28 February 2011

More on the Intolerance of Overtolerance

by Phil Johnson


'm getting ready for another back surgery Tuesday, and I have neither the energy nor the clarity of mind to write a proper blogpost. So what follows is a radically abbreviated summary of my thoughts on this weekend's Rob Bell/ Justin Taylor controversy.

Also, be aware that after my surgery tomorrow, I plan (Lord willing) to take at least a month off from blogging whilst I recover completely. Unless my recovery goes much better than expected (or something totally unforeseen in the evangelical world compels me to take up my bed and write), you won't see me here until at least April.

In the meantime, check out this video, where Rob Bell is promoting his next book:

f you read many blogs, you must be aware by now that on Saturday Justin Taylor posted a link to that video and expressed his belief that Rob Bell's doctrine is rather seriously unorthodox. Justin's commenters' went crazy, racking up hundreds of comments before noon. Many of them angrily insisted that Justin's judgment about Bell is premature and uncharitable. One blogger said so in an open letter to Justin, and most of his commenters agreed, too.

On the other hand, The Bayly brothers thought Justin had failed to speak as strongly as he should.

Of course, we at TeamPyro have been saying for some time that Rob Bell is a dangerous false teacher. So it should come as no surprise that we share Justin's opinion that Rob Bell "is moving farther and farther away from anything resembling biblical Christianity." We also share the Baylys' opinion that Justin could have been even more emphatic than he was.

Nevertheless, all the standard judge-not-lest-you-be-judged responses were quickly trotted out and set in array against Justin. The chorus of voices repeating the theme across the evangelical blogosphere over the weekend has been overwhelming. Justin's original post garnered about a thousand comments over the two-day weekend—an almost unheard-of volume in the Christian blogosphere. The topic swiftly trended on Twitter. Commenters seemed hyperactive on almost every blog where the subject was mentioned, and most of them were critical of Justin and defensive of Rob Bell.

Bell's latest heresy neither surprises nor interests me. What does intrigue me is the tragic drift of popular, mainstream evangelicalism. Here we see clearly why the evangelical movement is in grave trouble: The passions of today's self-styled evangelicals are easily aroused in defense of someone who makes a career dabbling around the edges of truth. Rob Bell likes to play with damnable heresies as if they were Lego bricks, and yet anyone who points out the glaring errors in Bell's teaching will be met with a wall of angry resistance from young, self-styled Christians who grew up in the evangelical mainstream.

Where is that much passion ever employed these days in defense of the truth?

I'm not looking for crass watchbloggers or anti-intellectual zealots for whom every disagreement is an excuse for insults and a shouting match. We are up to here with people like that. They are a tiny minority, I think, but a noisy one. They represent one extreme out there on the evangelical fringe: people who can't tolerate any difference of opinion.

But the other extreme seems to be a much larger, more pervasive problem (and this is the trend currently pushing the most evangelicals off the edge): people whose "tolerance" is bent in favor of distorted and unorthodox teachings. They despise unvarnished criticism. They especially hate it when a critic suggests this or that heresy is truly damnable. Evidently there is no doctrine so important that they are willing to fight for it—much less die for it.

Both our Lord and His apostles told us plainly that we would need to defend the faith against false prophets, vicious wolves in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15), minions of Satan disguised as angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-14), and corrupters of doctrine who arise within the church (Acts 20:29). Why is it that the average Christian today flatly refuses to take those warnings seriously?

As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, American evangelicalism is clearly confused, fragmented, and frighteningly vulnerable to false teaching. Evangelicals are too worldly-minded and untaught to be able to recognize all the deadly errors that have made themselves at home within the movement. Evangelical leaders are far too tentative and timid in denouncing those errors—up to and including the damnable ones. Rank-and-file evangelicals won't stand for it if their leaders do point out false doctrines, especially when the error is being peddled by a slick celebrity.

These problems are serious. What we commonly refer to as "the evangelical movement" is actually no movement at all anymore. It has morphed and melted down into a variegated, muddled, incoherent swamp—without any meaningful boundaries. And we are sending to the world a message that is as garbled and bewildering as this ersatz movement.

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26 February 2011

Don't Follow a Bad Leader

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 Choice of a Leader," a sermon on Luke 6:39-40 delivered on Sunday morning, 1 August 1875 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

hen a man chooses a bad leader for his soul, at the end of all bad leadership there is a ditch.

A man teaches error which he declares he has drawn from Scripture, and he backs it up with texts perverted and abused. If you follow that error, and take its teacher for a leader, you may for a time be very pleased with yourself for knowing more than the poor plain people who keep to the good old way, but, mark my word, there is a ditch at the end of the error. You do not see it yet, but there it is, and into it you will fall if you continue to follow your leader.

At the end of error there is often a moral ditch, and men go down, down down, they scarce know why, till presently, having imbibed doctrinal error, their moral principles are poisoned, and like drunken men they find themselves rolling in the mire of sin.

At other times the ditch beyond a lesser error may be an altogether damnable doctrine. The first mistake was comparatively trifling, but, as it placed the mind on an inclined plane, the man descended almost as a matter of course, and almost before he knew it, found himself given over to a strong delusion to believe a lie.

The blind man and his guide, whatever else they miss, will be sure to find the ditch, they need no sight to obtain an abundant entrance into that.

Alas! to fall into the ditch is easy, but how shall they be recovered? I would earnestly entreat especially professing Christians, when novelties of doctrine come up, to be very cautious how they give heed to them. I bid you remember the ditch.

A small turn of the switch on the railway is the means of taking the train to the far east or to the far west: the first turn is very little indeed, but the points arrived at are remote.

There are new errors which have lately come up which your fathers knew not, with which some are mightily busy, and I have noticed when men have fallen into them their usefulness ceased. I have seen ministers go only a little way in speculative theories, and gradually glide from latitudinarianism into Socinianism or Atheism. Into these ditches thousands fall. Others are precipitated into an equally horrible pit, namely, the holding nominally of all the doctrines in theory and none of them in fact.

Men hold truths nowadays with the bowels taken out of them, and the very life and meaning torn away. There are members and ministers of evangelical denominations who do not believe evangelical doctrine, or if they do believe it they attach but little importance to it; their sermons are essays on philosophy, tinged with the gospel. They put a quarter of a grain of gospel into an Atlantic of talk, and poor souls are drenched with words to no profit.

God save us from ever leaving the old gospel, or losing its spirit.

C. H. Spurgeon

24 February 2011

What did Jesus (not) say about... truth and love? (Full post)

by Dan Phillips

Breaking news: Jesus talked about love!

Well honestly, the way I see it mentioned hither and yon (not to be confused with hither and thither), you'd think there was a segment of the church which denied that statement. If so, I've yet to meet it. Certainly there are parts which aren't very good at it, but denial? Denigration? I don't think I've ever heard anyone deny or denigrate genuine, Biblical love — not the way folks have repeatedly denigrated doctrine.

But let's circle in on this. Jesus famously says:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35)
Love, then, is the mark of a disciple. In this passage, our Lord does not say that doctrine is the mark of a disciple, or that correctness is the mark of a disciple, or even that truth is the mark of a disciple. So love, some would say, clearly supplants concerns about correct doctrine.

Not so fast. Why stop there? Jesus also does not say that monotheism is the mark of a disciple. He does not say that abstaining from murder, rape, or theft is the mark of a disciple. He does not say that wearing clothes or eating are marks of a disciple. He does not even say that believing in Him, in any sense, is the mark of a disciple.

So what have we established? Only that Jesus didn't say what He didn't say in this passage. Which, hopefully, all are agreed upon. We had better hope He said other things, somewhere. Because if all we had were this passage, we would not even know what this passage meant! I mean, what is love? Warm feelings? Cheesy sentimentalism? Coddling? Indulging? Unconditional approval and enabling? Indifference towards damaging (or even damning) error? Treacly benevolence?

So rather than camping on this passage as if it were the only thing Jesus ever said, without any context, what if we — oh, I don't know — considered everything Jesus said? Shall we?

So we ask: is this the only thing Jesus ever said about love, or about what should distinguish His followers? Hardly. Let's start with the latter:  "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" Jesus asks (Luke 6:46). So right away, we know that Jesus expects obedience to His words to characterize His real followers.  Nor do we see a hierarchy, as if one may obey some but disregard others. Jesus seems to think that He is our Lord, or He is not; and if He is, what He says should produce obedience in us.

Whatever He means by "love" in John 13, then, it must be characterized and framed by obedience to His words — which, as we just saw, leads us to the rest of the New Testament, and back to the whole of the Old Testament as well.

In fact, Jesus Himself ties those ideas together, repeatedly:
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. ...If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:21, 23-24)

"If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love" (John 15:10)
Jesus' concept of love walks hand in hand with His commandments, which in turn (as we've seen) point us back to the Old Testament (John 10:35) and the rest of the New (John 16:12-15) as well.

So would Jesus ever have tolerated a notion of love divorced from a specific, set doctrinal framework? Fantasy-Jesus, yes. Fantasy-Jesus thinks all sorts of things, largely things that will keep the world's good graces. The actual Jesus, however, the one who really lived and lives — He would never have conceived of such a view.

That Jesus (the real one) was once asked what were the two most important things in all the universe. Do you recall His answer?
 "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40)
Love for God comes first. Then, and only then, is it followed by love of neighbor. And what, pray, is love for God? The concept is explained and given full color in the Old Testament, whence Jesus mined this gold. Let's just lift a snippet:
"You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always" (Deuteronomy 11:1)

"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, 'Let us go after other gods,' which you have not known, 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)
Do you see it yet again? Love for God walks hand in hand with wholehearted acceptance of the full authority of all of God's words. But what is more, plugging in Deuteronomy, it means doctrinal loyalty, it means clinging wholly to the true God — which is to say as well, to the doctrinal truth about God — in the face of all opposing doctrines. It is loyal devotion to God, as His doctrine is revealed in Scripture alone.

Obviously a full treatment would fill a large book, but what we've seen is enough to decimate the false dichotomy of the lazy and anti-Biblical slogan "love, not doctrine."

But let's go one step further. This standard of love calls for all of us, heart and mind and soul and strength. If that is our standard, then what hope have we? We have never put together two consecutive seconds of such pure, true, singleminded devotion of God.

That is why we must flee for refuge in that sheerly-doctrinal/historical reality, the penal substitutionary atoning death of Christ. For there and there alone do we meet fierce and undeniable love which crashes upon our lovelessness, dashes aside our objections and rebellion, and saves and converts and conquers us.
"...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us: (Romans 5:8)

"In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10)
And only in the light of such doctrinally-communicated-and-defined love can we go on to John's next exhortation:
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (1 John 4:11)
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23 February 2011

Open Letter to Esquire Magazine

by Frank Turk

Dear Esquire Magazine --

Y'all have a dirty little magazine. While I am actually not a prude, I understand why prudish people are the way they are -- some of them are actually appalled at the lure they feel toward the lurid, and some are hurt by the lurid details of other people's lack of dignity when it comes to things that are really much better when they are private. It is a principle you could consider for your own good, and the betterment of your "readers".

Now: I have't written you today to berate you about your high-class soft-core format. I'm writing because of something you did about a year and a half ago which just came across my e-mail, and I was wondering if you could help me get my arms around it. I want to grasp what you had in mind when you published this open letter by Shane Claiborne.

I get it, by the way, that Shane kinda peaked in 2009 after the "success" of Jesus for President and Becoming the Answer to our Prayers, and he was on a somewhat-perpetual mission of self-promotion at that time between all the time he was spending with the poor. So getting him to write an open letter "To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends" probably wasn't very hard. Zondervan probably helped him get the gig because that's what publishers do.

At this point, I'm sure someone else would want to take apart Shane's letter for all its broad and narrow mistakes -- and it has plenty. His reading of the parables of Jesus or of John 3 leave a considerable amount to be desired from a purely-Christian standpoint. I mean: these are Christian stories, and one hopes that when someone tells them they will at least get them right from a foundational point of view even if they then jump off them to some other use.

But I'll be honest: I think you guys did something out of character, and I'm trying to figure out why.

Here's the basic story of Shane's letter:
  • He's sorry that some Christians are so mean.
  • He's not one of those because Jesus is not one of those.
  • He loves you the way Jesus loves you.
  • Everyone jump up on the Peace Train. E-ya-Ee-ya-ooh-ah! Jesus says you don't have to be mean.
  • And God is not going to send anyone to Hell -- or at least we should hope so.
I'm willing to set aside the question of whether or not that's actually the Christian message, or even a Christian message, for the space of this letter for one reason only: I want to talk about why you would have any stake in giving this message, or anything like it, space in your magazine.

See: your magazine is about looking a certain way, looking at women a certain way, and thinking about things that, if you say them the right way, will get women to look at you a certain way. (cf. paragraph 1) There's not really the weight of ethical (let alone moral) bedrock under your magazine's periodical efforts. So to let Shane out of the box here with a message that says, in a very simple way, "don't be mean because God isn't mean," seems to scrub the fur of the hair of the dog the wrong way.

You guys couldn't care less about "mean". You probably enjoyed Shane making fun of the street preacher he witnessed while strolling in downtown Philly (ministering to the poor who were out on a date, I am sure), and enjoyed his shots at radio and TV messages by Christians, and the hackneyed Gandhi quote, but when he gets to the part about peace, patience, kindness, joy and love, did it strike any of you as somewhat ironic that one has to divert one's eyes from the link to "Women We Love Gallery" to read further? We can take it for granted that you didn't force anyone into sex slavery to fill that gallery, but is it really actually kind to pose women half-naked in order to drive traffic to your site and sell ad space in your magazine?

It's a living, I am sure, but is it actually any better than the fellow with the coffin and the mic Shane was so exercised over? At least the body that guy was treating like a sideshow attraction was a mock-up, and he wasn't rolling people for $18 for 33 issues of more of the same. Even if his method is a little impolite, his intention wasn't to make people more-likely to treat your daughter like a menu, or worse.

So why publish a letter from a guy like Shane Claiborne about how nice Christianity intends us to be? It seems to me that you could have had only one logical reason: you see his message as disposable. It runs in the same circle as the 10 essential truths of Men's Style, and your reading list which includes once-relevant items like Charles Bukowski's Women and Nick Tosches' Dino. Shane's idea of "nice" may offend the fundies and the TV evangelists, but it can't offend the libertine or the boozie hipster. In fact, it is marginally-admirable to them, an ideal which they can smell of and taste like a stick of gum which they hope will cover over the vaporous funk of what else they have been ingesting.

So all that said, I don't have a book to sell, and I don't have a hipster pretension to being some kind of post-medieval white rasta monk. I have a house in suburbia in the Bible belt, and I work a day job in renewable energy. I drive a decent silver sedan. My kids each have their own dogs, and I pay a mortgage. I am married to my one and only wife. But I have a series of 5 messages all about the length of Shane's, and they are about the problem that Christ poses for all kinds of people: conservatives, liberals, rich people, poor people, educated people, fashionable people, etc. If you're interested in more filler which will be even more edgy than Shane's letter, I'm game if you are.

Think about it, and as you do, also think about the kind of world we must live in where half-naked women and a message about being nice (not judgmental or even morally-refined) will co-exist without any raised eyebrows. That's a weird world to say the least, and your dirty little magazine has helped make it possible.

I hope you consider that good work, since it is your own. If not, perhaps we could talk about what good work looks like. I'd enjoy it, and I think you would, too.

22 February 2011

What did Jesus (not) say about... the remaining 23 NT books? (full post)

by Dan Phillips

Over the years, various cultists, liberals, and cafeteria Christianoids have found that the reality of the apostles' doctrines makes them less popular with the world than their fantasies about Jesus' teachings do. The clear and plain apostolic analysis of the human dilemma doesn't dovetail with the world's self-diagnosis and "felt needs," and he who cleaves closely thereto invites the frown of the world rather than its smile. Yet "Jesus" remains popular, to a degree, and if certain of His words are radically isolated and massaged pretty ruggedly, one can fit in with pockets of the world while clinging to some sort of Jesusy veneer.

So these folks invent rationales to jettison the latter (apostolic reality) in favor of the mirage of the former. It is but one variety of inventing a "canon within the Canon." There have always been others as well, from Marcion on. They all have the same effect: the purveyor can avoid repenting where he badly needs to repent, and gets to keep that shiny religious sheen.

Candidly, I have more respect for the person who tries to trash the whole lot. It's a doomed project, of course; but it has a tincture of integrity that the more overtly religious varieties necessarily lack.

For the red-letterites... hm, pause a moment. There should be a fancier, more highfalutin' name, to go along with their vaunted self-image as brave pioneers and explorers. What's "red" in Greek? That'd be eruthros. And "letter" would be gramma. So Eruthrogrammatites? I like that it sounds like a dreadful contagious disease, but it's probably too long. Spanish might be Rojoletrans. Latin? Could be Rufulitterans. How about Ed-ray Etterguy-lays?

But I digress.

Whatever they might put on the T-shirt, they won't find any refuge in Jesus. It was, after all, Jesus' idea to separate and select twelve men, and name them "apostles" and to send them out to preach (Mark 3:14). If He wanted to do the only teaching, forever, and all of it, then this was a mistake. Which, seriously — think about that for a second.

So Jesus deliberately selected these men, and deliberately marked them as teachers in their own right. These men then became recipients of direct revelation (Matthew 10:19-20; 16:17). This was by Jesus' own design and revelation, in accord with His Father's own design and revelation.

In His last night with the apostles, Jesus spoke at length of the days to come. His apostles, He said, would be recipients of a special ministry of the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 says, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." What would the Spirit do? "Teach," impart doctrinal truth. How much? "All things," so this is a wide catalog. It includes giving them an inerrant memory about His teaching.

What is more, the Spirit would bear witness so effectively that the apostles would also bear witness. As His was infallible, it is reasonable to infer that theirs would be infallible (John 15:26-27). Perhaps even a more sweeping promise is made in John 16:12-15 —
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Jesus still had many things to tell the apostles, and He would. How? By the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This suggests a specific body of truth which was yet to be revealed, and which would yet be revealed, after His glorification and by the Holy Spirit.

What's more, "all truth," Jesus promises, certifying in advance that what they say will be what He gave them to say. Not all truth about physics and medicine, but all truth in keeping with the "many things" He had yet to reveal. All of this would be Jesus Christ's revelation to the apostles by the Holy Spirit. So you really could make the legitimate argument that the apostles' words should also equally be red-letter, in that they are the words of Christ conveyed by the Holy Spirit.

"What?!" some might explode. "Dude! I call illegitimate conclusion. Going 'way too far!"

Really? The apostles would not seem to think it was. Hear Paul: "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37). The apostle, in so many words, equates his writings with a command of Jesus Christ. His writings, Paul says, are (not merely "contain") the command (not merely general notions) of Jesus.

Then there is Ephesians 2:20, which states that the church is built on the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself personally being the cornerstone. They had the one-time-only, one-generation-only task of laying the foundation. All subsequent generations build on that foundation. But this was the Lord's own design, as He had said earlier.

This is borne out as well in 2 Peter 3:1-3. The apostle writes in verse 2 of "the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles." It is Jesus' command, and it is communicated through the apostles. It is, if I may be emphatic, 100% Jesus' command, but the ones speaking that command were in fact the apostles. Thus says Jesus' primus inter pares, the apostle Peter.

It would take us afield to spend too much time, but various heretics who find Paul uncongenial to their doctrine (which in itself is telling) try to pare him off from the apostles. Peter will have none of it, as he goes on to write of the need to
count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16)
Here Peter equates Paul's writings not only as being on a par with his own, but on a par with "the other Scriptures." He could not possibly extend a higher imprimatur to Paul's epistles than this. It fits — not the negative reconstructions of divide-and-conquer Johann-come-latelys, but — the whole portrait of the whole New Testament.

In conclusion, I might come full circle and affirm that Christians should focus on the words and teachings of Jesus Christ.

But then I would hasten to say that those words and teachings are found from Matthew to Revelation.

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20 February 2011

Let's Not Extol the Exploits of the Old Man

Let's Boast Instead of the Grace that Redeems Us from All Our Sin

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 Old Man Crucified," a sermon delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, on Sunday evening, 11 April 1869.

ur sins must be put to death with every circumstance of shame and self-humiliation.

I must confess I am shocked with some people whom I know, who glibly rehearse their past lives up to the time of their supposed conversion, and talk of their sins, which they hope have been forgiven them, with a sort of smack of the lips, as if there was something fine in having been so atrocious an offender. I hate to hear a man speak of his experience in sin as a Greenwich pensioner might talk of Trafalgar and the Nile.

The best thing to do with our past sin, if it be indeed forgiven, is to bury it; yes, and let us bury it as they used to bury suicides. Let us drive a stake through it, in horror and contempt, and never set up a monument to its memory.

If you ever do tell anybody about your youthful wrongdoing, let it be with blushes and tears, with shame and confusion of face; and always speak of it to the honor of the infinite mercy which forgave you. Never let the devil stand behind you and pat you on the back and say, "You did me a good turn in those days."

Oh, it is a shameful thing to have sinned, a degrading thing to have lived in sin, and it is not to be wrapped up into a telling story and told out as an exploit as some do.

"The old man is crucified with him." Who boasts of being related to the crucified felon? If any member of your family had been hanged, you would tremble to hear anyone mention the gallows; you would not run about crying, "Do you know a brother of mine was hanged at Newgate?"

Your old man of sin is hanged; do not talk about him, but thank God it is so; and as he blots out the remembrance of it, do you the same, except so far as it may make you humble and grateful.

C. H. Spurgeon

18 February 2011

God justifies the ungodly

by Phil Johnson

e recently had a commenter who strongly objected to the truth that God justifies the ungodly (cf. Romans 4:5). His argument seemed to be that God cannot righteously justify a sinner unless the sinner first makes himself righteous. Of course that is an utter impossibility. It is also a contradiction of the gospel.

The gospel, not the law, explains how sinners can be justified. The law offers sinners nothing but condemnation.

Here's a video with a brief explanation of the doctrine of justification. This doctrine is the heart and soul of gospel truth:

That video is part of the collection of resources at Jesus.org, a subsidiary of Christianity.com—both wonderful websites that you should bookmark. Poke around and you'll find a handful of videos featuring yours truly. Those were taped last fall while I was in New Jersey. They are unscripted, unrehearsed, off-the-cuff answers to questions given to me by Alex Crain on the spot (so if I stammer, meander, or sound disorganized, that's why).


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17 February 2011

What did Jesus (not) say about... how to understand the OT (full post)

by Dan Phillips
"You know where you really go wrong? You just read the Torah 'way too literally."
A reader wrote me saying he'd been troubled to see a Buddhist lecturer being hosted at a Methodist church. He wrote the pastor, expressing his concern and citing John 14:6. In his response, the Methodist pastor said something like "I don't take the Bible as literally as you."

One hears this quite a bit. We are cautioned against taking Genesis too literally, against taking the history of Israel too literally. Usually in these cases, "literally" is a code-word meaning "to be true." So the problem is that we take Genesis 1—3 to be true, to actually relate events that happened in space and time exactly as recorded.

Of course our grand concern should not be to take Scripture literally or non-literally. Insofar as we claim to be Christians, our goal must be to take Scripture as Christ took it. Otherwise, we might as well claim to be "SpongeBobians" as "Christians."

Jesus lodged a great many charges against the religious leaders of His day. He complained that their righteousness fell short of that of the Kingdom (Matthew 5:20), that they didn't practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3), that they made proselytes who were worse than they (Matthew 23:15), and a host of other accusations.

But did Jesus ever fault them for being too literal?

I'd say the opposite is the case. If anything, Jesus faulted them for not attending closely enough to the details Scripture.

For instance, He faulted them for failing to learn from David's history (Matthew 12:2-4) and from the practice of the priests (v. 5). He did not suggest that either was a myth or a cultic legend with a general meaning that bypassed the text. It was from the text that He derived the meaning.

Again and again Jesus clashed with the Pharisees' traditionalism. But His problem with this plague was not that it harped too closely on the letter of the Torah, but that it completely ignored it at will, as He illustrated at length in Matthew 15:1-9. Jesus in no way suggested that the Pharisees needed to loosen their grip on Scripture; rather, they needed to tighten it (vv. 3-4, 6, 9).

Jesus accuses the Sadducees of not having a sufficient grasp of Scripture: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:29). The He presses a seemingly minor point of syntax (v. 32) to demonstrate the resurrection (v. 31).

Then He rounds on the Pharisees, pressing a literal reading of the title of Psalm 110 to make a major point which would collapse otherwise (22:41-45). Jesus took "of David" to mean "of David," and not "David-like" or "from the Davidic school."

Or let's go right to the first bail-out point for Christianoids who want the world to think well of them: Genesis 1—3. Is there any hint that Jesus saw these chapters as metaphorical, poetic, mythological? Indeed no; the genre and canonical location clearly identify them as historical prose, and Jesus accepted this. Seamlessly combining Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, Jesus said
“Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female [ Genesis 1:27], and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-5)
As in everything, Jesus puts it down to a lack of faith. Jesus Himself was in no doubt that the entire OT was the very Word of God. What the Torah said, God said. Therefore, the problem of the Pharisees was not that they clung too tightly to Moses, but too loosely. Hear Him:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. ...Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:39-40, 45-47)
Anyone backing away from the full truthfulness and authority of every word of the OT should have the honesty not to appeal to Jesus, for Jesus showed no such spirit. The only Jesus who ever really lived fully affirmed the OT as God's word. If we are going to propound some other view, we should say up-front that we reject Jesus' cosmology and feel free to disagree with Him where His thinking varies from ours. But then it seems to me that we need to take the next step and disassociate ourselves from any thought that we are believers in, or students and followers of, Jesus.

One may with integrity say he believes Jesus and owns Him as Lord, or he may fret at length about the horrid evils of taking the OT too literally.

He may not do both. Not with integrity.

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16 February 2011

An Open Letter to the Internet

by Frank Turk

Dear Internet,

Think about it, and I'll be back next week with something more specific. Thanks.

15 February 2011

Love and Truth: Together Forever

by Phil Johnson

The following blogpost is an excerpt adapted from an article I contributed to the current issue of Bible Study Magazine, the hard-copy periodical put out by Logos Bible Software. The full article contains an exposition of 2 John. This is just a teaser. Get the magazine.

t's not easy, especially nowadays, to keep love and truth together in a balanced way.

Our culture force-feeds us a postmodern notion of love. Tolerance, diversity, and broad-mindedness are its defining features.

Meanwhile, truth is generally held in high suspicion, if not treated with outright contempt. After all, if the very essence of love is to accept all points of view, how could it possibly be virtuous to believe that one idea is true to the exclusion of all others? Indeed, many in our culture regard emphatic truth-claims as inherently unloving. As a result, truth is regularly sacrificed in the name of love.

As Christians, we need to understand love from a biblical perspective. Authentic love "rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). Love and truth are perfectly symbiotic, and each virtue is essential to the other. Love without truth has no character. Truth without love has no power.

In fact, when radically separated from one another, both virtues cease to be anything more than mere pretense. Love deprived of truth quickly deteriorates into sinful self-love. Truth divorced from love always breeds sanctimonious self-righteousness.

Nowhere in Scripture is the essential connection between these two cardinal virtues more clearly highlighted than in 2 John. Love and truth are the key words in the salutation of that brief 13-verse epistle, and the central theme throughout is the unbreakable interdependence between these two essential qualities of Christlikeness.

John is the perfect apostle to write on this theme. Jesus had nicknamed John and his brother James "Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder" (Mark 3:17)—doubtless because of their fiery zeal for the truth. At first, their passion was not always tempered with love, and we see a glimpse of that in Luke 9:54, when they wanted to call down fire from heaven upon a village of Samaritans who had rebuffed Christ.

In later years, however, John distinguished himself as the Apostle of Love, specially highlighting the theme of love in his gospel and in all three of his epistles.

And yet, as we see in all his epistles, he never lost his zeal for the truth. He did, however, learn to keep it wedded to a proper, Christlike love. And in his short second epistle, where he has some hard things to say in defense of the truth, he is careful to give first place to love. Before getting into the main issue (how to deal with supposed Christian teachers who deny essential truth) he accents once more the supreme importance of obedience to Jesus' command "that we love one another" (v. 5; cf. John 13:34-35).

Christians today desperately need to learn how to ground love properly in the truth. We must not succumb to pressure from our culture to spurn or bury the truth of Scripture under a false and foggy notion of love.

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14 February 2011

What did Jesus (not) say about... the remaining 23 NT books?

by Dan Phillips

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13 February 2011

The Epitome of Calvinism; the Essence of the Gospel; the Antidote for False 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 "God Alone the Salvation of his People," a sermon preached on Sunday morning, 18 May 1856, at the New Park Street Chapel in Southwark, London.

od "only is our rock and our salvation." If any one should ask us what we would choose for our motto, as preachers of the gospel, we think we should reply, "God only is our salvation."

The late lamented Mr. Denham has put at the foot of his portrait, a most admirable Iext, "Salvation is of the Lord" Now, that is just an epitome of Calvinism; it is the sum and the substance of it. If any one should ask you what you mean by a Calvinist, you may reply, "He is one who says, salvation is of the Lord."

I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. "He only is my rock and my salvation." Tell me anything that departs from this and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rocky truth, "God is my rock and my salvation."

What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? and what is that heresy of Arminianism but the secret addition of something to the complete work of the Redeemer?

You will find that every heresy, if rough to the touchstone, will discover itself here, it departs from this, "He only is my rock and my salvation."

C. H. Spurgeon

11 February 2011

Gut Check Press Interview

by Frank Turk

You may or may not have heard of Gut Check Press -- last year I wrote the foreword to their widely-read and widely-discussed Kinda Christianity. hey have published a couple of other things since then, but the follow-up to Kinda is a lovely little tome entitled Younger, Restlesser, Reformeder in which the other young people with a Christian/religious bent get a little of the same as their Emergent neighbors.

They were allegedly going to have a blog tour this week to promote the book, but it looks like I'm the only one playing. Below is the stream for the best 20 minutes of the time we spent together, and if you click through you can download it and pretend you're listening to a podcast.

For the invasively-curious, the intro and outro music is by Chris Green, and it's called "Boogie 2.0". It's graciously provided royalty-free by Mevia/Music Alley at musically.com.


Download the audio here

True Religion, Undefiled

More on gospel faith and the proper role of good works in Christian living
by Phil Johnson

ood works are a fruit of justification, not the means of it. But good works are inevitable as an expression of authentic faith. They are the vital signs of spiritual life. "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead" (James 2:26).

To put it another way: having been justified by faith, we are saved unto a life of good works that flow naturally from saving faith. According to Ephesians 2:10, "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

That's not talking about ceremonial, legalistic, or "religious" works—smells and bells, robes and rituals, outward symbolism and formal liturgy. But the "good works" that are the ineluctable fruit and vital expressions of true faith are spiritual qualities like holiness, humility, compassion, selfless expressions of love for one's neighbor, love for Christ, and a particular love for His people.

That is exactly what James 1:27 means: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James is not suggesting that doctrine doesn't matter. He is not depreciating objective truth. He is not downplaying the content of the gospel message. He is not saying the atoning work of Christ is merely an example for us to follow rather than a vicarious atonement offered to propitiate God. He is certainly not suggesting that if you do enough acts of kindness, it doesn't matter whether you believe in Christ or not.

He is saying that true faith in Christ will inevitably produce works of kindness and love—an overflow of Christ's righteousness. This is an essential, inevitable expression of authentic Christian faith.

Don't miss the vital point: The essence of "true religion" as described by the Word of God is not—and never has been—embodied in altars or animal sacrifices. Its most important expressions are not ceremonies and dietary laws or festivals and priestly institutions. But true religion and undefiled is about real life—everyday life—and a quality of life that reflects the mercy, love, and goodness of Christ in the way we serve and minister to one another.

Not that we have already attained a sufficient righteousness of our own—far from it. As a matter of fact, even our best works are imperfect and therefore worthless for any merit in the sight of God. This cannot be overstressed: our own works play no role whatsoever in justifying us. But every authentic believer has a new heart, new desires, a new love for God and spiritual gifts that enable us to be used by the Holy Spirit in spite of the remnants of sin in our flesh. And we press on toward Christlikeness, because Christ Jesus has made us His own (cf. Philippians 3:12).

In other words, if our faith is truly genuine, there should be some evidence of "faith working through love" (Galatians 5:6) somewhere in our lives.

Conversely, when someone verbally professes faith in Christ but his or her personal life and private thoughts are utterly devoid of good works, personal holiness, righteous desires, love for God, and love for the brethren—that person needs to hear and heed 2 Corinthians 13:5: "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!"

In the words of YHWH Himself: "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6).

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