. Cruciform was established to leverage the speed to market and low overhead costs of modern on-demand printing to create small publishing house with a heart for "meaningful" works.

Their newest title happens to be by my former pastor, Tad Thompson. Intentional Parenting is Tad's exposition on the practice of making every family (in the words of Whitfield) "a little parish". Tad sent me a pre-release copy this week, and I was greatly excited for him.

Tad's view of the issue is pretty simple: somehow we make the duty we have as parents to bring up our children in a godly way too complicated. Instead of seeking to somehow first get ourselves a Mohler-esque Library and a Piper-esque homiletic style, Tad says we just really need the basics:
  • The Gospel
  • The Big Story
  • The Big Truths
  • the Great Commission
  • Spiritual Disciplines
  • Christian Living
  • Worldview
Once we have the basics, the method is simple: together, be in continuous reflection on these basics.

One of the things about Thompson is that he's sneaky. See: this is not rocket science, and if you were only moderately-clever you probably could have come up with this much on your own. But Tad knows a secret that you don't: most people don't know how to do anything intentionally. This is actually a dirty secret in our culture -- we sort of form habits by convenience and by default, and then suddenly 5 years are gone, literally.

Thompson's secret is the idea of intentional activity. When we were there are Harvard Avenue Baptist Church, this was the secret for adult small groups as well: it doesn't matter how hokey you think the activity is, you cannot break out of old habits of behavior without intentionally practicing the new habits every time it is necessary.

As usual, I'm not going to read the book to you. This book is only 100 pages including the end notes (Sorry DJP), and you can read it in one sitting as these are not textbook-sized pages. But the rudimentary wisdom for starting family discipleship found in this book will break through your complacency and fear about the task.

Do yourself a favor and skip lunch one day this week, and put your lunch money up for this book. You can download it immediately, and you can start your new program of giving your children a godly heritage by dinnertime the next day.

28 January 2011

One last word on Today's hoopla

by Frank Turk

This was written by me today in the comments of the R. Scott Clark letter:

Tim has contacted me and has given me his opinion about this statement. He was deeply offended, and for that I apologize.

No other comment is necessary.

Updated: Mike Horton responds

by Frank Turk

Mike Horton has posted a response at the WHI blog, and I’m grateful for it – even if it does miss the mark on a couple of items. By no means to they owe me a response, and the fact that they took the time to do as much as they did is generous because it shows they are seeking to engage and not merely snort and scoff. My thanks for that.

One of the unexpected items which has seasoned this discussion is the CT article which, frankly, I thought was laughable. It could get a whole open letter on its own from me (and may), but talk about too little, too late, too obtuse. Of all the things CT has promoted in the last 20 years, to say MLJ and WHI are somehow wrapped up in “heresy” is just the icing on the cake for their credibility – they should just now change their name to “The Religious Opinion Times” (the ROT, for short) and stop pretending they have anything distinctive from “O” magazine to offer the Christian culture. Translation: I think Dr. Horton & Co. were definitely the subject of some crass and unfair criticism this week, and when they read my comments as somehow related, I can empathize.

That said, Dr. Horton’s brief reply to my open letter, I think, does miss the mark. He said there that in the same way I don’t take responsibility for everything said in the comments of TeamPyro, he doesn’t have to take responsibility for everything said in regards to what they discuss at WHI.

Really? I don’t think he has to go on a Batman-like crusade to nullify all the nut-jobs (like Charlie in the comment thread) who are about as confessional as PostSecret.com, but it is sort of incongruent, I think, to chastise some people (of a completely different tradition and theological value system) for being sine confessionem, but then sort of wave a hand at those who are allegedly hot for the confessions who are ruining the brand as they functionally deny the confessions with their general ecclesiology and alleged pastoral concern.

One of the things Phil takes a lot of heat for at TeamPyro is the fact that we call out people who, frankly, want to be “of Johnson, of Phillips, of Turk” and don’t impress us with their approach and practice – because it is seen as unwarranted “friendly fire”. My exhortation to our friends at WHI is that they take the same approach – because we aren’t making any headway if, at the end of our Gospel disambiguations, we have made people who are more like the young Saul who did God’s work with a sword rather than people like aged Paul who was ready to pour out his life like a drink offering for the sake of the Gospel and the lost.

That's all. Be in the Lord's house on the Lord's day with the Lord's people this weekend.

[Bonus] Open Letter to R. Scott Clark

by Frank Turk

Dear Dr. Clark –

After I wrote my open letter to Dr. Horton on Wednesday, I was hoping for some fair dialogue from someone on the WTS-West side of the discussion. My thanks for your level of engagement on what turned out to be a hot topic this week.

Your recent post, which I had sent to me by a faithful reader, is a classic from you, following what I perceive to be your normal pattern of dealing with people who are not in your normal circle of confessional associates. Your pattern, of course, it to malign those who would say something you think is bad, then cover that version of their argument with your erudite cape, mutter the magic words of the catechism or the confession, and Volente! the matter is closed (especially the comments). For example, you mis-quote me as saying that I have listened for 20 years when in fact you cannot find that in my open letter -- and then you leverage that to intimate I am either dishonest or perhaps stupid because of the amount of time WHI spends on the matter of the uses of the Law. You state plainly that I am accusing Dr. Horton of fostering heresy, and then argue against the presence of that heresy. A fun game to play, but not actually very convincing.

Here’s how you start your volley:
At Pyromaniacs, Frank Turk has published an open letter to Mike Horton, apparently on the basis of a single episode of White Horse Inn, accusing the WHI guys of fostering antinomianism. Turk writes, “The first is a general complaint: I think you fellows have taken the right-minded theological distinction 'Law and Gospel' too far; you have made all of human life and God’s interactions with man into either an imperative or an indicative — missing the point that some things in life (especially in the Christian life, and in Christian theological anthropology) fall under the subjunctive mood.”
Now, sadly, I did cite two episodes of WHI – but to notice that would mean reading the whole article carefully. I actually had a rather lengthy list of episodes in which the exact same sentiments and concluding statements were made -- each in turn from all of the WHI cast of characters -- but the open letter was already 6 pages long. Did I really need to document the history of this rhetoric suitable for a full Doctoral Thesis in order to make my specific point? More importantly: would you deny that the excerpts I provided (and transcripted generously – cleaning up spoken-word incoherencies and overlapping talk) reflect the substance of the discussion generally made at WHI on this subject? If so, please indicate in what way these statements are not reflective of the general tenor of that on-going discussion. You have the text before you, and it would be a great pleasure to see your hermeneutical prowess in action.

Now that said, the far-more egregious error on your part is to say that I have accused Dr. Horton of “fostering antinominanism”. That’s a suspicious statement if for no other reason than I studiously avoided saying that. I didn’t copy you on my edits, so perhaps you can be forgiven for not knowing my heart.

What Dr. Horton specifically said – which I think is a staggering admission on his part – is this:
Dr. Horton: Now: [Reformed traditions] have problems in [relational virtues], and there are passages in Scripture that talk about hospitality, generosity, and all sorts of things that we need to work on in our traditions. But if you don't have hospitality, and you don't have generosity, and you don't have relationality (whatever that means) you don't have kindness, gentleness, humility—all of those qualities that are so important for inter-personal relationships, you're not healthy, and you don't have a healthy church. If you don't have the preaching of the Gospel, you don't have a church.
I had a rather long-ish excursis here into the book of Galatians to talk about the fruit of the Spirit, but here's what I'll say about it instead: it is utterly a matter of confessional consistency to admit, without qualification, that a faith without works is a dead faith. We can use a Lutheran form to say that, or a Presbyterian form, or a Reformed form, but it all comes to the same thing: it is not merely "unhealthy" to see the fruit of the Spirit as optional or worse -- as a result of some therapeutic treatment the local elders would administer at some point. It is actually spiritually-dead to be hearers and not doers of the word of God.

That said, the first right-minded thing to do is ask: does Dr. Horton believe or teach this, especially in the excerpts provided?

It is an utterly fair question because if the answer is yes, your defense of him is utterly pointless – it’s an admirable attempt to defend a colleague, and a nice show of solidarity and loyalty, but pointless because in that case he would be guilty. Saying he teaches at a place with a theologically-sufficient confession would not save him if he was actually "fostering antinomianism".

I think the right answer is this: an uncharitable person would say, “he certainly does when he gives people who are personally cold and ungracious a pass as being only ‘unhealthy’.” But that is, as I said, uncharitable. It’s reading the admonition there as only excusing and not in some way noting the real fault. So let’s take it for granted that Dr. Horton in no way has endorsed an antinomian view – which is a generous and friendly assumption, and gives a lot of grace to the therapudic formula he uses to express his sentiment.

The second question has to be this: did I say he was antinomian, or fostering antinomianism?

Here’s what I said:
I think you guys allow for a lot of fruitlessness by default — and it comes across in the culture of the people who listen to you a lot and are disaffected by their local church. They don't see it the way John saw it: they see it as wanting "basic Christianity" to want the Gospel — the perfect Gospel, perfectly declared — with a willingness to bypass fellowship (including the sacraments) to get it, usually via podcasts and books.
Further, the question was posed to me in the open comments of that post, “do you think Dr. Horton is antinomian?” and my response was plain: No, not at all. For the record, I did say this explicitly in the comments of my open letter, but obviously you do not anticipate comments to blog posts, so I forgive you for not noticing.

See: as part of the culture I am decrying here, you think that the world is bifurcated into to venn diagram circles labeled “orthodox” and “heresy” which cannot overlap (true enough), but that no other categories exist. So if I am not saying, “Mike Horton is an icon of pure orthodoxy with no admixture of any error,” then I must be saying (which is clearly your perception), “Mike Horton is guilty of theological treason, so let’s get out the posse and the noose before someone says something reasonable to change our minds.” What if I am instead saying, “You know: is it possible to say what any Reformed confession says and take it too far, so that the balance of teaching is off the center mark and it causes people to make mistakes?”

That’s what I am actually saying about WHI: orthodox guys all of them, from different traditions, and all of them with a right-minded concern that we not get the imperative before the indicative. But they are willing to excuse gaping holes in their own traditions for the sake of saying something theologically-correct about the use of the Gospel while minimizing the necessary consequences of the Gospel. That doesn't make them heretics: it makes them human. They are not people making others suitable for hell (you know: like Dr. Riddlebarger has said of people who would say we should “obey the Gospel” [cf. 2 Thes 1; 1 Pet 4]). I think they are guys who have a history of saying something a certain way -- maybe using a kind of "shop talk" to make a point -- but then are responsible because of their influence for creating a culture, frankly, I think they each would be glad to say is unacceptable.

But that option is not available in your discernment matrix. It must be that I’m a detractor of the White Horse Inn and of Confessional traditions – when in fact all I’m saying is this: doesn’t it actually make more sense, if Confessional/Reformed types really believe what they are saying, to make a minor correction in rhetoric and cultural course rather than excusing the behavior of people who Dr. Horton willingly admits are short on “hospitality, generosity, kindness, gentleness, humility” as merely “unhealthy”? Since when do we see the Gospel in therapudic terms?

There is not one iota in any reformed confession they have to subvert to make this change. There is not a single clause of any reformed catechism which will need revision. No one will even actually have to change their views of the subjunctive mood. There’s not actually even anyone to excommunicate, no Baptists to ecclesiastically-disown – which I know ruins your weekend plans, but we all have our crosses to bear. All I have called for – and really, in a pretty generous way, given the manner of real disapprobation handed out weekly on WHI toward squishy evangelicals – is that Dr. Horton & Co. do what they actually ask everyone else to do – and clean up their sloppy short-hand for the sake of improving the culture they have assisted in creating over the last 20 years.

That said, thanks for mentioning my critique specifically because it does show that, at least, you understand the difference between gossip and debate -- between inuendo and discussion. My hope is that, by restating everything I wrote the first time, you’ll actually read it this time. And while banking on you recanting of any of your, um, conclusions is probably a poor investment, I’m going to hope for the best.

Good luck to you; God bless you as you enjoy your Sabbath rest this weekend. Give my regards to our readers in Escondido as you all have a lovely city down there. Next time I’m in town, let me invite you to dinner -- on me.

27 January 2011

Wanted: a few good (and immediately-available) readers

by Dan Phillips


So, here's the deal: I have a ready manuscript. It is full, it is complete, it is quite long, and it is all-me. That, I have.

What I need is a few good readers, just maybe 3-5 of them. Here's what I need one or two each of:
  • Busy pastors
  • Homeschooling moms and/or dads who attend conventions or HS group meetings
  • Bible study leaders / Sunday School teachers
  • Seminary/other-institute professors or teachers, and students
  • Or published authors
And here's what I will need from you, to help me make the pick:
  • You've got to be available to read this long manuscript like now
  • You've got to be a book-buyer
  • You've got to promise to keep what I send you quite to yourself
  • If you're a pastor: where, what denomination, around what size?
  • If you're a teacher: where?
  • If you lead a group or teach a class: what age-range?
  • If you're a homeschooler, what is your participation in the larger HS community?
  • What's your education-level?
I'm looking for a spread of age, sex, education-level. High-school grads, PhD/ThDs, all-good. The point of all that is to spread a demographic, and gather some marketing-type information. So a hermit in a cave wired for the internet won't help. See?

You may either comment with all the information here, or email me at filops, then @, then yahoo.com. When you comment, please also supply me with your email address.

Remember, I'm just going to pick a few. I mean, I have to leave some over actually to buy it when it comes out.

So maybe nobody's interested, or everyone's too busy. Or on the other hand, maybe 100-300 will apply. So that will mean I'm going to have to disappoint 95-295, for which I express my regrets in advance. But 3-5 or so will get to see and comment on what almost no one else has seen as of yet.

Sound like fun?

One last thing: I aim at making my choice by no later than 7pm PT today.

Dan Phillips's signature

26 January 2011

Open Letter to Michael Horton

by Frank Turk

Dear Dr. Horton:

First of all, I am certain that those opening words have already sent some people into apoplexy because let's face it: my open letters have been written to a rogues' gallery of self-identified Christians who are doing serious harm to the name of Christ and the definition of the Gospel, and those people need to repent -- so far. Thus, some people are already grinding their axes and calling out their kin with torches and pitchforks because to write to you in that context is a grievous error. My hope is that I can air what I see as reasonable questions and critiques for you and your cohorts at the White Horse Inn.  My thought is that in the name of doing something necessary and right, I think you have, over time, created something you do not intend.

So to that end, let me thank you for decades of brilliant dialogue and broadcast content regarding true orthodoxy and the centrality of the Gospel as the defining matter of the Christian faith. There are a lot of allegedly-apologetic radio shows and podcasts, but none of them frankly affect as many people as deeply and drastically as the conversation which is known as the White Horse Inn has affected conscientious, conservative people since its first broadcasting 1990. WHI has been talking seriously and soberly about the faith longer than I have been a Christian, so when I come to it I come with respect and admiration.

I have been composing this letter in my head for probably two years now, so I can think of about a dozen ways to enter into what I'd like to bring to you today.  I'll choose a way which seems best: with your own words.

The following is a transcript of the podcast from 01 Jan 2011:

[Starting 25:35]
Mike Horton (MH): The Gospel can't be lived. It's the Law that's lived. We obey the commands that we find in Scripture, we do not—the Gospel is not anything for us to do. The Gospel is an announcement for us to take to the world, and on the basis of that Gospel we do live differently in the world, but that isn't itself the content of the Gospel: it is the effect of the Gospel.

Kim Riddlebarger (KR): I think you made a brilliant point. I know there will be a number of people who will hear us, who are familiar with us, and they'll say to themselves, "well, there they go, they've been on the air two minutes talking about the Great Commission, and they're back to Law and Gospel again!" But your point is absolutely spot-on: we believe the Gospel, we obey the Law—and if you are not clear about that, then you're going to go off on a mission and as you risk, as Jesus warned, making people more fit for Hell than they were before. If you're telling people that the Gospel is doing certain things, acting certain way, behaving in a certain way, then you're just accelerating their demise and decline.

Ken Jones (KJ): One of the Dangers associated with that is, if you talk about "living the Gospel," I think most evangelicals would acknowledge their own short-comings in various areas, so therefore their failure becomes a failure of the Gospel. It becomes the Gospel's failure. What they mean is we live in light of the Gospel, we live because of the Gospel . . .

MH: Rooted and grounded.

KR: . . . but they have to start saying that.

KJ: Yes, they do—they do. And the confusion is that, so that even when my life doesn't match up (which it seldom does—this is the on-going process of sanctification) that's no reflection on the Gospel.

MH: In fact, the Gospel is so great that it is the announcement of the perfect work of Christ which isn't diminished by my fails. It is exactly what I need in my failures, even my failures to live out the implications in response to the Gospel. It even covers my failures to do that! And as longs you have a Gospel that is perfect and complete, because it's about someone else, you can always get back up again after you fall and embrace that Gospel. It puts wind in your sails so that you can take it to the ends of the world even though you are a miserable sinner yourself.

Here's another excerpt from a previous podcast 18 Dec 2010:
[Starts about 20:25]
KR: All I can say is, Lord have mercy upon that person who looks to me to be the Gospel.

Rod Rosenblatt (RR): Right!

MH: You know, I have to say, no matter how you answer, if you're asked the sort of textbook doctrine question, "do you believe you are saved by works or by grace," of course: saved by grace—once you get out of the realm, and you have phrases like, "be the Gospel," "live the Gospel," you have to realize that the very phrase "be the Gospel" or "live the Gospel" is equivalent to "we are saved by works."

And last of all, from that same podcast:
[Starts about 22:00]
MH: Think about the criteria Paul lays out in the pastorals for ministers. I've never seen "relational" in there—and now of course, this is going to sound like "typical" . . .

RR: . . . Reformed and Lutheran . . .

MH: . . . yeah-yeah: you just . . .

RR: . . . don't get it.

MH: 'cause you guys really are the least-relational group we've ever seen on the planet. Now: we have problems in that area, and there are passages in Scripture that talk about hospitality, generosity, and all sorts of things that we need to work on in our traditions. But if you don't have hospitality, and you don't have generosity, and you don't have relationally (whatever that means) you don't have kindness, gentleness, humility—all of those qualities that are so important for inter-personal relationships, you're not healthy, and you don't have a healthy church. If you don't have the preaching of the Gospel, you don't have a church.

Among all the things you say clearly and continuously, these few statements seem to lay out some of the things which, I think, are meant for good and are meant from a right motive -- but say something instead which doesn't turn out as well as one would hope. I wonder if you have put these clear moments together in your analysis for the White Horse Inn's impact on the evangelistic, apologetic, and ecclesiastical environment you have helped create in the last 20 years.

Now: why bring it up? I actually have three reasons.

The first is a general complaint: I think you fellows have taken the right-minded theological distinction "Law and Gospel" too far; you have made all of human life and God's interactions with man into either an imperative or an indicative — missing the point that some things in life (especially in the Christian life, and in Christian theological anthropology) fall under the subjunctive mood.

For example, Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Now, I realize that the hortatory subjective is a way to "command one's self" as they say, but let's recognize something here: that kind of command is not external or decreed but in fact internal and voluntary, speaking to a willingness and not merely to submission to some exterior force or authority. Here the writer of Hebrews — someone we must agree is not a pelagian or syncretist or closet Roman Catholic or any sort of denier of the Gospel — really says, "somehow we can relate to the life of faith, and relate to Christ himself, and want to do what the faithful have always done."

There is much to be gained from the Law/Gospel, imperative/indicative distinction in Scripture, but not everything is resolved by it. And one of the things which is not resolved by it is what manner of people the Gospel makes us - which is actually part and parcel of the Good News.

This brings me to my second concern: while you are right that Christ died objectively, the declaration that Christ died for us is actually the Gospel. In that, consider Heb 10 that after the writer extolls the finished work of Christ he says
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water
For this writer, the Gospel results in something more than just a declaration of righteousness: it results in the advantages of declared righteousness. Because in the imperative/indicative view we are either doing what we must or receiving what we are given, you miss that we are also changed in affections and inclinations. That leads to a Gospel which sees fruit as optional.

The kind of church your discussion constantly intimates (and above: explicitly accepts) is a church where the Gospel is made the centerpiece alone on the table. The Gospel is made into something done, but somehow the idea that it is done for us gets neglected — and it becomes something we see, but somehow not look to and rejoice in.

I am sure that stings a little, but often WHI denigrates people who would say in concrete ways that they enjoy the Gospel — that they live for it and by it and through it. Now, I realize that we can't take everyone at their word, but do you really think that, for example, the young fellow who says we have to love people in order to save them from sin really means that there is no reference to Christ on a Cross? It may be true — he may have meant that, and I have dialogued with a lot of people who would say that. But I have met far more who would say they have to "live the Gospel," and after unpacking that with them it turns out that they mean something a lot more like Hebrews 11:13-16 than something like the power of positive thinking. They mean to live as if the Gospel is true.

Now: Pastor Jones and Dr. Riddlebarger certainly make that clarification in the podcasts I transcripted here — that is, that people ought to find a better way to say that if that's what they mean. Maybe that's true — maybe what they're saying is a lot sloppier than 1 John 1:7, but maybe not: maybe what is in fact going on is that sometimes us smart people want everyone to be as keen on systematics as we are — forgetting that systematics are a kind of legalism if they are taken too far.

I think that Jesus didn't want to make us into people who knew everything about Him and then buried it in our library because he is a hard man who reaps where he did not sow. He wanted — that is, he wants — us to be people who will sweep the whole house to find a lost penny, and people who will buy the whole plot of land even thought the treasure is only in part of it. That is: we will live because the Gospel is true — there is good news not just apart from us but for our sake. It changes the world from "You must not" or "you must" to "I shall" and "let us."

Now, again: in the above podcast transcripts, I think you get it almost right: you say there are "consequences" to the Gospel. But they are not just likely or possible: they are necessary consequences of the Gospel. That is: the Gospel is not actually present if these things are not working out. They may not be perfected and completely worked out, but they are necessarily present. That highlight of being in Christ is in John's letters, and evident in what Paul called the fruit of the Spirit right there in Galatians. This is who you will be if the Gospel is for you and the Spirit is in you.

So to this end, I think you guys allow for a lot of fruitlessness by default — and it comes across in the culture of the people who listen to you a lot and are disaffected by their local church. They don't see it the way John saw it: they see it as wanting "basic Christianity" to want the Gospel — the perfect Gospel, perfectly declared — with a willingness to bypass fellowship (including the sacraments) to get it, usually via podcasts and books.

That brings me to my last point, which lands in my backyard and for which I usually take a lot of flack: this culture is the culture of the discernment blogosphere, and I think you guys need to own up to your contribution there in order to help clean it up.

Because you probably have never read anything by me before, let me lay all of this complaint out plainly so that you can grasp what I mean. What I am not talking about is people who are doing the legitimate work of elders who are accountable in their local churches, who are usually elders, and who display openness and transparency about their character and ministry by not hiding behind an alias or an internet nickname. What I am talking about is the avalanche of people who populate the internet via discussion boards, blogs, and social media who frequently demonstrate all the love and real compassion of a rock through one's window. They are people who, on paper, make a sound confession of faith, down to the mint and the cumin, and wouldn't know what to do if their Hindu neighbor invited them to a birthday party on Sunday morning — or how to turn the other cheek in order to make a foothold for the opportunity to share the Gospel. They usually don't attend church because they can't find one which is up to their doctrine snuff, and the reason is that they have made themselves into a private magisterium. They have never said or written anything for which they would apologize or reconsider because they have never been wrong.

You have seen some of them, I am sure. The reason I am suggesting that they are somehow an effect you ought to own a little is that they speak in the theological idioms of the White Horse Inn. They are very keen on the Law/Gospel distinction to a fault; they are very keen on needing a new reformation; an obsession with the "5 Solas". Because they are bad emulations of your good example, I suggest you should speak to them for a while to help them come around.

See: in that last excerpt, when you say that it's only "unhealthy" to have none of the fruit of the Spirit if you have a pure Gospel, you give this sort of "christianity" a free pass. You give this kind of faith the endorsement James only gives to the faith which saves — a faith which matures under trial rather than hunkering down and bunkering up, and which turns a brother away from sin rather than branding him a heretic on the first pass.

It is the open belief that one can be an "unhealthy Christian," when one is in fact flying in the face of 1 John 4:11-12 (among other passages), that is evident among the listeners to WHI: as long as I have a comprehensive understanding of Christ's transaction for sinners which leaves the sinner with nothing but grace, I'm a decent disciple. I can humbly count myself saved (passive voice, indicative mood). And they learned it from 4 very bright and winsome men who also, to some extent, believe it.

I usually try to shut it down after 3 pages, and I'm up to 6 now so let me conclude briefly: after 20 years, I think we can safely say that we know what we ought to believe, and why we ought to believe it. But I think we have a problem now that is foundational: what does it mean to "believe"? Does it mean that we can recite the catechism — or is that related to belief in the way that the instructions for a Lego kit are related to the final toy, fully constructed? Does it mean we only know about something (an objective fact in history no less), or that we are actually now in that story? Does it mean Christ's wounds are evident to us — or that we are now, for the sake of the church and those called to it but not yet in, to suffer personally to fill up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions?

I ask because I think you are my brother in Christ, and I think these problems are not small problems. And I also think you're not one to see them as small. I believe you when you say you are concerned for the health of the church, and I am with you. However, I think God's prescription for what ails us is the whole Gospel, the whole great and good news, and the whole kit of necessary effects Christ brings to us.

Whether you respond or not, I close in admiration of you and your years of faithfulness, and I hope this letter finds you in God's good graces.

25 January 2011

Mystery quotation: Who is a Christian? Open question? Or settled?

by Dan Phillips

I don't think it too likely that anyone can source this without cheating. I'll keep the identity of the writer a mystery for just a bit, to make it fun. But go ahead and discuss the content of the quotation. I will tell you in advance that the context of the quotation will be essential in understanding it. This will unfold, DV, in the meta.

As to the quotation's source, for now, no tricks
  1. Use your memory (or guessing) alone
  2. No electronic tools
  3. No Googling
So, without further eloquence:
Is it not offensive and intolerant to suppose that anyone can distinguish true Christians from others? Are there not, it is said, many kinds of followers of Christ and does not love demand that we regard them all as 'fellow Christians'?

This objection often proceeds on the basis of another argument — usually unstated — namely, that the New Testament itself does not give us enough light to be definite. And if Scripture does not resolve the question, 'What is a Christian?' then we must tolerate and justify a breadth of opinion on the subject. But if the New Testament does settle the question then we have no liberty to redefine 'Christian' in terms which neither Christ nor his apostles ever authorized. Evangelicalism has historically been distinguished by its conviction that Scripture speaks plainly on this fundamental issue; it gives us all the light we need to discern between the true and the false, between the nominal and the real.
Have at it.

UPDATE: after a few hours' discussion in the meta, I've decided to provide the answer and context in the post.

The source is Iain H. Murray, from Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth: 2000), 151. You may not know this Murray, but you really should. He's authored a number of really helpful, solid works. This one focuses on the changes within evangelicalism between the years 1950 and 2000.

I'm re-reading it, and a sad read it is. It put John Stott, J. I. Packer, and Billy Graham in lights of which I'd been previously unaware, and confirmed suspicions about F. F. Bruce.

You really should read the book rather than relying on my summary. HSAT, Murray's argument is that evangelical leaders became overly concerned with the wrong things, which led to a disastrous fragmentation, pollution, and derailing of the movement. Those concerns included:

  1. Academic respectability (in the eyes of the Gospel's enemies)
  2. Impressive numbers
  3. Ecumenical/denominational/ecclesiastical unity at any price
In the immediate context of the quotation above, Murray has just asked "What if the first need of the Church and the nation was not Christian unity but the recovery of Christianity itself? In that case the question, 'What is a Christian?' demanded a very different order of priority."

So the context of my quotation is not primarily the identification of individual Christians among orthodox professors, but the identification and separation of genuine Christian leaders from faux-Christian leaders. In the larger context of the book, can those who deny the truthfulness of the Gospels, the atonement, the bodly resurrection of Christ, and other fundamentals of the Gospel be identified as "Christian"? And if not, should they be embraced as leaders by evangelica;s? Should evangelicals form common-cause with them? Should evangelicals concern themselves with pleasing and being accepted by such men?

It's Murray's argument, developed convincingly with great specificity and documentation, that acceptance of these false criteria and goals has been ruinous. Our great need is for a return to the centrality of the Gospel, which can only come in the framework of the absolute authority of Scripture.

So you see, this is germane to a great deal of our discussions — including Frank's open letters.

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24 January 2011

On Divorce

by Phil Johnson

ne of the most commonly-asked questions I get about Spurgeon is from readers who want to know his position on divorce. In deference to Victorian sensibilities, Spurgeon had little to say on the subject, and when he brought it up, it was usually only to decry the evil effects of divorce in families, in society, and across the generations. He rightly deplored divorce and never encouraged it.

That fact has led some to think he believed divorce was never justifiable and that divorced persons were never permitted to remarry. But that was not his position.

Spurgeon held to the same view on divorce as the Westminster Confession. It's the classic view held by most Reformed theologians. In other words, Spurgeon believed remarriage after divorce is permitted in rare cases. When a divorce occurs because one partner is guilty of egregious marital infidelity, for example, the innocent partner may be permitted to remarry.

Again, Spurgeon abhorred divorce and always pointed out that it is a fruit of sin, but he had compassion on the innocent party in a marriage where one partner was faithful and the other an adulterer. In the exposition accompanying his sermon "The First Beatitude" (vol. 55), Spurgeon said:

31, 32. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto to you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

This time our King quotes and condemns a permissive enactment of the Jewish State. Men were wont to bid their wives "begone," and a hasty word was thought sufficient as an act of divorce. Moses insisted upon "a writing of divorcement," that angry passions might have time to cool and that the separation, if it must come, might be performed with deliberation and legal formality. The requirement of a writing was to a certain degree a check upon an evil habit, which was so engrained in the people that to refuse it altogether would have been useless, and would only have created another crime. The law of Moses went as far as it could practically be enforced; it was because of the hardness of their hearts that divorce was tolerated; it was never approved.

But our Lord is more heroic in his legislation. He forbids divorce except for the one crime of infidelity to the marriage-vow. She who commits adultery does by that act and deed in effect sunder the marriage-bond, and it ought then to be formally recognised by the State as being sundered; but for nothing else should a man be divorced from his wife. Marriage is for life, and cannot be loosed, except by the one great crime which severs its bond, whichever of the two is guilty of it. Our Lord would never have tolerated the wicked laws of certain of the American States, which allow married men and women to separate on the merest pretext. A woman divorced for any cause but adultery, and marrying again, is committing adultery before God, whatever the laws of man may call it. This is very plain and positive; and thus a sanctity is given to marriage which human legislation ought not to violate. Let us not be among those who take up novel ideas of wedlock, and seek to deform the marriage laws under the pretense of reforming them. Our Lord knows better than our modern social reformers. We had better let the laws of God alone, for we shall never discover any better.

Those last three sentences are of course very relevant to the current controversy regarding legal unions between homosexual partners. Spurgeon might never imagined that society would condone such a thing, but he clearly would have been horrified by it.

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23 January 2011

The Folly of Doctoring the Gospel

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 "Faith," a lecture delivered at the Conference of Ministers and Students educated at the Pastors’ College, Tuesday 16 April 1872.

ear brethren, you and I believe in the doctrines of the gospel. We have received the certainties of revealed truth. These are things which are verily believed among us. We do not bow down before men's theories of truth, nor do we admit that theology consists in "views" and "opinions." We declare that there are certain verities, essential, abiding, eternal, from which it is ruinous to swerve.

I am deeply grieved to hear so many ministers talk as if the faith were a variable quantity, a matter of daily formation, a nose of wax to be constantly reshaped, a cloud driven by the wind. So do not I believe! I have been charged with being a mere echo of the Puritans, but I had rather be the echo of truth, than the voice of falsehood.

It may be want of intellect which prevents our departing from the good old way, but even this is better than want of grace, which lies at the bottom of men's perpetual chopping and changing of their beliefs.

Rest assured that there is nothing new in theology except that which is false; and that the facts of theology are to-day what they were eighteen hundred years ago. But in these days, the self-styled "men of progress" who commenced with preaching the gospel degenerate as they advance, and their divinity, like the snail, melts as it proceeds; I hope it will never be so with any of us.

I have likened the career of certain divines to the journey of a Roman wine cask from the vineyard to the city. It starts from the wine-press as the pure juice of the grape, but at the first halting-place the drivers of the cart must needs quench their thirst, and when they come to a fountain they substitute water for what they have drank. In the next village there are numbers of lovers of wine who beg or buy a little, and the discreet carrier dilutes again. The watering is repeated, till, on its entrance into Rome, the fluid is remarkably different from that which originally started from the vineyard.

There is a way of doctoring the gospel in much the same manner. A little truth is given up, and then a little more, and men fill up the vacuum with opinions, inferences, speculations, and dreams, till their wine is mixed with water, and the water none of the best. Many preachers—and I speak it with sorrow—have built a tower of theological speculations, upon which they sit like Nero, fiddling the tune of their own philosophy while the world is burning with sin and misery. They are playing with the toys of speculation while men's souls are being lost.

Much of human wisdom is a mere coverlet for the absence of vital godliness. I went into railway carriages of the first class in Italy which were lined with very pretty crochet-work, and I thought the voyagers highly honoured, since no doubt some delicate fingers had sumptuously furnished the cars for them. The crochet work was simply put on to cover the grease and dirt of the cloth. A great deal that is now preached of very pretty sentimentalism and religiousness is a mere crochet-work covering for detestable heresies long since disproved, which dared not appear again without a disguise for their hideousness.

With words of human wisdom and speculations of their own invention men disguise falsehood and deceive many. Be it ours to give to the people what God gives to us. Be ye each of you as Micaiah, who declared: "As the Lord liveth, whatsoever the Lord saith unto me that will I speak." If it be folly to keep to what we find in Scripture, and if it be madness to believe in verbal inspiration, we purpose to remain fools to the end of the chapter, and hope to be among the foolish things which God has chosen.

C. H. Spurgeon

21 January 2011

One Key Difference Between Law and Gospel, Properly Understood

by Phil Johnson

The law makes sin appear exceedingly sinful; the gospel makes sin feel exceedingly painful.

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20 January 2011

Are you sure you want a wife who...?

by Dan Phillips


Now, I can't imagine one Biblical Christian married man answering that with a "No!" Particularly the men I've known whose wives are critical, undermining, emasculating, faultfinding, and/or shaming (Proverbs 12:4; 14:1). They'd all choke up and say "Are you nuts? I'd think I'd died and gone to Heaven!"

Well, really, though? Are you sure? Have you thought this one all the way through?

To begin with the should-be obvious: no sin is "okay." (I've learned that nothing, apparently, is "obvious" anymore.)  When a wife disrespects her husband and doesn't look to Christ and heartily wrap her arms around passages such as Ephesians 5:22f., she's sinning, she needs to repent, nobody should enable or give cover to her rebellion against God. Period.

Equally, when a husband refuses to love his wife like Christ loves the church and care for her spiritual and physical wellbeing as in Ephesians 5:25f. and the like, he's sinning, he needs to repent, and nobody should enable or give cover to his rebellion against God.

His sin doesn't make her sin OK; and her sin doesn't make his sin OK. These are marriage-related truths that are too seldom said, heard, and practiced. (See also HERE.)

HSAT: let's suppose your wife isn't a model of submission. Let's suppose she hasn't put together that her marital vows meant that she was giving up to God the "right" to fight you —  ever — to tear you down and disrespect and emasculate you. Let's suppose she hasn't accepted in faith that God calls her to support and strengthen and help you, win you over so that you unhesitatingly trust her from the heart (Proverbs 31:11).

You feel sorry for yourself. Don't lie; you do. You tell God so, too. You walk a difficult path. Your kids, who hear your wife tear you down, don't know how hard it is. You don't hear anything (exactly) about your situation in sermons or books. Insofar as any books come close to it, they just tell you it's all your fault anyway, and if you'd just give your wife her way even more, learn from her and become more... more... well, more feminine, everything'd be great.

Or they (again) say it's all your fault, and if you were just the godly man you should be — as they presumably are — and just lead (like "On three! One... two...."), your wife would just snap into place like a Lego piece. If she isn't where she should be, it's all your fault. By some magic unhinted-at in the Bible, you control her behavior, and wives are exceptions to the principle of Ezekiel 18:1-4.

Somehow, you feel there's got to be a better way.

But then a genuine miracle happens — not the kind that involves gold dust, white teeth, or gibbering and barking, but the kind that makes angels sing and brings glory to God. The Spirit of God opens your wife's eyes, she sees what the Word has been saying all along, she repents of her sin, and she begins chasing after God's revealed will with all her might.

Suddenly, you have on your hands a loving, happy, positive, respectful and supportive wife.

Are you ready for that? Really?

Think of what has changed now:
  1. It's all really-really on you now. To open that up a bit...
  2. Any pretense you ever felt you had for defaulting or abdicating is all gone now. To open that up a bit...
  3. You may genuinely have accepted your role in your marital problems, but inwardly you always had "but after all what can I do, married to a woman like this?" That's all gone now. All eyes turn to you. You don't even have the appearance of the excuse you thought you had. It's all you. What are you going to do?
  4. You'd better deliver. Are you ready to deliver? Are you like a minority-party politician, sniping at the party in power, going on and on about what better ideas you have and what a better job you'd do — and, now once you find yourself in power, it's a whole different ballpark, and you see that the market-value for talk remains a goose-egg?
  5. And if it all ends up in the ditch, you will have driven it there. Are you ready for that rap? Are you ready to be a man and shoulder the blame? Are you ready not to have any excuses, any buck-passing, any notes-from-Mom excusing you from manning-up and taking it squarely?
  6. What's more, you are now the buffer, the shield, for that woman. Maybe for months, years or decades she kept defying God's purposes, refusing to subordinate herself to you, and caught all sorts of grief for it from God's world. But now she's positioned with you as her head, her shield, her protection. You don't hide behind her as an excuse or as a person. She hides behind you, and rightly so. Are you man enough for that? Are you ready to be her hero, her knight, her champion, her protector? Did your heart stir as mine did at the story of the men at the Tucson shooting who threw themselves between the murderer's bullets and their wives? Men like seventy-six year old Dorwan Stoddard, who pulled his wife down and died shielding her with his body? Those were men being men, I tell you. Are you ready for that role?
  7. The wellbeing of that precious, vulnerable, trusting woman is right smack on your shoulders, under God. She said "No" to every other man in the world — many of whom, just 'twixt us two, are vastly superior to you and me in every way — and said "Yes" to you. Are you at least a half-decent guy? Do you take that role, that place, seriously? Will you rise to it, now that the shackles and hobbles are off? Well, sport, what are you going to do about it now? Bat's in your hands, your shoes are on the plate, the pitcher's winding up, here comes the ball. What are you going to do, Bub? It's all you. What are you going to do?
Suddenly the grass on the other side of that fence isn't as green as you were thinking, is it?

Well no, it probably still looks terrific, if you're in a difficult situation. That's always the case: doing and being aren't at all the same things as dreaming and imagining.

But if we here at Pyro can't take folks to reality, at least we'll try to play it on a nice big screen with surround-sound.

The point here is: just like the woman loudly wishing her husband would lead, similarly the man lamenting his unsubmissive wife may not be all he appears. He may have grown comfortable with the "out" that he feels his situation gives him. He may like being mothered, even if Mama gets cranky once in a while. He may have lazily adapted to the contour of the "pass" he thinks he has from stepping up and being the point-man. He may be acclimatized to the lowered profile, the lowered expectations, the lower responsibilities.

And he may get some nice sick pleasure from the sympathies of his friends. He may not fully want to be healed.

But give that wife a dose of Spirit-born repentance, and all that changes. Maybe you think he had a legitimate reason for underperforming, maybe you don't. Either way, even the pretenses of excuses are all gone now, and it's all on him.

Not so fun as it looked from a distance?

Maybe not.

But it is your God-given role, amigo.

Don't blow it.
* In all this, I assume the usual: "submission"/"subordination" is limited by the word of God. No man or woman has a right to order another either to do something God forbids, or not to do something God commands.

Dan Phillips's signature

19 January 2011

Open Letter to Brian McLaren

by Frank Turk

Dear Brian --

Long time no see. It's been a while since your last book was published, and since then some radical things have happened. Most notably the conversation known as "Emergent Village" has run out of things to say; your last podcast over there was in June 2009; and the fateful "looking for new voices" post which most people interpreted as the end of the old way of doing things came up in December 2009. It's funny how everything must change, but I am sure there is much still coming into convergence for you.

Well, I'm writing to you because I was checking the calendar this month and I noticed that 23 Jan 2011 was just around the corner -- in fact, it's this Sunday. Now, for me personally, that's when the reminder for my mother's birthday pops up, but the reason it came up on my Outlook was that it turns out that this Sunday will be the expiration of a 5-year moratorium you put into motion back in 2006.

I remember it clearly as you said this:
Usually when I'm asked about [homosexuality], it's by conservative Christians wanting to be sure that we conform to what I call "radio-orthodoxy," i.e. the religio-political priorities mandated by many big-name religious broadcasters. Sometimes it's asked by ex-gays who want to be sure they'll be supported in their ongoing re-orientation process, or parents whose children have recently "come out."
Which is a wonderfully-transparent turn of phrase from you. For a fellow with a more Generous Orthodoxy, you can certainly make it clear in a few words what sort or people you have no real affection for -- and what others should think of them.

Now, I say "sort of people" and not "points of view" because you followed that paragraph with this one:
But the young woman explained, "This is the first time my fiance and I have ever actually attended a Christian service, since we were both raised agnostic." So I supposed they were like most unchurched young adults I meet, who wouldn't want to be part of an anti-homosexual organization any more than they'd want to be part of a racist or terrorist organization.
You know: because comparing "anti-homosexual organizations" with "terrorists" and "racists" is utterly objective language -- just statements of fact which we should take as passe news reporting. One has to wonder what it would take to see something you say in this vein get labelled as "digital stoning" by the Christian tone police if this sort of rhetoric gets a pass, as it did 5 years ago.

And that statement was further developed as you said this in the same essay:
Most of the emerging leaders I know share my agony over this question. We fear that the whole issue has been manipulated far more than we realize by political parties seeking to shave percentage points off their opponent's constituency. We see whatever we say get sucked into a vortex of politicized culture-wars rhetoric--and we're pastors, evangelists, church-planters, and disciple-makers, not political culture warriors. Those who bring us honest questions are people we are trying to care for in Christ's name, not cultural enemies we're trying to vanquish.
And this was the second-most enjoyable part of your statement -- because I wonder if Doug Pagitt, Tony Jones, Chris Seay, and Shane Clairborne would say that they do what they do with whom they do it because they are not trying to "vanquish cultural enemies". I thought one of the explicit reasons you guys find common ground is said here at the Emergent Village site:
Our dream is to join in the activity of God in the world wherever we are able, partnering with God as God’s dreams for our world come true. In the process, the world can be healed and changed, and so can we.
Right? The explicit objective for you guys is to change the world -- so you're not really that much unlike James Dobson and Bill O'Reilly as you'd like everyone to think. And given the kind of language you plainly want to use to say what you say here, it's a little self-effacing to reject the title "culture warriors." I mean: everything must change. We need a New Kind of Christianity (on or after 11 Feb 2011 anyway, when the paperback comes out). Was it really then such a transparent statement to say that you don't actually want change and you aren't seriously trying to shave people off the incumbent forms of Christianity and add them to your village?

Now, I'm bringing all this up because, well, here's how you put it:
Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us." That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think. Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn.

Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we'll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they'll be admittedly provisional. We'll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we'll speak; if not, we'll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the "winds of doctrine" blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.
You asked us to take 5 years off and to think about these things and see if we couldn't come up with something "windy" to say about the whole ordeal. Frankly, I think your alleged agnosticism here on the issue is well undercut by the way you frame the view that homosexuality is a sin, and by the way you frame the humanity (or the lack thereof) of those who would say so. But that's neither here nor there, because here we are, 5 years later, and I'm writing to tell you what some of us have come up with.

First off: your public comments have not improved with time -- not on this subject, or any other. Your conceit about being "pastoral" rings both hollow and offensive because you're not a pastor and don't intend to be one. You are more of a rabble-rouser who gets other people to say what he is too sly himself to say out loud, like the fellow two weeks ago who is doing for the irreligious what Pat Robertson does so well for the pious, which is to whip up fear in order to make a call to action. So as we consider your words and the challenge you gave us, let's not pretend they were high-minded words of concern for the health and welfare of Christian love and belief: they were overtly words meant to scare people into being what you wanted them to be.

Second: the discussion itself is an interesting one because you seem to think this is a question which was unasked and unanswered in the last 2000 years -- when in fact most places in the West under Christendom (and all the places in the East under Christendom) unanimously have rejected the question as untenable. The longer I have personally considered this question as you have framed it, the less cogent the question becomes. It is based on nothing but your clan's assertions that the moral issue needs to be reopened.

Let's face it, Brian: what you're really saying in this discussion is that Jesus wasn't really speaking from the Jewish tradition of moral and ethical reasoning. If we're to be as generous as possible with you that's just wishful anachronism on your part -- but truthfully you find "science" and "philosophy" as compelling as whatever it was Jesus was on about. You may in fact be an advocate of Doug Pagitt's view that the bible is only one voice which needs to be considered in a community of voices -- and that, only as one of a past generation.

But that said, what is also interesting to consider as the 5-year moratorium expires is that the vast majority of all human religious expressions disagree with you -- I would in fact be hard-pressed to find one moral code which actually found what you are seeking to advocate for in its "to do" list.

Third on my list of items for writing to you today is that if you want to go the route of L. Ron Hubbard and start your own religion, I offer you that as a clear and cogent solution to the many problems you face right now. You've written a few manifestos, and a few books, and you have a legion of followers who are spiritual but not religious, and you also have experience with trying to make a conversation into something more -- and to paraphrase Edison, at least you now know one way in which establishing a new religion will not work. If you want to establish a religion in which there is no ethical or moral difference between heterosexual unions and homosexual unions, I say swing for the wall. Please establish that religion -- but please stop trying to make this into an issue about what Jesus would "really" do.

What Jesus would really do is take the list of sins found in the Old Testament and proclaim them all from a mountainside, making all people doubt that they have any hope at all of being seen as righteous before God, and then when he had their attention and their conviction under the law of Moses, he would tell them that God saves sinners who repent. And then he would get on a cross and die for the sake of the sins of world, and raise himself from the dead to prove he wasn't kidding.

All that said, you have asked a very significant question which I think deserves more than a reading of the riot act against your spirited rejection of God's law: how can an institution with as much history as the Christian church speak to people like homosexuals who think that they are owed the moral right to adopt the forms and customs of prior peoples even though those forms and customs are explicit that these things are not for them?

Since you asked, here's what I think:

1. Somehow, the Christian church has to become, as it is called to be, the enemy of sin and the friend of sinners.

See: I'm not foolish enough to think you believe there are no sexual sins. Nobody believes that. There's nobody, for example, that thinks that Charlie Sheen is living a fine life -- and it's not just because he's been divorced more than once. I doubt that even he thinks he's a fine person for his escapades, and I doubt the people he gets involved with see their experiences as things they are proud of.

And it's easy to say to Charlie Sheen, "fella: just try to keep your pants on." He's an easy target. But it is the easy targets that help us see two things precisely: first, that there is a limit somewhere to what is and is not sexually acceptable; last, that we can draw that line and not be calling for a lynch mob against those trapped in sin but instead call them out of their sin because it is in fact destroying them.

I really do get it that the current logic is that somehow "consenting adults" should have a right to do as they please in a free society, but there's Charlie Sheen, Brian. Does it seem right that he should live that way? Is it comprehensible that his freedom should also be that matter-of-factly dangerous? Now: even if I concede that many homosexuals are not that self-destructive sexually (and I suggest that if you spent any time in the past 5 years considering this issue, I hope you spent some of it considering this sort of data), are the only dangers in life the ones which cause us health issues?

You know: the sad and morally-reprehensible Phelps clan seem to be in pretty good health. And they seem to be reasonably-consenting adults doing what they seem to think is right. But what they do is beyond the pale -- because their only objective is to heap scorn on the objects of their wrath. And they do it for their own religious pleasure, Brian -- would you agree?

So we also know that doing things which seem right to us can also be morally destructive -- of others, and of ourselves if we believe in God as Creator and not just companion.

While this letter is already over-long, and I will not work out the full case in Scripture against sexual sins, I will say this: ignoring this conclusion about morality to align it to the current trend in one form of sociology or psychology is simply self-ignorant. It abandons your own conscience and its ability and motives for drawing moral conclusions for the sake of some other objective which neither you or I would care to name.

In this, it is the obligation of the church, which has a mandate from God to call sinners to repentance, to find the right words in English to say that every sin is utterly reprehensible, but the person who sins can repent and be saved. We must not be the ones who enable sin by telling the sinner, "You do not have any problems, only differences, and in this I can just listen to and accept you."

2. The Christian church has many idols to overcome, and it will be painful to overcome them.

I bring this up because I think it is an utterly-valid objection to the apparent selectivity of some forms of church speech and culture. For example, fat people are not called to repent nearly as seriously as atheists -- even though they are both serving idols, and in some sense, their bellies. Greedy people are not called to repent with any vigor -- there are in fact television networks devoted to promoting the idea that only the Christian faith makes one healthy and wealthy, and the coalition to call these people out to repentance is pretty loose and thin. Murderers are not called out by the church, Brian: if we can agree that killing babies is the worst form of rampant oppression on the face of the globe today, doctors who kill babies in the womb can find refuge in churches all over the place and proudly say they are doing good humanitarian work.

The English-speaking church has a great deal to repent of, Brian. It has massive gulfs of moral and spiritual blindness which need more work to clean up than if BP had spilled all that crude oil on it last year. But here's the thing: the fact that the church is not perfect now does not mean it does not have any right to speak to the few things it still has not unseated.

And indeed: the only way to actually repent of what is wrong is at least to start from what the few things we can get right. What if all the church has is the fact that Christ died for sin, and that sinners must repent or be lost -- not just alienated from God but cast out from him? Should it not preach that simple truth? How can any of the things wrong with the church be corrected if this is not the starting place of the religion itself?

There's no question that real change must take place for the church to credibly preach the Gospel to the sexually-sinful -- from the licentious to the merely self-involved -- but that doesn't mean the message that all sin is sin should be mollified or set aside until all the reforms are complete. It is in fact that message only which can turn the church from its vacation in this secular paradise to the hard and narrow way of the cross.

When you abandon that, you abandon hope for all the souls both in and out of the church.

3. That doesn't change the Gospel one iota.

This is really the key issue. Even if the church is full of sinners -- and it is, as it ought to be -- the Gospel does not change, because it is not about what we can possibly do for ourselves or others. The Gospel is, and has always been, that at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly; God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That is: my problem is not that I have to accept who I am because this is exactly what God made me to be. My problem is that I am actually wretched, and I do things I do not want to do, and what I say I really want to do I cannot do. So I must cry out -- if I am not utterly deceived by my own desires -- "Who can save me? Can anyone save me?"

When we stop believing that, and stop declaring that, we are doing something reprehensible, Brian -- far worse than racism and terrorism. We are doing something which actually makes it easy for someone else to die forever, and never to see Christ as God's Son and our Savior -- but only as a final judge who will condemn them for their foolish belief that their pleasure right now was the most important thing.

So given my own sense of compassion, Brian, I end this letter to you plainly: after 5 years, I have considered this thing, and because of it, I call you to repent. Turn away from your cleverness, and your passive-aggressive moral intimidation of others, and your preying upon people who want to be seen as smart and cool and somehow also "spiritual", and turn to Jesus who is no longer hanging on a cross but justly seated at the right hand of the Father -- and repent.

Repent, Brian. Make that your new kind of Christianity -- the kind which the martyrs died for, and to which the abjectly-lost have run for millennia. I say it for your sake, and for the sake of the many you lead and mislead.

And I leave it to you in Christ's name.

18 January 2011

Blog-biz: Comment Rules adjustment

by Dan Phillips

We conferred, and...

Note that the Rules in the sidebar — of which there were formerly eight — have been adjusted and abbreviated.

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